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

And yes there are numerous instances of the use of words such as 'typically' or 'usually' on this article, but that can't be helped, read on and you'll soon realise why that is the case.

SEVEN THINGS THAT ARE GOOD TO KNOW (because train ticketing in Great Britain is like nowhere else!)

(1): How the train services are managed:

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 because train ticketing in Britain can be complex, using 'TOC's makes it easier to explain - so trust us and read on - you'll save time, money and confusion!

A key point worth knowing is that each TOC manages how tickets are sold and can be used on its services, this can include what types of ticket will be offered both generally - and on specific departures.

Because each TOC sets its own ticketing policy there are also multiple instances when a TOC deviates from how tickets are USUALLY sold, and the key examples of this have been included on this guide
.
So when looking up a journey online, or booking at the station, you might encounter a special offer, or some other type of ticket not mentioned below.

(2): Why when you will be travelling matters:

A key impact for travellers is how each TOC uses time and days of the week as a tool for offering tickets.
For example you will see multiple references below to peak business hours (rush hours), because when travelling to and from cities and large towns, British train tickets are nearly always more expensive at those times.
The limited numbers of cheaper tickets that are placed on sale for longer-distance departures at those peak business hours, also inevitably sell out particularly quickly.

But each TOC decides what those peak business hours will be, there's no set periods of time for them which apply nationally.

As those peak business hours are only a factor in how ticket prices are calculated when Mondays - Fridays are working days, train ticket prices in Britain are generally cheaper at weekends.

So if you want to make a long-distance day trip such as London to Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool or York, you'll typically have a much wider choice of departures at cheaper prices if you travel on a Saturday or Sunday - but check that no works on the route will affect your trip.


Discover more about how to save money when booking tickets for train journeys in England, Wales and Scotland.

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(3): The MAIN types of ticket that are available:

(1) Cheaper discounted Advance tickets - not available on all routes, but will be placed on sale in limited numbers for most LONG-DISTANCE departures.
(2) Non-discounted Anytime tickets, which can be used on any train, including departures and arrivals at peak business hours.
(3) Non-discounted Off-Peak tickets, which are cheaper than Anytime tickets, because they can only be used outside peak business hours - so when Advance tickets aren't available, these Off-Peak tickets can be the cheapest type of ticket
.

You can combine these types of ticket when booking a return journey, it's possible to travel one way on an Anytime ticket and then return with an Advance ticket.

Advance Tickets:
This type of ticket lives up to its name, as they are cheaper if you can book in advance of your travel date.

Cross Country, Grand Central, Hull TrainsLNER, TransPennine Express and Virgin Trains are the TOCs which offer discounted Advance tickets on all of their routes -  while Chiltern Railways, Greater AngliaEast Midlands, Great Western Railway, Northern, ScotRailSouthern, Southeastern and South Western Railway and TFW Rail are the TOCs which offer Advance tickets on most of their longer-distance routes.

Worth knowing is that Advance tickets are released in limited numbers and tend to rise in price, between the time they are released for sale,and when they are no longer available - though this time at which they come off sale can vary.

Advance tickets can usually be found online until a couple of hours before departure, if you will be travelling with these TOCs - CrossCountry, Grand Central, Greater Anglia, Northern, TransPennine Express, LNER and Virgin Trains  - though in effect you can usually only take advantage of this if you will be departing after around 10:00.

Other TOCs, including Great Western Railway, take Advance tickets off sale at 18:00 (6pm) on the day before travel.

The cheapest Advance tickets can often still be available on at least a few departures, when looking up journeys only a couple of weeks ahead of your travel date, so you won’t USUALLY have to book months ahead to find them.
But if you want to travel at peak business hours, it's best to book as soon as possible, as the price difference between Advance and Anytime tickets can be extreme.
The cheapest Advance tickets will inevitably sell out fastest on the most popular departures, so try to be as flexible as possible with your departure and arrival times.

Depending on when you will be looking up a journey, It's not unusual for a couple of trains per day to be available at around 50% of the cost of other departures, so it's worth tracking them down - though some TOCs will make it obvious what the cheapest ticket price is available that day, on the specific route you have looked up.


Advance tickets will only be valid on the departure selected when making a booking and they CANNOT BE REFUNDED if you subsequently don't board the train - either because you have changed your travel plans, OR because you miss the train in circumstances not to do with a TOC - such as a taxi getting stuck in traffic.

Some TOCs will allow Advance Tickets to be EXCHANGED to a different departure on the same route between the same destinations, prior to travel, on payment of an admin fee (usually £10) - BUT you MAY ALSO have to pay the price difference with any new ticket you have to book.

Aside from being (much) cheaper, the other big plus of Advance tickets is that seat reservations are always included if* a TOC offers this facility, so you'll often have the peace of mind of an assigned seat(s) for your journey.
*Some TOCs including
Chiltern Railways, Greater Anglia, Southeastern and South Western Railway will sell train departure specific Advance tickets without seat reservations -  because they don't offer seat reservations on all, or most departures.

