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Cutting the Cost of Rail Travel

We all know that if we buy our train tickets earlier (Apex Fares) or buy one of the various SAVER fares either by having specific railcards or limited offers that are running on the day, that we can save costs. However few of us are aware of the really low fares on offer as the train companies do not highly publicise them and with the various train companies operating today it's not easy to keep track of their prices or get access to them when at the station. Searching the internet can pick you up some bargains either by using discount travel websites going direct to the train operators website. But there are other ways. Previously we covered an option where rail costs could be saved when making a return journey, it could be more cost effective to break the journey down into a number of pieces rather than buying return tickets or getting a single journey return.

However there are other options including buying Railcards and other discount offers, buying the best option single ticket arrangement or buying the various Passes on offer by some travel companies that allow you to combine different forms of travel together in one ticket, like the Freedom of Wales Pass offered by Arriva Wales or the London Travel Card. Here we are going to look at some of the various methods on offer.

As well as the various railcards (see below for details on these) on offer there are more promotional train fares available than you realise, yet for ultra cheap deals you have to know where to look. Booking direct at a station or via the railway company's own website is usually the cheapest way as there is no booking fee, plus you may come across extra online discounts.  When on websites check for hidden promotional specials for example:

  • The National Rail website has a special promotions index page listing all special offers.
  • East Midlands and South West Trains certain routes, including Sheffield to Derby and London to Exeter, it's possible to get Megatrain fares for £1 if you book early enough.
  • Whilst from Manchester to London, go to the Virgin Trains website and click the e-ticketing and m-ticketing section. This offers super-cheap mid-week single tickets, from £1 provided you print the tickets yourself. A similar service is available via Chiltern Railways for London to Birmingham trips.

For finding cheap fare information there are 4 main sites, as well as different types of search tools, and they don't all show the same tickets, so if you have time it is worth working with all the ones you can find. The 4 main sites are:

  • TheTrainline has its own site but also links into many other commercial booking sites. Navigating your way around it's system is relatively simple, but it charges a £2.50 booking fee when you book through it, so youíre better booking direct from the train operator.
  • National Express East Coast system does in fact cover the whole of the UK, has no booking fees and sometimes gives extra discounts if your journey uses its network. One advantage of this website is that it has a low fare finder, which will also find alternative routes which may be cheaper.
  • Raileasy also charge booking fees of £1 on every purchase over £10 (£2 for tickets less than £10) and then a flat 50p charge for debit card bookings and 2.5% for credit card purchases. One advantage is it lists single fares on the results screen, which is useful as these can often be cheaper than returns, but also allows you to choose the best combination for you trip..
  • National Rail is different in that you can't buy your tickets direct through it, but it does link you to the individual train operator websites, who donít charge booking fees. You are able to put in your departure and arrival destinations and it will give you timetable results, then you can go forward and get the fare and availability information, before moving onto purchase your ticket from the individual train operator.


These are usually annual cards which you purchase for a fee and then whenever you buy a rail ticket it entitles you to a saving usually of up to a third. The current railcards on offer include the:

16-25 Railcard - For anyone aged 16-25 and offers you up to a third off rail fares throughout Britain, discounts on hotels, restaurants and days out from participating venues. It costs £24 and it'll save you a third on rail fares throughout Great Britain for a whole year. You're eligible if you're aged between 16-25, or over the age of 26 and in full-time education. I can be used for both long and short trips and at anytime on weekends, Public Holidays and during the week, however if you want to travel on a weekday before 10am then a minimum fare will apply. For more details see this link.

Senior Railcard - for anyone 60 years young or above. It costs just £24 and it'll save you 33% on rail fares throughout Great Britain for a whole year. It can be used for both long and short trips and you can use it almost anytime during the week, weekends and Public Holidays.  The only restriction is morning peak period services, Monday to Friday (not including Public Holidays) when journeys are made wholly within the London and South East area. For more details see this link and how to get one.

Disabled Persons Railcard If you have a disability that makes travelling by train difficult you may qualify for the Disabled Persons Railcard. It allows the card holder and an adult companion with accompanying them - to get a third off most Standard and First Class fares throughout Great Britain. You can purchase a one year card for £18 with which if you take a journey that usually costs £54 the card has paid for itself. There is also three year card available for £48.

You have to provide proof that you qualify for a this type of Railcard and a list of qualifications with acceptable proof documents, as well as a list of tickets you are able to get discounts on with this card can be found here. You might qualify if you have a visual impairment, a hearing impairment, have epilepsy or are in receipt of a disability related benefit. For more details on the Disabled Persons Railcard see this website.

Family and Friends Rail Card - This discount card costs £24 and gives you a 33% saving on adult fares and 60% off children's fares throughout Great Britain. Each individual card covers up to 4 adults and 4 children and you don't have to be related you just have to travel together at the same time. You can use it for long and short trips and use it for travel at almost anytime during the week, weekends and Public Holidays.  The only restriction is for travel during the morning rush hour (peak time) Monday to Friday (not including Public Holidays) when journeys are made wholly within the London and South East area. Fore more details on how to get one and full set of terms and conditions see their website at this link.

