Most train commuters know that you can save a few quid by booking your tickets in advance. But the extent of these savings might well go unnoticed.
The current ticketing system – an oddity if ever there was one – allows you to book train tickets a full three months in advance.
It would be a stretch to imagine that most of us are organised enough for this. Normally, we adapt our travel requirements to suit everything else rather than adapting everything else to suit our travel arrangements.
But we may think again once the savings are flashed before our eyes.
New research from Vouchercloud shows that it’s possible to save up to 85% of the cost of a single ticket by booking a full 10 weeks in advance from the walk-on fare you would pay on the day.
The cost of a journey from Leeds to London – a frightening £96.80 on the day – can be cut by £82.20 by booking the full 10 weeks in advance. Similar journeys from Norwich, Sheffield and Liverpool can also be trimmed by over 80%.
Book up to a month in advance between Edinburgh and London and you’ll halve the walk-on fare. Arrange the journey a full 10 weeks in advance, and you can save a whopping £100.
Just Look Ahead
However, you don’t always need to book a full 10 weeks ahead to make a good saving.
Booking two weeks in advance between Birmingham and London can reduce your fare from £28.80 to just £7.50, and you’ll not be able to better this – though availability is likely to be better if you’re booking further ahead.
Booking three weeks ahead between Sheffield and London can reduce the cost of a ticket from £71.50 to just £15.00, and you’ll only trim another £1.50 off this by planning the full 10 weeks ahead.
But booking far in advance is not a hard and fast rule. Any amount of flexibility over when you travel will normally provide opportunities to make a saving.
A quick scan for Exeter to London tickets this weekend uncovered singles priced from £23.60 – around half the walk-on fare. According to Vouchercloud’s data, these prices are normally reserved for those who book a full month in advance.
Split Your Tickets
If you’re a dab hand at booking your tickets online, you can always try splitting your ticket. This is especially useful if you have little choice other than to travel at short notice when fares are at their steepest.
Splitting your ticket means that instead of buying a direct ticket from your origin station to your destination, you split the route into shorter sections and buy separate tickets for each one. (We’ve got a step-by-step guide to split-ticketing here.)
For some unfathomable reason, this often results in cheaper fares. But there is an element of risk to split-ticketing.
Your single tickets are separate from each other, so if you have a separate ticket for a train that you end up missing due to a late running service, there’s little you can do about it.
And if there’s a major delay and you apply for a refund under the Delay-Repay Scheme, you’ll only be compensated for the affected portion of your ticket rather than the full cost of the journey.
The major advantage of booking directly from A to B is the ‘insurance’ that you forsake when you split your tickets.
Bottom line: there are several different ways to save on the walk-on fare. Booking as far in advance as possible is the best and safest way to secure a cheap journey.
But don’t give up hope if you need to travel at short notice. A little flexibility, or negotiating a split ticket, could also net you an unlikely bargain.