Heading home for Christmas? Don't get stung


Provided the weather doesn’t make good on its threats to blow into an ice age, this week most students will get out of bed, put on another coat, wheel the suitcase out the door and head home for the luxury of normal meals –no more cereal for supper– and a central heating system that doesn’t cough itself to sleep.

Around this time, you’re probably wishing the Student Loans Company could make the January instalment an early Christmas present so you’ll need to save where you can; start with your festive travel plans. Hitching lifts on sleighs is the obvious answer but if you don’t have any round your way...

Beat the trains

Standing on a chilly platform getting bitten by the wind is no fun but for many, the trains are the only way home. It’s difficult to get the best savings this late into the game – it’s always best to book as far ahead as possible, so get your return trip sorted now – but there are still ways to keep a little cash for the last-minute present fund.

Split the fare

The train ticket system is a confused old thing and for some unexplained, wonderful reason, buying multiple tickets for the different lags of each journey can result in a cheaper fare. You stay on the same train but pay less: it’s a veritable Christmas miracle. This great little site makes it simple.

Don’t pay peak prices

Running with the theme; only pay a peak fare for the fragment of your journey that’s in peak time.

Those pesky peak fares can come in at twice the price and if your journey is a long one, it’s unlikely the whole thing will be running exclusively in peak hours (before 9.30am or 10am, depending where you’re travelling from and between four and seven in the afternoon). Use what’s left of your hard-working streak - there’s bound to be plenty - and take ten minutes to see what time your train passes through each station to work out when it’s in peak times and when it’s not. Book accordingly.

16-25 railcard

If you don’t already have one, head down to the station to pick up a young person’s railcard, which will knock off a 1/3 off all every journey. You’ll need £28 and your passport mugshot, though ideally not that snap which has the customs official whistling for the sniffer dogs. £28 seems like a hit to take but it will pay for itself in only a couple of journeys.

Shop around

The journey itself tends to cost the same price wherever you buy it from but some sites charge a booking fee, postage or fees for using a card and are best avoided for that reason. We like Red Spotted Hanky best but there’s a table in this article that should clear things up.

Four wheels good

As petrol continues its quest to cost more than the vehicle it’s headed into, using a car to get from A to B can seem a little unrealistic at university.  Whether you’re passenger or driver, there are ways to make a little money off your four-wheeled friend.

The obvious thing to do is ask around and see if anyone is headed in your direction. If you’re the passenger, offer your share of fuel and it’s likely to be cheaper than a train journey. Drivers can offer spare seats out – one tweet and you could have half the petrol covered.

If you’re the unfortunate one who lives in the opposite direction of everyone else, consider using a professional car sharing system. The premise is simple – find your route, see who’s offering a ride and pay your share. Journeys tend to be around £10-15 so it’s an easy way costs low and pick up a last minute ride. Pay attention to the rating system to ensure you’re comfortable with the person driving but considering it’s been a successful scheme around the world, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. If you’re behind the wheel, make a profile and then make a profit for those headed your way.

Coach trip

Coach journeys have a well-earned reputation for being extraordinarily cheap. Occasionally, there are grab-em-quick chances to rumble across the country on a Megabus for as little as £1 each way - that’s a shot of cheap tequila. The £1 fares unsurprisingly sell out like, well, like dirt-cheap travel fares. Still, we just checked and could get from Sheffield to Oxford for a fiver which is an undeniable bargain. If the route you’d like isn’t available then try using it for part of the way and pick up a cheap train fare for the rest of the route, or perhaps a car share.

Though there’s no denying the economic advantages of a coach trip, they can be false economy. Make sure you can get to the coach pickup/drop-off point easily and cheaply enough; they’re often  a long way from the city centre. If your coach is leaving early (the cheapest fares tend to leave at obscure o’clock) then public transport links may not be up yet – and an expensive cab journey would be your only option.

David Ellis is the editor of studentmoneysaver.co.uk

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