Train and Bus Combinations

Some rail and bus companies and in combination with some local councils offer train and bus combined tickets/deals. First Great Western is one of these and they have a number of combined Train and Bus Ticket offers as well as their London Travel Card which includes underground travel. You can find out more about the in items in the following list from their website www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk/Content.aspx?id=44#Combined .

  • PlusBus  a ticket for unlimited bus travel that you add to your train ticket. So you pay for your complete train and bus journey in one easy transaction. PlusBus is available to 231 towns and cities across Britain.
  • Combined Train&Bus through tickets There are currently 102 destinations available with a combined Train&Bus ticket across their network. You can buy a ticket all the way to your final destination, including your train travel and travel on a RailLink bus service.
  • FirstBus & RailCards  Get unlimited travel on all First Great Western train services and all First bus services in specific areas.  They are available for 1 day and 7 days for the areas set out below. There are no time restrictions on these tickets. Currently available for Maidenhead, Slough and Windsor, and South Wales between Newport and Carmarthen.
  • Freedom Travelpass The Freedom Travelpass gives you unlimited travel on all train and most bus services in Bristol, Bath, North Somerset or South Gloucestershire. It is available in daily (peak and off-peak), weekly and monthly variants.
  • Ride Cornwall gives the holder one dayís unlimited travel on all rail and most bus services within Cornwall and between Cornwall and Plymouth, after 09:00 Monday Ė Friday and at any time on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.
  • London one day Travelcards For one days unlimited travel on all Transport for London Buses, Underground, Docklands Light Railway, Tramlinks and National Rail services in London, ask for a One Day Tavelcard when buying your train ticket. There are both peak and off-peak versions available to suit your needs.
  • Looe Valley Explorer - unlimited travel after 9.30am Monday to Friday and all day on Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays between Liskeard and Looe.

Another example is the Freedom of Wales Flexi Pass which is operated by Arriva Trains Wales and gives you one ticket that allows you to have unlimited access to all of Wales' mainline train services and almost every bus service, but also a range of other benefits including 'two for one' entry or discounted entry to many of Wales's biggest tourist attractions. For example visiting the Bala Lake Railway with this pass will give you a 20% off the entry fee. There are 3 passes altogether, each one allows 4 days train travel and 8 days bus travel within an 8 day period. They are:

  • Freedom of Wales Pass which costs £69 - with railcard discount £46
  • South Wales Rover costing £47 - with railcard discount £31.33
  • North and Mid Wales Rover also costing £47  - with railcard discount £31.33

If you are a holder of a 16-25, Senior or Disabled Persons railcard, then you can get around a third off these prices. For more details on these passes, attraction discounts on offer and to purchase a ticket, visit this website.

Many of the other train operators will also offer similar deals and packages, so don't forget to either search the internet and see what you can find or ask the train operator if they have something similar to offer you.

If you are travelling to the Isle of Wight then consider the Ferry, Bus and Rail combination pass on offer from Wightlink - Isle of Wight all in One ticket will give you more details on what is on offer.

Travelling In London

There are at least two methods I have come across for travelling around London more conveniently if not more economically. Both of which you do not need cash with you when you travel and you get through the station faster by being able to scan the card you have rather than having to stop and buy a ticket. These are:

London Travel Pass

If you are visiting London, with so much to see and do, a Travelcard to get around the capital may be the answer. It allows you to move easily, quickly and economically around Londonís Public Transport network, this includes travelling on London Underground, London Buses, National Rail Trains, The Docklands Light Railway, Tramlink as well as giving a 33% discount on London River Services. One point to remember that to travel around central London by bus you are now required to have paid for your journey prior to travelling, so the Travelcard is one way of allowing you to do this. It can be used for travel into London from Heathrow using the Underground, and from London City Airport using Londonís buses and Docklands Light Railway connections to the Underground but excludes the Heathrow Express and City Airport Coach Link. For transport purposes London is split into travel zones and the Travelcards are valid for use within Zones 1-2 or Zones 1-6.

For more details on the card as well as being able to identify the zones you want to travel in and therefore the relevant prices as well as being able to purchase a copy prior to your visit see their website a   www.londontravelpass.com.

London Oyster Card

This can be used for paying for bus, tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and participating national rail travel in London. It costs £12 per person, which includes a £2 non-refundable fee to cover the cost of producing the card. It will be pre-loaded with £10 credit and can be topped up at over 3,000 outlets all over London. Cards do not expire and can be used for future visits or given to someone else visiting London. Placing it on the available card reader each time you make a journey automatically deducts the best price option. You can make as many journeys as you like in a 24 hour period and Oyster will automatically charge less than the price of an equivalent Day Travelcard or One Day Bus Pass. Children and the Oyster.  All children under 16 travel free on trams and buses at any time. Children under 11 may travel free on the tube and Docklands Light Railway from 09.30 Monday to Friday and anytime at weekends and public holidays, provided they are travelling with an adult who has a valid ticket or Visitor Oyster Card. Children under 5 may travel free at all times with a fare paying adult. Oyster Cards have to be purchased prior to arrival in London and are available online from this link.

See Also:

How to cut rail costs when making a return journey,


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