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Five: ways to cut your rail fare

Train tickets are set to rise by more than double inflation in the New Year. Here are five ways you can help bring down the cost.


by Victoria Bischoff on Aug 17, 2012 at 07:31

If you aren’t restricted to travelling at a specific time of day, off-peak tickets are much cheaper than ‘anytime’ tickets. And as the name suggests, super-off peak tickets are even cheaper but do have even stricter travel restrictions.

Your ticket's time restrictions depend on what journey you are taking, but most off-peak tickets won’t allow you to travel around rush hour – which is before 9pm and between 5pm and 7pm roughly speaking. You can usually travel at any time at weekends though.

What’s more, I found out recently when travelling on a Virgin train that if you book an off-peak ticket using a railcard the time restrictions do not apply. You will, however, need to check this is the case with the train company you’re using.

3. Buy in advance

You won't always know when you'll be hopping on a train weeks in advance but if you do have a couple of journeys you know are coming up – especially long distances ones – it’s worth checking out advance tickets online.

According to, you can save up to 80% on the price of a standard single by doing this. If you buy a London to Edinburgh ticket 11 weeks in advance, for example, you’ll pay just £14.50 compared to over £100 on the day.

To get the best deals you need to book as early as possible because they sell out fast, but even calling the day before could mean you pay less than simply booking at the station. You should also be aware that you might not be able to travel at the most convenient times and your ticket will also not be refundable. You will, however, be able to change when you want to travel for a fee.

4. Buy in bulk

Ever heard of a carnet? Nope, me neither.

Well, apparently a carnet is a rail ticket that enables people who travel regularly on a route – but not regularly enough to warrant buying a season ticket – to get a discount on their journey.

The discount you get depends on the rail operator, the route and how many tickets you buy. For example, if you travel from Manchester to London you can save 10% with a 10 ticket carnet. Travel London to Birmingham, on the other hand, and you will save 20% with a 12 ticket carnet.

Carnets usually consist of 6, 10, 12 or 50 tickets that you can then use whenever you want. The best part is that anyone can use the tickets so you can give some to friends, family and colleagues. They are, however, normally only valid for six months so make sure you check the expiry date.

Obviously if you do travel regularly enough to buy a season ticket, you should look at getting one of these as they are almost always the cheapest way to travel. According to, it’s normally worth investing in a seven day pass if you make the same journey more than two or three times a week. Annual tickets, meanwhile, cost the equivalent of 40 weeks’ travel on weekly season tickets, giving you three months travel free.

It’s also a good idea to look at ‘Groupsave’ deals if three or more of you are travelling together.

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13 comments so far. Why not have your say?


Aug 17, 2012 at 12:03


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Ron Davies

Aug 17, 2012 at 12:08

How does this help the daily commuter, trapped with no options?

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Keith Simmonds

Aug 17, 2012 at 12:29

Call me dense, but I just cannot understand where all the money goes. The taxpayer is contributing £9 billion to the railways whilst passngers pay for some of the most expensive tickets in the world. At the same time, services are not much better than 15 years ago. There is something wrong here.

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New Investor

Aug 17, 2012 at 12:39

Well, They do need a bit of bubbley at the share holders meetings.

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Karen Davies

Aug 17, 2012 at 12:42

First Capital Connect also offer a carnet, I work irregular days so I buy 5 peak returns between Hertfordshire and London Moorgate at a discount of about 10%, they are valid for three months.

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colin grant

Aug 17, 2012 at 13:17

On the odd occasions that I have considered using the train its been impossible to get a price that you can work to because of the myriad different tarriffs, exceptions, times, fancy names for tarriffs. Plus at the end of the day it has always been cheaper to use the car. Personally the train system is not worth the time it takes to try and get sense out of its railfare system. The whole system sucks, and they dont deserve the business they get, which they only get from luckless individuals who have no choice, which is what they are counting on. If the government cared about lessening road use they should re-nationalise the railways and have fares that made the system worth using.

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White Stick follower

Aug 17, 2012 at 13:17

Higher fares for improvements and upgrades, every year the same excuse, except that the same cattle truck conditions don't change. The time table is 'flexible', i.e. trains move at will- even leaving stations earlier than scheduled sometimes,although to be fair they are usually late rather than early.

Where does the money go? To Directors and senior staff in (bad) performance bonuses, and shareholders.

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Aug 17, 2012 at 13:59

A freind works for First trains. I saw him at Manchester before he started work and he had been paid since he left the train station at Blackpool an hour ago.I travel an hour to work but dont get paid for that time. The rail industry is still full of old Nationalised industry work practices, the wage bills are high and that is partly why its so expensive.

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Aug 17, 2012 at 15:58

The daily commuter bares the brunt of all these rises. Most continental Europeans cannot believe how much it costs to get around here and people wonder why we Brits don't travel out at the weekend and make the most of our country - because we can't afford it.

I got round this by doing my motorbike test - have been riding for 5 years now and LOVE IT!!

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Aug 17, 2012 at 17:53

Travelling within south-east is often cheaper if you buy a ticket that extends BEYOND the south east zone – discounted tickets Dover to Sheffield are often cheaper than Dover to London....

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Paul Eden

Aug 19, 2012 at 09:39

Fares are very high so I try not to travel but if I do it is the coach - althouigh National Express are able to charge higher fares because of the high rail fares, offering no competition.

This makes the railcard worthless because I wouldn't use it enough to make it pay. The present price of £28 is 40% higher than it had been when I did buy it. I also lost one card soon after buying it, so it lost me money.

There is simply no suitable alternative other tha bringing our railway system into line with the French. Why can't we learn from them? And other European networks.

Perhaps the first thing to be done is to renationalise the whole network and start again. A public transport system is integral to the whole economy and even those without cars do have options....people give up jobs to work locally so as to avoid the punishing fares they would have to pay every year.

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Aug 19, 2012 at 11:53

Like the Car Tax & Petrol Tax billions all this extra money from the next fare increase will go the same way not on improvements it will be diverted into the Benefits purse,There's a thought for Monday morning as you get on your over crowded train and they want us to believe its the best in the world!!>

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Rosemary Pettit

Aug 20, 2012 at 15:33

Trains generally work well, usually on time and you get a refund if it is more than half an hour late - and you can't say that about a car journey. If you book you are guaranteed a seat where you can work if that's what suits you. Let the train take the strain. By the time you've added in depreciation, tax, MOT, petrol, cost of vehicle in the first place it's way cheaper.

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