How to get cheap train tickets in the UK

Trains in the United Kingdom are extortionate. Often costing more than a flight to the continent, you can often pay over £100 for a one way trip from Scotland to the outskirts of London. That’s over £100 for a journey that’s only a little over 4 hours. We know it costs a lot so let’s not dwell. Here’s how I find much, much cheaper train tickets in the UK.

The Heathrow Express is one of the most expensive trains in the world. £27 for a 15 minute journey.

The Heathrow Express is one of the most expensive trains in the world. £27 for a 15 minute journey.

Saving big, changing little 

You want to catch a train and it’s pricey, but a train really is the best way for you to go. What are your options to save?

  • Book 11-12 weeks in advance – requires forethought and organisation
  • Using a railcard – great discounts but it’s still expensive
  • Buying lots of singles and splitting up your journey – often extends your journey and travel time
  • Booking off-peak – The tickets are a little cheaper but your travel times are limited
  • Splitting your ticket – The lesser known and legal way to substantially shrink your ticket price

It’s this last one that is particularly interesting. I had to plan a trip from Dalgety Bay, in Fife, Scotland, to Burry Port, in Carmarthenshire, Wales. Flying would take a similar time, due to lots of hanging around and shuffling through airports and security; it’s too far a drive alone in one day, and a coach journey of fourteen hours did not appeal. Going by train simply was the best option. Usually, I book ahead to get cheap train tickets but this was a last minute trip so I was going to do my usual of buying lots of single tickets, but that meant getting off and gloomily watching my train go to the station I’m about to go to, leaving me waiting for a cheaper train.

Cheap train tickets

Cheap train tickets

Frankly, I was not prepared to pay the £122 it was going to cost me for a one-way ticket. This was including a discount with my railcard (bought with £10 – £15 Tesco Clubcard Voucher points, bonus!) and would have cost more than the flight and transfers (£110). I’m used to fiddling with train times and prices but I was so frustrated that I had to.

Saving more than 70%

I decided to investigate how to get cheap train tickets. Most places informed me of the usual points, none of which were helping me. But then I stumbled upon this process known as ‘splitting tickets’. Initially, I thought it was just splitting your journey into more parts, but it’s not. It’s actually splitting your tickets into multiple parts. Sounds similar but this way you’re not actually required to leave the train. This process is perfectly legal and there are even sites that help you do this.

How it works

I’ve not had it confirmed but I think it goes by the more frequent routes get higher priced tickets, but you can get some cheap singles. For my example, we’ll stick with my route.

Original tickets (£122)

  • Dalgety Bay – Haymarket
  • Haymarket – Crewe
  • Crewe – Burry Port

Those are the minimum amount of changes I need to make to make my journey.

Final journey (£36)

  • Dalgety Bay – Haymarket
  • Haymarket – Warrington Quay
  • Warrington Quay – Crewe
  • Crewe – Burry Port

So the above looks like an extra station change, however, I timed it in such a way that my Warrington Quay ticket leaving from Crewe is on the same train as the one I caught from Haymarket. One more ticket part but no extra change. Cheap train tickets to me! What this means is I can sit on the train smugly knowing I just saved £90 but didn’t lose any time. If you’re wanting to add some steps to your Fitbit, you could pop off and walk back through another door. A further saving is no temptation to buy a hot drink whilst you wait on a freezing, draughty platform. The pennies are just adding up!

Tools of the trade

As I said, I’d found a few sites that offered the service of doing the splitting for me:

Manual search 

Having tried and failed with the above (they managed small discounts but not like what I eventually managed), I decided to try it manually.

  1. Work out the most efficient route by doing a general search for the trip (this also helps you feel even more smug as you see what it would have cost you)
  2. View the calling points or the routes
  3. Experiment with each part and pay attention to the times. The trick is to segment the main station changes out. Preston for example on my route is a favourite to change at so it’ll have higher prices so start a ticket part there. Don’t overdo it, you will rarely get below £5 for each part.
  4. Double check you have every step of your original journey
  5. Smugly declare your savings to all who will listen!

Extra saving tips for cheap train tickets

  • Use a site that gives you loyalty points to help save for another trip.  Though with your savings I’m afraid it’ll take a little longer to build up, but I don’t think you’ll mind too much.
  • Use a credit card that gives you points and immediately pay-off the balance to avoid interest.
  • Buy a Plus Bus ticket if you need it to save on buses on the other side.
  • Use a bank card that you may win your spend back with.