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Why now is the time to book your Christmas rail travel

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The majority of train operators release their cheapest tickets 12 weeks in advance of travel so anyone planning a rail trip this Christmas could save up to 90% booking from today.

For those relying on rail travel during the festive season, booking early can really save you cash – typically around 60% by buying an advance ticket rather than a full price off-peak ticket. Return journeys for after Christmas will be made available in the coming days.

Research by travel comparison site TravelSupermarket revealed that passengers travelling on the West Coast in the days before Christmas could save 89% on the cost of travel.

Based on a single ticket departing from London Euston at 07.07am for Liverpool Lime Street on Friday 22 December, passengers could save up to £142 by booking an advance single ticket costing just £17.00 vs. an anytime single ticket which would cost £159.

Alternatively, travelling on the same route but later in the day at 11.07am offers savings of £60.90 (73%) by buying an advance single fare vs. an off-peak ticket.

Those travelling on popular route London Euston to Manchester could save £142 (84%) by booking online in advance for £27 vs. buying full price anytime ticket for £169.

In another example, TravelSupermarket found that departures on the Friday before Christmas (22 December), rail passengers travelling from Plymouth to Birmingham New Street could save £74.60 (61%) by planning ahead. For those travelling from Leeds to Bristol Temple Meads, they can save £69.70 (61%), while those heading from London Euston to Birmingham New Street could save £15.55 (59%).

Emma Grimster of TravelSupermarket, said: “While Christmas might still seem some time off, it really is worth making the effort to get organised now to avoid stress and added expense on your rail travel nearer to the time. The purchase window and availability of advance tickets does vary between train operators. However, early birds who keep a close eye on when the cheapest tickets become available will not only get the best price but also those all-important seat reservations on busy pre-Christmas services.

“And if you’re planning a return trip in early 2018, make sure you book your return leg as soon as those tickets become available, to avoid the 3.6% increase which is due to come into place on 1 January 2018.”

Top tips to get the best rail fare:

TravelSupermarket gives the following tips on how to get the best fare:

  • Book early: Train tickets can typically be booked around 12 weeks ahead, which is when you will be able to get the best rate. The cheaper saver and advance tickets tend to get snapped up first, leaving only off- peak singles and returns or the full fares. Just be aware that these tickets are cheap but they’re not always flexible and can’t be refunded – you must travel on the train and date specified.
  • Be flexible: Travelling on certain days and at certain times can be a lot more expensive than others. You could actually save quite a lot if you can be flexible. The cheapest fares (off-peak and advance) tend to be available around 9am – 2pm on weekdays, after 7pm on weekday evenings and at weekends. Exact times will vary by route and advance tickets won’t be available on every route for every departure.
  • Travel off-peak: This means travel outside of the morning rush hour and from mid-afternoon to early evening on many routes. Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays are always classed as off-peak. The times vary from one train company to another so it’s wise to check first.
  • Compare both returns and singles: Sometimes you’ll know exactly what time you’re travelling on your outward journey but not when you’ll be coming back. If that’s the case, you may want to combine two single tickets – an advance ticket (the cheapest ticket type, but inflexible) for your outward journey and a flexible ticket (either an off-peak or anytime, depending on the time of day you’ll be travelling) for your return journey.
  • Look at competing operators: On some routes, services are operated by more than one train operating company and it can pay to select different operators. If you’re not worried about journey times, cheaper fares are often available on services that are slower.
  • Compare standard and first class: It is possible to buy first class fares at cheaper rates than standard, so you save money and get a better travelling experience.  Where the price differential is very small then opt for first class as most companies offer complimentary food and refreshments and even free wifi on some services.
  • Consider ticket combining: If you are travelling across Scotland and beyond, look out for tickets that include more than one form of transport, for example, rail and sail tickets.  It’s also worth checking out the range of options around Rover tickets which cover rail travel, ferries and a selection of bus and coach services throughout Scotland. PLUSBUS tickets are great value – unlimited bus travel at your origin / destination for a few pounds.
  • Consider a Railcard: You will get cheaper fares and quickly earn back the cost of the card. If you are eligible, look out for the 16- 25 card (formerly Young Persons card) and if you’re over 60, a Senior card, both of which offer a third off most fares. Consider purchasing a Two Together card for a third off rail fares for you and the person you travel with most – this costs around £30 for a year. Discount cards are also available for family groups, the disabled, those in HM Forces and those in the New Deal scheme.