How to trim the cost of train travel

Brighton Pier © Getty images
A season ticket from Brighton to London could cost £4,357 next year

Fares will jump yet again next year, but there are several ways to save money.

Train fares are a national rip-off. A recent study found that ticket prices have risen by twice as much as average wages over the past ten years. The average fare has gone up by 46% since 2009; the average wage has risen by 23% over the same period. To make matters worse, rail fares will rise by up to 2.8% in January. The annual rise is capped at July’s Retail Price Index, a measure of year-on-year inflation that reached 2.8% last month.

“If the full increase is passed onto passengers it could see season tickets from Brighton to London hiked by £125 a year to £4,357,” notes Helen Knapman in The Sun. Tickets from Gloucester to Birmingham could rise by £119 to £4,357 and fares from Edinburgh to Glasgow by £114 to £4,198. So, what can you do to cut your rail costs?

If you are a commuter your options are limited, but “some can still make savings on their regular train travel by thinking outside of the box”, says Megan French from moneysavingexpert.com.

“For example, check if you can save by combining a railcard with daily tickets rather than using a season ticket, or see if ‘split tickets’ are available for your route.” A more drastic option is to change your work routine to avoid the most expensive travel times. “If your employer allows you to work flexibly you could see whether it’s cheaper to swap your season ticket for other types, such as pre-paid carnet tickets,” says French.

Spread the pain

You can buy a book of pre-paid carnet tickets with some rail companies. They cost 10% less than tickets bought on the day of travel and are valid for three months. Split ticketing, meanwhile, is where you buy multiple tickets for one journey when some sections of your journey are cheaper than others. This can be particularly useful if you’re travelling in and out of London at peak times but don’t want to pay peak for your whole journey. For example, a trip from Bristol to London may be cheaper if you buy a ticket from Bristol to Didcot Parkway then another ticket from Didcot Parkway to London.

Another trick for one-off trips is to choose your booking website carefully. “Don’t use fee-charging sites such as trainline.com and book with Grand Central, TransPennine Express or Virgin Trains, where no booking fees apply,” says Adam Williams in The Daily Telegraph.

You can book tickets for any journey nationwide through these websites, not just their own services. Take advantage of railcards too. There are so many – 16-25, 26-30, Two Together, Family & Friends and Senior – that most people fit into at least one category. They all offer a third off tickets. There is now also a 16-17 railcard, which is estimated to save the average teenager £186 a year.