You don't have to book Advance tickets online, they can also be purchased at stations, some major stations have Travel Desks dedicated to booking tickets ahead of the travel date.

One final thing to be aware of is that Advance tickets are only sold as single journey tickets, for travel in one direction only.
So if you will be making a return journey on which Advance tickets are available, the cheapest option will be to book two single tickets for each direction of travel.


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Off-Peak/Super Off-Peak Tickets:
These tickets are not typically discounted if you book ahead, but they are less restrictive than Advance tickets.
Off-Peak tickets can be refunded prior to travel if you subsequently change your travel plans, they can also be exchanged to a different departure, but the exchange MAY require the payment of a £10 admin fee.

You typically won't save money by purchasing Off-Peak tickets online, but if you opt to do so, you'll have reserved seats (if you will be making a journey with a TOC which provides that service) and will also avoid the potential last-minute queues for ticket desks and ticket machines at the station.

The key feature of this type of ticket is that they live up to their name - because they cannot be used on busier trains, particularly those that depart at business hours.
So on the routes and services on which 'Advance' tickets are NOT available, you can save money by using these tickets and avoiding the peak business hours.

Though how Off-Peak tickets are sold varies - it depends on the TOC which will be providing the service AND whether you will be booking single or return tickets.


A unique aspect of Off-Peak tickets is that they can allow a stopover on the outward or return leg of a journey at no extra charge, so for example, you could stop over in Bath on the way from London to Bristol.
However, if you can book ahead for such a long-distance multi-destination day trip, you can save money by purchasing separate Advance tickets for the longer journeys.

'Super Off-Peak' Tickets:

These TOCs - c2c Chiltern Railways, East MidlandsGreat Western RailwayGreater Anglia, SouthernSouth Western Railway and Thameslink are the TOCs which offer 'Super Off-Peak Tickets - in effect they have sub-divided certain periods of time, during which tickets will be offered at a cheaper rate than the Off-Peak tickets.
So when travelling on a Monday-Friday on the routes that those TOCs manage - click the names above to find out what they are -  it can particularly pay off to look through the departures and see whether you can find a cheaper 'Super Off-Peak' price.

Some of those TOCs will also apply 'Super Off-Peak' to an entire weekend, meaning that it can be easier to find cheaper prices when travelling on a Saturday or Sunday - and when booking at a station at a weekend you won't have to be so concerned over whether you will be making a journey for the cheapest possible price.

Although, LNER is a TOC which takes a different approach, because it also offers 'Super Off-Peak' tickets on its long distance routes and they are discounted if you book in advance.

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Day Return tickets:

If you will be making a day trip by train and WON'T be travelling long-distance (approximately more than two hours each-way), but WILL be travelling outside peak business hours, look out for Day Return tickets at either 'Off-Peak' or 'Super Off-Peak' rates.

These Day Return tickets typically cost only around £1 more than Off-Peak/Super Off-Peak single (one-way) tickets.


Also worth knowing is that a Day Return ticket will be cheaper than a combination of using a discounted Advance single ticket to travel in one direction, and a single Off-Peak ticket to travel in the other.

Some TOCS won't offer single, one-way journey Off-Peak tickets at all on Mondays to Fridays, but will offer Off-Peak day RETURN tickets during Mondays to Fridays - at less busy times of the day.

When booking online, the search results may highlight the cheapest 'ticket' price and an Advance single ticket will be cheaper than a Day Return ticket - so it can seem like the best deal.
However, check whether single (one-way) Advance tickets will be offered in both directions when making a day return trip, particularly if you will be travelling on Monday-Friday.
If they won't be offered for both the outward AND return journeys, it's likely that a Day Return will be the cheapest option.

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Anytime Tickets::
These tickets also live up to their name, as they can be used on any train on any travel date, meaning that they can used to travel on trains departing at peak business hours.

They are also not typically discounted if you book ahead, so you won't usually save money by purchasing these tickets online, but if you opt to do so, you'll have reserved seats (if you will be making a journey with a TOC which provides that service) and will avoid the potential queues for ticket desks and machines at a station.


If you do book these tickets online they can be refunded or exchanged to a different departure with no additional fees, so they are the most flexible type of ticket for British train journeys.

If you'll be travelling long-distance when Mon-Fri are working days and need to board a train departing before around* 09:00, or between around* 16:30 and 18:30 and BUY TICKETS LAST MINUTE AT THE STATION, it's likely that only the Anytime price will be available.
And on longer-distance routes this price can be more than 5 x more expensive than the prices that had been charged for the cheapest Advance tickets, particularly when travelling to/and from London - and this difference in price clouds perceptions of British train travel.
*Each TOC decides which of its departures will have an Anytime price applied to it.

As this having to buy an Anytime ticket scenario is best avoided - if you will be setting off in the morning on Mon-Fri, there are two things worth doing before 18:00 (6pm) on the day before your trip.
1: Look up the journey to see if any Advance tickets are still available.
2: Check to see if Split-Ticketing will save you money - read more about this.


