We use cookies to track usage and preferences. You can view our cookies policy here.

A guide to different types of train tickets

Knowing which ticket to buy can be a challenge, especially with the mind-boggling array of choice on trains in Great Britain! Here’s our handy guide to types of train tickets and how to pick the best-value ticket for your next rail trip.

What are the different types of train tickets?

When you’re travelling by train, you’ll usually be offered a few different types of train tickets. But what do they all mean? If you’re in a muddle and just have a minute to spare, take a look at this useful table to work out which type is best for you:

Ticket Type Time Restrictions? Outward Validity Return Validity
Advance Single Booked train only Booked train only N/A
Anytime Single No Two days N/A
Anytime Return No Five days One month
Anytime Day Single No Date on ticket only N/A
Anytime Day Return No Date on ticket only Date on ticket only
Anytime Short Return No Date on ticket only One month
Off-Peak Single Yes, usually in morning peak Date on ticket only N/A
Off-Peak Return Yes, some restrictions Date on ticket only One month
Off-Peak Day Single Yes, some restrictions Date on ticket only N/A
Off-Peak Day Return Yes, some restrictions Date on ticket only Date on ticket only
Super Off-Peak Single Yes, all peak hours usually excluded Date on ticket only N/A
Super Off-Peak Return Yes, all peak hours usually excluded Date on ticket only One month
Super Off-Peak Day Single Yes – may be valid on weekends only Date on ticket only N/A
Super Off-Peak Day Return Yes – may be valid on weekends only Date on ticket only Date on ticket only

All information in this table is issued without liability and is only intended as a rough guide. It should not be taken as an exact representation of individual ticket validity.

That’s quite a few different types of train tickets! Now, let’s have a look at the different ticket types in more detail.

Advance train tickets

These are the cheapest types of train tickets and they’re only valid on the booked train. Depending on the rail operator though, you can often buy them right up to when the train departs. If your train has seat reservations, they’ll usually always come with a booked seat, too. If you book at very late notice, you might not get one, and some rail operators don’t offer seat reservations at all.

When you book Advance train tickets with Railsmartr, you’re able to exchange them without any sort of admin fee, which is exactly how it should be! While these tickets aren’t normally refundable, you’re entitled to do this if your train is cancelled and you decide not to travel. If your train is over 60 minutes late and you decide not to travel, you can also get a refund.

Usually, the earlier you book, the cheaper the tickets will be! However, when the tickets are released and when they stop being sold can vary. We’ve produced an in-depth guide to Advance train tickets to help with this. You can also click here to find out when tickets are usually released for sale.

Anytime train tickets

If you’re looking for full flexibility, then these are the types of train tickets for you. There are no time restrictions, though there are often different versions depending on whether you’re just making a day trip or a longer journey. There’s no need to book weeks in advance. Simply pop onto the Railsmartr website with enough time to spare before your train leaves, and you’re good to go!

There are a couple of different types of Anytime train tickets. If you’re wanting a single, you might be offered an Anytime Single or an Anytime Day Single. The first one is valid for two days (so on the day you buy it, then the next day), whereas a day single is valid just for the date on your ticket.

There’s three kinds of Anytime return tickets:

Off-Peak train tickets

Need some flexibility but happy to avoid peak commuting times? Then the types of train tickets you’ll be after are Off-Peak train tickets. These come with some restrictions which can vary depending on where your ticket is issued from and to. We’ve created this page about Off-Peak train times, and how you can find out exactly when your ticket is valid.

However, you’ll find some common rules that the different types of Off-Peak tickets will share, even if their exact times of validity are different.

Off-Peak Single and Off-Peak Day Single tickets are both only valid on the day that the ticket was issued. The only difference is that Off-Peak Single tickets are usually issued for long-distance journeys and can have less strict restrictions on when they’re valid. This is mainly so that you can complete your trip in good time rather than waiting until past 9am or later!

An Off-Peak Return ticket still needs the outward journey to be made on the date printed on the ticket, but you can return within one month. Again, time restrictions are sometimes a little more relaxed than the ‘day’ equivalent, particularly if you’re making a long journey. Off-Peak Day Return tickets need the whole outward and return trip to be made on the same day.

