WITH less than six weeks to go until December 25, now is the time to start thinking about your travel plans, as heading home for Christmas can work out a lot cheaper – and much less stressful – if you get organised.
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Figures from online booking site, Trainline, show that last year, customers made £24 million of combined savings by booking their train tickets in advance, rather than leaving things until the last minute, and purchasing a ticket on the day of travel. So what you can do to make some savings yourself?
Book train travel in advance
The majority of train operators release their cheapest tickets around 12 weeks in advance of travel, meaning the advance ticket booking window for this year’s festive travel is well and truly open.
According to TravelSupermarket, passengers can typically save at least 60% by purchasing an advance ticket as opposed to a full-price off-peak ticket.
The site found that based on the weeks running up to Christmas, rail passengers travelling from Plymouth to Birmingham New Street could, for example, save £74.60 by planning ahead, while those travelling from Leeds to Bristol Temple Meads can save £69.70, and those going from London Paddington to Cardiff Central could save £38.
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If you are organised, booking early means that in addition to getting the best price on your festive travel, you can also make those all-important seat reservations on busy pre-Christmas services.
Note, however, that advance tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis, and may get snapped up very quickly at this time of year – so the earlier you book, the better. That said, if you do leave it late, you might just be lucky, and it might still be possible to pick up cheap tickets up until the night before travel.
Also be aware that while advance tickets are cheap, they are not always flexible, and can’t be refunded. As an alternative, you may want to look at off-peak tickets as well. For more information on advance tickets, visit National Rail Enquiries.
Make use of travel tools
There are plenty of resources you can use to help you make savings on your train travel.
For example, with TravelSupermarket’s rail ticket search, you can check out all available fares between any two points on the UK rail system to get the best price, while the Trainline brings together the best fares from all the operators to help you get the cheapest price when booking in advance. It also offers a Price Prediction tool which analyses data to predict when advance train tickets are set to increase in price over time.
Other sites worth checking out include Redspottedhanky and Rail Easy, but remember that some sites do charge booking fees.
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Travelling on certain days and at certain times can be a lot more expensive than others – so try and be flexible. The cheapest off-peak and advance fares tend to be available between 9am and 2pm on weekdays, and after 7pm on weekday evenings and at weekends.
Look at booking two singles instead of a return
While you might assume that a return ticket will be the cheapest option for a return journey, two single tickets could work out cheaper – and especially if you can opt for fixed times and purchase two advance tickets.
Equally, if you aren’t sure when you’ll be coming back, two single tickets may still make sense, as you can get an advance ticket for your outward journey (cheap but inflexible), and an off-peak or anytime ticket for your return (more expensive, but flexible).
Split your ticket
When booking your festive train travel, it may be cheaper to purchase two tickets for different parts of a journey, instead of the whole trip.
Check out the Tickety Split tool at Moneysavingexpert, and also Trainsplit.com.
Research train services from competing operators
On some routes, services are operated by more than one train company. If you’re not in a rush, cheaper fares may be available on slower services.
Check out first class options
It may sound counter-intuitive, but you may be able to buy first class fares at cheaper rates than standard fares.
Not only will you get a better travelling experience with more space, but you’ll often get complimentary food and refreshments as well.
Make use of railcards
If you are eligible for a railcard – such as the Senior Railcard – then buy one, as you'll soon recoup the cost in savings, as you get a third off most fares.
If you frequently travel with others, invest in a Two Together railcard or a Family & Friends card. But always check for any restrictions on when you can use a railcard discount.
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Cash in on cashback
Another easy way to make savings on your festive train travel is by buying tickets through a cashback site, such as Topcashback or Quidco, as this means you earn money as you spend.
For example, recent deals on Topcashback include 3.15% cashback for all new customer ticket purchases at the Trainline, and 1.05% for existing customers. For those booking tickets with East Midland Trains, you can get 2.62% cashback on all journeys. The site also has an ongoing deal on railcards, offering 5.25% cashback on the purchase of all 16-25, Senior, Two Together and Family & Friends cards.
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Travel by coach or bus
As an alternative to train travel, why not take advantage of some bargain deals by travelling by National Express or Megabus this Christmas?
With National Express, you may be able to make your journey for as little as £5 (plus booking fee), with Megabus, you could spend as little as £1.50 (plus booking fee).
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Sign up to a car-share
If you’re happy to jump in a car with someone else, you can search for someone making the same festive journey as you through a site such as Blablacar and Liftshare – and split the cost of petrol.
Alternatively, if you’ve got your own car, you can advertise your journey and offer passengers a lift in return for a contribution towards fuel costs.
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Keep a lid on the cost of filling the tank
Cut the cost of filling up with fuel this Christmas by logging on to Petrolprices.com and typing in your postcode. The site will then show the cheapest petrol prices in your local area.
Also remember that if you fill up at the supermarket, you can redeem Nectar points and Tesco Clubcard vouchers at the pumps.
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