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(4):  How those tickets are sold online:

There are in effect three different types of online ticket booking services for British train journeys.

1:  Each TOC (Train Operating Company) operates its own independent ticket booking site, through which it sells tickets for journeys by its trains - and they usually also sell journeys nationwide, regardless of which TOC is operating the service.

When a TOC does also sell tickets for journeys online that it doesn't operate, don't be surprised if its own services aren't highlighted.
You may see faster and/or cheaper services for sale that are not operated by the TOC whose website you are using.
But those faster/cheaper journeys will involve a change of train, the TOC will be operating the direct trains with '0 changes' required - but sometimes that won't be particularly obvious.

The positives of booking with a TOC are:
(i) no booking fees;
(ii) occasional access to unique services, for example if you book a Virgin Trains service on the Virgin trains website, you can choose a specific seat(s) from a seating plan;
(iii) particularly if you are in resident in the UK you may have a wider choice of delivery options, including receiving tickets by post;
(iv) the peace of mind of dealing direct with a TOC, if you need to manage your booking by amending it to a different train, or seek recompense for a train delay etc.

Booking direct with a TOC is a good option when you’ll be making a direct long-distance journey and the cheaper/cheapest ‘Advance’ tickets are still available.

Each TOC also manages special travel requirements, so booking direct with a TOC can also be a good option if you will be travelling with an ordinary, non-folding bicycle, or want to use an Assisted Travel service.

However, if you’ll be looking for Advance tickets only a couple of days ahead of your travel date, you might save money by using the alternative ticket booking services described below.

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2: National Rail is the organisation which manages most aspects of the UK rail network, apart from operating the trains.

It offers an online ticketing service, which is in effect a targeted search engine for the booking services managed by the TOCs.
You enter where you want to travel from and to and it will direct you to the booking site of the TOCs which operate the service(s), so it’s a highly useful tool if you don’t know which TOC operates a particular route.

Once you’re connected to the relevant TOC’s booking website, you can book as though you’d gone directly to the TOC in the first instance, so can access features such as choosing seat preferences etc.
Though you will have to register with the TOC in order to complete a booking.
You also won’t pay a booking fee, either to the TOC or to Nationalrail.co.uk.

By using the service you also don’t have to know which types of ticket will be available for the journey you will be taking.
For example, if it only lists Off-Peak tickets when you look up a journey, you can be sure that Advance tickets either weren’t ever available on that route, or that they have sold out.

It’s also a particularly useful tool when multiple TOCs provide DIRECT services between destinations, over the same or different routes.
You can compare departure/arrival times, length of journey and prices.

It also often shows alternative indirect routes, but on NationaRail.co.uk, the prices for these indirect routes tend to be more expensive than you'll find on the other ticketing services, but that isn’t always the case.

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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.

The positives of using these services are;
(i) a lack of a need to know which TOC operates the route or trains you will be taking;
(ii) you don’t have to register with multiple TOCs in order to buy tickets;

(iii) the same consumer protection that a TOC will offer will also apply to a booking with these third party sites.

The core negative is that this type of website usually charges booking fees, but the fees per booking tend to be less than £2.

However, Loco2 is an exception, as it doesn’t charge booking fees and still offers access to every departure and route regardless of ticketing operator.
And now Loco2 has also introduced a ‘price-hack’
service, which can save money when the cheaper advance tickets have sold out.

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(5): When do tickets for British train journeys become available?

Generally tickets for train journeys are placed on sale 12 weeks ahead of the travel date, but as is the case with so many other aspects of buying British train tickets, this can be variable.

But the five key things worth knowing are:

1: Off-Peak and Anytime tickets will usually be available regardless of whether the Advance tickets have been placed on sale.

2: Off-Peak and Anytime tickets can be available more than 12 weeks ahead, but if you want to save money avoid booking them and wait until the Advance tickets have been released.

3: The discounted Advance tickets can be placed sale a week or two AFTER the Off-Peak and Anytime tickets, so the Advance tickets may only be available when looking up journeys 10 - 11 weeks ahead.

4: Contradictory to the above, if a TOC (Train Operating Company) is running a promotion it may release Advance tickets for sale more than 12 weeks ahead.
So the rule = if you look up a journey more than 10 weeks ahead and want to save money, don't book any type of ticket other than Advance tickets.

5: Advance tickets aren't placed on sale until a TOC can be sure that it will be able to provide its usual train service.
If works on the line require a bus substitution service to be provided, Advance tickets may not be made available at all - and these works are much more likely to be carried out at weekends.

More information about this is available when the specific question of, when are tickets placed on sale, is answered further down this article.


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(6): How tickets are sold at stations:

Generally if you'll be booking tickets for a long-distance journey before around 18:00 (6pm) the day before your travel date, you can use a staffed ticket desk to obtain tickets for the same rate as the online price.
Meaning that if the discounted Advance tickets are available on the route you wish to take and at the time you want to travel, you can buy them at the station.

