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10 easy ways to cut your train fares

Shockingly, it can sometimes be cheaper to get the train to Paris than to Leeds. But a few simple tricks could save you hundreds of pounds when travelling by train in the UK.

Rail fares are up 25% since 2010 according to new figures from the union group TUC, and it’s been announced fares will rise again by 1% in January.

With this increased pressure on our wallets, finding ways to cut the cost are even more important. But can you really save by making some smarter changes?

By looking at prices on the official National Rail Planner website, we’ve calculated exactly how much ten tricks reduce prices on different routes. Our research shows you can potentially save hundreds of pounds – depending on the journey of course. But even short trips can save you a few quid.

Next time you book a ticket, try out one or two to see what you can save.

1. Big savings when you buy in advance

Travelling from London to Manchester between 5pm and 6pm can be expensive. Buying your ticket on the day would cost you £164.50.

Buy it four weeks ahead and the same trains were £110. And if you can plan three months in advance, the lowest fare is £26.00.

So on this route, booking three months in advance would SAVE £138.50

2. Lower the price by going later

Just by taking the train three hours later on the same London to Manchester route, you could get a ticket for £80.60 (on the day) or £20.00 (three months in advance).

That’s a SAVING of £83.90 on the day.

3. Split your ticket, stay in your seat

It’s a long journey from Birmingham to Plymouth, and quite expensive. But often trains are cheaper if you split up your journey buying two or three tickets for different stages of the journey. You often don’t even need to change trains.

If you bought a single direct ticket on the day it would cost £115.80. But if you bought a ticket from Birmingham to Exeter, and another from Exeter to Plymouth for the very same train, the total would be £96.80

Splitting tickets but not the train to Plymouth would SAVE £19.

4. Change the start station, change the fare

Travel from London to Birmingham normally goes from Euston to New Street and could cost £84 for travel on the day. But if you’re prepared to go from London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street, you’d cut the fare to £48. They’re both central stations.

£36 SAVED for an extra 10 minutes trip.

5. More haste, less savings

Take the stopping train from London Euston to Birmingham New Street, and it’s just £15. This train does take 40 minutes more than the fastest option, but if you’re not in rush it could be worth it.

Taking your time to get to Birmingham would SAVE as much as £69.

6. Young? Old? In a couple? Save with a railcard

Leeds to Edinburgh on the day could cost £93.60. A valid railcard costs £30 for the year and brings the fare down by a third to £61.80.

Eligible railcards would SAVE £31.80 on this journey.

7. Check if two singles are cheaper

It seems like a strange idea but sometimes two singles are often cheaper than a return, particularly if you’re getting advance or off-peak tickets. Travelling from Manchester to Cardiff has a standard off-peak return price of £82. Getting two singles in a month’s time could be as low as £38.

Checking the price of singles vs a return would SAVE £44.

8. Get on the right train – it’s expensive to pay twice!

Book in advance and your ticket will normally only be valid on a specific train on a specific route. If you didn’t realise and got a different train, conductors would probably make you buy a new ticket at full price. A Glasgow to London train booked three months early would be £46, but jump up to £132.80 on the day.

Not travelling on the train booked would cost you and extra £86.80.

9. Don’t get derailed by extra fees

Some sites will have a booking fee and a charge for using a credit card. Going via the train provider’s own websites shouldn’t cost you more.

Fees on some of the routes above were as much as £4, potentially more.

10. 1st class might be first for value

If advance tickets are already sold out in standard class, you might find it cheaper to go by 1st. I couldn’t find any examples today, but it’s something worth looking out for.

You could SAVE and have a comfier journey by travelling in first class on some journeys.

What do you think?

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  • Charlotte / 4 January 2016

    I have gone 1st class cheaper than regular, just like you said. I was making a fairly short notice booking so all the standard advance fairs had clearly gone but there were still some left in first. It was more expensive than standard would have been if I'd got the earlier deals but at the time it was the cheapest option. And I got some biscuits, win.

  • Jess Adams / 15 November 2015

    Fabulously helpful, thank you.

  • David Ross / 9 September 2015

    Is it worth booking a train from say Birmingham to Glasgow on the day considering they want full trains and would they be prepared to give a discount?

  • pauline hill / 7 September 2015

    i booked return from weston super mare to leeds a month before the date, and with the senior
    rail card purchased it was £105 !! i cant afford this very often

  • MARY CHARLES / 7 September 2015

    This information is very helpful Thank-you very much.

  • Alan / 7 September 2015

    On the national rail journey planner, make sure you click on the Cheapest farefinder link to get it to find the cheapest fare. This may come up with a slightly slower journey but can save pounds. The link is below the blue box where you enter the journey details.

    I came up with a journey to Plymouth from London Waterloo, which saved me money and a trip across London.

  • derek severn / 6 September 2015

    When my son goes home to Plymouth (he has a 16-25 railcard and so saves a third anyway), but by booking a ticket from Birmingham to Cheltenham and Cheltenham to Plymouth rather than a direct ticket to Plymouth he can very often save between £10 and £15, and very often the same train. Ridiculous but true.

  • Ros Ndwnham / 6 September 2015

    The stopping train from Birmingham to London has no space for luggage, so not good idea if travelling with luggage. Also when I caught it, it terminated at Northampton due to driver shortage. Apparently thi is a regular occurrence. 40 minutes to wait for the next one and ith building works goin on, nowhere to sie down or other facilities. Fortunately it was a dry day!

  • Jane / 6 September 2015

    Great advice ~ thank you :)

  • Alvena-Lesley Barker / 6 September 2015

    Thank you for these tips. Quite extraordinary!

  • stuggy / 6 September 2015

    As a regular rail user, all the above are correct.
    People try to sell unwanted tickets,Ttry tickets.