As of 1st March 2022, train fares in England and Wales have risen by up to 3.8% - the biggest jump since 2013.
But, why has the price hike happened? And with prices rising, is it still possible to get a good deal on train travel? We find out.
Why have train fares gone up in price?
Train fares have risen for two main reasons. Firstly, the government is seeking to recoup some of the £14 billion it spent keeping essential transport services running through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, inflation has played a role. The amount train operators can increase ticket prices by is capped in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI) from the previous July (so in this case July 2021), plus one percentage point.
However, it could have been much worse. Inflation has continued to rise steadily since last summer, and in January 2022 the RPI stood at 7.8%. So, while 3.8% is still an eye-watering rise to face, it’s still plenty below current rates of inflation.
How to get a good deal on train travel
Fortunately, despite price rises, there are still a few nifty tricks you can try to get as cheap a deal as possible on your train tickets.
Split ticketing is cheap train travel’s best kept secret. Instead of buying one ticket to cover your whole journey. you’ll buy multiple tickets for different parts of the journey to save money.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re travelling from Cardiff to Newcastle, and the train stops in Birmingham along the way. Instead of buying one ticket from Cardiff to Newcastle, you’d buy a ticket from Cardiff to Birmingham, and another ticket from Birmingham to Newcastle. You’ll stay on the same train, in the same seat, but could save a significant chunk of money.
Doing split ticketing yourself can be a lot of hassle, working out if it’s cheaper to split your tickets in the first place, making sure the stations you choose to split your journey between are all calling points on the train you start with, and then buying exactly the right tickets to avoid changing trains mid-journey. It can be so much trickier that the savings don’t seem worth it for the time it takes to find them! But, if you use a service like Split My Fare, then they can do a lot of the legwork for you to take the pain out of split ticketing and make the savings seem so much sweeter.
Buy in advance
Buying your tickets in advance as a way to save isn’t new, but it is effective. Train tickets tend to go on sale 8-12 weeks ahead of time, with prices starting relatively low and gradually increasing in price the closer to the date of travel we get. Buying your tickets in the station on the day can often be the most expensive option. If you know your plans are fixed plenty ahead of time, then buying your tickets in advance can save you a tidy sum. And, even if things change, most train operators will let you move your tickets to another service, or refund you at least a portion of what you paid to put towards re-booking.
Opting for print-at-home or e-tickets can also save you the postage on getting your tickets mailed to you. At the least, it’ll save you the pound or two that ticket operators charge for regular postage. But if you’ve left buying your tickets until the last minute and need special delivery postage to make sure they arrive on time, opting to print your tickets at home or keep them on your phone could save you upwards of £5!
Many of us will go straight to websites like The Train Line to buy our train tickets. And for good reason – they’re brilliant at helping you find the lowest cost of travel and have some excellent cheap deals on train tickets.
But, it’s worth remembering that most train operators also sell tickets through their own websites and it can sometimes be cheaper to go direct. Even if the tickets themselves work out to be the same price, if one provider charges a booking fee and another doesn’t, why wouldn’t you go with the one that isn’t going to charge you?
When you shop around, it’s also a good idea to compare standard class and first-class tickets. Normally, first class will be quite a bit more expensive. But occasionally, if you look carefully, you can spot one that’s cheaper than a standard class seat!
Plus, in first class you tend to get more extras like free WiFi, drinks and food included in the cost of your ticket. So, if you’d normally travel standard class but spend £10 on a sandwich and drink in the buffet car plus a fee for WiFi for your journey, the slightly more expensive first-class ticket with food and WiFi included could actually work out cheaper.
If you travel the same route a few times a week or more for your commute, to see family and friends, or for any reason, then a season ticket may be your cheapest ticket option.
For example, if you travel from Milton Keynes to London Euston five days a week, then buying your ticket in the station each day would cost you £44.70, or £223.50 for the week. If, on the other hand, you bought a weekly season ticket, this would cost you £147.10, the equivalent of £29.42 per day – a huge saving.
Longer season tickets come with even greater savings. A monthly season ticket from Milton Keynes to Euston costs the equivalent of £26.09 a day, while an annual season ticket brings the daily equivalent cost down to £22.65.
However, these longer season tickets are very expensive to buy up-front. If you’ll use yours mostly to commute to work, have a chat with your employer about whether they offer a season ticket scheme, where they buy your season ticket for you, and you pay for it gradually through your wages each month. Employer schemes like this don’t usually count as a type of credit as the money is taken as a deduction from your wages before they hit your account.
Or, you could opt for a service like Commuter Club, which enables you to benefit from the cheaper daily cost that comes with an annual season ticket, while paying monthly to avoid a huge initial outlay. Commuter Club is a type of credit with fees payable, and will be recorded on your credit report. So it’s important to bear this in mind before you decide how to fund your season ticket.
Thinking of heading further afield than you can get on a train? Try these money-saving travel apps to help you book a holiday!
Ticket prices correct as at 2nd March 2022
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