(i) Booking tickets just before travelling long-distance:

If you will be travelling long distance and book British train tickets at the last minute just prior to boarding, you will have to pay the non-discounted Off-Peak or Anytime prices.
When Mondays to Fridays are working days, if you'll be buying tickets at peak business hours, the more expensive Anytime price will be the only price available on the next train to leave.

Despite being (much more) expensive than Advance tickets, seat reservations won't typically be available if you book an Anytime of Off-Peak tickets just prior to boarding a train service on which seats can usually be reserved - because reservations at stations TYPICALLY have to be made 3 - 4 hours ahead of the departure time.

So if you will be travelling with a TOC that does offer reservations for online advance bookings and book last-minute at a station, not only will you be paying a higher price than most of your fellow travellers, unlike them you won't have assigned seats either.
And this double jeopardy is what fuels much of the resentment at the cost of travelling by train in Britain, but with a modicum of advance planning, it's a scenario that can be avoided.

(ii) Booking last minute tickets for shorter distance journeys:

If you will be travelling on Monday to Friday working days on shorter-distance routes, the price you will pay will also depend at which time of day you will be buying tickets at the station.

If you WON'T be travelling at morning business hours, usually 07:00 - 09:30*, you will be in effect be purchasing Off-Peak or Super Off-Peak tickets.
*Off-Peak tickets also may not be available between 16:30 and 19:00 especially when travelling away from London at these times - note that each TOC manages its own periods of time when Off-Peak tickets will and won't be available, there's no national standard for this. 

But if you will be making a day trip, check to see if Day Return tickets are available, particularly when using a ticket a machine.
They'll be more expensive than single tickets, but don't get fixated by the price, if you won't be travelling at peak-business hours, a day return ticket will be cheaper than buying a single ticket for your outward journey - and then another single ticket at the station you will be returning from.

Though if you will be travelling at peak business hours on Monday-Friday, be wary of the fact that a ticket machine may offer you an Off-Peak ticket, despite the fact that you won't be able to use it on the next train(s) that are leaving.
Off-Peak day return tickets also won't be available at peak business hours, so the best option when departing at peak times is generally to pay the higher price for a single Anytime ticket, and then buy another single ticket at the station you will be returning from - if you come back outside peak hours, you should save money.

Buying tickets at a station at weekends or on national holidays is simpler because only the Off-Peak, or cheaper Super Off-Peak rates will be offered, so you can just hop on the next train to leave.
Super Off-Peak Day Returns will be available on most weekend departures if you will be taking a journey by these TOCs - c2c, Chiltern Railways, East MidlandsGreat Western RailwayGreater Anglia, Southern, Southeastern, South Western Railway and Thameslink.
Day Return tickets can cost less than £1 more than single tickets.

When booking tickets last minute at a station, you can often 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
However, that scenario doesn't always apply, particularly if one service takes a different route to another, so it can be worth booking at a staffed ticket desk, so that you can confirm what your options are
.

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YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT BRITISH TRAIN TICKETS ANSWERED:

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 booking long distance journeys?

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

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

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 for Senior 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
?

More info about booking tickets for international train journeys from Britain is available on the London to Europe guide here.

What do I need to be aware of I want to save money when booking longer-distance journeys?

Check to see if there is an annual Railcard which will suit you.
The most popular Railcards are
Two-Together
Friends and Family
Senior 
(for those aged 60 and over)
16-25s
26 - 30
16-17 Saver (a newly introduced Railcard)

UK residents can purchase these Railcards online or at a staffed ticket desk at a station, while visitors to the UK can purchase them at stations.

You will have to do some maths, to see if a combination of purchasing a card and savings on the ticket price will be an overall money saver, but based on SMTJ's experiences, you'll be making savings once you have made more than two trips of around an hour each way.

What is this based on? 
A Two Together Railcard costs £30
A journey from my local station to Brighton takes 1hr 10 mins and the Off-Peak Day return fare = £22
So when two people are booking tickets with this particular card, the cost per person is reduced to approx £15 = a total saving of £14.
Meaning that two trips with the Railcard would save £28, so once a third trip is made, the total saving, even when factoring in the cost of the card, becomes £12.

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In summary there are four things to be aware of if you want to save money on British train journeys:
- avoid peak business hours when Mondays to Fridays are working days;
- don't book Anytime tickets if at all possible;
- on the routes on which they are available, book Advance tickets as soon as you know your travel dates;
- be as flexible as possible re: departure and arrival times on your travel dates.
These four things have been explained in further detail below.

(1) Avoid travelling by train when services will be particularly busy, because at these peak business hours when Monday - Friday are working days, the cheaper Advance tickets either won’t be available, or will have sold out (if you typically haven't booked months in advance) and the cheaper Off-Peak tickets won’t be available either.

