Image: Tomas Anton Escobar, Unsplash
Image: Tomas Anton Escobar, Unsplash

How to keep your train fares on track

Some things are unavoidable when you become a student – that you will have daunting assignments, that you will have extremely late nights, and that you will pay for horrendously overpriced trains homes at some point. However, the latter hell of student life can be made more bearable if you know some tricks to secure cheaper train tickets. Through my three years of studying at Warwick, I have learned a few tips that have reduced my trains back to the North from £35-40 to £18-25 (sometimes including the first-class upgrade!).

One of the easiest ways to begin your money saving journey is to purchase a 16-25 railcard. Although annually they cost £30, you will save a third off all rail travel within Great Britain so they are a worthwhile investment which will save you a lot of money in the long run. If you are at the beginning of studying, make sure to purchase a three-year railcard. It costs £70 for the three years, immediately saving you £20 if you were to buy them yearly. Also, if you don’t have a 16-25 railcard, don’t pretend you do and buy a ticket. Life is fun with risks but getting yourself a hefty fine when you’re already deep into your overdraft is not a risk you should take.

Another useful tip is to purchase tickets through the Trainline App. I cannot praise this app enough! It will often tell you which tickets are cheapest and can be used across all stations in the UK, even tiny two-platform ones! I have discovered that, although it is inconvenient, often picking a journey from a minor station and then using connecting trains can drive the price down because it is so unconventional. Although departing from small stations and having to change trains is annoying, if it is saving you money which can be used to buy pints of purple at POP! it might be a worthwhile annoyance.

If there are holidays or popular events on the horizon, it is useful to buy a ticket slightly before or after the event. Bank holidays, such as Easter, are a time for travel so train prices can increase. However, with bank holidays, lots of trains run on a reduced schedule and use rail-replacement buses. Due to this, prices can be decreased in an attempt to get people to use the lines. It is a simple matter of using the Trainline app a few days either side of a holiday to work out when the reduced tickets are. The very easy interface of the Trainline app ensures that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to check when there are reduced prices. Additionally, it is worth ensuring you never buy a ticket at peak times, as not only are the trains full, they are also more in demand and thus unlikely to be sold at reduced prices. Extremely early mornings, mid-afternoon and late in the evening are the best times. Almost anytime on a Sunday will feature reduced prices because people tend not to travel long distance on Sunday, so take advantage of the discounts offered to fill seats!

Other important piece of information is when to actually buy tickets. You may be aware that buying tickets in advance makes them a lot cheaper, which is true. However, student life is unpredictable and most of us are unsure exactly what week or day we’ll be able to go home, so planning ahead isn’t always possible. From experience, I have discovered the best time to book tickets is three days before you travel. This is, of course, a train Russian roulette, but more often than not, trains are looking to fill unbooked seats close to set off, and you can usually save a lot of money. Additionally, I have discovered that leaving ticket purchase a few short days before departure increases your chances of buying first class tickets for a minuscule upgrade. I would never suggest purchasing a first-class ticket for any journey if the value of the upgrade exceeds £5 more than a standard ticket because the perks are not worth the price. However, following the previously outlined tips, I can often buy an upgrade for as little as 75p. First class has free Wi-Fi, drinks and food. Be cheeky and take full advantage of this if you can get a cheap upgrade. If you’ve paid for the food and drink, treat yourself to a can of coke and a cup of tea, you’ve earned it!

Overall, trains, unlike people, are predictable. At first, the prices might seem like a minefield because they fluctuate wildly, but looking at price comparison websites and apps, as well as choosing to travel off-peak means you should be able to benefit from reduced travel.

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