United Kingdom Tickets & Rail Passes

Welcome to ShowMeTheJourney's GUIDE to booking train tickets for journeys within Great Britain - we haven't forgotten Northern Ireland and the info will be coming soon.

The info covers the core basics of what you can expect to encounter when making bookings.

What we have set out to provide is some context for the tickets and journey options you SHOULD encounter when making a booking either online or at the station.

We have striven to ensure that the advice we present is as accurate as possible, but a guide such as this cannot cover every combination of journey options.

CLICK TO JUMP TO THE LIST OF QUESTIONS - not recommended if you are new to travelling in Great Britain by train.

CLICK TO JUMP TO THE TICKET BOOKING LINKS

The price of train tickets in Great Britain is something of a national obsession, primarily because the variants in the price of long distance trains depending on how/when they are booked, are the largest in the world.

7 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW (because train ticketing in Great Britain is like nowhere else!)

(1): Trains in Britain are operated by separate companies and not a national rail company, there is no equivalent of Amtrak, DB, SNCF or Trenitalia.

These companies are referred to as Train Operating Companies, which tends to be shortened to TOCs.

Yes we have used 'train speak' but beause train ticketing in Britain can be complex, using TOCs makes it easier to explain - so trust us and read on - you'll save time, money and stress!

(2): Each TOC (Train Operating Company) operates its own independent ticket booking site, through which it sells tickets for journeys by its trains and they MAY also sell journeys nationwide.

For journeys by its trains, booking direct with a TOC's website is the cheapest option, as you can avoid booking fees.

(3): Tickets are also sold by independent companies that sell tickets nationwide - in other words they sell journeys regardless of which TOC (Train Operating Company) is providing the service you will be travelling by.

These websites are those listed below which have '(national)' beside the company/brand name.

These sites usually charge booking fees, but the fees per booking tend to be less than £2.

(4): If you book in advance, travelling by long distance trains can be great value for money, even when compared to train travel in other western European countries.

For example it’s possible to travel between London and Glasgow by train from only £30!

(5): Another rarely acknowledged positive of booking British train tickets in advance online, is that the cheapest tickets can often still be available only a couple of weeks ahead of your travel date.

You don’t USUALLY have to book months ahead to find the best deals.

(6): However, the prices of book long distance tickets last minute at the station is bordering on the ridiculous - they can be 6 x more expensive!

So if you’re visiting the UK, making spontaneous long distance day trips by train AND buying tickets at the station is to be avoided.

(7): Book a train ticket online and it will USUALLY be train departure specific, therefore on a arrival at a station you cannot usually take an alternative train - particularly a train operated by a different Train Operating Company (TOC).

However, when booking tickets at a station you can usually take ANY train to your destination, regardless of which Train Operating Company is providing the next train to leave, OR whether the next train to leave is an express train or stopping train.


YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT BRITISH TRAIN TICKETS ANSWERED:

The info covers the core basics of what you can expect to encounter when making bookings.

We have striven to ensure that the advice we present is as accurate as possible, but a guide cannot cover every combination of journeys.

Therefore what we have set out to provide is some CONTEXT for the tickets and journey options you SHOULD encounter when making a booking either online or at the station.

Click the questions or scroll through the entire page - taking the time to read the info will be money and stress saver

What do I need to be aware of I want to save money when buying British train tickets?

How far ahead can I make an online booking when travelling by train in Britain?

How can I buy tickets online at the cheapest possible price for long distance trains?

How can I buy tickets at the cheapest possible price - when not travelling long distance?

What should I be aware of when BOOKING TICKETS if my long distance journey involves a change of train?

Can I choose between different companies when making a long distance train journey?

Anything in particular I need to know when booking 1st Class Tickets?

What do I need to know about Seat Reservations?


What do I need to know about child tickets?

... And tickets forSenior Travellers?

What do I need to be aware of when booking tickets from outside the UK?

What do I need to know about booking train tickets for journeys to mainland Europe
?


What do I need to be aware of I want to save money when buying British train tickets?

If you will be travelling long distance then avoid buying tickets last minute at the statiion.
Last minute (‘walk-up’) ticket prices for long distance trains at stations are eye-wateringly expensive, but you can make big savings if you book online in advance.

If you will be travelling by these TOCs (Train Operating Companies) - Cross Country, Grand Central, Greater Anglia, Northern, Trans Pennine Express, Virgin East Coast and Virgin Trains - you can now also obtain discounted tickets on THE DAY of your travel.

