Buyer's Guide: Train Tickets
Have you ever noticed that train tickets seem to get more expensive with every morning commute? Millions of travelers up and down the country are chasing a cheaper deal, but unless you know where and when to look, it can seem like a fruitless endeavour.
When to book & advance tickets
It seems a fairly obvious point, but the golden rule of rail travel is to get your tickets as far before you need to make your journey as possible. Of course, this isn't always a viable option - particularly if your trip is a sudden ad hoc excursion - but in general experts reckon the cheapest fares are on offer around two or three months in advance.
The job market being so precarious, a lot of commutors are rightly put off the idea of committing to a long-term season ticket: if you suddenly have to make a radical career change (and therefore relocate to another part of the country), you may find yourself unable to get a refund.
But there are plenty of savings to be made if you're in a stable position in your life. Season tickets are available in 1 month, 3 month, 6 month and 1 year variations - so you should be able to find a good deal if you shop around.
For a long time, rail companies have largely eschewed being friendly to their customers in favour of driving up profit margins, but there are a few ways in which they are helping out struggling passengers:
- Students are often given special rail cards
- Children aged under 15 are often allowed to travel at 50% of that which an adult would pay for the same journey
- And if they're under five, most companies won't charge them at all - even if you may get a few disapproving glances from fellow passengers
- Elderley and disabled customers may also be given special provisions - particularly in the capital
- On occasion, group travellers may be accomodated at a discounted fare
In recent years, the internet has been replete with stories of ingenious passengers driving down their travel expenses by splitting their tickets - in other words, booking a series of smaller fares instead of going from A to B in one big trip.
At the moment, it comes down to doing your own research, crunching numbers, and making sure you have plenty of time (although these options might be cheaper, they aren't likely to get you where you need to be in a hurry).
There are, however, a few websites popping up which can help you out with splitting tickets. Raileasy.co.uk, for example, is a pretty good place to start. Just punch in your starting point and where you want to go, and you should be able to find something that works for you.
Unfortunately, for some journeys you're forced to use whichever company operates that particular route. But if you can get a ride from Virgin Trains, it's definitely an option you should consider. As well as being fairly cheap - they will take you from London to Manchester for less than £30 on a good day - it's also quick and customer-friendly.