Cheap train tickets for the weekend and holidays


Updated on 02 April 2019

Couples and families are eligible for dozens of surprising train travel discounts, many of which you may never have heard of.

A world of discounts

We all know that booking ahead saves you money and that some people get cut-price tickets with a railcard.

Yet there are many other ways to cut the cost of train tickets, especially if you’re planning longer trips on the weekend or on holidays, or with kids.

Unfortunately, Britain’s 18 different rail companies have, with a few exceptions, done a poor job of making their discount fares easy to find.

That’s why we’ve gone and found some great deals so you can explore the country for less.

Find holiday destinations and inspiration with our sister-site loveEXPLORING’s guide to the Best of Britain

Railcards for everyone

Did you know that railcards aren’t just for seniors and students?

The 26-30 railcard got re-released in January and this time it's here to stay.

For £30 a year, you could save up to a third off rail travel with the Two Together Railcard, providing you travel as a pair.

Or if you’re travelling with a child, you could get the Family and Friends Railcard, covering up to four adults and four children, which gives adults 33% off and children a whopping 60% (under-5s travel free). It’s one year for £30 or three years for £70.

Also priced at £30 the Network Railcard gives 1/3 off travel in the South East and you can use it whilst travelling alone.

Railcards are worth getting, because they make almost everything cheaper, and can be combined with advance booking and rover tickets to get some surprising discounts.

You can get any railcard for just £10 with a Gold Card (see below) or considerable cashback with Quidco or Top Cashback

Learn more about the different types of railcards here.

Trainline and Loco2

The best way to book single and return tickets is via the Loco2 and Trainline smartphone apps.

They will show you the lowest prices for a route across all train lines and can be combined with railcards. It’s worth using both apps to get the cheapest deal.

Trainline’s app has a useful feature that will predict when the price of a ticket will rise, although it does have a booking fee of £0.75 to £1.50.

Another app and website, Loco2, can be used for train travel both in the UK and across Europe. It can be paired with railcards and crucially doesn't charge any booking fees.

Advance tickets

Advance tickets are usually considerably cheaper, but frequently get sold out for travel at popular times, so you need to snap one up early.

In general, advance tickets come on sale 12 weeks before departure. There are exceptions, however, such as Virgin Trains and the London North East Railway, which sell 24 weeks before.

You can find a full list of all train services advance ticket conditions at the end of this guide.

What’s less well-known is that it’s possible to get advance tickets just hours – sometimes minutes – before a train departs.

Conditions vary: we’ve included all the deadlines at the end of this guide.

Do bear in mind that advance tickets require you to travel on a specific train, unlike many return tickets which have more flexibility.

In most cases, it costs £10 to change an advance ticket, although Cross Country will do so for free.

If you sign up to Trainline's Ticket Alert Service, they will email you when your desired route becomes available.

Special offers on attractions

National Rail has launched a new website daysoutguide.com, which offers a discount on attractions nationwide, providing you travel by rail.

London Eye, Thorpe Park, Cadbury World and Legoland are just a few of the dozens of attractions with discounts: in many cases two-for-one.

You can buy up to four tickets per attraction with the voucher.

You need to go to the daysoutguide.com, pick an attraction and you’ll receive a voucher. You then present this voucher alongside your train tickets to buy tickets at the discount price.

Legoland Windsor (image: Shutterstock)

Gold Card

If you already have a railway season ticket and live in the South East, you should have been automatically sent a Gold Card.

This entitles you to a third off anytime and off-peak tickets in the Gold Card area, which covers the South East of England, up to Birmingham. It also gives you 60% off kids’ tickets.

It also allows you to purchase a railcard for just £10, which can save you money if you need to travel beyond the Gold Card area.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to purchase a Gold Card.

Rover and ranger tickets

Rover and ranger tickets are special tickets that allow unlimited travel within particular regions.

If you’re the type of traveller that likes to visit plenty of places en route, they could save you a huge amount of money as well as the stress of getting individual tickets. They also provide an itinerary for some incredible trips around the UK.

For example, the Spirit of Scotland Railpass includes four days of unlimited rail and bus travel, as well as ferries to the Western Isles, and stretches as far south as Carlisle and Berwick-upon-Tweed.

It costs £139, with discounts for kids and railcards, and allows you to space you four travel days over an eight-day period.

Other standouts include Northern rail’s Coast and Peaks Rover (£77) and SouthEastern’s Kent Rover (£45). National Rail’s website has a sporadically-updated list of all the rover and ranger tickets available.

The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye (image: Shutterstock)

Get cashback

As with rail season tickets and holiday bookings, it’s worth using a cashback credit card to get some money back.

Using a credit card won’t cost any extra and you could get up to 5% cashback, in the case of the fee-free American Platinum Everyday Credit Card.

Combine these credit cards with cashback sites like TopCashback and Quidco and you could save even more.

Compare off-peak credit cards on loveMONEY’s comparison site

Advance ticket release dates

Here is the full list of train companies, when they release their advance tickets and the latest possible time for purchasing these tickets.

These details were correct at the time of writing.

Train operator

Tickets released

Deadline for booking

Caledonian Sleeper

12 months in advance

N/A

Chiltern Railways

12 weeks in advance

18.00 the day before travel

CrossCountry - East to West routes

12 weeks in advance

21.00 the day before travel

CrossCountry - North to South routes

12 weeks in advance

15 minutes before train through app

East Midlands Trains

12 weeks in advance

23.59 the day before travel

Grand Central

12 weeks in advance

4 hours before departure

Great Western Railway

12 weeks in advance

18.00 the day before travel

Greater Anglia / Stansted Express

12 weeks in advance

10 minutes before departure (except Southend)

Hull Trains

13 weeks in advance

15.00 the day before travel

London North Eastern Railway

24 weeks in advance

2 hours before departure

Northern

12 weeks in advance

23.59 the day before travel

ScotRail

12 weeks in advance

23.59 the day before travel

Southeastern

12 weeks in advance

18.00 the day before travel

Southern

12 weeks in advance

18.00 the day before travel

South Western Railway

12 weeks in advance

23.59 the day before travel

TransPennine Express

12 weeks in advance

23.59 the day before travel

Transport for Wales

12 weeks in advance

4 hours before departure

Virgin Trains

24 weeks in advance (12 for weekend trains)

1 hour before departure using the app

West Midlands Trains

12 weeks in advance

23.59 the day before travel

Source: individual operators' websites and National Rail Enquiries

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