As many commuters return to their rail journeys following the Christmas break, the prospect of an impending increase in ticket prices may be met with a sense of unease, especially in light of the recent surge in overall costs.
The next scheduled price hike for regulated fares is set for March 2024. Regulated fares encompass approximately 45% of all railway fares, encompassing season tickets for most commuter routes, select off-peak return tickets for long-distance travel, and anytime tickets for major urban centres.
While this may offer little solace, particularly after enduring months of rail strikes and subpar service, the government has made a commitment to keep this increase below the rate of inflation for the second consecutive year.
For those seeking economical alternatives, here are five strategies to secure the most cost-effective rail fares at any time of the year:
Advance train tickets are typically made available up to 12 weeks prior to the departure date, with some being accessible as early as 24 weeks beforehand. These tickets often present the most budget-friendly option for rail travel if you are amenable to fixed departure times. Occasionally, they can even be purchased up to an hour before the journey. Money Saving Expert, a personal finance website, notes that London North Eastern Railway (LNER) often releases advance tickets up to six months ahead for routes from stations north of York to London. Certain ticket purchasing apps can send notifications to your mobile device as soon as tickets for a specific journey become available.
Utilise Split Ticketing
Split ticketing allows you to take the same number of trains for your journey while saving money by dividing your trip into multiple segments between stations where the service stops along the route. Websites like Split My Fare and Split Train Tickets can do the maths for you, simplifying the process. On average, Split My Fare claims that customers save 26% by employing this tactic, though it may not be feasible for all journeys. Additionally, it’s worth checking whether it is more economical to purchase two single tickets rather than a round-trip ticket.
Railcards can yield discounts when booking tickets, although they require an initial purchase fee. They are most beneficial for frequent travellers. Various types of railcards are available, including national, regional, student, and senior cards. For instance, the regional Cotswold Line Railcard, priced at £9.95, is valid for a year and grants a 34% discount on off-peak single and return tickets. Detailed information about the various railcard options can be found here.
Travel as a Group
Travelling in groups of three to nine adults can result in savings of up to a third on ticket prices. It’s important to note that the group must travel together, and individual rail cards cannot be used when booking group tickets. Discounts are also available for groups exceeding 10 people; direct contact with the train company is necessary for these arrangements. Group off-peak day travel cards are also an option for London, provided the origin station on the ticket falls within fare zones one to nine.
Explore Flexible Commuting
National flexible rail tickets have the potential to save passengers a significant sum, according to the watchdog organisation Transport Focus. These flexible season tickets allow travel on any eight days within a 28-day period, eliminating the need to select travel days in advance. Train companies have introduced a range of flexible ticket options tailored to the changing travel patterns of post-pandemic commuters and workers. The Flexi Season ticket, for instance, offers a minimum of 20% off the cost of an equivalent monthly season ticket, as stated by National Rail. For those who regularly make the same journey multiple times a week, monthly or season tickets may prove to be the more cost-effective choice. Inquire with your employer about the possibility of a season ticket loan, which can help spread the cost without incurring interest charges.