Anytime tickets MAY be the only option and this type of ticket can be more than 5 x more expensive than the cheapest Advance tickets and typically cost twice the price of Off-Peak tickets

When travelling FROM London, the times of day when Anytime tickets can be the only option still available for a long-distance train journey, TEND to be:

Between 07:30 and 09:00 on Monday - Friday*
and between 16:30 and 18:30 on Monday – Friday*

The cheapest Advance tickets can also be less likely to be available at these times:
Between 14:30 and 16:30 on Fridays*
Between 09:00 and 14:00 when travelling towards the coast on Summer Saturdays
Between 15:00 and 19:00 on Sundays.
*National holidays are an exception.

So keep this in mind if you will be setting off on a day trip by train, particularly a long-distance trip such as London to Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool or York, you'll typically have a much wider choice of departures at cheaper prices if you travel at a weekend.
If you do want to make such a trip to more distant destinations on a Monday to Friday, with the cheaper Advance tickets, then it's best to book these Advance tickets as soon as they are released for sale.

You'll have more options to save money on many shorter-distance routes when travelling on a Saturday or Sunday  - if you will be travelling on a route operated by 
c2c, Chiltern Railways, East MidlandsGreat Western RailwayGreater Anglia, Southern, Southeastern, South Western Railway and Thameslink the cheaper 'Super Off-Peak' tickets that these TOCs offer can be easier to find at weekends.

(2) A scenario definitely to be avoided if possible, is having to book Anytime tickets last minute at a station, on routes on which discounted Advance tickets are made available.
Because if you book tickets at a station just prior to boarding at peak business hours, Advance tickets won’t be an option.

So if you will be departing before 09:00, then look up a journey before 18:00 (6pm) on the previous day and check to see if Advance tickets still available at a cheaper price than Anytime tickets.
OR If you will be departing after 09:00, then look up a journey online before you head to the station -
CrossCountry, Grand Central, Greater Anglia, Northern, TransPennine Express , LNER and Virgin Trains all sell Advance tickets online up until 4 - 2 hours ahead of departure.
Though if you will be departing between 16:30 and 18:30 the Advance tickets are highly likely to have sold out.

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(3) Book the discounted Advance tickets as far ahead as possible, as prices will rise between when they are placed on sale and the days just before you will be making a journey.

Chiltern Railways, Cross Country, East Midlands, Greater Anglia, Great Western Railway, LNER and Virgin Trains are among the TOCs which offer particularly large discounts on Advance tickets.

A good time to look for Advance tickets is 10 weeks ahead of your travel date - the other types of tickets may have been placed on sale a couple of weeks sooner, but often Advance tickets are held back from sale until 10-11 weeks ahead.

On long-distance routes the limited numbers of Advance tickets for peak business-hours departures typically sell out quickly, because at those times the only other option will be the much more expensive Anytime tickets.
So if you want to travel at business hours and save money it's best to look for Advance tickets at least 8 - 10 weeks ahead, though there's no fixed 'rule' for this, the price per departure will depend on the demand.

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(4) When making a booking try and be flexible with your arrival/departure times.

The cheapest Advance tickets inevitably sell out fastest on the most popular trains, and when they have done so, there can be big price differences between departures on your travel dates.

You will always be offered a choice of departures and it can be worth scrolling through them to see if you can save money – some TOCs will flag the cheapest price available per day on their booking pages.

Take care to look at the earlier departures BEFORE the time you have chosen, as well as later trains.


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Comparing the ticket agents:

If you will be travelling long-distance and want to pay the cheapest price for a train journey, it's often a good idea to look up your journey on the different types of ticketing services.

Particularly if you’ll be booking tickets for and/or travelling by departures, when the more heavily discounted Advance tickets are no longer available.
So this scenario is likely to apply if you will be booking less than a couple of days ahead of your travel date, or travelling at peak business hours.

Making these comparisons between different ticket services is also recommended by ShowMeTheJourney if:

- your long-distance journey involves a change of train;
- you will be making a long-distance journey and not travelling to or from London;
- you don’t mind having to make more connections, or putting up with a longer journey time, if it will save you money.

Make the comparison by looking up your journey on the websites of...

(1) the TOC – to see what price it is offering for your journey - check which TOC operates trains on each of the most popular leisure (tourist) routes.
If you can find Advance tickets at a heavily discounted rate, you won’t have to make the effort to look for better deal.

(2) the National Rail website, as it enables easy comparison when different TOCs offer alternative services between destinations – and it can occasionally also offer cheaper alternative routes
(3) this website Splitticketing.com which specialises in offering Split-Tickets
(4) Loco 2 as it offers a Price-Hack service based on Split Ticketing.

ShowMeTheJourney has looked up more than 100 journeys and there is no definitive ticketing service, which always offers the best price.

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What is Split-Ticketing?

The lack of a national train operator can lead to discrepancies in ticket pricing and it's often possible to take advantage of these by purchasing multiple different tickets for an end-to-end journey - this is known as Split-Ticketing.

