Courtesy of Martin's It Pays To Watch, Channel 5. September 2008. The majority of the information in this video is still relevant but the Transport Direct website no longer exists and National Rail Enquiries is now 03457 48 49 50.
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Use the top UK train booking sites
There are seven main ways to search out cheap train tickets online. Bizarrely, different sites sometimes list different tickets, so for a belt 'n' braces check on a big fare, try a few.
Double Tesco vouchers' value on rail fares
One of the deals featured is with train ticket shop RedSpottedHanky. Swap a 10 voucher and its worth 20. It includes cheap advance fares and you can use your railcard. Sadly, there's a 1 booking fee.
Only pay peak for the bit that is
Train peak times are usually before 10am and between 4pm and 7pm. Yet if a long train journey's during peak time, even if a portion of it's outside peak time and you return outside peak time, you still pay peak ticket price for the whole return journey.
By following based on time as well as distance, you can ensure you're only paying peak prices for the portion of the journey that's actually in the peak hours.
How much you can save... 76 off a Ldn to Manc peak train return
As an example, on testing a London to Manchester return journey leaving at 8.40am and returning at 6.35pm we found a standard return fare for 130. By splitting the ticket, at Milton Keynes on the way out and Stoke-on-Trent on the return journey, it knocks off 76 to the total fare.
This is because from Milton Keynes to Manchester on the way up, and Stoke-on-Trent to London on the way back, you're only paying for an off-peak fare, slashing the overall cost of the journey.
Grab 1 Megatrain fares
Wondering why there's a Megabus logo at the top of the Megatrain site? Its booking system's the same as Megabus coach tickets, probably because it hopes 1 train tickets will draw people in. Pick travelling by train in the dropdown, and it won't show bus fares.
Fares from a quid include Carlisle to Birmingham, Southampton to London, Bath to London and Glasgow to Preston.
Don't worry, it's not a cheap 'n' cheerful train. The site is run by Stagecoach, which runs South West Trains and East Midlands Trains and is a partner in Virgin Trains.
You're on the same service as everyone else, so for London to Birmingham it's Virgin.
What routes are included?
Megatrain goes to 26 destinations, via 34 different routes.
There's no map or destinations list on Megatrain's site, but it's kindly allowed us to update an old map with all the latest routes and reproduce it here (see right)
Or check our list of all Megatrain routes
When can you get them?
While normal cheap advance tickets are released 10-12 weeks in advance, Megatrain only releases tickets 45 days before handy for those booking later.
These are 'spare capacity' tickets, so there are more for less-popular times. Once the 1 tickets have gone, there are still uber-cheap fares, eg, 3, 5, 7. Popular routes sell like hot cakes, so make a note in your diary to grab the date you want.
Another crafty trick is to combine Megatrain fares with . If Megatrain covers part of your journey, grab a Megatrain ticket for one leg of your journey and a cheap advance for the rest.
Grab ultra-cheap train deals
There are more promotional train fares available than people realise. For the ultra-cheap deals, you have to know where to look and be flexible.
Also check National Rail's local promotions index. Offers change all the time and include everything from Kids for a Quid with Southeastern to eight-week first class upgrades for mums-to-be with Greater Anglia.
Get cashback on all train tickets
Cashback credit cards pay you back each time you spend on the card. They are a great way to shave down the cost of transport, especially as some now offer boosted cashback, but ALWAYS...
Set up a direct debit to repay the card in full each month, so you never pay interest, which would outstrip any gain.
The reason card companies offer cashback or reward schemes is simple. They want to encourage you to spend on the card and pay them interest. The interest cost of all cashback cards dwarfs the cashback you'll earn. For full details on what to consider before applying, see Top Cashback Cards.
Here's one of the top ones:
Amex Platinum Everyday*
The American Express* Platinum Cashback Everyday card is the top fee-free card, especially if you've big spending to do in the next few months, as it has a great introductory rate, then tiered ongoing cashback. The 5% cashback covers all purchases, including spending on public transport.
- To get the maximum intro cashback, you need to spend 2, 000 within three months.
- After the intro offer's over, you'll automatically be put onto the tiered spending rates: 0 to 3, 500 gets 0.5% cashback (the initial 2k spend counts towards this). From 3, 501 to 7, 500, you get 1%. All spending above 7, 501 gets the full 1.25% cashback.
- You need to spend at least 3, 000 to get any cashback at all.
- The introductory 5% rate is not available to existing Amex Card members.
- Set up a direct debit to pay in full every month when you get the card, otherwise any cashback you earn will be quickly eaten up by the 22.9% APR.
Each time you apply for one of these cards, you'll be credit-checked by the lenders. Multiple applications in a short period can affect your future ability to get credit. Read full details in the Credit Rating guide.
The easy way to pay off in full
It's easy to do this via a direct debit, which allows the card company to take a variable monthly amount to correspond with what you owe it. Sadly some providers deliberately omit the 'pay off in full' option from direct debit forms, as it makes them less money. If it's missing from your form, just write in "pay off in full" yourself. They should honour it, but call up after a week or so and check it's worked.
Know your train refund rights
Sadly, you can't get any money back if the delay is less than half an hour. If it's longer, every operator has different rules. Here's a general idea of what you can claim:
- You may be entitled to compensation if... the delay or cancellation is the fault of the train operator. Examples include train or signal failures.
- You are not entitled to compensation if... the problem is out of the control of the train operator. This includes strikes, pre-planned maintenance work and bad weather. However, in practice, some firms may still pay out so it's worth claiming. For more details see our Train Delays and Tube Delays guides.
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