The general time limit cut off for booking last minute discounted tickets with, these TOCs is an hour before the train departs.

When booking with other TOCs you can make savings if you book at least the day before your travel date.

ALSO WORTH KNOWING IF YOU WANT TO SAVE MONEY:

(1)  If you can book online further ahead for long distance journeys you can save UP to 8 x times the cost of buying tickets on the day of travel.

Cross Country, East Midlands, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Virgin East Coast and Virgin Trains are among the TOCs which offer particularly large discounts if you book in advance.

The further ahead you book, the bigger the savings to be made - the most heavily discounted tickets inevitably sell out faster.

(2) The cheapest tickets inevitably sell out fastest on the most popular trains, so there can also be big price differences between departures on your travel dates.

 

Therefore when making a booking try and be flexible with your arrival/departure times.


You will always be offered a choice of departures and the cheapest trains/tickets will be easy to spot – the TOCs will flag any particularly good deal.

(3) The cheapest tickets can be particularly hard to track to down, if you want to travel long distance when demand for travel is likely to be high, or when large volumes of business travellers will be using the train.

When travelling FROM London, the times best avoided TEND to be:

Before 10:00 and between 16:00 and 18:00 on Monday – Friday.
Between 14:00 and 18:00 on Sundays.

(4) Discounted tickets are nearly always train specific, so if you miss the train due to circumstances beyond the control of the TOC, such as a taxi stuck in traffic etc, you can’t just hop on an alternative train.

So checking the TOC’s (Train Operating Company's) policy re: refunds and amendments BEFORE making a booking is always recommended.

Discounted tickets can rarely* be refunded, but can USUALLY be amended (swapped to a different departure) on payment of a fee.

*Some TOCs will allow a booking to be cancelled/refunded if you do so within a couple of hours of the making the original payment.

 

(5) If you will be travelling shorter distances, any difference in tickets prices is USUALLY to do with the time of day you will be travelling and NOT whether you buy online in advance.

Avoid travelling into large cities, particularly London, before 09:30/10:00 and sometimes it can also be cheaper to avoid travelling away from them between 16:30 and 18:30.

Back to the list of questions.

How far ahead can I make an online booking when travelling by train in Britain?
 

The TOCCs (Train Operating Companies) USUALLY place tickets on sale 90 days or 3 months ahead of the travel date.

Though Virgin East Coast and Virgin Trains are the exception and these two companies offer tickets for some journeys up to 24 weeks ahead.

However, if you will be travelling with ANY Train Operator between May and December 2018, the advance booking window will be reduced to just 6 weeks ahead.

These time periods also apply when booking on the 'national' train ticket booking services.

Though be wary of booking further ahead than 90 days/3 months when looking up most journeys – particularly if you will be using an independent website.

You may see tickets for sale more than 90 days/3 months ahead, but it’s highly likely that these will more expensive than the discounted tickets.

The most heavily discounted tickets are never available more than 90 days/3 months ahead - EXCEPT for on Virgin Trains/Virgin East Coast.


Travelling on a Saturday or Sunday:

If you will be travelling on a Saturday or Sunday and are looking up journeys more than a couple of weeks ahead, but can't see

- any discounted tickets,
- the most heavily discounted tickets,
- any tickets at all) on sale for your travel date,

then it’s likely that your journey on the date on which you want to travel is affected by works on the line.

The re-timings of the trains, or which trains will be available to travel by, may have yet to be confirmed.
 
Therefore  the usual range of tickets, including the discounted tickets, won't YET be available for sale.

If you will be travelling with ANY Train Operator on a Saturday/Sunday between May and December 2018, the advance booking window will be reduced to just 6 weeks ahead.

However, if you look up journeys more than 2 - 3 weeks ahead then you MAY only see full price (non-discounted) tickets available.

This is because the time available to plan weekend services around works on the line has been shortened during May - December this year.

Most operators (TOCs) will only place a full range of discounted tickets on sale, when schedules have been fully confirmed.


This information can be easier to ascertain if you’re booking direct with a TOC (Train Operating Company).

Back to the list of questions.

How can I buy tickets online at the cheapest possible price for long distance trains?

If you will be travelling long distance, you will save money if you book in advance online on the website of the TOC (Train Operating Company) providing the service.

