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How to cut the cost of rail and coach travel

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Last updated on

21 August 2014

From booking in advance to buying a discount card, there are plenty of ways you can save on the cost of travelling by train and coach.

Rail travel tips

Book in advance

Perhaps the easiest way to slash your train fare is to book your ticket 12 weeks in advance.

National Rail sets the timetable 12 weeks in advance, so this is when most really cheap advance deals start to get released.

However, you can still save some money at the last minute.

If you book before 6pm the day before you travel you can usually buy an Advance fare, which will be cheaper than buying it at the station. Even buying online on the day you're travelling can be cheaper as operators sometimes offer online discounts, particularly if you're travelling off peak.

Find bargain fares

Use the Virgin trains best fare finder and the Megatrain website to find bargain off-peak fares.

Check the prices for singles

Two singles for each leg of your journey can often work out cheaper than the headline return fare – so always check the prices both ways.

Take advantage of GroupSave

GroupSave allows groups of three to nine adults travelling together to save a third on Off-Peak tickets on participating services. These can only be bought at a station but are well worth considering if you're travelling in a group. There's more information on GroupSave on the National Rail website.

Try 'split ticketing'

Canny travellers have for several years been making use of a simple technique known as 'split ticketing'. What it means in essence is that instead of buying a single ticket to your destination, you break the journey down into two or three parts and buy separate tickets for each constituent part. It sounds like hard work – but it can help cut the price of your ticket by as much as half.

The reason you can save is thanks to the bewildering number of operators running Britain's rail network. For example, although the Manchester-Carlisle route is run by Virgin who set the direct fares, local trains from Carlisle to Preston are run by Trans Pennine, while the local section from Preston to Manchester is run by Northern – each with their own system of tariffs. And often, these separate routes are cheaper than direct passenger ones.

The only rule connected with the use of combination tickets (other than the fact the tickets must be valid, of course) is that the train must stop at the place where the tickets join, although you do not have to alight from the train or exit the station.

To calculate whether you can save on your chosen route, you need to look up possible splits using the SplitMyFare website. Then look up the price of the single fares on the rail operators' websites. Make sure you buy them directly from the operators, rather than fee-charging sites such as thetrainline or raileasy (see the next point below).

Avoid fees

Avoid booking and card fees by buying tickets directly from rail operators, rather than thetrainline or raileasy.

Use your Clubcard points

You can exchange Clubcard vouchers for higher value rewards on redspottedhanky.com.

At the moment £5 in Clubcard vouchers cab be exchanged for £10 to use on the site.

Just be aware that this site doesn't always offer the cheapest fares.

Use rail discount cards

There are a number of rail discount cards you can buy that reduce the cost of off-peak fares by up to a third.

16-25 Railcard
The 16-25 Railcard offers a third off rail fares for people aged between 16 and 25 (or those in full-time education). Cardholders can save an average of £161 with the card, which costs £30 for one year or £70 for three years.

If you travel between 4.30am and 10am Monday to Friday (except during July and August) a minimum fare of £12 will apply.

See here for details on exactly which tickets are eligible for a discount with the card and which aren’t.

Two Together Railcard

The Two Together Railcard allows adults travelling as a pair to save a third off fares for journeys made together after 9.30am Monday to Friday, on weekends and on bank holidays. On average it can save two people £100 a year. It costs £30 for a card lasting one year or £70 for a three-year version.

See here for details on exactly which tickets are eligible for a discount with the card and which aren’t.

Family and Friends Railcard
The Family and Friends Railcard allows up to four adults and four children (providing at least one child aged 5-15 is travelling in the party) to travel with discounted tickets. Adults can save a third, while children’s fares are discounted by 60%. On average groups can save up to £117 a year.  The card costs £30 for a year, or £70 for the three-year version.

The only time restriction on the card applies during rush hour Monday to Friday when journeys are made entirely within the London and south east area.