The key thing is having a valid ticket for each part of the journey, so that when the train conductor inspects each ticket, you'll be meeting the terms and conditions of using that particular ticket.

Split-Ticketing can most often apply to these three scenarios:

(1) Completing the end-to-end journey on a direct train:

You will pay in one transaction, but you will be booking and using multiple tickets that are valid for different sections of the journey.
One ticket will be valid for the first part of the journey from your starting point to an intermediate station along the route, then another ticket(s) will be valid on the same train that you are travelling by - but this ticket will be valid to travel on from the same intermediate station that's along the route.

What you will need to do is show your second set of ticket(s) to the conductor, when they repeat the ticket inspection later in the journey.

The ticket valid from your starting point will open any ticket gate at the station at which you will be commencing a journey, and similarly the ticket valid to your destination will open the ticket gate, so that you can exit the station.

The big plus of this scenario is that your journey time won't be any slower than if you'd booked a conventional ticket valid for the end-to-end journey.
The disadvantage of using split tickets to travel on one train is that you may not be able remain in the same seat(s), or even the same coach, for the entire journey.

The ticket for each part of your journey will also likely have seat reservations, but the seat you will be assigned for the initial part of the journey, may then have been reserved by another traveller for the second (other parts) of your journey.
So if that is the case, you will have to give it up and move to the seat(s) you have been assigned with the ticket that covers the next part of the journey.

You may not be able to avoid this scenario on busy trains, but the trick is to see if an unreserved seat (s) will be available for your entire journey - if it is then you can occupy it, because you won't have to travel in the specific seat(s) you have been assigned for your ticket(s) to be valid.

(2) Completing the end-to-end journey on multiple trains, despite direct trains being available:

Particularly when different TOCs offer services along sections of a route, it can be possible to save money by changing trains between those alternative services.

In the one transaction you will be in effect be purchasing separate tickets for each train you will be travelling by and you will then show each respective ticket to the conductor on the train.
These tickets will also open the ticket gates at each station where you will be changing trains, if you want to make full use of its facilities between trains.

The advantage is of course the potentially significant savings, but the disadvantages are:
(i) it will be slower than taking the direct trains;
(ii) the connections between the trains can be quite tightly timed;
(iii) making the connections isn't guaranteed in the event of a train being delayed during its journey.

(3) When direct trains aren't an option:

Having to make connections between trains managed by different TOCs is often inevitable when making British train journeys, particularly if you won't be travelling to or from London.
Major cities which aren't connected by direct train include:
Bristol <> Leicester, Nottingham and Oxford, 
Cardiff <> Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle
Liverpool <> Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Southampton
Norwich <> Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Newcastle
Nottingham <>Edinburgh and Newcastle

On routes like these, split-ticketing can help track down the best price for each leg of a route and also enable the payment for the necessary combination of tickets in one transaction.
Then making the end-to-end journey, will be no more complicated than booking and using the tickets issued by the other types of booking service.

Things to look out for when using split-ticketing:

(1) Keep an eye on the departure and particularly the arrival times, it can be easy to focus solely on the price and not realise that the journey time is double that of a more expensive option.

(2) Watch out for connecting times between trains, as you can’t assume that the train(s) will arrive on time, though the ticketing sites will do so.
You won’t ultimately be out of pocket, but having to queue up at a ticket office to have new tickets issued and/or claiming compensation after you have completed your journey, are scenarios best avoided.

(3) NationalRail.co.uk can offer particularly expensive prices when it comes up with alternative routes, but avoid assuming that these prices will be what you have to pay - the other websites can often offer this type of journey at a reduced rate.

(4) Splitticketing.com is open about the fact that it retains a percentage of the money it has saved you, by working out the cheapest combination of tickets.
However, if you can be confident that you can book all the trains/tickets it has suggested, yourself - paying particular attention to connecting times between trains, OR the arrival/departure times at each station, when it suggests remaining on the same train, you can then avoid paying this percentage.

(5) Splitticketing.com can omit departures from its journey search results, if it can’t find a deal AND the cheapest Advance tickets have also sold out - so it doesn’t provide a comprehensive list of every journey and ticket option.

(6) Loco2 doesn’t charge a booking fee, so if its ‘Price-Hack’ has found a deal it can be the best option.
But when its Price-Hack has found a deal, Loco2 discards the standard ticket offering and only shows the price, which involves the Split-Ticketing.
The logic being that there’s no need to pay the full-price, but if you don’t want to use Split-tickets, it won’t give you that option.

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

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

If you will be travelling shorter distances, the time of day you will be travelling can have greater affect on the ticket price than if you book in advance.

On routes and services when Advance tickets aren't available, the Off-Peak tickets* become the cheapest option - and this type of ticket won't typically be cheaper if you book ahead.


*C2C, Chiltern Railways, East Midlands, Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, SouthernSouth Western Railway and Thameslink offer 'Super Off-Peak' tickets, which are cheaper than Off-Peak tickets.

