Cheap train travel: UK railcards compared


Updated on 28 November 2019

The UK has a reputation for sky-high train fares, so we look at all the railcards to help you save money, regardless of whether you're 16 or 60.

Save money with a railcard

It can be easy to spend a small fortune when travelling, particularly by train – unless you travel at off-peak times or book far in advance.

But there are other options that could cut your train fares significantly, including a railcard.

Not sure if you’re eligible for a railcard or if it’s worth the money?

We go through all the UK railcards currently on offer and look at how much they cost, who’s eligible and how much you might be able to save.

If you’re still eligible, you can usually renew these railcards within one month of its expiry date online.

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16-17 Saver railcard

The 16-17 Saver was released in August, offering the most generous discount out of all the railcards at 50%.

Of course, you have to be aged 16 or 17 to qualify for the card, which costs £30 and is valid for one year or until your 18th birthday (whichever is earliest).

You can get half-price tickets on any standard season, anytime, off-peak and advance tickets on the Network Rail network.

No discounts are available for ScotRail, Caledonian Sleeper or Eurostar tickets, as well as First Class tickets. You can check out the full list of exclusions here.

You can either opt for a printed card or use the card on the Railcard app and can buy it either online or over the phone.

To apply, you’ll need to prove your age with a valid UK driving licence, passport or national ID card and will need a good quality digital passport-style photo.

While the new card is likely to be welcomed by many parents, others may feel short-changed if they already bought their child a 16-25 Railcard, as the discount is only for a third off instead of 50%.

Young people on a day out. (Image: Shutterstock)

16-25 Railcard

The 16-25 Railcard has been around for years and as mentioned above, saves you a third on most rail fares.

It costs £30 and can save you on average of £199 (based on the average saving by cardholders in 2018/19).

The 16-25 Railcard applies to most tickets except:

  • Season tickets;
  • Eurostar tickets;
  • Most First Class fares;
  • Some specific promotional offers;
  • Most London Underground or Dockland Light Railway tickets – except Oyster pay as you go (PAYG)

There is a minimum fare of £12 that applies to peak times between 04:30 and 10am Monday to Friday (except for Advance fares).

Unlike the 16-17 Saver, you can buy a three-year railcard for £70, essentially saving you £20, but you can only buy this online. For the one-year version, you can buy online, at a train station or over the phone.

To apply, you’ll need a valid passport or UK driving licence and a passport-style photo.

You can use the railcard straight away if you opt for a digital version.

If you prefer a physical card, you will have to wait for up to five working days for it to arrive before taking advantage of the discount.

If you’re a mature student, you can apply for the one-year railcard (you can re-apply), but there are terms and conditions to meet, plus you’ll need your university to confirm you’re a student.

You can also take advantage of Railcard Rewards, which offers discounts on various stuff, including days out and dining out.

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26-30 Railcard

Dubbed the ‘millennial railcard,’ the 26-30 Railcard had a bumpy introduction this year following a delayed launch and reports of online queues lasting several hours when it was finally available.

Similar to the 16-25 Railcard, you can get a third of rail fares and it costs £30 a year– but it could save you on average £125 a year.

There are similar exemptions to the 16-25 Railcard, which are available to check in full here.

For those who have left university, this railcard can be handy.

Unlike other railcards, the 26-30 one is digital-only, so you can only buy it online or over the phone. You will need identification such as a valid passport or UK driving licence, digital passport-style photo and of course, the Railcard app, where you enter a code once you’ve paid.

Unfortunately, this railcard is only available over one year, so you’ll need to renew every year (if you’re still eligible), but you also get access to extra discounts and offers via Railcard Rewards.

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Senior people on a railway station platform. (Image: Shutterstock)

Senior Railcard

The Senior Railcard is available for those over the age of 60 and could save you on average £125 a year.

It’s available as either a digital or physical railcard, so you can use it straight away if you want to – and you’ll also get access to special offers.

You can save a third off standard, first class anytime, off-peak and advance fares although there are time restrictions and certain tickets the railcard won’t allow a discount for.

There are some exceptions to the time restrictions, depending on where you’re travelling from

The Senior Railcard costs £30 for one year or £70 for three years, although the latter can only be bought online.

To apply, you’ll need a valid passport number or UK driving licence to prove eligibility, but you can use a birth certificate if you’re buying at a train station.

If you’re opting for the one-year railcard, you can buy online, at a train station or over the phone.

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Network Railcard

There are other options to save money via the Network Railcard if you’re neither a millennial nor over 60.

This railcard can help you save a third on most rail journeys, and you only have to over the age of 16 to buy one.

You don’t even need any proof of identification, as you only need to provide your name, address and basic information.

One of the biggest attractions of the Network Railcard is the ability to get a third off rail fares for you and up to three adults and 60% off a child fare – for up to four children between the ages of five and 15.

