How do I: Get the cheapest train tickets?

 

If offered the choice, most of us would follow the old British Rail slogan and "let the train take the strain". Only with year-on-year fare increases hovering around the 6 per cent mark and an anytime return from Euston to Manchester Piccadilly costing £148 on the day, very often taking the train spells strain on the wallet. So how do you go about getting a cheap ticket?

It may be obvious but the earlier you book, the cheaper your ticket. Network Rail's contract stipulates that it must set timetables 12 weeks in advance. "Therefore train operators commonly, though not always, release cheap advance tickets shortly after," advises Moneysavingexpert.com. These tickets offer discounts of up to 43 per cent against on-the-day fares. TheTrainline's "new ticket" email alert is a useful tool.

Most people have heard about the 16-25 discount railcard but less well-known are the regional rail discount cards. A Network Rail card costs £28 and gives you a third off travel around swathes of the South-east and London if you travel after 10am. Similar cards are available for Cambridge, Devon, Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands.

Left it all to the last minute? Don't despair, it's still worth booking in advance. Savings on on-the-day tickets are available right up until 6pm the day before you travel, so it will still be worth booking ahead.

Don't necessarily plump for a single-ticket return if you don't have to, says Ian Hildreth, marketing director at thetrainline.com. "Consider buying two singles rather than a return," he says. A further trick is ticket-splitting. Buying tickets for the constituent parts of the same journey can often be cheaper. Moneysavingexpert.com has a handy searching tool.

If you're flexible, check out Megatrain. It covers more than 100 different routes and tickets can cost as little as £1.

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