Super Off-Peak train tickets

You might look at this ticket and think “what on earth is that?” as how can Off-Peak possibly be made ‘super’? Well, these types of train tickets are more restrictive versions of their Off-Peak counterparts. They usually exist on two types of journeys:

Why is a single almost the same price as a return?

On many routes, you might find that you’re paying almost as much for a single as you do for a return! There are various theories around this, such as the fact that it encourages people to always pay for a return trip, even if there might not be ticket checks on their return.

The good news is that there is currently a trial going on which is looking at what’s known as ‘single-leg pricing’. This means that single tickets cost half as much as a return.

If you’re travelling from Edinburgh (and some stations in-between) to London with LNER, you’ll currently be charged using this price model. Some other operators, such as Grand Central, Hull Trains and Lumo, also offer single tickets at a more significant discount compared to returns.

The only time you should purchase two single tickets is if they’re ‘Advance’ tickets, which are always priced as singles. Occasionally, it may be cheaper to buy two flexible single tickets if you’re making a short to medium-distance trip where there’s no return fare available other than a day return.

No matter which journey you choose, Railsmartr will always suggest the cheapest combination of tickets that it can find for your trip.

Are there any other types of train tickets?

Yes, there are other tickets available to buy! There’s two other main types of train tickets that you could choose to buy.

Season tickets are valid for a week or more between two stations on the network. You’ll need a photocard to buy these, which can be issued to you at any staffed railway station. With the advent of flexible working, some companies have also started to offer Flexi-seasons. These tickets allow you to pick and choose a certain number of days per week when you’ll make the same journey, at a cheaper cost than just buying tickets on the day. Click here to find out more about Flexi-season tickets.

Travelling for leisure? You may have seen Ranger and Rover tickets advertised to you. Ranger tickets are valid for one day, while Rover tickets are valid for a certain number of days. There’ll be a pre-set area of the country that you’re able to travel in, though they’re normally subject to similar restrictions as Off-Peak train tickets. There’s even a version that allows you to travel around the entire country as much as you like! Click here to find out more.

A guide to the different types of Railcards

We all know that Railcards are a way to save, but there’s so many of them! Let us take you through the different types of Railcards and show you how you can save money on your rail tickets with them.

What are Railcards?

Before we go into the different types of Railcards, it’s important to know what they actually are! In a nutshell, they’re a discount card that you buy for either one year or three years. They’ll give you a discount off your ticket (usually either 34% or 50%) so long as you always have the Railcard on hand to show when your ticket is checked.

You can buy them at a ticket office and get them on paper, or you can buy them online. When you get them online, you can usually choose to have them in the Railcard app or as a plastic card. If you travel more than a couple of times a year (or make one long trip every year!) and you’re eligible for one, they’re definitely worth getting. There’s so many different types of Railcards to choose from, too.

Let’s take a look at some example journeys and how much you could save with a Railcard. These are all the prices that you’d pay on the day:

Journey Full Price Railcard Price
Oxford to London (Off-Peak Day Return) £30.00 £19.80
Leeds to Manchester (Off-Peak Day Return) £24.60 £16.80
Edinburgh to York (Off-Peak Return) £105.60 £69.65
Glasgow to London (Off-Peak Return) £160.90 £106.15
Exeter to Bristol (Off-Peak Return) £33.40 £22.00

All fares correct at the time of publication (25/10/2022). This information is issued without liability and Railsmartr are not responsible for any loss or additional costs incurred as a result of this information.

What are the different types of Railcards?

There’s two types of Railcard groups. National Railcards are the ones that you’re most likely to know about. They’re the ones like the 16-25 and Senior Railcards. The other type, which you might not know about, are Regional Railcards. If you live near a railway line or in certain parts of the country, you can get a discount for the trains that stop on your doorstep! (Well, not literally). Let’s take a look at National Railcards, first…

16-17 Saver

This Railcard is one of the new kids on the block! It’ll get you 50% Standard Class travel (except on ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper, so it doesn’t cover most of Scotland) and it includes Season tickets, too. This makes it perfect for commuting to and from college or work.

If you’re 16 or 17 years old, simply click here to apply online. That’s all there is to it! Two more years of child-rate fares without any fuss.

