Our top tips on how to get cheap train tickets when travelling in UK and mainland Europe.
It is often the first question on everyone’s lips when we talk about our train booking service - what’s the best way to get cheap train tickets? The good news is that there are many ways, and we are always coming up with new ways to get you, our fellow train travel fans, the best fares possible. Remembering, however, that we don’t have all the tickets tucked away in a drawer. We only get them as soon as the train companies we work with release them into the world like balloons bursting with travel opportunities. We can get a little over-excited about this subject, so get ready for a geek central. You will thank us, however, when you see the savings you can make. Click on the links in each section below for even more geeky gems.
Rail operators ‘release’ tickets in phases and this is always the best time to get cheap train tickets. Sadly, you can’t just book tickets a year in advance to get the best prices. This is why we always tell you when booking opens on, for example, high-speed trains through France, or international train routes.
This is also why we have created ‘booking alerts’, so that you can get a reminder as soon as booking has opened on a particular route that you want to travel on. We do advise signing up for our newsletters which always keep you up to date with ticket releases. In short, you can book six months ahead for Eurostar, Austrian, German and Italian national train operators, and three months for France, and UK. Travelling further East into Poland or Croatia, booking tends to only open two months before. Read more in our booking alerts blog.
Opt for flexible over fixed
If you know on 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 trains. Each rail operator has their own name for their cheap non-flexible tickets. 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. Read more in our Flexible fares blog and also our How to get cheap European tickets blog.
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 railcard in one purchase. Read more in our blog on UK railcards and our Help article on European railcards.
Avoid the crowds
There is always a finite number of cheap non-flexible tickets, so the price will increase more quickly on popular days, dates and routes. Also, in general, tickets are cheaper midweek and outside peak hours. If you do need to travel during peak times it is worth scrolling down to tickets at later times in the day, because sometimes you will spot a cheaper fare which is actually a flexible ticket, so you can still use it during peak hours. If you do manage to get a great value off-peak fare, be sure to stick to the fare conditions on the ticket.
Travelling in a group
Outside the UK, group train travel discounts are often available, but you need to book directly with the rail operator to get them. In France, for example, the Tribu fare offers a discount for groups (between four and seven passengers) travelling together. In the UK, we are able to facilitate Group Saver discounts for groups of maximum nine people.
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 always add these sales and offers to the special offers page, email you when they are particularly brilliant and post about them on our Twitter and Facebook pages. We don’t like to bombard you, but we will shout loudly when we think it is worth it.
Infographic reveals the secrets of booking cheap train tickets
We've crunched data from thousands of searches to show you how to find the cheapest train tickets in the UK and across Europe.