Fare’s fair: tricks for rail travellers save up to £200

Rail passengers can save up to £200 on the price of a long-distance journey by buying several tickets, analysis shows.

Prices can be slashed on the longest routes by buying two or three singles to stations along the way rather than one through fare.

It is one of dozens of tricks that rail travellers can use to save money. Critics of high prices claim that the perfectly legal purchases underline the baffling complexity of fares.

Price rises were held at just over 1 per cent this year, however, figures suggest that overall the cost of rail travel has increased by about 25 per cent since 2010.

The Times today publishes a guide to the best money-saving tips following the disclosure yesterday that passengers were effectively being ripped off by thousands of self-serve ticket machines on the rail network.

A report from the Office of Rail and Road, the independent regulator, found that machines even sold peak-fare tickets up to 15 minutes after the start of the off-peak period.

Split tickets

One of the best ways to save on fares. Breaking a lengthy journey down into a series of smaller trips can be much cheaper than one through ticket. This works by choosing a route from, say, London to Glasgow but buying two tickets — a single to Warrington and another from Warrington to Glasgow.

One example on the website Moneysavingexpert.com showed how passengers could save £219 on a London to Durham return by buying four singles. A straight anytime return cost £301 but the total price for a single to York, then one from York to Durham, repeated on the return, cost a total of £82.

Ultra-advance fares

Train operators typically release fares up to 12 weeks before travel — and discounts are available for those who book early. Websites such as Trainline.com allow passengers to set up a ticket alert that emails them when advance tickets come on sale for a particular journey. Ultra-advance fares can shave up to 80 per cent — £100 — off the price of a London to Edinburgh fare.

Buy online — at the station

As above, advance fares are almost always cheaper than tickets bought at the station. Traditionally, operators sell advance tickets up to 6pm or midnight on the day before travel.

This is slowly changing, giving savvy passengers the chance to bag discounts on the day. One operator — CrossCountry — allows travellers to buy advance tickets on a smartphone up to 15 minutes before they get on the train.

Two singles often beat a return

Often two singles can be cheaper than a return. Moneysavingexpert.com gives the example of a standard anytime return ticket for London to Manchester — returning a day later — costing £321. An outbound advance ticket, however, could be bought for £19 and a Manchester to London advance single costs £35.50 — saving £266.

Take your time

Many routes are served by multiple train companies and the quicker services will cost more than “stoppers”.

Which? provided an example based on rivalry between London Midland and Virgin Trains between Euston and Birmingham New Street. The Virgin Trains service takes one hour and 24 minutes, costing £85. Travellers can save up to £33 by going on London Midland, although it takes two hours and 13 minutes.