Today I have a guest post for you by Barrie who blogs at Railway Blogger, all about how you can save money on train travel. You can also find Barrie on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Over to Barrie…
If you are planning a trip then travelling by train always seems a lot easier than travelling by car for me. I enjoy the way I can relax whilst someone else drives. The proximity of a toilet was great especially when I had small children. I can relax and catch up with a good book or DVD. Lots of people tell me that they think that train travel is expensive. However, you can save money on train travel by following these tips.
Great savings can be made by buying more than one ticket for your journey. You don't have to get off the train but you may have to move seats. There are some great websites that can work out the best value split tickets. Always compare these to a single route pricing to check for savings.
There are many kinds of railcards available that can be used to get discounts on fares. Most people know about the 16-25 card for young people, the friends and family card and the senior railcard. However there is also a Two Together railcard which allows discounts on two people travelling together. Costing just £30 a year it gives 1/3rd off Standard and First Class Anytime, Off-Peak and Advanced fares. It also gives discounts on partner offers such as up to 60% off theatre tickets. You could save the cost of the railcard just one trip and go on to use it for a whole year.
Exchange Tesco vouchers for Red Spotted Hanky and travel free of charge. £5 of Tesco vouchers gives you £10 of Red Spotted Hanky vouchers. You can also buy a friends and family railcard for £15 of Tesco vouchers giving you 1/3rd off most adult fares and 60% off children's fares for a year.
If you can be flexible on what time of the day you travel, you can make considerable savings. Consider catching an early or late train to avoid the peak travel times. 70% of train journeys begin or end in London and it's much more expensive to travel at peak times.
Take a bit longer
Picking a slower train can save money. Look for trains that take a bit longer and make more stops.
Compare the price of getting two single tickets for your journey instead of a return ticket. It might even be cheaper to travel First Class rather than Standard for one leg of the journey. If you are in First Class, remember drinks and snacks are usually complementary on long distance services.
Try to win your train tickets! Keep an eye on the social media sites of the train companies. Set up a follow on their Facebook pages and get notifications for Twitter. They often run competitions to win tickets to be used anywhere on their own services. Check out the free magazines you sometimes see on trains and at stations. Search on the internet for ‘win train tickets' and set the search to look for posts in the last month.
Swap your Nectar points for Virgin Trains East Coast Advance Tickets. These can be used for full or part payment. Nectar points can also be used for Eurostar tickets if you are travelling further afield.
Join the mailing lists of the train companies you use and keep an eye on your emails. Some train companies even offer loyalty schemes. For example, Cross Country have a monthly draw for free tickets every time you make a purchase.
Quidco offer up to 5% money back when you buy tickets directly with certain train operators. This also applies when purchasing railcards – a double whammy!
If you are a student, be sure to get a NUS card. You can save as much as 25% depending on which train operator you are using. You can also save money when you are buying a young person's railcard.
Vary the route
Check if an alternative route is cheaper. You might have a choice of routes that you can use each using a different train operator. For example, Exeter to London is usually cheaper with South West Trains as it is a slower route with more stops than with First Great Western. If travelling to Heathrow, the stopping Heathrow Connect service is cheaper than the Heathrow Express.
Drive to another station
If you're lucky enough to have a choice of stations, it can make a big difference to the fare depending on which one you use. For example, in the Midlands, driving to Rugby station and travelling to London works out cheaper than travelling by train from Market Harborough. Think about whether you could use an alternative station and route and see what savings you can make.
Train booking sites
There are many train booking sites such as Train Genius and Trainline. Be careful as some of these add on a booking fee and this may wipe out any savings. Use the train booking site to find the cheapest deal but then check if you can get the fare even cheaper by booking directly with the train operator for the same train. If travelling with Virgin trains, it's worth checking with their own fare finder which searches to get you the best deal.
National Rail cheap fare finder
National Rail have a great tool that allows you to search all train operators and all routes to find the best deal.
Refunds for delays
If your train is delayed, you maybe entitled to a full or partial refund. Make sure you claim if you think this is the case – they can only say ‘No'! Refunds usually start to apply when a train is delayed for more than 30 minutes.
London Underground travel card
If you travel on the London Underground, you can now use a contactless debit card in place of an Oyster card. Just swipe the debit card on the Oyster pad as normal. Over the course of a day, you'll never be charged more than a daily travel card. It can work out cheaper than buying tickets for each single journey. The system calculates the cheapest method of ticketing and only charges you for this amount.
For long journeys, it might be cheaper to take a sleeper train rather than a train journey and a hotel at your destination. Sleepers are available between London and Cornwall and London and Scotland. You can get single and double compartments and inter-connecting compartments for groups of four.
Food and Drink
It goes without saying that the cheapest way to eat and drink on a train is to take your own supplies. However when this is not possible you can apply for a free Bite card and save 10% from food and drink in many of the outlets on railway stations.
Train companies often have brokered deals with attractions at the destinations they serve. Have a look at the train operator websites to see what they offer. In London they offer 2 for 1 tickets on many attractions on production of a valid train ticket.