Get a railcard and ditch season tickets: how to beat the rail fare rises


<span>Households in England and Wales have been hit by a 4.9% increase in rail fares.</span><span>Photograph: eye35.pix/Alamy</span>

Households in England and Wales have been hit by a 4.9% increase in rail fares.Photograph: eye35.pix/Alamy

If you regularly travel by train, you can’t fail to have noticed that ticket prices in England and Wales rose by 4.9% earlier this month. The increase added hundreds of pounds to many commuters’ annual travel costs, and represents an unwelcome price rise for those who use trains to get around for leisure purposes or to visit family.

The above-inflation increase follows a 5.9% increase in March last year. Motorists, meanwhile, were given a budget boost last week when the chancellor said fuel duty would remain frozen for a 14th consecutive year, and that he was also extending the temporary 5p cut in the duty.

Despite the train fare increases, smart passengers can still do a surprising amount to bring down the cost of tickets.

Here’s the Guardian Money guide to getting the lowest possible fares – plus a nifty trick to get cheap travel on London’s underground.

Commuting – do you still want a season ticket?

In response to more people working part of their week at home, the rail industry started offering flexible season tickets that allow users to travel on any eight days in a 28-day period.

The problem is that in most cases the discounts are simply not sufficient to make them worthwhile. When MoneySavingExpert crunched the numbers, it found part-time season tickets only offered savings to those travelling two days a week, and even then, there were often cheaper options.

It found someone travelling from Southampton to Winchester twice a week on a flexible season ticket would save £65 a year against the cost of buying daily tickets, or £620 compared with the cost of an annual full-time season ticket.

However, across the country, those travelling on one, or three or more days a week are likely to be better off buying a daily ticket, or the full season ticket, it concluded.

One of the biggest ways to save money while commuting is to shift your travel to off-peak – typically on trains that arrive in the metropolis from 10am onwards. This makes particular sense if you can add a railcard – see below.

Here’s an example: the annual cost of a season ticket from Winchester into London Waterloo is now £6,432. That’s about £27 a day if you travel five days a week for 48 weeks a year or, if you only travel three days a week, just under £45 a day.

The standard day return travelling in peak hours is a whopping £68.50. The daily charge if you buy a Flexi season ticket is £61.75 – hardly a big saving.

However, if you can shift your journey to a later train – the 08.56 that arrives at Waterloo at 10.09, for example – the daily return fare falls to £48.40. For those able to add a railcard the fare on the 08.56 falls to £31.90 – less than half the full-price daily ticket.

For anyone travelling off-peak without a railcard, Carnet tickets are worth looking at, as they offer a 10% discount on plenty of routes.

Use a railcard for a 33% saving

Everyone knows about the young person’s railcard – the 16-25 Railcard – but are you aware of the 26-30 Railcard’s existence, or that the Senior Railcard is available to all those aged 60 and over?

There are now nine railcards to choose from, and about the only group who don’t have a railcard aimed at them are single people aged 31 to 59. And even they have the option to buy a Network Railcard for use across the southern half of England, including in and out of London.

The most popular railcards cost £30 a year (or £70 for three years)

The most popular railcards cost £30 a year (or £70 for three years) and typically offer a 33% discount on tickets. Users of some of the cards (including the 16-25 and 26-30 cards) can get discounts for travel at peak times – albeit with a £12 minimum fare. Others, such as the users of the Senior card, usually have to travel off-peak, which generally means after 9.30am or, annoyingly, 10am in the case of the Network card.

In some cases, users will save the card’s purchase price in one or two trips. They are now available digitally (to be kept on a mobile) or in paper form. You can also, in most cases, add your railcard to an Oyster card and gain 33% off-peak tube and bus travel in London.

The Gold Card trick – also great for tube users

This isn’t as good as it used to be but is still worth considering. Annual Gold Cards are season tickets that offer a bit extra: they give you discounts on other journeys in the Gold Card area, for yourself and others.

By buying the Gold Card area’s cheapest annual season ticket – we think this is now Hatton to Lapworth, both in Warwickshire, at £204 – you automatically get a Gold Card.

You don’t ever have to travel to either station – you just use the card to gain a 33% discount on all fares in the Gold Card area, which is most of southern England. The advantage is that you can use it on trains leaving after 9.30am Monday to Friday rather than 10am for the Network card.

For example, someone travelling on the 09.30 into London from Stevenage, Hertfordshire, pays £21.80 for an off-peak day return (it’s a 29-minute trip). With the Gold Card that falls to £14.35 – a saving of £7.45 a day. The Gold Card costs about £4 a week.

Alternatively, and this may appeal to more people, you can add it to your Oyster card for a 33% discount on all tube travel in London after 9.30am Monday to Thursday, all day at weekends and currently on Friday, while all-day off-peak fares are being trialled. This is worth more than £2 a day to plenty of tube commuters – those who don’t qualify for a young person’s or over-60s travelcard.

And the Gold Card gives you a discount on other railcards, which could be useful if you are travelling out of the area. Some of the most popular ones, including Family & Friends, are available for only £10 a year.

Travel in a group and save 34%

If you can assemble a group of three to nine people all travelling together, GroupSave train tickets will gain you a discount of up to 34% on plenty of off-peak tickets.

GroupSave is a completely free way of getting discounted train travel as, unlike a typical railcard, there is no annual fee.

Not all train companies offer GroupSave but the majority (18) do on many of their most popular routes, particularly those in and out of London. The 18 include Thameslink, Southern, Greater Anglia, West Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway and Southeastern.

