Train travel can be incredibly expensive, especially if you are only taking one-off journeys and cannot get an annual discount. However, if you plan ahead and are prepared to compromise, it is possible to travel at budget prices. How you go about finding budget tickets may differ depending on the country in which you live, but there are some basic tips that will cover budget train travel in most countries.
Provided that you have Internet access, it is easy to compare the different prices of tickets. Don’t just rely on one online vendor. For example, in the UK, if you look for a ticket on nationalrail.co.uk, you may not find London Midland tickets, which, for anyone living in the Midlands area, are much cheaper than the Virgin tickets usually available on the National Rail site. Thetrainline.co.uk is also touted as a cheap way of buying tickets. Just don’t fall for the claim that any one site can get you the cheapest tickets without first doing your research.
Book in advance
If you know when you are traveling, then you can usually buy discount tickets in advance – the sooner in advance you buy, the better the price. Service providers usually have a certain number of discount seats to fill. Those who make regular journeys, particularly if commuting to work by train, should look at season tickets, which can work out an awful lot cheaper. Some companies may provide season passes, or may loan the money to buy one, so it is worth asking at work. If you really can’t book very far in advance, you will experience much less flexibility with regard to times and prices.
Generally, it is much cheaper to buy tickets online than it is to book by phone or in person at the train station. Some sites will offer a 10% discount for booking online. If you choose to pick the tickets up yourself rather than having them delivered to you, then you won’t even need to pay for postage. Best of all, you can take the time to ensure that you really are getting the cheapest fare, rather than having to rely on the ticket seller, who may be trained to offer you more expensive tickets.
Consider different routes
Sometimes it is worth looking at different routes. Direct routes tend to be the most expensive, because they get you there the fastest. However, if saving money is more important than the amount of time it takes to get to your destination, then you may find that a more circuitous route is a lot cheaper. You may need to change once or twice, but it may be worth it for the savings. Look at different service providers as well. Just because one provider is usually the cheapest, doesn’t mean they always will be.
Travel in groups
There may be discounts available for those travelling in groups. In the UK, this is usually available for groups of ten or more, but if you have several people travelling to an event, then this could be an extremely cost-effective way of getting there. This is likely to need booking in plenty of advance, however, so may take a bit of preparation and you will need to ensure that people don’t pull out at the last minute and leave you to cover their costs. If all goes to plan, the saving could be quite substantial.
Unless you really cannot avoid it, it is always best to try travelling off-peak. In the UK, this means travelling after 9 o’clock and possibly avoiding the 4-6 slot in the afternoon. This could mean that you reach your destination earlier or later than you would like, but unless it is absolutely vital that you arrive at a particular time, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Again, this is why it is worth booking in advance so that you have a choice of the cheapest options.
Check on discounts
If you are a student, a pensioner or you are disabled in some way, you will probably be able to get heavily discounted train tickets. This will probably involve applying for some kind of photo identification, which can be time-consuming, but in the long run it is worth it. It is also worth asking about other discounts; for example, in the UK, if you are travelling with someone who is disabled, you are entitled to travel with them for free. However, often if you don’t ask, no-one will tell you, so you need to be forewarned.
Train prices seem to go up every year, but it is still possible to get a budget price if you do your research and follow the above tips.