This week, I travelled from one beautiful UK city to another – Oxford to York. It is a three and a half hour train journey, roughly. The first time I did this journey, I paid £133.00 for a single ticket (see below prices for booking on the same day of your journey).
Now, I rarely pay more than around £64.55 for a return (see below – booking in advance and using a railcard). That’s over half the price!
So what’s the catch? How do you get these prices? I reveal all in this blog on travel hacking UK trains.
What is Travel Hacking UK Trains?
First of all, there’s nothing dodgy or illegal about travel hacking (if you do it right!) Travel hacking is learning how to get the cheapest offers for flights, trains, buses, rooms and trips.
UK Trains can be very expensive. You can buy a ticket for a one or two hour train journey for 10X the prices of an overnight journey in Asia! So, if you want to get the most out of your time travelling in the UK, you need to learn travel hacking UK trains.
Top 5 Tips on Travel Hacking UK Trains
I have travelled to a lot of main cities in the UK including London, Liverpool, York, Oxford, Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh. If you follow these five general tips, I can guarantee you will save around 50% compared to the walk on price.
Travel Hacking UK Trains Tip #1 – Travel during Off Peak times
As a traveller or tourist in the UK, you should have a pretty flexible schedule, which will help you to book cheaper Off-Peak trains.
Peak times include rush hour, which is often early mornings from 6am – 10am and early evenings from 4pm-7pm. Weekends are almost always Off-Peak. The strange thing about the UK is that different train operators and different lines have different Off-Peak schedules, so check with your train provider. Virgin Train’s Off-Peak schedule can be found here.
If you purchase an Off-Peak train ticket and try to use it on an On-Peak time train, your ticket will be invalid. It won’t let you through the barrier or you will be asked by the conductor to purchase a new ticket or at least pay the difference.
Travel Hacking UK Trains Tip #2 – Book in Advance
Paying on the day is always more expensive in UK than planning in advance. If you are travelling to the UK from a different country, you can book your UK train tickets in advance online through The Trainline or Virgin Trains.
As a general rule, you want to be booking at least a week in advance. Also, try looking at the prices for different days, such as Tuesday vs Friday, as this can sometimes make a difference.
Travel Hacking UK Trains Tip #3 – Use a Railcard for up to 1/3 off
Did you know that you can register for a Railcard in the UK and get up to 1/3 off UK Rail fares? You have to pay for the railcard initially, but will probably save that back on the first journey alone.
When I was under 25, I enjoyed the privilege of a Young Persons railcard, which gave me a third off all UK train journeys. How gutted I was when I turned 26 and was no longer classed as a young person! Bye-bye cheap train fares, or so I thought….
Now I don’t drive, because my epilepsy diagnosis means that I am medically not able to. Someone at the Doctors told me I could get a Disabled Persons Railcard and save a third for me and a friend accompanying me on my journey. This again has saved me a fortune on train travel! And there are many other options for discounted train travel in the UK.
You can purchase the following railcards as a UK resident…
Young Persons Railcard – Under 25’s
Two Together – Two people travelling together
Family and Friends – For those travelling with children
Senior Railcard – For those aged 60 and over
Click here for more information on National Railcards.
If you will be residing and studying in the UK, you can also get a FREE 4 year railcard when opening certain student bank accounts. When I was studying, it was HSBC, now I think it’s Santander. Check the Money Saving Expert on the best student bank accounts.
Travel Hacking UK Trains Tip #4 – Split Ticketing
For an expensive journey, it may be cost effective to split tickets. Instead of having one rail ticket from one destination to the other, you break it down and buy more than one ticket for the same journey, keeping costs down. Split ticketing is completely legal, provided that the train stops at the destination where you change tickets, but you don’t physically have to change trains!
£50.70 Standard rate
£13.50 London-Milton Keynes
£29.30 Milton Keynes-Birmingham
£7.90 What you save by splitting your ticket
Travel Hacking UK Trains Tip #5 – Compare different Travel Providers
In the UK, there are many different train providers or companies, so make sure that you check the prices with the different providers to get the best fare. For example, you might want to compare prices for trains out of London using Network Rail, Grand Central, Virgin and www.thetrainline.com.
Also, where there is more than one station in the city you are travelling from or to, try prices from different stations. For example, when travelling from London to York, you can travel from Kings Cross or Euston. However, if you travel from Euston, your train ticket simply includes an underground (London Tube) from Euston to Kings Cross and charges you more for the privilege. So make sure that you compare travel providers and stations.
Have you succeeded in Travel Hacking UK Trains?
How did you get on travelling the UK by train? Did you manage to pull of any of these travel hacks? Please comment below and let me know! I would love to hear from you.