Last year train fares were simplified to group the confusing advance ticket system to group them under one, more straightforward, umbrella. National Rail replaced the 'Apex' and 'Leisure Advance' fares with the 'Advance' ticket.
Consumers can now go directly to the rail provider, to National Rail or via a third party website such as Trainline or RailEasy to book their tickets. We've put together a guide to help get the cheapest deal possible.
The National Rail website is a good place to start; you can scour for fares and timetables in advance. They will then direct you to the cheapest rail service provider or website for your fare.
However, before you book you should check the promotional offer section of the rail service provider's website that you will be travelling with. Virgin trains sometimes offer super-cheap mid-week single tickets from £1 and Cross Country Rail is currently offering up to 75% off.
thetrainline.com powers both its own site and many other commercial booking sites. It is worth checking this site, and the others, before you book with the operating system as sometimes advance fares can be cheaper. However, it does charge a booking fee (normally £1) when you book through the website, so it may not work out as the cheapest fare. The same goes for another third party booking site, RailEasy, where you may be able to pick up in advance.
Although the name doesn't suggest it, the National Express' East Coast system, actually covers the whole of the UK. It has no booking fees and sometimes offers extra discounts if your journey uses its network. Check its low fare finder, for advance deals. Also, its 'special offers' page highlights low cost routes – such as York to Edinburgh for £8.50, standard one-way advance.
The full proof way to getting the cheapest rail fare is to book in advance, ideally you should book your tickets up to 12 weeks before you travel, this will insure that you get the best deal. Also, the best fares are always available online – this is also the easiest way for you to compare prices. If you're flexible with your travel dates then you may be able to pick up a cheaper deal midweek – travelling at weekend and peak times is always more expensive.
Split the trip - save some cash
After you've worked out the route and dates that you want to travel you should look at splitting your route. If you're making a long journey it may mean that you will have to change trains but it could end up saving you money. You should also check the price of buying two single tickets rather than an advance return.
If you decide to split your journey – for example, a return trip to Edinburgh – it may be cheaper to buy a single ticket to York and then from York to Edinburgh, rather than a return for the whole journey. However, this can be a problem if your journey is delayed and you miss your connecting train to your destination.
The National Rail website has a special promotions index page listing all special offers. Also do note that on certain East Midlands and South West Trains routes, including Sheffield to Derby and London to Exeter, it's possible to get Megatrain fares for £1 if you book early enough.
Play your cards right
If you travel frequently by rail with your family, or you are aged under 26, or over 60, it may be worth investing in a rail card. Railcards, subject to eligibility, cost £24 a year, and you can save a third off the majority of rail tickets.
A Network railcard costs £20 a year. It entitles you to 1/3 off journeys within the Network Railcard area. Annual season 'gold' ticket holders can also get a third off non-peak rail travel for themselves and up to ... people. Consider that if you're a commuter weighing up whether to buy your tickets weekly, monthly or annually.
Good cards entitle you to a 34% discount. Up to 3 accompanying adults and 4 accompanying children can travel at the flat fare of £1 each, single or return. However, groups must travel together at all times.
Another way to get cheap rail travel is the Megatrain, the younger sister of the Megabus, it offers cheap fares, subject to a 50p booking fee, to and from a range of destinations to all over the country. Most of the cheap fares disappear in advance, so plan your journey in advance to get the cheapest fare.
Get money back after you travel
If your train is delayed for more than 30 minutes you may be able to claim back some of the cost. You should keep your ticket and pick up a reclaim form from the station. If you are travelling on the underground and your train is delayed by 15 minutes or longer then you can make a compensation request via the TFL website.
If you're planning a day out in London or the South of England then check out the Days Out Guide online for 2 for 1 offers when you present your railcard. Participating attractions include Madame Tussauds, London Aquarium and the London Dungeon.
Call of the Wild have our own arrangement with First Great Western Trains to ensure our customers can benefit from subsidised rail travel. So if you want to benefit from cheap rail travel to your stag destination then give us a call or visit our website.