There are a couple of caveats. You can’t also add a railcard – on the basis that you are already typically getting a third off – or travel first class. Plus, you have to travel together at all times.

You can also get a GroupSave discount on a London travelcard if you are buying it alongside a trip into London, providing your journey starts outside the Transport for London zones.

Going a long way by train? Buy in advance, and look at singles

Rail companies are now like the airlines in that the earlier you book, the more likely you are to get a cheap advance ticket. Advance long-distance tickets can be fantastic value.

For example, the standard Anytime single from York to London (about 200 miles) costs £168; however, by electing for an advance fare, you can travel for below £50 on trains leaving at about 8.30am, and as little as £23.50 on trains departing in the late morning – barely more than the cost of the 30-mile trip from Stevenage, a station users pass through.

It is generally best to start looking for tickets about 12 weeks before your journey. That is the point when Network Rail must have the timetable set. Train operators typically release cheap advance tickets then, too, although LNER will often release them up to 24 weeks in advance on its longest routes in and out of London.

Put your journey details into the Trainline ticket alert system, and you will receive an email when advance tickets for that specific journey go on sale. The only problem with using Trainline is the booking fees it charges – up to £1.75 for tickets that can be bought fee-free elsewhere.

Don’t automatically buy a return, as two singles are now often cheaper.

Another tip is to avoid the high-demand days and times. Just as it generally is cheaper to fly on a Wednesday to Europe, train fares come down hugely on the days and times when demand is lowest.

Before Covid, peak demand was on Mondays and Fridays. Now the peak travelling week tends to be Tuesday to Thursday. Also, if you can switch to a train leaving London after 7pm, the fare usually drops significantly. Remember, advance tickets are fixed, meaning you have to travel on a specific train, and the fines for straying on to another service are punitive.

Check online last-minute

If you missed the 12-week deadline and find yourself travelling last minute, don’t automatically despair. If tickets haven’t sold out, several rail companies now let you buy the cheaper advance tickets on the day. Check the website on the way to the station, as it may be a lot cheaper than the walk-up fare. More and more cheap fares are appearing at the last minute.

Split ticketing

If you are heading to Durham from London on a train that stops at York, it could well be cheaper to buy two tickets – one to York and another on to Durham. A host of websites and apps will work out whether you can save money by buying two or more tickets for your chosen journey.

You may have seen the Trainline ads that seem to be everywhere featuring a wizard, and which claim that using its new split-ticketing app feature can typically save you £13 a trip. It offers suggestions when you search for your journey.

TrainPal doesn’t impose fees but reviews suggest it won’t always find the cheapest options. Split My Fare and TrainTickets.com are slicker but will charge 15% or 10% of the savings made respectively. TrainSplit is another one worth looking at. It also charges up to 15%.

The savings vary but can be generous. For example, someone booking a standard return from Taunton to London will pay £105. However, if you split the journey at Pewsey in Wiltshire, you can get the fare down to £42.70 – a saving of £62.30. Heading to Chester from London? Split the journey at Stafford and reduce the advance fare from about £40 to only £16.

To use split tickets, you don’t need to get off the train but the train has to stop at the station at which you theoretically change trains. For those regularly making the same journey, it is worth exploring all the options.

Claim any Delay Repay refunds due

You would be amazed at how many regular rail users don’t claim the compensation due when their train is delayed. Delay Repay is a nationwide scheme aimed at making it easier for people to get compensation for delayed train journeys.

The exact terms of the refund vary according to the train operator but in most cases passengers are entitled to a 50% refund once they have been delayed by an hour, and a full refund once they are two hours late.

Make sure you keep hold of the ticket rather than ripping it up in frustration, as you may need to present a photo of it as part of your claim.

One of the downsides to buying split tickets is that when there are serious delays, you can only claim for the delay for the bit of the journey you were travelling on at the time.

Discount days out

You can bag some big savings on days out if you travel by train, with two-for-one entry to scores of attractions and events.

These include many of London’s big hitters such as St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the London Eye and Westminster Abbey, plus well-known attractions around the country including Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and Audley End House and Gardens in Essex.

There are also walking tours, restaurant meals, afternoon teas and cocktails on offer.

They are all part of National Rail’s days out scheme. You choose your attraction, then download and print your vouchers or buy your tickets online (see the individual attraction listings for further details). You have to travel there by train, and when you get to the attraction or event, you present your vouchers or online tickets and your train tickets – you need to make sure you retain them and that they are not swallowed by the ticket barrier – if you have a single ticket ask a member of staff to let you out when you get to the station.

If you live in London and would normally travel by tube, it is worth seeing if you could make the last part of the journey by train to qualify. You need to buy a train ticket to show when you arrive – contactless payments and Oyster cards are not accepted.

National Rail’s days out guide website has a full list of places to visit. These are some that caught our eye.

• Walking tours in places such as London, York, Bristol and Newcastle, catering for – among others – fans of Harry Potter, James Bond, the Beatles, Doctor Who, Paddington, Sherlock Holmes and Downton Abbey (saving up to £15).

• Entry to big art exhibitions including the Yoko Ono retrospective at London’s Tate Modern (a saving of £22), Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art at London’s Barbican (saving £18), and the John Singer Sargent exhibition at Tate Britain (savings £22).

• The Ideal Home Show at London’s Olympia, running from 22 March to 7 April (saving up to £22), and SEC Glasgow from 24 to 27 May (saving £10).

• 50% off Whipsnade zoo (saving £16).

Most of the offers are two-for-one entry valid on full-price adult tickets only and they apply to the on-the-door prices unless otherwise stated. Additional restrictions – such as dates that are excluded – will sometimes apply.



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top