How to get cheap rail travel tickets – including saving a third off fares home for Christmas

Between now and Christmas Eve an average of 3.27m leisure trips on rail will take place each day.

But travellers looking to avoid pricey fares can save up to a third off by buying a Two Together or Family & Friend Railcard online.

The launch of the digital Railcards that cost £30 each for a year means you can instantly buy and download it to the Railcard App (via Google Play or iTunes) on a smartphone.

You can access the online Railcard from your smartphone

Once downloaded rail commuters can start saving straight away – and if the phone battery dies the Railcard can be swapped on to another smart phone device.

Jyoti Bird, Director at National Rail, said: “Railcards were developed by the train companies to help customers save money on journeys that connect them to people, opportunities and other places in Britain. On average, Railcard holders travel 50 miles per journey and save around £150 each on rail journeys.”

If you’re wondering if there are more ways to lower the cost of your next train journey, there are plenty of money-saving hacks worth noting – check out the best of the bunch below.

1. Are you eligible for a railcard discount?

You can get a railcard for £30 a year

Before you book, check to see if you’re eligible for any discount railcards.

These are available for anyone under 26, over 60, disabled or with a family (discounts only if you travel with at least one child), and cost around £30 for a year.

Railcards apply to all UK Standard and First Class Anytime, Off-Peak and Advanced fares (although only after 9:30 in the morning on weekdays).

2. Split it

Splitting the fare for your journey is a clever yet simple trick that could save you money

One of the best ways to save on fares is to split up your ticket.

For example, it can be cheaper to book a ticket from Liverpool to Crewe, then Crewe to London, than to simply buy a ticket from Liverpool to London.

It’s perfectly legal as long as the train you’re on stops at the stations you’ve bought tickets from.

Confused? We’ve got a complete guide on TrainSplit here, or you can see a breakdown on

3. Book in advance – and at the right time

Time your booking to maximise savings on your fare

Ticket retailers release a handful of cheap seats for each journey around 12-weeks before the date of travel, and these can save you as much as 80% – that’s around £100 off the price of a London to Edinburgh ticket.

If you can’t book 12-weeks in advance, you can still make big savings by booking even just a week early, so if you have any trips pencilled in your diary, check now on the Trainline website.

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If you know the exact dates and times you’ll be travelling, booking in advance using Virgin Trains’ ‘Ticket Offers’ tool can save you a small fortune.

Savvy customers can get early bird peak single fares, booked up to 24-hours in advance, to Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool from as little as £7.50. But tickets do sell out fast, especially during peak times.

To be in with the best chance of bagging the best price, we’d advise you to book between three to six-months in advance.

4. Register with a cashback site

Join a cashback website like TopCashback or Quidco and you can MAKE money every time you book a ticket online.

Both sites also regularly offer free train travel bonus offers, cutting the cost of your trip even further. If you’re wondering what a cashback site actually is and how it all works read our cashback FAQ guide.

5. Use National Rail’s cheapest fare finder

Three pink piggy banks in a row

The cheap fare finder is a nifty online tool

National Rail’s Cheapest Fare Finder is a simple tool that can help you plan future rail travel based on when the cheapest fare will be available.

Travellers can use the tool for trips between one day and three months in advance.

6. Avoid automated ticket machines

Avoid the ticket machines if you want the lowest fare

Most in-station ticket machines do not advertise discounted or group tickets, and can therefore work out a lot more expensive, compared to buying in advance, over the counter or online the night before. Avoid this at all costs. If you’ve left it last minute, buy over-the-counter.

7. Buy two singles, instead of a return ticket

Return tickets aren’t always cheaper

Train tickets are priced in a highly complicated way and very often two single tickets can actually work out cheaper than a return, especially if you know the time of the train you’re getting back.

This works with advance fares and on-the-day purchases, split your tickets too and you’ll save even more.

8. Consider a season ticket

Doing the same journey over a period of time may work out cheaper with a season ticket

If you’re a going to make the same journey periodically over a week or month, it may be worth investing in a season ticket, rather than paying daily.

For example, if you’re periodically travelling from London to Birmingham and back over a four week period, a monthly ticket may be cheaper than a weekly one. Check out the price difference below.

  • 7 day travelcard: £141, that’s £564 for a month

  • 1 month travelcard standard price: £541.50. That’s a £22.50 saving.