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Save up to 80% on train fares with these top tips

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Written by: Paloma Kubiak
19/01/2017
Train fares are on the rise as service seems to be in decline. Here’s how you can save up to 80% on train travel.

The cost of rail travel rose by 2.3% on average from January and while station ticket machines should see improvements to help commuters get cheaper fares, there are easy ways you can save £100s now.

Here are four top tips on how splitting your ticket, taking an alternative route, picking the right time to travel and how taking a slightly longer route will cut the cost:

Book at the best time and save 70%

Campaign group Which? said commuters could save up to 70% against the walk-up rates by buying in advance. But one problem is that there’s often a set allocation of tickets, so they’re sold on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis.

They’re typically available to buy up to 12 weeks before you travel – but there are exceptions. For example, you can book on Virgin Trains East Coast services from London to north of York up to 24 weeks in advance. But an advance fare isn’t always weeks ahead. Which? said most train companies sell advance seats up to the day before travel (many up to 23:59), and companies selling these tickets on the day of departure is expected to increase by June 2017.

You can check the National Rail website which lists future release dates for advance bookings and the latest time you can book. Some train companies, including Virgin, Greater Anglia and Cross Country Trains, offer ticket alert emails, so you’ll be the first to know of new releases. Plus, from April 2017, those travelling with long-distance operators will be informed when there are fewer than nine advance tickets available at a certain price.

Find an alternative route and save up to £60

Alternative journeys are the next big money-saving opportunity, especially for peak-time travel, according to Which?. For example, if you took the 08:00 direct train from London to Manchester, arriving at 10:07, a single ticket would cost £166 and take 2 hours 7 minutes. But if you took the 08:07 from London to Stafford, then switched trains to travel on to Manchester, it would cost £104 and take 2 hours 28 minutes. The extra 21 minutes saves £62. You don’t even have to break your journey.

The campaign group lists Raileasy’s alternative route planner, due to launch in February, which trawls through journey combinations and ticket types to find alternative cheaper fares. Savings aren’t guaranteed, and the site takes a commission of up to 10% of any tickets sold though.

Travel off-peak and save £80

‘Off-peak’ and ‘Super off-peak’ tickets apply during quieter times such as early afternoon. But train companies set their own peak and off-peak hours within a window defined by the Department for Transport which means commuters are left confused as the terms apply to different times across the train network, and even for different routes with the same train firm.

A London to Southampton one-way ticket departing at 08:39 cost £40.50 but at 09:05 (6 minutes into South West Trains’ off-peak time zone for Monday-Friday, London departures) fell by £25.55, to £14.95.

It said you should check the train company’s website for peak and off-peak times, and search for tickets online checking prices before and after your preferred departure time.

Split your ticket and save more than 80%

Instead of buying one single ‘through’ ticket for your journey, you buy multiple tickets to cover its component parts – same journey, same seat, no changes. This allows you to pick up the cheapest fares for different parts of your route, capitalising on advance tickets and off-peak fare changes.

Shipp said this ticketing hack is perfectly legitimate – the only rule being that your train must stop at the stations named on your ticket.

As an example, Coventry to Glasgow direct costs £74.25. But splitting the journey at Wigan means the journey actually costs £14.50, saving £59.75 – 80%.

To do it, you need to know what to ask for but, once you do, you can buy these online or from station staff. You can also use split-ticketing websites such as Raileasy.co.uk, Splitticketing.co.uk and Trainsplit.com. Shipp added that split ticketing can work for commuters as well as leisure passengers – on all fare types.

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