How to cut the cost of rail and coach travel

lovemoney staff
by Lovemoney Staff lovemoney staff on 17 December 2012  |  Comments 2 comments

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.

How to cut the cost of rail and coach travel

The price of train travel continues to rise above inflation, so it's important to know how you can pay as little as possible for your journey. In this guide, we look at ways to save on both rail travel and also coach travel, which is often cheaper to begin with, albeit slower.

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 fare – so always check the prices both ways.

Take advantage of GroupSave

GroupSave allows three or four people (minimum one adult) to travel for the price that two adults would normally pay on various off-peak trains. Up to four additional children can accompany the main party, and travel for just £1 each. 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 use £10-worth of Tesco Clubcard points to buy £20-worth of train tickets via the Redspottedhanky website. Just be aware that this site doesn't always offer the cheapest fares, so check the rail operators' sites.

Use rail discount cards

There are a number of 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, including all standard and first class advance fares. It costs £28 for a year, though you can get a three-year version for £65.

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

You can’t get a discount on the following:

  • Season tickets including travelcard season tickets
  • Eurostar tickets
  • First class fares (except first class advance and weekend first for some train companies, as outlined above)
  • Some train company specific promotional offers
  • Tickets for special excursion or charter trains and some coach/bus links, including Railair services
  • Most London Underground and Docklands Light Railway tickets (unless using Oyster pay as you go)

Family and Friends Railcard
The Family and Friends railcard allows up to four adults and four children to travel with discounted tickets. Adults can save a third, while children’s fares are discounted by 60%.

The card costs £28 for a year, or £65 for the three-year version.

The only time you cannot use your card is during rush hour Monday to Friday when journeys are made entirely within the London and south east area.

You can’t get a discount on the following:

  • First Class travel, except when using a First Class Upgrade at weekends (subject to availability) upon payment of the appropriate supplement
  • Season tickets, including Travelcard Season tickets
  • Some train company-specific promotional offers, including GroupSave
  • Eurostar tickets
  • Tickets for special excursion or charter trains and some coach/bus links, including Railair services
  • Most London Underground and Docklands Light Railway tickets

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.

Again it costs £28 a year for £65 for three years.

The only time you cannot use your card is during rush hour Monday to Friday when journeys are made entirely within the London and south east area.

You can’t get a discount on the following:

  • Season tickets including travelcard season tickets
  • Eurostar tickets
  • Some train company-specific promotional offers
  • Tickets for special excursions or charter trains and some coach/bus links, including Railair services
  • Most London Underground and Docklands Light Railway tickets (unless using Oyster pay as you go)

Disabled Persons Railcard
With the Disabled Persons Railcard, cardholders can get a third off most railfares across Great Britain. They can also get a third off the fare of any adult companions.

The card will set you back £20 for a year or £54 for the three-year version.

You are eligible for a Disabled Persons Railcard if you:

  • Are registered as having a visual impairment
  • Are registered as deaf or use a hearing aid
  • Have epilepsy and either suffer repeated attacks (despite drug treatment) or are prohibited from driving as a result of your condition
  • Receive Attendance Allowance
  • Receive Disability Living Allowance at either the higher or lower rate for getting around, or the higher or middle rate for help with personal care
  • Receive Severe Disablement Allowance
  • Receive War Pensioner’s Mobility Supplement
  • Receive War or Service Disablement Pension for 80% or more disability
  • Are buying or leasing a vehicle through the Motability scheme

You will also need to provide some form of proof. You can find out what you need to bring along on this section of the Railcard website.

You can’t get a discount on the following:

  • Season tickets (of any length), including travelcard season tickets
  • Eurostar tickets
  • Some train company-specific promotional offers
  • Tickets for special excursions or charter trains and some coach/bus links, including Railair services
  • Most London Underground and DLR tickets

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.

Again, it costs £28 and lasts for a year. You can take up to four children with you and save 60% on their fare too.

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.

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

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’t use your Senior Coachcard. However, you won’t be able to use it on Hotel Hoppa, Eurolines, Ulsterbus, Third Party services, special event services 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 travel to events such as sporting events or festivals.

The card costs £10 for a year or £25 for three years.

There are no time restrictions on when you can’t use your Young Persons Coachcard. However, you won’t be able to use it on Hotel Hoppa, 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 for a year.

The 2plus2 version costs £16 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’t use your Family Coachcard. However, you won’t be able to use it on Hotel Hoppa, 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.

There are no time restrictions on when you can’t 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.

The card is open to anyone who is registered as disabled.

More on travel

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Ryanair imposes new credit card and admin charges

The best and worst hotels in the UK

The best value long-haul holiday destinations

Tuesday cheapest day to fly with British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair

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Comments (2)

  • JRR
    Love rating 1
    JRR said

    Save an additional 6% by buying through Southern Trains via Topcashback, and a further 3% with a cashback card like Aqua.

    Senior Railcards have the desirable property on Virgin Trains only of making all trains 'off peak' for fare purposes.

    Report on 18 December 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • PoohBah
    Love rating 23
    PoohBah said

    To use your Senior Railcard with Oyster, the two cards must first be linked together; this is done primarily at Underground stations.

    Although a Senior Railcard cannot be used with Eurostar, they do offer some very good deals for the over-sixties anyway.

    Report on 18 December 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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