Of course, anyone who wants the discount has to travel with you and there are minimum fares you have to pay on all journeys during the weekdays – £13 for adults and £1 for children.

There are also time and area restrictions, with full details available here and Railcard Rewards is included.

Mother and daughter on a train. (Image: Shutterstock)

Family & Friends Railcard

The Family & Friends Railcard is similar to the Network Railcard as it offers a third off train fares for up to four adults and 60% off for up to four kids between the ages of five and 15.

One big difference between both railcards is that you can name two adults on the Family & Friends Railcard, so when one cardholder isn’t using it, the other can.

On average, Family & Friends Railcard can save you an average of £141 a year and costs £30.

You can also save money on days out, including theme parks, museums and hotels.

On top of this, you can buy a three-year railcard for £70 if you’re planning a lot of travelling over several years, helping you save an extra £20.

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Two Together Railcard

Always travel with your other half, best friend or family member?

Then the Two Together Railcard may be the right choice for you, as it offers a third off rail fares when you travel together.

As the railcard only costs £30 a year, you can split the costs in half and only fork out £15 each. So, it means you don’t necessarily have to do a lot of trips together to get good value for money.

Of course, restrictions apply – you can’t get discounted tickets if you travel together before 09:30 on Monday to Friday.

You also can’t get a discount on season tickets, Oyster PAYG fares in London, Eurostar tickets and more, detailed in full here.

If you want to buy a Two Together Railcard, you can buy online as long as you have one separate digital photo of each person applying for the card.

You can also buy this railcard at most staffed ticket offices on the day of travel by completing an application form and providing two photos.

Alternatively, you can apply over the phone.

Similar to over railcards, you can opt for a digital railcard to use straight away or a physical card, which you will have to wait for up to five working days to be delivered/

Looking to save more money? The railcard offers access to Offers and Rewards with exclusive deals for Two Together Railcard holders.

 ‘Two Together’ discount national railcard now on sale

Couple on a train. (Image: Shutterstock)

Disabled Persons Railcard

If you have a disability that makes travelling by train difficult, you can get a third off fares for both yourself and a friend.

The Disabled Persons Railcard is cheaper than other railcards and will set you back £20 for a one-year railcard or £54 for a three-year version.

It’s different from other railcards as there are no time restrictions, so you can use it during any time of day.

To qualify, you must meet one of the following criteria:

  • You receive Personal Independence Payments (PIP);
  • You receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA) at either the higher or lower rate for the mobility component, or the higher or middle rate for the care component;
  • You have a visual or hearing impairment;
  • You have epilepsy;
  • You receive Attendance Allowance or Severe Disablement Allowance;
  • You receive War Pensioner’s Mobility Supplement;
  • You receive War or Service Disablement Pension for 80% or more disability;
  • You buy or lease a vehicle via the Motability scheme

You can get in touch if you believe you might be eligible but don’t meet the above requirements.

Also, you’ll need to prove your eligibility. Details of what you need to provide are available here.

As always, there are restrictions about what you can get discounts on and who gets it, details of which are listed in-depth here, although you do still gain access to plenty of other offers.

Unfortunately, you can only apply online or via post and need to provide evidence of eligibility for the Disabled Persons Railcard, so you have to wait for up to five working days for the card to be delivered.

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A soldier from the 9th Regiment Royal Logistics Corps. (Image: Shutterstock/chippics)

HM Forces Railcard

This little-known railcard allows forces personnel and their spouses or civil partners to save a third on rail fares. It costs only £21 a year.

To be eligible, you need to be one of the following:

  • A member of the Regular Forces;
  • A member of the Volunteer Reserve;
  • A Regular Reserve (full-time service of at least three months);
  • Non-regular permanent staff;
  • A Commissioned Officer of the RAF Reserve carrying out full-time duties in uniform;
  • NATO personnel;
  • A member of another Government Defence Force serving in official exchange appointments;
  • A spouse, civil partner or dependent child of the above;
  • War widows/widowers and dependants via the Royal British Legion

If you are eligible, you need to contact your HR department, who will deduct the cost of the railcard from your paycheck. You cannot buy this railcard at any train station or online.

A minimum fare of £12 applies for journeys made before 10am and most of the usual restrictions on discounts apply.

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Regional Railcards

If you live in a specific region, you may be eligible for a Regional Railcard.

The following are available:

  • Cambrian Railcard;
  • Cotswold Line Railcard;
  • Dales Railcard;
  • Devon & Cornwall Railcard;
  • Esk Valley Railcard;
  • Thameslink and Great Northern Student 16/18 Connect Card;
  • Heart of Wales Line Railcard;
  • Highland Railcard;
  • Network Railcard;
  • Pembrokeshire Railcard;
  • Valleys Senior Railcard
 

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