Train ticket machines are notorious for overcharging customers – in some cases demanding more than double what you might pay at the ticket office or online.
Rather than simply raging at the machine, we reveal some handy tips to ensure that you get the cheapest fares.
Book in advance
Advanced tickets tend to be cheaper because they are not flexible and only allow you to travel at a given time. However, two thirds of train ticket machines do not sell them, according to a report last week, so you will often have to book in a ticket office or online, using a website such as Trainline or the train company’s own.
By booking up to 12 weeks in advance, you can pay just a tenth of what you would if you booked on the day. You can buy cheaper advance tickets as little as ten minutes before a standard ticket departure time.
Consumer body Which? says: ‘Train station machines are charging up to 154 per cent more – with the best value fares unavailable or hard to find. We visited 15 different station ticket machines and found ten did not sell advanced tickets.’
Savvy saver: Train ticket machines are notorious for overcharging customers
Be flexible on travel time
Ticket machines tend to withhold details about the price difference between peak and off-peak travel. Instead, they show prices based on the time of your search.
This means, for example, if you arrive at the station 30 minutes before the end of ‘peak’ time, you may not realise that by waiting for a slightly later train, you could get a cheaper deal. Off-peak and super-off-peak times can cost less than half the price of ‘standard’ peak ticket.
Ask at a ticket office or scroll train websites, such as National Rail Enquiries. Research by Which? found during peak time a machine in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, only offered an ‘anytime single’ to York for £133. But by booking the ticket on the Trainline website, Which? found an off-peak ticket for £55.
Buy tickets before March
Train fares will increase by as much as 4.9 per cent from March 3, as rail operators slap travellers with inflation-busting price hikes.
You may be able to shield yourself if you purchase tickets in advance – season ticket railcards or an advanced booking made up to 12 weeks before travel. You should be able to access this year’s lower prices for journeys after March 3.
Buy as a group
Another little-known trick to save a third from off-peak travel – and one that ticket machines may not point you towards – is to travel in a group of between three and nine people.
You do not need to buy a Railcard but must ask for a so-called GroupSave at the ticket office or when purchasing online. One passenger must book all the tickets.
For example, four separate off-peak return tickets from Cardiff to Bristol cost a total of £128.80 on Trainline. But by purchasing on the same website using the GroupSave option, the total falls to £84.80 – a £44 saving.
Buy a little-known railcard
National Railcards have long been popular among under-25s and over-60s but there is a whole range of lesser-known Railcards that also knock a third off the cost of off-peak travel.
Machines should accept them – though spotting the option to use it can be tricky.
If you are over 25 years old, but yet to hit 30, you can buy a 26-30 Railcard for £30 and get a third off eligible fares.
The Two Together Railcard is designed for couples or two people who travel together regularly, such as friends, colleagues or family. Named passengers get a third off train tickets when they travel together with the £30 Railcard.
The Family & Friends Railcard applies for groups of up to four adults and four children and also costs £30. Adults can save a third off train tickets while children get a 60 per cent discount. At least one adult and one child must travel together.
Save with split tickets
Buying separate rail tickets for different legs of a journey can be cheaper than buying the whole journey in a single ticket.
Mark Price, a train expert at website The Man in Seat 61, says: ‘You do not need to swap trains but your carriage must stop at the station from which separate tickets have been bought.’
The trick could save even more if one leg of the journey falls into an off-peak or super off-peak window, he says.
A ticket machine cannot handle such money-saving complexity – but a specialist website such as Trainsplit, Split Ticketing or Trainline can.
For example, a day return train journey from Manchester to London can cost £375.50 but with Trainsplit if you buy split tickets that stop at Crewe you can pay £87.88.