6 ways to save on rail tickets

Train fares have gone up, but there are ways to cut costs.

King Charles Spaniel puppy on train
(Image credit: © Getty images)

The new rail price cap came into effect on Sunday 3 March, with regulated train fares increasing by up to 4.9%. 

Train fares usually increase each year in line with July’s Retail Prices Index (RPI)

But this came in at 9% in July last year, which would have been a steep increase amid the cost of living crisis. However, the government stepped in and announced in December 2023 that fare hikes would be capped at 4.9% in 2024 to help control inflation

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This cap applies to regulated rail fares in England. These constitute around 45% of all tickets. They include most commuter season tickets, some off-peak return tickets on long distance journeys, and ‘anytime tickets’ around major cities.

If you live in Scotland, unfortunately you will suffer a larger increase in rail fares come April. Tickets north of the border are set to increase by 8.7%. 

Rail travellers in Scotland enjoyed a price freeze from January 2022 to July 2023, but Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Transport, has said that these fares are “no longer sustainable”.

Rail fare hikes across the UK will undoubtedly make a dent in commuters’ pockets at a time when council tax, water bills, and mobile and broadband costs are all going up too. However, happily, there are still ways to save money if you know where to look. 

We’ve rounded up six ways to save on rail tickets

Buy advance tickets

As the name would suggest, advance tickets are tickets that you need to buy in advance of a journey. They are single tickets, issued for a train which departs on a specified day at a specified time. 

You can usually purchase advance tickets up to 12 weeks before you travel. They are sometimes still available up to 10 minutes before a train departs.

Only a limited number of advance tickets are released, available on a first-come-first-served basis, but they can be good at saving you money. According to National Rail, half a million advanced tickets are released weekly for less than £10. 

Check how much you can save with a railcard

National Rail offers nine different railcards, which you can use to save money each time you travel. All of these offer a one-third discount on rail fares, with the exception of the 16-17 saver, which offers 50% off most tickets.

The majority of railcards cost £30 for one year, so they can be worth buying even if you’re only planning a few long train journeys. What’s more, they’re not just available to students and retirees. Here is the full list of railcards you can buy:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
RailcardCost of cardSaving
16-17 saver£30 per year50% off most fares
16-25 railcard£30 for one year, or £70 for three years1/3 off travel
26-30 railcard£30 per year1/3 off travel
Disabled person’s railcard£20 for one year, or £54 for three years1/3 off travel for you and an adult companion
Family and friends railcard£30 for one year, or £70 for three years1/3 off travel for adults and 60% off for kids
Network railcard£30 per year1/3 off fares in London and the South East
Senior railcard£30 for one year, or £70 for three years1/3 off travel
Two together railcard£30 per year1/3 off fares when you travel together
Vereran’s railcard£30 for one year, or £70 for three years1/3 off most travel for you and a named companion

Get a free gold card if you have a season ticket for London or South East England

If you buy an annual season ticket in the south of England or an annual travelcard on the London Underground, it comes with an annual Gold Card.

This is essentially a better version of the Network Railcard. It covers almost all of the Network Railcard area, plus East Anglia and the West Midlands. It is valid after 9.30am Monday-Friday with no minimum fare, and it gives one-third off for up to four adults plus 60% off for up to four children aged 5-15.

The Gold Card also allows you to buy another one-year railcard (16-25, Family & Friends, Senior, Two Together, Disabled Persons or Network Railcard) for just £10, either for you or another person, subject to eligibility.

Most railcards allow you to get a one-third discount on off-peak day travelcards for the Underground, but the Gold Card and some railcards (16-25, 26-30, Disabled and Veterans) also give you one-third off pay as you go (PAYG) off-peak fares on the Underground and London railway stations when using an Oyster smartcard. The discount applies both to individual trips and the daily off-peak cap, including any additional PAYG fares that an Underground travelcard holder pays when travelling outside their travelcard zone.

To get the lower PAYG rate, you need to set a discount on your Oyster, which can be done by staff at Underground stations.

Annoyingly, this needs to be re-done each time you renew your ticket – but it’s a small price to pay when you think of the savings.

Buy a flexi season ticket

If you don’t need to be in the office every day in this new, post-pandemic world, then a flexi season ticket could be a good option for you. 

These allow you to travel eight days in every 28. You don’t need to choose these in advance, and you can use the ticket on both peak and off-peak trains. 

Flexi season tickets are at least 20% cheaper than the equivalent full monthly season ticket.

Cashback offers

Certain credit cards give you cashback offers when you buy a train ticket. 

For example, the Santander 1|2|3 Credit Card offers 3% cashback on National Rail and Transport for London travel on a combined spend of up to £100 per month. 

Uber also launched a travel service in 2022 that lets you buy train tickets through the app. When you do this, you can get 10% back in Uber Credits on every ticket. You can then spend these credits in the app on further train tickets, taxi rides, or food bought through Uber Eats.

If you have a British Airways Executive Club account, you can even link this with your Uber account to collect Avios points when you book tickets on National Rail trains via Uber. You can collect 1 Avios point for every £1 you spend. 

Split ticketing

Splitting a ticket involves buying two or more tickets, with one to an intermediate station and the other from that station to your destination.

This can work out cheaper, due to the strange ways in which tickets are priced, the ability to use a railcard for part of the journey, or the chance to break a ticket into peak and off-peak segments.

The train you travel on must stop at the intermediate station, but you don’t need to get off.

There are now multiple sites that calculate split tickets such as myTrainPal, Split My Fare TrainTickets.com, Split Your Ticket, TrainSplit and TrainSplitting. TrainPal is free while the other apps take a percentage of what you save, around 10%-15%, which you may consider a fair payment for a useful service not available elsewhere. If not, you can use their results to book the same tickets directly with a train firm.

Katie Williams
Staff Writer

Katie has a background in investment writing and is interested in everything to do with personal finance and financial news. 

Before joining MoneyWeek, she worked as a content writer at Invesco, a global asset management firm, which she joined as a graduate in 2019. While there, she enjoyed translating complex topics into “easy to understand” stories. 

She studied English at the University of Cambridge and loves reading, writing and going to the theatre.

With contributions from