Use the journey planner above to plan your route and find cheap train tickets throughout the UK.
1. Book in Advance
Using Brilliant Trains to book your train tickets up to 12 weeks in advance is single best way to save money on your rail travel. For the best deals you want to book as close to 12 weeks in advance as possible.
Why 12 weeks?
That’s because the cheapest advanced tickets (see below) are not sold earlier than 12 weeks before the date of travel. This is due to the fact that National Rail only confirms timetables and train times 12 weeks in advance so they can be somewhat flexible with things like engineering works.
You can still buy ‘anytime’ and ‘off-peak’ tickets further in advance than 12 weeks, but these rarely offer the greatest value. It’s always best to book in advance, but you get the best deals when you choose fixed-time and date advanced tickets.
2. Understand Your Ticket Options
National Rail has a huge range of ticketing options to choose from. If you have a fixed-time and date in mind then it pays to choose ‘advanced tickets.’ Here are a few of the most common ticket types from cheapest to most expensive.
Advanced tickets: These must be used on the time and date specified on the ticket and must be purchased before the date of travel (in most cases). The price always goes up, so once you know your travel dates it’s best to book right away.
However, be aware these tickets are non-refundable.
But on the plus side, you do get a free seat reservation where available. Also note these are always sold as singles, so just buy another for your return journey (can’t be further than 12 weeks in advance).
Super-off peak (single and return): These are tickets that don’t have to be used at a specific time but do need to be used on the date specified. Annoyingly the rules for when they can and can’t be used vary depending on day of the week and the individual train operator.
Thus, you should always check with the train operator before departing or you could face a penalty fare. Keep in mind that if you book a return ticket, both sections of the journey must be within super-off peak periods. Fortunately, most journey planners (like ours above) will let you know if you can use them when you specify a particular train.
Off-peak (single and return): Basically the same super off-peak tickets but with fewer time restrictions. They must still be used on the day specified but the hours of use are not so restrictive. Also just keep in mind that if buying a return ticket both journey’s must be within the off peak times.
Anytime (Day, Single and Return): Just as the name implies these can be used at on any train and any service. They come in 3 different varieties.
Anytime Day can be used at anytime on the day specified on the ticket.
Anytime Single can be used within 2 days of that shown on the ticket.
Anytime Return have different rules for outbound and return portion of the trip. The outbound journey must be made within 5 days of the date of validity and the return portion must be made within 1 calendar month of the date of validity.
Finally, be aware that each of the ticket types above can be bought for both standard and 1st class travel. 1st class tickets are almost always more expensive, although you can sometimes book 1st class ‘advance’ tickets for less than ‘anytime’ standard class tickets.
3. Rail Cards
These are one of the hidden gems of the UK train network. They give you 1/3rd off train journeys for just £30 a year.
So as long as you spend £90 or more a year on train travel they could be worth a look. Just be aware as with everything in the British Rail industry, make sure you read and fully understand the terms and conditions before buying them.
The most common types are:
16-25 Railcard: For those aged 16-25 or those over 26 who are still in full-time education.
Senior Railcard: For those aged over 60
Two-Together Railcard: For two people over 16 travelling together (must both be on all journeys)
Family & Friends Railcard: For up to 4 adults and 4 children aged 5-15. Must include at least one named adult and one child for each journey.
Disabled Persons Railcard: If you have a disability that makes train travel difficult. Only costs £20/year but gives the same 1/3rd off train travel.
Gold Railcard: Only available to those who have an annual season ticket or travelcard in the South of England. Offers a bunch of discounts within the Annual Gold Card Area (aka South of England) including 1/3rd off travel for the card holder and up to 3 adults travelling with them, 60% off child fares for up to 4 children aged 5-15 and 1/3rd off Oyster off-peak pay-as-go fares on National Rail and TFL services.
4. Ticket Splitting
This has become one of the most hyped ways of saving money on train tickets in the last few years. It works like this:
Sometimes it can cheaper to buy two portions of a journey separately than one ticket the whole way through.
For example if you’re travelling from London’s King’s Cross to Edinburgh Waverley and pass through Newcastle it may be cheaper to buy a ticket from London to Newcastle and then another ticket from Newcastle to Edinburgh than just buying a ticket for the whole journey.
For the return portion you’d just do the same in reverse.
Occasionally, you can get lucky and actually just stay on the train you’re on. Just so long as the train stops in the station you’ve bought tickets to/from you’re all right and this allowed by National Rail.
However, if you do have to change trains and your first train is delayed (not unknown in the UK) the second portion of your journey may not be valid and you’d have to pay for a much more expensive full price fare.
While this sounds good in theory, the reality is a bit more complicated. First, the biggest issues is that there often aren’t fares for the times and destination you want to travel. Second, you have to be 100% certain that each ticket covers the time period you’ll actually be using that service from that station (e.g. peak vs. off-peak times).
Nevertheless, it can be worth checking out if the route you’ll be travelling has split tickets available and you can save some money.
To learn read: Split Train Tickets: Everything You Need To Know
Or visit: Raileasy Ticket Splitting
5. Group Saver Tickets
Most train companies in England will offer discounts of up to 1/3rd off for groups of 3-9 adults travelling together. To take advantage of this discount you don’t have to do anything special besides buy all the tickets at once.
Just be aware that all adults must be travelling together on the same train and that you won’t be able to use Rail Cards to get any additional discounts.
6. Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates/Times
While you may need to take a train on a specific date, you can still often save money if you’re at all flexible in your time. The main thing here is to avoid travelling at peak times for maximum savings. Moreover, advance tickets for very early or very late departures are often the last to sell out.
If you can be a bit more flexible with your travel date(s), you might want to check fares a day in advance or a day later. Sometime this can save £100 or more for longer distance travel, which is more than enough to pay for an inexpensive hotel and/or B&B in most parts of the UK.
7. Check Two One-Ways Vs A Return
When buying advance tickets you’re buying two one-way tickets so this won’t help you.
However, for all other ticket types it pays to check if buying a one way ticket and a one way back from your destination might be cheaper. This happens when different legs of your journey fall under different ticket pricing (e.g. peak on the way out but super-off peak on the way back).
As always just be sure your ticket will be valid when you plan on travelling.
8. Buy a Season Ticket
Hopefully, all seasoned rail users know about season tickets and they are a must for any regular journey.
However, if you’re going to be doing the same journey regularly (even for as little 3-4 days in a row) it may be worth looking into a season ticket. They come in periods as short as 7 days all the way up to annual passes.
9. Rovers & Rangers Tickets
Need a bit more flexibility than a season ticket, but confining yourself to one specific geographical area of the UK and/or train operating company?
Then you might want to look into Rovers/Rangers tickets. Basically these are valid for a set period of time and allow unlimited travel within certain agreed upon restrictions. There are a whole range of these tickets available, which you can learn about here.
10. Use Our Journey Planner
Our journey planner will show you the cheapest tickets available at the date and time you specify. All you have to do is decide where you’d like to go. You can use by returning to the top of the page.