How to Save Money on Train Tickets
Updated: Dec 28, 2022
Taking the train can be an excellent way to travel, but it’s easy to spend a lot of money doing so if you aren’t careful. Before your next trip, use these strategies to save money on train tickets.
Sign up for train ticket alerts
Signing up for alerts will help you get the best fares. Most rail companies offer a price alert service which can be tailored to your travel needs. If you're only interested in being alerted about lower prices, for example, then that's all you need to do.
You can also set alerts for your favourite routes, so if there are any deals or reductions on them you'll be the first to know. Alternatively, if you're looking for a specific fare, such as £10-£15 return tickets from London Victoria station at anytime of day (excluding peak hours), then enter those details into the search box and select 'Only show alerts with these criteria'. So long as you have an email address registered with Rail Europe, you'll be able to sign up for alerts. And it doesn't cost anything to do so!
The final step is simply following the prompts when they come through - there's no need to refresh your browser or visit their website every time - but don't forget that it could take a few minutes before receiving an alert email.
Consider alternative routes
One way to save money on train tickets is by purchasing a rail pass. Rail passes are offered by most national and international railways and allow travelers unlimited travel for a specific period of time at a fixed price. Rail passes can offer significant savings compared with the cost of individual tickets for every trip taken, but they are not available for all routes and trains.
Another way to save money is by taking advantage of discounts offered by transportation providers for advance purchase or through other promotions. A variety of discount programs exist, including those that offer discounted prices when purchasing online or from an agent in the departure country, as well as those that provide special rates when traveling at off-peak hours or roundtrip journeys with connections outside the home country.
Get advanced booking discount
It's always a good idea to book your train tickets in advance if you want the cheapest possible fare. A lot of people assume that booking early means paying more money and sacrificing convenience, but that's not always the case.
Advance tickets can be cheaper than their one-way counterparts, and they're often easier to get your hands on too. Booking in advance is also a great way of guaranteeing yourself a seat for the duration of your journey - which is much less likely if you leave it till the day before! You may have heard of railcards, which give reductions on standard fares, as well as discounts on things like meals and luggage.
They're available at different prices depending on where you live (so check with your local travel authority) but are usually worth the investment for frequent travellers who might save hundreds over the course of a year. If you do decide to buy an advance ticket online from a third party retailer such as National Rail, make sure you compare all offers thoroughly before clicking 'buy'.
Often prices will vary considerably from site to site so shop around first to see what suits your needs best.
Buy e-tickets in advance
Buying your train tickets in advance is always a great way to save money. Some sites that offer e-tickets allow you to buy them up until the last minute, so if you have a flexible schedule, this could be an option for you.
If you're not sure where you'll be traveling from or going until later on in the year, I would recommend setting up alerts for the station of your destination and finding out which trains are cheapest at different times of day.
This way, when a great deal pops up, you can snatch it up before anyone else does! You can also buy tickets at stations: You may want to do this if you know where you'll be departing from and arriving but want the flexibility to change destinations as needed (it's better than paying full price for a ticket).
The downside here is that many stations only sell one type of ticket per day, so there's no guarantee what time of day your desired ticket will come available.
Book at ‘off peak’ times
Train tickets can be more expensive during peak times, so it might be a good idea to buy tickets during off-peak hours. This could be early in the morning or late at night. You should also consider purchasing your ticket weeks in advance if you are able to do that.
However, if the train is less than three weeks away, then there is not much time for price fluctuations, and it is usually best to buy your ticket when you know you will need one. There is also the option of traveling outside of busy travel periods like weekends and holidays which can help save some money.