Saving Money How to save money on UK train tickets

Published on February 17th, 2014 | by Tom Wake

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How to save 15%, 33%, 50% or more on UK train tickets

How to save money on UK train ticketsLet’s face it, train journeys in the UK are terrible value. We seem to pay a thumping great premium (compared to the rest of the world) for grubby facilities, constant delays and overcrowding.

I once paid £150 to go from London to Edinburgh on a train that was so full we had to spend 5 hours standing next to a toilet. Great exercise for the legs and the nostrils – less so for the wallet.

The good news is that these days if you’re a savvy online buyer there are some simple at-your-fingertips ways to ensure you get the best deal on train tickets.

In fact you can often save 15%, 33%, 50% or more on journeys if you follow these simple tips.

4 top tips to save you money every time you book a train ticket

1. Essential: use a railcard if you’ve got one because it’ll instantly save you up to a third on the cost of your journey.

2. Try to book well in advance where possible. The very best savings are made if you can buy your tickets in advance – approximately 3 months for the very best deals. For those ‘last minute’ journeys you can often still save money booking online just 12 hours before you travel.

3. Use one of the booking websites I recommend in this article for the very best online deals. These sites allow you to a) Book in advance for the best savings b) Apply any railcard discounts and c) Apply group travel discounts where applicable.

4. Always use a cashback website and save yourself a further 3- 5%. I bang on about Topcashback and Quidco every few months on Insider’s Edge because they are fantastic money saving tools. Click through to your chosen booking website via TopCashBack or Quidco (I’ll show you how to do this later) and you’ll automatically save an ADDITIONAL 3 – 5% – just for clicking a button!

Let’s get the basics out of the way – first up, are you eligible for a railcard?

If you’re eligible for a railcard you could automatically save up to a third off any train journey you make.

Yes, there is an upfront cost to buying a railcard (usually £30) but if you make just 3 or 4 rail journeys a year (or £90 in total) and you should save more than enough to justify the initial expensive.

Let’s see if you’re eligible for a railcard.

Aged 16 – 25

If you’re lucky enough to be between the ages of 16 – 25 you can pick up a ’16 -25 railcard’ (used to be called Young Person’s Railcard) for £30. It lasts for one year and saves you a third on every rail journey you make in the UK. Use it on just 3 x £30 return journeys and it’s already paid for itself.

Top tip: You can buy one of these right up until the day before your 26th birthday. By doing this you effectively get yourself an extra year of discounted travel.

For more information and to apply for a card click here:

16 – 25 Railcard

Aged 25 – 60

If, like me, you’re in the 25 – 60 age bracket, there are slightly less exciting options available on the railcard front. In fact the only one currently on offer (for single adult journeys) is something called the ‘Network Railcard’.

Unfortunately this railcard only covers London and the South East of England, so it’s completely useless for the majority of the population. You can see how far it goes here: Network Railcard map (please note this links to a PDF).

If you live in the South East it’s definitely worth picking one of these up. It costs £30 and can be used after 10am Monday – Friday and at any time on the weekends. Like the others it saves you a third on tickets.

If you have an annual season ticket in the Network Railcard area you’ll automatically be issued with something called an Annual Goldcard. This card entitles you to the exactly same discounts as the Network Railcard. As an added perk, if you’ve got one of these you can pick up a Network Railcard for your partner, or any adult of your choosing, for just £1.

Top tip: There is another major perk that this card offers – one that could save you a lot of money. If you have a Network Railcard, up to 3 additional adults who are travelling with you (so that’s 4 in total including yourself) can claim discounted tickets. Obviously you, the card holder, must be present with the travelling party. If you’re not you’ll be flung off the train headfirst into a pit of molten lava. Or fined.

For more information and to apply for a card click here:

Network Railcard

Aged 60+

If you’re 60 or over you can get a ‘Senior Railcard’. Again this costs £30 and gives you a third off any rail journey in the UK.

Depending on your circumstances you may be entitled to a subsidised rate on the £30 fee, so do check with your local council. You’ve worked hard all your life so make sure you get what you’re entitled to here!

For more information and to apply for a card click here:

Senior Railcard

Family and Friends Railcard

This is essential if you regularly go on trips away with the family. For £30 a year you can pick up a ‘Family and Friends Railcard’ which saves you a third on adult tickets and a whopping 60% on child tickets – for use throughout the UK.

