Christmas may seem a long way off but if you want to keep your costs down, it's time to start booking your travel. Last year it cost me only £6.50 to get a train from London to York on Christmas Eve. So here's how to travel cheaply at Christmas, and the rest of the year too.
The key to travelling cheaply is booking early. Waiting until the last minute might get you a cheap package holiday but it won't get you any deals on public transport. And when it comes to train tickets, the early bird definitely catches the worm. Remember all those dirt-cheap train fares you've seen advertised but could never actually find online? The reason is people like me snapped up all the cheap tickets before you'd even switched your computer on. But with a bit of organisation you can get the cheap fares too.
If you know you are going to be making a train journey in a few months time for example at Christmas then you need to check when the cheap tickets will go on sale. National Express East Coast make this easy by allowing you to sign up for an email notification. Just tell them when you want to travel and they will send you an email as soon as those tickets go on sale. If you are travelling up the other side of the country then Virgin Trains offer a calendar that will show you when their cheap advanced tickets are on sale. Sadly, other train companies don't appear to offer this service but, as a general rule of thumb, advanced fares go on sale three months before the travel date. So keep your eyes peeled - Christmas tickets, for example, should go on sale next week.
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With flight tickets, there isn't so much to be gained by booking early prices only tend to shoot up if you leave it to the absolute last minute. But if you are planning a specific trip well in advance its worth signing up to airline newsletters so you'll hear of any bargain flight sales.
The internet has revolutionised the world for bargain hunters for example, all the best train deals can be found online. Websites such as thetrainline.com or raileasy.co.uk help you track down the cheapest deals, but you'll also sometimes find tickets are cheaper just because you bought them online. For example, National Express tickets are 10% cheaper bought this way rather than over the phone.
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And why not find a cheap flight in your lunch hour with minimal effort? The first stop for any search should be Skyscanner. Once you have entered where you want to fly to, and the dates you want to fly, it searches the websites of full price airlines, budget airlines and flight-brokers and reports the cheapest options. The really great thing about it is that if you don't have specific dates in mind you can search for the cheapest flights to a certain destination over a whole month or even a year one search will even show you the average cost for each month of the year. So it's a great tool for working out the best time to fly. But do check the weather reports too - it may be cheap to hit Cuba in October, but that's also hurricane season.
Another good website for cheap flights is Jumblefly. This site is good if you are flying somewhere obscure and want to check which budget airlines fly there. Simply tell it where you want to fly to and from and it will tell you who can take you.
Pay the right way
Once you've found the cheapest deal, maximise your bargain with a clever payment. With train tickets, this means buying through the right website. The Trainlineor Raileasy might help you find the cheapest fares, but both charge a £1 booking fee. However, buy your tickets direct from your train operator and there isn't usually a booking fee. To find out more about cheap train travel, see this article: Seven tips for cheaper train travel.
With flights, paying is a little more complicated. If you book a flight through one of the budget airlines such as Ryanair or Easyjet, you will be charged -amongst other things -to even pay. Try to pay with a credit card or most debit cards, for example, and you'll face fees of up to £10 per ticket. However, there is a sneaky way around this. Payments with Visa Electron cards are free. Unfortunately, that is because very few people have them.
But you can get one without having to switch bank accounts by picking up a Travelex Cash Passport. This is a prepaid Electron card. So load it up with money and then use it to pay for your flights fee-free. For more details, see my previous email on this: How to save money when paying abroad.
With your cheap Christmas travel organised, you can forget about the festive season for a couple of months. Well, at least until the shops start blasting out Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody in a few weeks' time.
Our recommended article for this week:
False dawn for 'easy' mortgages
HSBC has announced a new two-year deal offering borrowers an initial mortgage rate of just 1.99%. But as with all financial products, the devil's in the detail, says Tim Bennett.
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Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance.
Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.
Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.
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