Thrifty Living: How to track the best travel deals

While the onset of recession has driven prices down on the high street over the past few months, there’s been no such savings to be had for regular train-travellers. Prices on some networks rose by as much as 7 per cent at the start of January – almost eight times greater than the current rate of inflation.

But in spite of the rise in headline rail ticket prices, there are plenty of bargains to be found out there if you know where to look and when to book. And if you’re considering travelling further afield by airplane, there are some great bargains to be bagged as the airlines do everything they can to keep their planes full.

Trains

All the best deals for British train journeys are to be found online – and will only be caught by those who book several weeks in advance. However, most train companies won’t release the cheapest until between eight and 12 weeks before departure – so, to make sure you get the best deal, it’s well worth signing up to the alert service provided at ticketalert.|thetrainline.com. This will contact you when the cheapest tickets for your desired journey have been released.

And, for longer journeys, the difference between the full price and discounted tickets can be hundreds of pounds. For example, a regular weekend return ticket from London to Edinburgh will set you back £136.50. But if you buy two advance single tickets, you could end up paying no more than £24 for your whole trip.

The ticket alert service is not the only useful tool on thetrainline.com. There’s also a best fare finder, which will help you pick out the cheapest fare for your journey by showing how ticket prices differ from day to day. You may find you can save a three-figure sum simply by leaving a day earlier or coming back a day later. Another site worth a look is megatrain.|com, which offers fares from Virgin and South West Trains for as little as £1.

Even if you haven’t managed to book in advance, it’s always worth checking for discounted fares – right up to the last minute. Train operators tend to have a set number of cheap tickets per service, and occasionally there are some left on the day of travel. Again, this can often deliver three-figure savings for the price of a phone call to the train company.

Rail cards are another easy way to save money on fares. If you’re between 16 and 25, or over 60, you can get a third off rail fares with a Young Person’s or Senior railcard, which cost just £24 a year. If you’ve got children, you can make similar savings with a Family & Friends railcard – as long as someone under 16 is travelling with you. Your local network may also offer other railcards, so it’s worth asking at your station.

If you’re a daily rail commuter, it’s usually cheapest to buy your season ticket for a whole year. However, ask what options are available, as you can save thousands by agreeing not to take certain routes.

Finally, if you’re really dedicated to finding the cheapest possible train fares, it’s sometimes possible to reduce the overall cost of your journey by buying multiple tickets for different legs. According to moneysavingexpert.com, you can save up to £55 on a Manchester to Edinburgh journey by buying one ticket from Manchester to York, and a second one from York to Edinburgh. Similarly, if some of your journey will be at peak time, why not buy one ticket to cover the peak hours, and a cheaper off-peak ticket for the rest. Details of these and other tricks can be found at moneysavingexpert.com.

Flight plans

The price of flights out of Britain has plummeted this winter, as airlines have been able to pass on some of the savings from the fall in fuel prices – and as they’ve increased their attempts to keep people travelling. At the moment,you can get flights to New York with Continental for as little as £258, or you can make it all the way to Hong Kong with Jet Airways for less than £350.

If you want to travel with a particular airline, it’s worth checking its website as many of the best deals are only available there. But if you’re not fussy who you fly with, the easiest way to get a sweep of the market is to use an aggregator site, such as kayak.co.uk and travelsupermarket.com, which will check prices on all the major websites foryou. These sites are better places to visit than flight brokers – such as expedia.co.uk and opodo.co.uk – because they check individual airline sites as well as the brokers’ sites.

Flying locally? Be sure to check out the budget airlines; whichbudget.com tells you which budget airlines fly to various destinations.

Finally, if you’re after a free flight, some credit cards offer free trips as an incentive to join. Lloyds TSB Airmiles and Citi bmibaby MasterCard, as well as easyJet’s and Ryanair’s own-brand cards, are worth checking out.

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