The best way to get very cheap train tickets in the UK is to book advance tickets as far ahead of time as possible. Doing so can save you up to 70% compared to peak anytime fares.
However, unlike buying plane tickets, you can’t just buy advance train tickets for any date in the future.
There are rules about how far in advance you can book and where you can use them. Below we explain these restrictions in greater detail so that you can enjoy lower fares without any unexpected surprises.
The 12 Week Rule
The most important thing to know about advance tickets is that you can only book them up to 12 weeks ahead of time (in most cases). The reason why this restriction exists is that National Rail only confirms timetables this far in advance for most routes.
So if you plan to be travelling beyond 12 weeks in the future, be sure to set-up a calendar alert reminding you to book tickets. Or better yet sign-up to our free weekly reminder service here.
National Rail does offer a calendar of when advance tickets are going on sale by train operating company. In summary it looks something a bit like this:
Approximately How Far In Advance You Can Buy Advance Tickets By Train Company
|Train Company||Weekday Services||Saturday services||Sunday Services|
|Abellio Greater Anglia||12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks|
|Arriva Trains Wales||12 weeks||Up to next Saturday beyond 12 weeks||Up to next Sunday beyond 12 weeks|
|Chiltern Railways||12 weeks||Up to next Saturday beyond 12 weeks||Up to next Sunday beyond 12 weeks|
|CrossCountry||12 weeks||Up to next Saturday beyond 12 weeks||Up to next Sunday beyond 12 weeks|
|East Midlands Trains||12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks|
|First Great Western||12 weeks (minus 2 days)||No more than 12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks|
|First Hull Trains||12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks|
|First TransPennine Express||12 weeks||Up to 1 day beyond 12 weeks||Up to 1 day beyond 12 weeks|
|Grand Central||12 weeks||Up to next Saturday beyond 12 weeks||Up to next Sunday beyond 12 weeks|
|London Midland||12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks|
|Northern Rail||12 weeks||Up to 1 day beyond 12 weeks||Up to 1 day beyond 12 weeks|
|ScotRail||12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks|
|South West Trains||12 weeks||Up to next Saturday beyond 12 weeks||Up to next Sunday beyond 12 weeks|
|Southern||11 weeks||No more than 11 weeks||No more than 11 weeks|
|Virgin Trains||12 weeks (minus 1 day)||No more than 12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks|
|Virgin Trains East Coast||12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks||No more than 12 weeks|
Please note the information above is very approximate and subject to change. If you’re at all unsure you can just use the journey planner to see if advance tickets are being sold for your date, time and route.
With the exception of Southern, most train companies sell advance weekday tickets for 12 weeks from the current date. However, weekend service is bit more complicated.
Some train companies will allow you to book weekend service up to the following weekend beyond 12 weeks in the future. This is good to know since it may allow you first crack at advance fare discounts.
Other Key Things To Know About Advance Tickets
- They are sold in limited quantities and the price never goes down, which is why it’s so important to book as far in advance as possible.
- Advance fares are always sold as single, one-way journeys. For a return journey you just have to buy two singles.
- They are available for both standard (cheaper) and first-class travel.
- They are non-refundable. However, you may be able to amend your ticket (fees apply).
- You can only use them on the date and time listed. Using them at any other time will result in a penalty fare.
- Child discounts apply for all Advance fares.
- You can use National Railcards to get an additional 1/3rd off the already low price standard price tickets.
- 16-25, Senior, HM Forces and Disabled Persons Railcard holders also get 1/3 off all First Class Advance fares.
- Many train companies will allow you to book advance tickets up to 6pm the day before travel. (check with train operating company)
- To see if your dates are available just use the cheap ticket journey planner.
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