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Rail fares rising twice as fast as wages: five quick ways to cut the cost of rail tickets

Azuma train operated by LNER at York railway station
New trains will be accompanied by higher fares for rail travellers Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Commuters have endured a decade of rail fare misery with further pain to come, as new figures show train tickets have risen in price twice as fast as wages.

The average ticket price has increased by 46pc since 2009, according to analysis by the Trades Union Congress. Average wages have grown by 23pc in the same period.

A further 2.8pc increase in rail fares will take effect from January 2020, it has been announced. 

A monthly season ticket between Brighton and London is expected to rise to £4,580 a year while a commuter between Liverpool and Manchester will face annual fares of £2,421.

London workers travelling from their homes in Loughborough or Nottingham will see their annual fares break through the £10,000 barrier for the first time.

These price rises come despite widespread unhappiness with Britain's rail network. Commuters on the Northern and Southern networks have also experienced widespread delays in the past two years.

All Government-regulated fares, such as season tickets, off-peak and anytime tickets, rise in line with the retail prices index (RPI) rate of inflation recorded the previous July.

This much derided measure is typically higher than the consumer prices index (CPI).

The Government has been criticised for the continued use of RPI, which is also used to determine the yearly revenue-generating increases in student loan interest rates and alcohol and tobacco duties.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The last thing UK commuters need is another hefty fare increase. We’re already paying the highest ticket prices in Europe to travel on overcrowded and understaffed trains.  

“The number one priority should be running a world-class railway service, not subsidising private train companies.”

Telegraph Money has rounded up five easy ways to cut the cost of rail travel.

Book in advance

While train journeys are notoriously expensive, there are cheap deals available if you can buy your tickets well in advance of travel.

Most train operators put their advance tickets on sale 12 weeks before the date of travel, meaning if you know where and when you want to travel you can get tickets when they first go on sale.

Virgin Trains offers tickets 24 weeks in advance – albeit with the warning that future timetable changes may mean minor changes to your train times. Some rail companies will alert you via email when your travel dates go on sale, so set up a reminder or make a note in your diary of when to buy.

Check for slower routes

Sometimes rival services operate the same or very similar routes. By using a slower service you could make major savings on your travel costs.

For example, a journey from Birmingham New Street to London Euston will cost £88 for an anytime single if you travel with Virgin Trains. However, taking the slower service between Birmingham Snow Hill and London Marylebone with Chiltern Railways – which is about 40 minutes longer – would cost just £71. 

If you are traveling between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport, a single anytime fare on the Gatwick Express costs £19.90, while the same journey on a Southern train costs £16.20.

The Gatwick Express runs non-stop to the airport, while the Southern journey makes a handful of stops along the way. This adds only a few minutes to the journey time, meaning you could make a saving by taking a marginally slower train.

Avoid booking fees and use sales

It has never been easier to buy train tickets. You can buy tickets from any railway station or through a multitude of websites and apps.

Doing your research online can often make it easier to find the best deals, but be wary of sites that charge booking and delivery fees.

For example Redspottedhanky will charge a £1 booking fee plus a £1 delivery charge on each order while Trainline adds up to £1.50 to the cost of your booking, depending on whether you book online or through its app.

If you were to book the same tickets on the Grand Central, TransPennine Express or Virgin Trains websites you would not pay any booking fee and first class post would be free. You can book any train journey on any train company website, even if your trip is with another operator.

It is worth checking the website of the firm you wish to travel with, however. Train firms will often offer sales and other discounts that are only available when you book direct.

Split tickets

You could also save money by using split ticketing loopholes. Thanks to the complexities of the British railway system it is often cheaper to buy multiple tickets for your journey.

For example if you were travelling from Edinburgh to York, you might find it cheaper to purchase two tickets. One from Edinburgh to Darlington and then a second ticket from Darlington to York. This is often cheaper even if you remain in the same seat on the same train.

There are several websites that can help find split tickets, although once again you should consider the fees charged. Ticketclever has no booking fees but charges £2.50 to post your tickets to you. Splitmyfare charges commission worth 10pc of the money you saved.

Get a railcard

There are a range of railcards that can bring down the cost of travel, such as the 16-25 Railcard. This costs £30 a year and gives holders a third off most single, return and advance fares. You can buy this card until a day before your 26th birthday, or at any age if you are in full-time education.

The Two Together Railcard also costs £30 a year but is available to all. Card holders receive a third off anytime, off-peak and advance fares for two people who are travelling together. The discount can be applied to all journeys after 9.30am on weekdays and at any time on weekends.

The Disabled Persons, Family & Friends, HM Forces and Senior railcards also offer savings to account holders. However, no discount will be applied to season tickets.

26-30 Railcards were launched in January 2019, offering a third discount to card holders.