Expert insight

7 insider tips for smarter rail buying

2 January 2018 by Kirsty Given

With train ticket prices rising year, our insider - Kirsty Given - reveals expert advice on how to keep rail costs down.

Not everyone is a rail expert. And with rail fares rising above inflation in January 2018, many people could benefit from some insider tips on keeping ticket costs down. Here are our essential dos and don’ts for saving money on rail travel:

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 your 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 0900 in the morning, and after 1900 in the evening on weekdays. But be warned: operators do occasionally change their off-peak cut-off times.

For example, Virgin Trains West Coast changed its peak times for trains leaving London from 1500-1900 to 1501-1844. So 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 could use our iris:go travel app – linked to the National Rail database – to find out.

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

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.

As we have previously reported, advance rail fares can now be bought as close as 10 minutes before departure on many routes. But not every train operator will be making advance tickets available on the day. Advance fares on the day of departure are not yet offered on Arriva Trains Wales, South West Trains, Southern, Southeastern, ScotRail or GWR.

And it’s important to note that there are still only a limited number of advance seats available on any given train. These can sell out well before the day of departure on certain services.

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

4. Do swap your unused tickets

Some travellers are understandably deterred from booking in advance because meetings can get rescheduled or cancelled. But if you went ahead and booked an advance ticket through the Capita Travel and Events online booking tool, you needn’t be penalised if you no longer need it.

Our customers can exchange unwanted advance tickets via the 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.

For example, our analysis of the Birmingham to London route revealed 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 an Oyster card. 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 on 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.

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.