Three reasons why booking direct with a TOC (Train Operating Company) is recommended:

(1) Each TOC (Train Operating Company) has a ticket booking website and booking a ticket direct with them is the cheapest option when booking tickets in advance online.

You can avoid the booking fees charged by the alternative 'National' websites.

(2) Also if a TOC (Train Operating Company) is running a ‘sale’ or some other specific promotion, it MAY only offer these exceptionally low prices on its own website.

The Train Operating Company links towards the foot of the page go to each company’s respective ticket information guides.

(3) Each Train Operating Company (TOC) has its own terms and conditions re: managing a booking.

So the other key advantages of booking with a TOC (Train Operating Company) include being able to change seats etc and make subsequent changes to a booking – with the peace of mind of dealing direct with a TOC.

Therefore the key piece of information to be aware of is which Train Operating Company will be providing the service and therefore selling the ticket(s) – hence the summary of the routes that are most likely to be taken by visitors to the UK here.

When the journeys within the UK are added to ShowMeTheJourney - the ticket links will be for the Train Operating Company that is providing the journey.

For a comprehensive overview of which Train Operating Company operates each service it can also be worth checking Wikipedia.

Reasons why booking with an independent booking service can be a good option:

(i) They sell tickets for journeys nationwide, so don’t require knowledge of which TOC (Train Operating Company) is providing the service.

(ii) If you will be booking multiple journeys, they also avoid having to set up multiple accounts with each TOC's website.

(iii) If your journey involves a change of train and the trains are being operated by different TOCs (Train Operating Companies), then booking a ticket for the end-to-end journey including all trains, MAY be cheaper on these independent sites.


Back to the list of questions.

How can I buy tickets at the cheapest possible price - when not travelling long distance?

A simple question with an unfortunately complicated answer.

A definition of long distance would be useful, but there is no fixed rule for this, but here is some necessarily broad advice which will hopefully be useful.

You will be LESS likely to save money when booking in advance, so may as well book at the station, if;

- the journey time is under 75 - 90mins,
- you won't be travelling between two big cities.

If you will be travelling between London and destinations in south-east England you can also usually save money if;

- you avoid travelling to London on trains that arrive in the capital before 10:00 - and if you travel with
- you book 'cheap day return tickets (when available) and don't buy two single tickets.#


Back to the list of questions.

What should I be aware of when BOOKING TICKETS if my long distance journey involves a change of train?

We wish the answer to this question was simpler, but if you want to make such journeys at the cheapest possible price, you have work to do - at least until we publish our UK journey guides, which will make the info below easier to understand!

What you need to be aware of is:

(1) If all of the trains you will be travelling by are operated by the same TOC (Train Operating Company) then booking the end-to-end journey direct with the TOC is the cheapest option

(2) However, If your journey involves changing trains operated by more than one TOC, it MAY be cheaper to book separate tickets for the parts of the journey operated by each company.

Though take care to give yourself plenty of time to change trains when making the connections.

(3) You could book the end-to-end journey on a 'National' independent ticket booking service.

If you want to be sure you will be travelling at the cheapest possible price you need to check all three options.


Making connections between trains;

When looking up a journey pay special attention to the connecting time between trains.

You can be offered tickets for sale when the connecting time between trains is less than 10 minutes – but making the connection is NOT guaranteed in the event of a train being delayed.

Extending the connecting time to alternative later trains is NOT normally an option when booking online, so in these instances the best option can be to call the TOC’s booking service and book by phone.

If you do go ahead and book the tightly timed connection, then tickets can be used a later departure IF the connecting train has been delayed.


Back to the list of questions.

Can I choose between different companies when making a long distance train journey?

You will rarely have a choice of TOC (Train Operating Company) when making a journey – particularly for directly comparable journeys in terms of journey time.

For example when travelling between London and Birmingham you can choose to travel with

Virgin Trains: typical journey time = 1hr 22min
Chiltern Trains: typical journey time = 1hr 46min – 1hr 53min
London North Western Railway: typical journey time = 2hr 4mins

However, note the difference in journey times - which are due to the fact that each of these TOCs uses a different route between the two cities.

The routes when different TOCs CAN be directly compare include these journeys:
London – York
York – Edinburgh
York – Newcastle
Manchester – Liverpool
Newcastle – Edinburgh
Leeds – Newcastle
Manchester – Sheffield

In these instances the different TOCs can be compared on those national independent ticket booking services – but when looking up prices on those sites, be aware of the booking fees, - which won’t apply when booking direct with the TOCs.