See here for details on exactly which tickets are eligible for a discount with the card and which aren’t.

Senior Railcard
The Senior Railcard is only available to those aged 60 or above and offers cardholders a third off standard and first class rail fares. It’s estimated to save an average of £106 a year on journeys and will set you back £30 a year or £70 for three years.

The only time restriction on the card applies during rush hour Monday to Friday when journeys are made entirely within the London and south east area.

See here for details on exactly which tickets are eligible for a discount  with the card and which aren’t.

Disabled Persons Railcard
If you have a disability that makes travelling by train difficult you might be eligible for the Disabled Persons Railcard. It saves a third off rail fares for the person who has the Railcard plus one companion travelling with them. On average the card can save £114 on rail journeys. It costs £20 for one year or £54 for three years. You can see if you are eligible for one on the website.

See here for details on exactly which tickets are eligible for a discount with the card and which aren’t.

Network Railcard
If you are travelling in London and the south east you may be able to cut a third off your costs with the Network Railcard. The card allows you to take up to three adults (who also save a third) and up to four children (who get 60% off). The card costs £30 and lasts for a year.

You can’t use the Network Railcard for journeys before 10am Monday to Friday. However, train companies do allow certain exceptions to this rule. You can see a full list of them on this section of the Network Railcard site.

See here for details on exactly which tickets are eligible for a discount with the card and which aren’t.  

HM Forces Railcard

The HM Forces Railcard is available to members of the Regular Forces or a member's spouse. It saves a third on adult rail fares. The card also allows the holder to travel with up to four children under 16 years with 60% off fares. It costs £15 a year.

See here for details on exactly which tickets are eligible for a discount and which aren’t.

Coach travel tips

If you prefer to go by coach, there are also various ways to save.

Book in advance

As with rail travel, the general rule of thumb is the earlier the book, the less you'll pay.

Look out for promotions

The big two operators, National Express and Megabus, often have cheap promotional fares, particularly at quieter times of the year such as January and February.

Buy a coach discount card

You can also save by investing in a National Express coach discount card.

National Express Senior Coachcard
The Senior Coachcard for the over 60s offers a third off standard fares. The card costs £10 (plus £1.50 postage and packing) for a year.

There are no time restrictions on when you can use your Senior Coachcard. However, you won’t be able to use it on Hotel Hoppa, Eurolines, Ulsterbus, Third Party services, special event services, Multiride and FunFare tickets.

National Express Young Persons Coachcard
For people aged 16 to 26, the Young Persons Coachcard offers a third off standard fares. It will also save you 10% on trips to sporting events or festivals.

The card costs £10 (plus £1.50 postage and packing) for a year or £25 (plus £1.50 postage and packing) for three years.

There are no time restrictions on when you can use your Young Persons Coachcard. However, you won’t be able to use it on Hotel Hoppa, Multiride, Eurolines, Ulsterbus, Third Party services, special event services and FunFare tickets.

National Express Family Coachcard
There are two versions of the Family Coachcard.

The 1plus1 card allows a child to travel free when accompanied by a full fare paying adult, and costs £8 (plus £1.50 postage and packing) for a year.

The 2plus2 version costs £16 (plus £1.50 postage and packing) a year and allows two children to travel free when joined by two full fare paying adults.

There are no time restrictions on when you can use your Family Coachcard. However, you won’t be able to use it on Hotel Hoppa, Multiride, Eurolines, Ulsterbus, Third Party services, special event services and FunFare tickets.

National Express Disabled Coachcard
The Disabled Coachcard enables cardholders to save a third on standard fares anytime. The card costs £10 (plus £1.50 postage and packing) for a year. The card is open to anyone who is registered as disabled.

There are no time restrictions on when you can use your Disabled Coachcard. However, you won’t be able to use it on Hotel Hoppa, Eurolines, Ulsterbus, Third Party services, special event services and FunFare tickets.

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Train delays and cancellations: how to claim refunds and compensation

 

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