There's an art to finding cheap UK and European rail tickets, and it pays to learn a few basic tricks before you start. Read our expert tips for booking train tickets in Europe, finding the best deals and saving money.
1. Book in advance
Probably the most reliable way to find cheap train tickets in the UK and elsewhere in Europe is to book in advance. It might sound obvious, but the cheapest tickets are available as soon as booking opens, and the price tends to climb as fares sell out.
This is particularly true of high-speed trains where the cheapest tickets require you to book a seat reservations for a specific train. As these seat reservations sell out the price goes up!
Our data analysis shows the UK has the highest walk-up fare hike in Europe, but substantial savings can be made by booking when tickets go on sale. Almost every rail operator offers fares that can be booked in advance to obtain significantly lower prices than you'll find when booking on the day.
2. Fix plans with non-flexible fares
If you know what date and time you're travelling, you can save money on train tickets by choosing non-flexible fares.
Non-flexible tickets are available for most trains in the UK and on almost every major rail network in Europe, particularly on high-speed rail. Each rail operator has their own name for their cheap non-flexible tickets.
|Country/Rail operator||Fare name||More information|
|France - SNCF||Prems||French train tickets - ticket types & discounts|
|UK - various operators||Advance||UK train tickets - ticket types & discounts|
|Italy - Trenitalia||Super Economy||Italian train tickets - ticket types & discounts|
|Germany - Deutsche Bahn||Sparpreis (Saver)||German train tickets - ticket types & discounts|
|Spain - Renfe||Promo||Spanish train tickets - ticket types & discounts|
Non-flexible tickets are sometimes accompanied by a compulsory seat reservation that can't be changed. Depending on ticket conditions, some can be exchanged or refunded with a fee, others are strictly non-exchangeable and non-refundable.
There is always a finite number of cheap non-flexible tickets, so the price will increase more quickly on popular days, dates and routes.
3. Depart at less popular times
Most people start their holiday at the weekend, so if you can be flexible it pays to buck this trend. The best prices can usually be found mid-week, as revealed in our infographic.
Travelling at less popular times can offer significant discounts on rail travel in the UK and across Europe.
- Avoid peak commuter trains: Trains that arrive or depart from towns and cities in rush hour (usually 7-9am and 5-7pm Monday-Friday) are usually more expensive due to their popularity. Depending when you book, it may still be possible to book cheap tickets on these trains but they're likely to sell out more quickly than services at less busy times.
- Travel mid-week: If you can, start your holiday in the week instead of on Friday or the weekend. We typically find the cheapest fares mid-morning on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
- Avoid school holidays: If you have that luxury, try to avoid travelling on school or public holidays and on event days when tickets sell out more quickly.
In the UK and on Eurostar trains, there are specific Off-Peak and Super Off-Peak fares, which may require you to travel at specific times of the day, day of the week or on a specific route. Be sure to check the fare conditions to understand any restrictions.
4. Create a booking alert
Because how far in advance you can book train tickets varies, it's easy to miss the cheapest tickets if you're not on the ball.
To solve that problem, you can set a booking alert on Loco2 to be notified when tickets come on sale. We'll email you as soon as booking opens with a link to your search results!
To make the booking process even quicker, it also makes sense to set up an account with Loco2 before your tickets come on sale to make searching and booking faster. In your account, you can:
✓ Create saved passengers, including their name and date of birth
✓ Add a saved payment card
5. Consider a night train
Besides enjoying the romance of a night train journey, you'll often save money by travelling overnight.
Due to recent changes across Europe, there aren't as many night trains as there used to be. But it's still possible to travel on a Paris to Milan night train, from Turin to Naples within Italy, and on the popular Irun to Lisbon train route, among others.
An inexpensive sleeping berth is often the price or cheaper than a hostel or budget hotel, plus you save money by combining travel with accommodation.
We don't generally recommend choosing a reclining seat since couchettes offer such great value, but you can save more money this way if comfort isn't your priority. Our Help article Booking couchettes and sleeping compartments will give you an idea of what to expect on board.
6. Split your tickets
Depending on your route, it is sometimes possible to save money by splitting your tickets. "Split ticketing" gets quite a lot of attention (particularly in the UK which has a needlessly complex fare structure) but it can mean one of several things.
