Railcards and split tickets: tips for off-peak train travel in the UK

A travel bug bit me many years ago and started a life-long passion for exploring new places . Whether the destination is a buzzing city on the other side of the world or a little seaside village on the English coast, I enjoy the change of scenery all the same. My husband and I travel whenever we can, and as a car-free family we do most of our journeys in the UK by rail. Although the ticket system can seem confusing at first and the walk-up prices sky-high, there are ways to find cheap fares and even bag a bargain. 

(Please note that the following tips are based on my own experiences on leisure & off-peak travel in the UK and are not meant as financial advice. Simply take them as ideas for further research to find the options that suit your specific circumstance. Always check ticket/railcard terms and conditions as restrictions may apply.)

  • If you spend £90 or more a year on off-peak rail travel, consider buying a national railcard or, if you live in southern England, a network railcard. Most of them cost £30 a year and give you up to 1/3 off  adult fares.  In my case, the railcards I’ve had over the years have always paid themselves back within a couple of months, partly because of regular trips to the bright lights of London.
  • If you are travelling to London and plan to use its local transport, buy a Travelcard instead of a return ticket. (Use your railcard for a discount on that too!) You can use it on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services within London. It’s like a ticket to a self-guided sight-seeing tour!
  • Look for cheap advance tickets, which are generally available  about 12 weeks before you travel. However, you can often buy them as late as the night before so it’s always worth checking to beat the walk-up price.  Keep in mind though that advance tickets are sold in limited numbers and are restricted to a specific train.
  • Buy a split ticket! Instead of having one ticket for the whole trip, you can break your journey down into two or more parts with a separate ticket for each section.  The only rule is that the train must call at all the stations you buy tickets for. For example, an off-peak return Birmingham – Oxford costs £35.50. You can save over £15 on a day trip if you buy an anytime day return Birmingham – Banbury at £14 and an off-peak day return Banbury – Oxford at £6. On top of that railcard holders can get a get discount for the whole or part of the journey, depending on the type of card. Ask for a split ticket at the ticket office as it’s not always automatically offered!
  • If you can take a specific train each way or are unable to use a day-return, check out advance singles for the best price.
  • Buy tickets from train companies’ own websites. Third party websites often charge a booking fee as well as a card fee.
  • Look for promotions, vouchers and codes.
  • Many train companies offer discounts for groups of people travelling together.

Rail travel at its best is fast, relaxing and affordable. I keep digging deeper to find more little tips for even cheaper journeys.

Photo © William Mankelow

Photo © William Mankelow


One thought on “Railcards and split tickets: tips for off-peak train travel in the UK

  1. Pingback: With or without you: do you need to own a car? | Lemon juice & travel cards

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