Back to the list of questions.

Anything in particular I need to know when booking 1st Class Tickets?

(1) If you will be travelling long distance by express trains, don’t be surprised if 1st class tickets are cheaper – the most heavily discounted 1st class tickets can still be available when the cheapest 2nd class tickets have sold out.

(2) It’s also possible to travel in one direction in 1st class and the other in 2nd class.

(3) When comparing the price of 1st class and 2nd class tickets for long distance journeys consider the complimentary benefits of travelling 1st class - all 1st class passengers receive the same benefits irrespective of the price paid for the ticket.

Some Train Operating Companies (TOCs) including Virgin Trains and Virgin East Coast offer 1st class passengers complimentary restaurant car style meals* and drinks (*at weekends meals can be placed by a choice of sandwiches and other snacks)


(4) 1st class is not available on some fairly lengthy regional express services operated by Arriva Trains Wales, Northern and Scotrail.

Back to the list of questions.

What do I need to know about Seat Reservations?

(1) If you book long distance journeys online (direct) with Cross Country, East Midlands, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Scotrail, South Western Railway, Virgin East Coast and Virgin Trains – your seats will be assigned.

The reservation will be included free of charge with the booking.


(2) However, reservations are NOT included when booking long distance tickets at station.

If you book at a station you can pay a reservation fee to travel with many companies including Cross Country, East Midlands, Greater Anglia, Great Western, Scotrail, Virgin East Coast and Virgin Trains.


So if you book at a station AND don’t pay a reservation fee  seats are not guaranteed.

Take note if you will be using a rail pass such as InterRail or Britrail (Eurail Passes are NOT valid in the
UK).

Back to the list of questions.

What do I need to know about child tickets?


Children aged 5 – 15 travel at a 50% discount on any UK train, and those aged 4 and under can travel for free when accompanied by an adult ticket holder – though the terms for those 4 and under can vary between the TOCs.

Back to the list of questions.

... And tickets forSenior Travellers?

There is no national train ticket policy for senior travellers, as all discounts are dependent on specific passes that UK seniors can apply for.

So if you’re visiting from outside the UK no discounts are available if you’re 65 and
over.

Back to the list of questions.

What do I need to be aware of when booking tickets from outside the UK?

If you're booking train tickets from outside the UK option, the best ticket collection and delivery option is usually to collect your tickets from a ticket machine.

It will save the costs and hassle of having tickets posted abroad.

To collect your tickets from the machine, you will need to use;

(1) your card that you used when making a booking – you won’t be charged again, it’s for I.D. purposes,

(2) the reference number that you will have been sent on your ticket booking confirmation
email.

Back to the list of questions.

What do I need to know about booking train tickets for journeys to mainland Europe?

Tickets that CAN be booked on the Eurostar website:
 

(1) Direct trains to Bourg St Maurice, Bruxelles, Calais, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Moutiers and Paris.

(2) Any station in Belgium tickets.

These tickets are sold out at a flat rate and are not final destination specific.

When on the Belgian train, your Eurostar ticket will be valid if you’re using it within 24 hours of your original departure.

These tickets cannot be used on Thalys trains between Bruxelles and Antwerpen or the ICE and Thalys trains between Bruxelles and Liege.

(3) Journeys to Amsterdam and Rotterdam – but only those which;

(i) involve taking the direct trains
(ii) involve taking a combination of Eurostar trains + the Thalys high speed train between Brussels/Bruxelles and The Netherlands;

(4) Journeys to SOME major cities in France not served directly by Eurostar– including Avignon, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Nice, Nantes and Rennes.

(5) Journeys to destinations in Germany that are served by direct ICE and Thalys trains from Bruxelles, including these cities - Aachen, Cologne/Koeln, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt (Main)

When booking these tickets to destinations in Germany, Eurostar will in effect re-direct you to the B-Europe booking site


Tickets that CANNOT be booked on the Eurostar website:

Eurostar’s booking site does not sell tickets for journeys to other destinations in The Netherlands or Germany.

If you want to book train journeys to other destinations in Germany or The Netherlands, between Britain and other countries including Spain and Switzerland you can use Loco 2 or The Trainline.

When travelling to Italy you may have to split the booking between London to Paris and Paris to Italy tickets.

Back to the list of questions.

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