Here are a few examples to give you an idea of what to look for:
- Route-specific special offers: Splitting tickets might allow you to take advantage of a special offer on one portion of a journey. For example, if you're travelling from the UK to Austria it might work out cheaper to buy a promotional fare from London to Germany (Sparpreis Europe-London), then book a separate onward ticket.
- Split to find off-peak fares: It is sometimes possible to save money by splitting your tickets mid-way through a journey. This might enable you to travel on a peak fare (or busy train on which cheap tickets are sold out), then switch onto an off-peak ticket for the second part of your trip (even though it's the same train). Not all trains and routes have split ticket discounts, but it is possible to save money this way. Splitting your tickets like this may mean you pay less to sit on the same train, at the same time but for much less.
- Mix and match travel classes: Rather than buying a through-ticket for a multi-leg journey which means you'll be in the same class for the entire journey, you can choose to upgrade one leg of a trip. For example, travelling by train from London to Paris on a Eurostar through-ticket means you'll be in First Class or Standard Class for the whole trip. Splitting your tickets in France means you can choose to travel Standard Class on the Eurostar and First Class on the onward train.
7. Check for special offers
Rail operators regularly offer promotions, sales and special offers. These are usually for travel at short notice when the rail operator wants to stimulate sales on a particular route or date.
We add sales and offers to the Cheap train tickets and special offers page, and link to them from our social media channels. Major sales news such as the French summer train ticket sale and the winter rail ticket sale will be announced on a newsletter, published on the blog and shared on social media.
8. Research through-fares
Some rail operators offer discounts for booking a through-ticket with them (usually international), i.e. booking two legs of a journey in one transaction instead of booking each leg separately.
It's not guaranteed to be cheaper but it's worth comparing a through-fare with individuals legs. A couple of examples:
|French Connection - SNCF||Eurostar + onward high-speed TGV to major French cities.||French train tickets - tickets types & discounts|
|Sparpreis (Saver) fare - Deutsche Bahn||To and from German cities by high-speed ICE train, London Sparpries includes Eurostar too||German train tickets - ticket types & discounts|
|Any Belgian station - Eurostar||Eurostar + onward Intercity train in Belgium||Not available on Loco2 but go to Eurostar for details|
9. Use a railcard
Railcard discounts vary between countries and rail operators - some reward frequent travellers while others encourage weekend and off-peak travel. Depending on the route, time and other restrictions, using a railcard can save money on train tickets.
If you're eligible for a railcard in the UK, most railcards give 1/3 off tickets so it's often possible to redeem the cost of a rail card in one purchase.
10. Look for group discounts
If you're travelling in a group, you might be eligible for a discount on train tickets so always check before you start to book individual tickets.
In France, the Tribu fare offers a discount for groups of between 4 and 7 passengers travelling together.
Most group discounts are applied automatically, but in the UK you have to apply a GroupSave discount (for groups of between 3 and 9 adults) as if it's a railcard.
11. Compare single & return tickets
There is lots of variation between countries and rail operators, meaning that sometimes it's cheaper to book a return ticket, and other times you'll save money on train tickets by booking two singles.
There's no fixed rule so the best way to find out is to simply run two searches and compare the price. However, a few examples are worth knowing:
- Eurostar offers discounts for return tickets. You'll save money by booking a return journey instead of two singles.
- Most train operators in the UK offer Open Return tickets which can be cheaper than buying two singles if discounted Advance fares have sold out. See UK train tickets - ticket types & discounts.
- The Spanish rail operator, Renfe, applies a 20% discount for return tickets, called Ida y Vuelta (there and back). See Spanish train tickets - ticket types & discounts.
- The Italian national rail operator, Trenitalia, offers cheap tickets for return journey on weekends. See Italian train tickets - ticket types & discounts.
12. Choose your currency
Booking is available on Loco2 in multiple currencies, allowing you to book train tickets in Euros or GBP according to your preference.
This makes price comparison easier for journeys outside of the UK, and means you can be sure you're getting the best deal in your preferred currency. Paying in the local currency mean you're certain that tickets are the same price as booking direct with rail operators in the UK, France, Spain, Italy and Germany.
Some rail operators, including Eurostar, set prices in more than one currency, with GBP and Euro prices that can differ substantially. In these cases, it's worth checking prices both GBP and EUR selected to be sure you get the cheapest fare.