Expert Insights

7 insider tips to beat rising rail fares in 2017

5 January 2017

Our customers saw average rail ticket prices decrease year-on-year in 2016 – in spite of overall market fares increasing. 

That’s because they benefited from the smarter buying advice our rail specialists can provide, saving up to 45% compared to a poorly managed rail programme. Here are our essential dos and don’ts for saving money on rail travel…

Not everyone is a rail expert. And with rail fares set to rise above inflation from January 2017, many people could benefit from our insider tips on keeping ticket costs down. If you aren’t already doing so, you should be examining your employees’ buying behaviour and helping them to make the right travel decisions...

1. Do specify your outbound time of travel

As most travellers know, tickets requiring you to travel on a specific train (ie advance tickets) will be more cost-effective than anytime (open) rail fares. Business travellers generally know the start time of a meeting, so it’s relatively simple to fix the outbound time of travel. However, they don’t always know what time the meeting will finish – so it’s tempting to book an open return for the trip. Don’t! If you’re not sure what time you’re coming back, book a single advance ticket for the outbound journey, and a separate, flexible ticket for the return leg. You could save up to 40% on the total journey price.

2. Do move meetings off-peak

It’s always wise to sense-check whether you actually need to travel in the first place. But if a face-to-face meeting really is required, then could you rethink the schedule? Needless to say, peak time fares are the most expensive. By kicking off a meeting a little later, and avoiding having to travel there in peak time, you could save up to 13%.

Peak times vary depending on the train operator, but off-peak is generally after 0900hrs in the morning, and after 1900hrs in the evening on weekdays. But be warned: operators do change their off-peak cut-off times occasionally.

For example, Virgin Train West Coast recently changed its peak times for trains leaving London from 1500hrs-1900hrs to 1501hrs-1844hrs. So things have moved on since our last analysis. This proves that you have to keep an eye on the market – and change your travel choices accordingly.

Tip: if your meeting finishes early and you want to check whether your ticket is valid on a different train, you can use our app – linked to the National Rail database – to find out.

3. Don’t leave it to the last minute to book

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: whenever you can, book your train ticket as far in advance as possible. Even booking a week or so ahead really could make a difference. However, the closer your travel date, the less likely it is that advance tickets will still be available. Train operating companies only provide a set amount of these cheaper tickets per train.

Again, the biggest advance savings are available when you stipulate the exact time and date of travel, so these tickets are ideal for keeping costs down. Booking a specific train could save you 44% off the cost of a full anytime single.

But before you change your company travel policy to insist all employees must book advance tickets, do check your travellers’ key routes. Our research shows it might be harder than you think to get hold of an advance ticket on some rail routes.

4. Do swap your unused tickets

Some travellers are deterred from booking in advance in case meetings get rescheduled or cancelled. But if you went ahead and booked an advance ticket via the Capita Travel and Events online booking tool, you needn’t lose out if you no longer need to use it.

You can exchange an advance ticket via our Rail Online Exchanges feature. This means that if you rebook another advance ticket at the same price before you travel, you won’t lose the cost of your fare. To find out more, contact our team today.

5. Do get to know your options for your favourite routes

On certain rail routes, you’ll find a choice of alternative train operators. By travelling with a different train company, or even using a slightly different departure station, you could secure a cheaper ticket.

Our recent infographic provided a great example of this on the Birmingham to London route in 2016, revealing that different operators between the two cities offered very different rail fares (as well as different journey times and service frequencies). This shows that it’s worth shopping around to find the train operator that best suits your needs and budget. And don’t assume that an operator with a slower journey time will always offer a cheaper fare – that’s not necessarily true!

6. Don’t automatically add a Travelcard when you buy a rail ticket to London

With more ways to pay than ever on the Transport for London network, a Travelcard isn’t necessarily a better choice than Oyster. We’ve looked into the ins and outs of which London public transport ticket is best for business travellers – read our analysis here.

7. Do look into your railcard options

A railcard could save you up to a third off rail fares – which means it could even pay for itself after the first use. Don’t assume that your travellers aren’t eligible for one, or can’t use them for work journeys. For example, a Network Railcard offers users (and up to three other adults) as much as a third off anytime and off-peak fares in London and the southeast, after 10am Monday to Friday; while full-time students are entitled to apply for a 16-25 Railcard at any age.

Do check with your travel representative about any restrictions on railcard use for work. Our experts at Capita Travel and Events are happy to provide advice on how to apply for and use relevant railcards.

How much are rail fares increasing in 2017?

Interested in how the annual rail fare changes are calculated? National Rail explains it here. Regulated fares will increase by 1.9% in 2017 (compared to rates in July 2016). Unregulated fares could rise even further, leading to an average increase in the overall rate of rail fares to 2.3%. As recently reported in The Telegraph, the cost of travelling on some routes will be 4.9% higher than last year.

There will be some pricing anomalies along the way. Research shows that some fares do fall, rather than going up. But the fact remains that fare rises are likely to have a significant impact on your travel costs – so having a strategy to manage rail travel will be more important than ever in 2017.

Interested? Let’s have a chat about your company’s travel, meetings and events objectives - from the stuff that keeps you awake at night, to the everyday experiences of your employees! Call us on 0330 390 0340, or submit your details below.