The prices of 'Off-Peak' and 'Super Off-Peak' tickets are influened by the time of day when you will be travelling, in theory if you can travel when trains will be least busy, you can save money.

So on Monday to Fridays 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.

But on Mondays-Friday each TOC (Train Operating Company) sets its own times as to when it will offer Off-Peak tickets and how they will be sold generally - on some routes the Off-Peak rate won't be available if you book single tickets.

However, when travelling at weekends the cheaper Off-Peak or Super Off-Peak tickets become the default ticket.

Something to watch out for if you will be making a day trip, especially if you have previously booked Advance tickets, so are used to travelling each way with single tickets, is the potential availability of Day Return tickets.
They typically only cost up to £1 more than the price of a single Off-Peak ticket for a one-way journey.

If Advance tickets are placed on sale for shorter distance journeys, they will only be made available as single one-way tickets, but it can still be cheaper to book an Off-Peak Day return ticket - particularly if you are offered a 1 x single Advance ticket and 1 x single Off-Peak ticket for making a return journey.

Something else to look out for when looking up journeys online, is that when Day Return tickets are offered, the price of the Day Return tickets can be shown below or above the Single (one-way) tickets - but the price for the return journey will be shown as £0.
This doesn't mean that the Day Return tickets aren't available, instead the message that's being conveyed is that there is no charge for a single ticket for the return direction, because both directions of travel are being included on the one Day Return ticket.

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

This is another aspect of booking British train tickets, which is dependent on which TOC (Train Operating Company) is operating the service you will be travelling by.

According to the National Rail website and the general ticketing information you can find at stations, tickets should be released for sale 12 weeks ahead, but there are multiple exceptions to this.
Some TOCs will release the non-discounted Off-Peak and Advance tickets more than 12 weeks ahead, so if you look up a journey more than 12 weeks ahead, don't assume that these more expensive types of ticket, will be the only option for making your journey.
Though if a TOC  is running a promotion, the discounted Advance tickets may be available more than 12 weeks ahead.

If you will be travelling long-distance on train services provided by Chiltern Railways, Cross Country, East Midlands, Grand Central, Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, Hull Trains, LNER, Northern, ScotRail, Southern, Southeastern, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express and Virgin Trains - the Advance tickets SHOULD be available more than 10 -11 weeks ahead of the travel date.
This can be inconsistent, on many routes the Advance tickets will also be available 12 weeks ahead.

Around 10 weeks ahead can be a good time to book a long-distance train journey in England, Wales and Scotland, the cheapest Advance tickets will more than likely have been placed on sale and be still available - and the price can be compared with the Off-Peak and Anytime prices.
If you will be travelling on a Monday - Friday outside peak business hours and don't see any Advance tickets when looking up a journey around 10 weeks, it can be a good idea to sign up to the TOCs ticket alert service - the discounted Advance tickets should be released at a later date.
If you will be travelling at weekends and can't see any Advance tickets, see the notes below.

When the TOC releases its tickets for sale is when they will also become available on the National ticketing services.

Travelling on a Saturday or Sunday:

If you will be travelling LONG-DISTANCE on a Saturday or Sunday and look up a journey LESS than 10-12 weeks ahead, you may not see any Advance tickets available.
That's because the TOCs usually won't release Advance tickets for sale if works on the railway line will be impacting on a route.

So the lack of Advance tickets can be a red flag - not only will the cheaper tickets not be available, but making the journey will ALSO be more awkward.

However, take care, because the TOC will still usually offer non-discounted Off-Peak tickets for sale up to 12 weeks ahead, regardless of whether there will be works occurring on the line.

In those circumstances check back a couple of weeks ahead of your travel date to see if the Advance tickets have been placed on, or sign up to the TOCs Ticket Alert service.
Don't book the more expensive 'Off-Peak' tickets until you are certain that they will be the only type of ticket available for your journey.

Details of nationwide future works on the railway lines can be looked up HERE.


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

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.

Also 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 book at the station.

Although if you do go ahead and book an end-to-end journey with a tightly timed connection, then tickets can be used on a later departure IF the connecting train has been delayed.
Though you won't be able to re-arrange any seat reservations, so will have to hope that spare seats will be available on the alternative train.


Also double-check the Terms and Conditions which will apply in the event of missed connections due to train delays - shouldn't be an issue, but it's worth being sure.

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

Despite it being one of the key objectives of opening up UK rail travel to multiple operators, travellers often won't have a choice of TOC (Train Operating Company) when making a journey – particularly for directly COMPARABLE journeys in terms of fastest route and journey times.

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 NorthWestern Railway: typical journey time = 2hr 4mins

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

The longer-distance routes when trains operated by different TOCs can be directly compared includes these journeys:
London – York
York – Edinburgh
York – Newcastle
Manchester – Liverpool
Newcastle – Edinburgh
Leeds – Newcastle
Manchester – Sheffield

When travelling on these routes, the different TOCs can be compared on the national independent ticket booking services or on National Rail's online ticketing service

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

These are the key five things worth knowing if you're considering travelling First Class on a British train.

