RAIL commuters in Scotland have been dealt a blow with the news that fares are to rise on 1 January 2013 by 4.2 per cent – 1 per cent above inflation – while cross-Border fares will go up by 6.2 per cent.
But there are ways of cutting your rail travel costs, some of which can produce huge savings. Bob Atkinson, travel expert at TravelSupermarket, offers his top tips on how to get the best rail fare.
1 Early birds catch the best deal
Train tickets can often be booked up to 12 weeks ahead, which is when you will be able to get the best rate. The cheaper Saver and Advance tickets tend to get snapped up first, leaving only off-peak singles and returns or the full fares. Advance tickets can only be purchased online, and are not available on the day of travel, although these tickets can still be found the night before travel. But these tickets are not flexible and can’t be refunded – you must travel on the train and date specified. The date or time of travel can be amended, for a £10 administration fee plus the price difference (if any) between the new and the old ticket.
2 Be flexible
Travelling on certain days, and at certain times, can be a lot more expensive than others. You could actually save quite a lot if you can be flexible. The cheapest fares (Off-Peak and Advance) tend to be available around 9am-2pm on weekdays, after 7pm on weekday evenings and at weekends. Exact times will vary and Advance tickets won’t be available on every route.
3 Travel off peak
This means travel outside the morning rush hour and from mid-afternoon to early evening. Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays are always classed as off peak. Actual cut-off times vary from one train company to another so it’s wise to check first before buying an off peak ticket.
4 Compare returns and singles
Sometimes you’ll know exactly what time you’re travelling on your outward journey, but not when you’ll be coming back. If that’s the case, you may want to combine two single tickets – an Advance ticket (the cheapest ticket type, but inflexible) for your outward journey and a flexible ticket (either an Off-Peak or Anytime, depending on the time of day you’ll be travelling) for your return.
5 Size up the competition
On some routes rail services are operated by more than one operating company – and it may pay to choose carefully which operator you travel with. If you’re not worried about journey times, cheaper fares are often available on services that are slower.
6 First-class on a budget
It is possible to buy first class fares at cheaper rates than standard, so you save money and get a better travelling experience. Where the price differential is very small then opt for first class as most companies offer complimentary food and refreshments and even free wifi on some services.
7 Check the small print
The lower the price of the ticket, the fewer options you will have if you want to change it, so check first if you can amend your booking if you are unsure of your travelling time or date. Remember that if you change your ticket, there has to be availability at the fare you booked, otherwise you pay the upgrade to the cheapest available ticket plus an admin fee.
8 Combine your fares
If you are travelling across Scotland and beyond, look out for tickets that include more than one form of transport, for example, rail and sail tickets. It is also worth checking out Rover tickets. The tickets not only cover rail travel but also ferries and a selection of bus and coach services throughout Scotland. For more information see: http://www.scotrail.co.uk/ PLUSBUS tickets are great value – unlimited bus travel at your origin/destination for a few pounds.
9 If eligible for a Railcard - buy it
You will get cheaper fares and quickly recoup the cost of the card. If you are eligible, look out for the 16-25 card and if you’re over 60, a Senior card, both of which offer a third off most fares. Discount cards are also available for family and friend groups, the disabled, those in the armed forces and in the New Deal scheme. Also look out for the Network Gold Card and the Highland Railcard for great discounts.
10 Holiday season planning
The festive season might still feel like a long way off, but if you plan to travel by train around Christmas, it is worth making the effort in advance to get the best deals. Around 12 weeks out is the best time to start looking, which means from 1 October onwards. The early birds who take advantage of booking early will not only get those all-important seat reservations on busy pre-Christmas services, they will also bag the saver bargains that can see massive reductions on full price travel.
• To compare the cost of rail travel, visit: travelsupermarket.com