7 insider tips to beat rising rail fares in 2021

With Rail fares set to increase by an average of 2.6% in 2021, we provide our top tips in helping you negate the increase.

Not everyone's a rail expert but that's why we're here to give you the inside scoop. With rail fares set to rise again from January, travellers could benefit from our insider tips on keeping ticket costs down with just a few behaviour changes and ticketing insights.

1. Dual Singles could be cheaper than a return ticket

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 – it could save you up to 23%.

2. Move your meeting off-peak

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 49%. What's more, travelling during less busy times can reduce risks while travelling in a COVID-19 world

Peak times vary depending on the train operator and where your travel includes London, but off-peak fares are generally available after 0900hrs in the morning up until 1500 in the afternoon, and then again after 19:00 hrs in the evening on weekdays. But be warned: operators do change their off-peak cut-off times occasionally.

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

A recent poll showed that 59% of respondents would shift toward a more last minute approach to booking travel in light of COVID-19 but we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: whenever you can, book your train ticket as far in advance as possible. Many operators now offer Advance fares longer than 12 weeks in advance but 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 47% 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’ buying habits and key routes, advance tickets are not readily available across all ticket types and all routes.

4. 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, only an admin fee would be payable, so you won’t lose the cost of your fare.

5. 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.

Examples of such routes include the popular Birmingham to London route where you have a choice of three different operators, York to London and Preston to Glasgow & Edinburgh. Whilst journeys with alternative operators can (dependant on route) be longer, would your travel plans allow for a longer journey to keep costs down?

6. Need to use the Underground? Don’t buy a Travelcard

With more ways to pay than ever on the Transport for London network, contactless payment and Oyster Cards present the most cost-effective way of travelling in London. A one-day travelcard using contactless or an Oyster Card represents a 59% saving compared to purchasing a travelcard.

7. Look into your railcard options

A railcard offers up to a third off rail fares – which means it could even pay for itself after your first trip. 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. The recently launched digital only 26-30 railcard also means it could benefit more staff than previously. Does your travel policy include guidance on employees buying railcards? It could be worthwhile including this if not.

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 2021.

Traveller behaviours play a big part in the decisions that we make and those decisions can swing costs one way or another - as well as having an impact on wellbeing too. If you aren’t already doing so, examine your employees’ buying behaviour and help them to make the right travel decisions.