(1) If you will be travelling long distance by express trains, First Class Advance tickets are usually cheaper than Standard Class Off-Peak and Anytime tickets – and the most heavily discounted First Class Advance tickets can still be available when the cheapest Standard Class Advance tickets have sold out.
So when looking up a journey, it's not impossible for First Class to be cheaper than travelling Standard Class.


(2) It’s also possible to travel in one direction in First Class and the other in Standard Class.

(3) When comparing the price of First Class and Standard Class tickets for long distance journeys consider the complimentary benefits of travelling First Class - all First Class passengers on each departure receive the same benefits, irrespective of the price paid for the ticket.

Some Train Operating Companies (TOCs) including
Virgin Trains and LNER offer First Class passengers complimentary restaurant car style meals* on some departures.
*At weekends meals can be replaced by a choice of complimentary sandwiches and other snacks.


(4) Grand CentralLNER, ScotRail, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express and Virgin Trains offer 'Weekend First' services.
Meaning that if you will be travelling on a Saturday or Sunday with Standard Class tickets, you can board and occupy unreserved, available seats in First Class and then pay a supplement to the train conductor - with the price depending on the length of the journey


(5) First Class is not available on some fairly lengthy regional express services operated by Transport For Wales, Northern and ScotRail.

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What do I need to know about Seat Reservations?

If you book long-distance journeys ONLINE and will be travelling with CrossCountry, East Midlands, Grand Central, Great Western RailwayHull Trains, ScotRail, TransPennine Express, LNER and Virgin Trains, your seat(s) will be assigned.
The reservation will be included with the booking.

When travelling long-distance with these TOCs you will also receive seat reservations if you book Advance tickets at a station AHEAD of your travel date.


However, when BOOKING TICKETS AT STATIONS reservations are typically only available if you buy tickets 3 - 4 hours ahead of the departure time.
This is why they are not service which will be offered, if you book last minute Anytime or Off-Peak tickets at stations, just prior to boarding.

Seat reservations are not available when making journeys on trains operated by c2cChiltern Railways, Great NorthernGreater Anglia*, London NorthWestern Railway** Northern, Southern, SoutheasternSouth Western Railway and Thameslink.
*Reservations are usually available on the London <> Norwich route;
**Seats are assigned when booking tickets online.

Travelling with a rail pass:

Keep that time limit in mind if you will be travelling with a rail pass, including Britrail or Eurail passes, you won't be able to make an optional reservation just prior to boarding.

That's because if you will be using a rail pass or 'Rover' ticket on a train service operated by CrossCountry, East Midlands*, Grand CentralGreat Western Railway*Hull Trains,  ScotRail*, TransPennine Express, LNER and Virgin Trains (*=long distance routes only), and you do want to reserve, you'll need to book your reservation 3 - 4 hours ahead of departure.
So if you want to set off in the morning you will need to make reservations by the end of the previous day.


There is no charge for booking a rail pass reservation at stations, but you will need to use a staffed ticket desk (at an Advance Travel desk when available) and not a ticket machine.

Note that reservations are not mandatory when travelling with CrossCountry, East Midlands, Grand CentralGreater Anglia, Hull Trains Great Western Railway, ScotRail, TransPennine Express, LNER and Virgin Trains - and are not available when travelling with any other operator.

Thanks to the lack of mandatory reservation, and no fees to be paid if you do want to make an optional reservation, Britain is a relatively uncomplicated country in which to travel with an InterRail pass or Eurail Pass, particularly when compared against the depth of knowledge required to travel by train with the optimum ticket.

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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 how those 4 and under can travel,  can vary between the TOCs, you either will or won't have to travel with the child on your lap..

Though if you will be traveling as a family and make two or three long-distance journeys during a year, it can be worth investing in a Friends and Family RailCard.

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... And tickets forSenior Travellers?

There is no national train ticket policy for senior travellers (aged 60 and over), but it's possible to save money on rail tickets by using a RailCard.

So if you’re visiting from outside the UK no discounts are available if you’re 60 and over - unless you purchase this RailCard at a station.

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

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

It will save the costs and hassle of having tickets posted abroad - and some TOCs don't offer international postage as a delivery option

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

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If you will be making multiple journeys by train during a visit to Britain, or making repeated visits over a 12 month period, it can be worth purchasing one of the Railcards which are valid for train travel in Britain - because you don't have to be a British citizen to buy and use them.

So it's worth checking if you or your travelling party meet the criteria, though if more than one person will be travelling together, there will be the POTENTIAL to save money, even when you have factored in the up-front cost of purchasing the Railcard at a staffed ticket desk at a station.

Each Adult using a railcard receives a discount of a third of the cost of booking pretty much any UK train journey and child fares are reduced by 60%.

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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 - the key feature of these tickets is that they live up to their name, so how distant your Belgian destination is and the journey time doesn't impact on the ticket price.

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

Though 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) or 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.

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