Up to 4 adults and 4 children can travel under 1 railcard making this a fantastic money saver. A strange loophole with this railcard is that you don’t even need to be travelling with your own kids. So presumably you could just borrow someone else’s for a bit if you were planning a particularly expensive rail journey.

Joking aside this could obviously be useful if you’re going away with friends and their kids.

Top tip: Child tickets cover ages 5 – 15. The MAJOR caveat with this railcard is that there must be at least 1 child and adult travelling for discounted travel to be valid. You can’t start claiming discounts on this when you’re not travelling with your kids unfortunately. Remember up to 4 adults and 4 kids can travel under just one railcard.

For more information and to apply for a card click here:

Family and Friends Railcard

Disabled Persons Railcard

If you qualify for a Disabled Persons Railcard you can get third off any UK rail journey.

It costs £20 and it also lets you take a travelling companion with you on trips at a third off.

You can find out if you’re eligible here.

For more information and to apply for a card click here:

Disabled Persons Railcard

Always book in advance (even if it’s the night before)

If you’re able to book your train ticket in advance you’ll make significant savings and thanks to online booking sites it’s now easier than ever.

The very best time to book is approximately 3 months in advance. Why? Because this is when Network Rail set their timetables.

Obviously sometimes it’s not practical to book a ticket 3 months in advance. With that said, in reality no matter when you book you’ll almost always make a significant saving if you’re able to book online BEFORE you travel – instead of turning up to the train station and booking on the day.

For those ‘last minute’ journeys it’s even worth booking online the night before you travel! Honestly.

3 websites where you automatically get the best deals on train tickets when you book online

Red Spotted Hanky

I’ve only recently started using this website and it gets my top vote. There’s no booking fee and if you want your ticket delivered by post (instead of collecting it from a machine at the station) it’s FREE.

Last week I compared ticket prices for a journey between London and Brighton on both ‘Red Spotted Hanky’ and ‘The Train Line’ (below). Red Spotted Hanky came up trumps. They automatically offered me a ‘group saver’ discount on our trip where The Train Line didn’t. This saved us nearly £100, so understandably I’m a big fan. They were also very quick to answer a question I had via email.

Red Spotted Hanky

The Train Line

You’ve no doubt seen all the adverts for these guys. They’re one of the market leaders and offer a decent, robust booking system. You can often get some top discounts on rail journeys here.

Without that said, Red Spotted Hanky have the edge for me. The Train Line charge a £1.50 booking fee and a 2% charge if you pay by credit card.

The Train Line

My Train Ticket

I’m giving these guys an honourable mention because they offer airmiles on bookings which some readers may find useful.

The downside of My Train Ticket is that like The Train Line they charge a hefty £1.50 booking fee and 2% charge on credit card purchases.

My Train Ticket

Make sure you visit the online booking website via a ‘cashback’ link to save yourself an ADDITIONAL 1.5 – 3.5% on all your purchases

I bang on and on about cashback websites. I know it’s difficult to remember to visit them and use their links before you book online but once you get in the habit you’ll start saving so much money.

For train tickets you can save approximately 1.5 – 3.5% on average (though it changes all the time). Not life changing amounts but it all builds up over time and it takes zero effort. Both Red Spotted Hanky and The Train Line feature on cashback websites at the present time.

Here’s how to use a cashback website…

1) Sign up for a free account with Topcashback or Quidco (my personal favourite is Topcashback but I know some readers prefer Quidco).

2) Log in to your account.

3) In the big search box type in your preferred train ticket booking website. For example: Red Spotted Hanky.

4) Important: Click on the cashback link they provide!

5) Book as normal.

It’s as easy as that! You don’t have to do anything else.

If you’re not familiar with cashback websites it’s worth noting that cashback money is accrued in your Topcashback or Quidco account (not on the website that you’re purchasing from.

Sometimes it can take a few weeks (or even months) for your cashback money to be released, but once it has you can have it paid into your bank account by direct transfer or changed into vouchers (such as Amazon) for an additional bonus.

That’s it!

To sum up:

  • Try to get yourself a railcard if you’re eligible (and make more than 3 or 4 rail journeys a year)
  • Always book online and in advance 
  • Use a cashback website to make even more savings

I hope you enjoyed this article. Now it’s your turn. What do you think about train travel and ticket prices in the UK? Please leave a comment below.


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About the Author

My name's Tom Wake and I'm the editor of Insider's Edge. I bring you tips, tricks and shortcuts to help you save money, make money and save time.



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