16-25 Railcard

Previously known as a ‘Young Persons Railcard’, this one will give you 1/3 off your rail travel if you’re aged between 16 and 25, or if you’re a mature student. Unlike the 16-17 Saver, it isn’t valid on Season tickets, so it’s designed to give you discounts on leisure travel. That said, you might find that for commutes on a couple of days of week, it’s cheaper than buying a Season ticket. Click here to apply online.

26-30 Railcard

No longer eligible for the 16-25 Railcard but want the savings to continue? This Railcard is for you. There’s a couple of tweaks to the restrictions (see the table below) but otherwise, you’ll get 1/3 off as you did with the 16-25 Railcard! Click here to apply online.

Annual Gold Card

This is a little bit different to the other types of Railcards, as you can’t just pop online and buy one on its own. If you buy a season ticket within the Gold Card area, then it doubles up as one of these Railcards. You’ll get 1/3 off within this ‘Gold Card area’ after 09:30 on weekdays and at anytime otherwise. Some people will buy the cheapest season ticket they can within this area and use it purely for the Railcard perks if they expect to travel a lot by train! Click here to find out more.

Network Railcard

Who can buy this Railcard? Just about anyone! It’ll get you 1/3 off your fare in the Network Railcard area, but there’s a few restrictions you’ll need to be aware of (see the table below). Perfect for travelling for pleasure! Click here to find out more and apply online.

Disabled Persons Railcard

If you have a disability, you might be eligible to purchase one of these Railcards. There’s no time restrictions and one person travelling with you can get the discount, too. To apply, you’ll just need to upload some proof of entitlement directly to the Railcard website during the application process. Click here to find out more and fill out your application.

HM Forces Railcard

If you are a member or a spouse/civil partner of a member of the Regular Armed Forces or Volunteer Reserves then you’re eligible to purchase one of these Railcards. You’ll get 1/3 off your fare and 60% off child fares. You’re not able to apply online, so you’ll need to click here to find out more.

Veterans Railcard

This is one of the newest types of Railcards available. It’s for UK Veterans who served at least one day in His Majesty’s Armed Forces or Merchant Mariners who have seen duty on legally defined military operations. You’ll get 1/3 off your own fare and up to four children travelling with you will get 60% off. Click here to apply online.

Job Centre Plus Railcard

Need some help getting to job interviews or getting around in general while you look for a job? This Railcard is valid for three months at a time and is aimed at those claiming Jobseekers Allowance. It’s valid on ‘flexible’ tickets, such as Anytime, Off-Peak, Super-Off-Peak and Seasons. Click here to find out more about how to apply.

Senior Railcard

Aged 60 or over? Perfect. How about 1/3 off your rail travel? All you need to do is upload proof of age if you apply online, or show some at the station if you prefer to do it that way. Find out more on the Senior Railcard website.

Two Together Railcard

Got someone you travel together with frequently? Great. You can get 1/3 off both of your tickets! They don’t have to be a family member, either. Just make sure you travel together, and you’re covered. Click here to find out more and to apply online.

Family & Friends Railcard

This Railcard gives you the ability to add two names to it, meaning that it can be shared between two adults. You can get a 1/3 discount up to four adults and 60% on four children in a group, so long as one of the named cardholders is travelling. You’ll also need to make sure there’s at least one child with you, too! Ideal for family days out and more. Click here to apply online.

You can buy tickets with any of these Railcards on the Railsmartr website.

Are there any restrictions I need to know about?

Yes. Most types of Railcards have some sort of restriction on when you can use them, and we know that they can be tricky to navigate or understand sometimes!

Railcard Discount Things to Remember
16-17 Saver 50% Not valid on ScotRail, Caledonian Sleeper or in First Class.
16-25 34% £12 minimum fare applies Monday to Friday (except Bank Holidays, during July & August and on Advance tickets). Not valid on First Class fares except First Class Advance tickets.
26-30 34% £12 minimum fare applies Monday to Friday (except Bank Holidays and on Advance tickets). Not valid on First Class fares except First Class Advance tickets or on tickets routed ‘Caledonian Sleeper only’.
Annual Gold Card 34% Requires purchase of a valid season ticket. Valid only within Gold Card area, not valid before 09:30 Monday to Friday. 
Network Railcard 34% Valid only within Network Railcard area. Not valid before 10am Monday to Friday. £13 minimum fare also applies Monday to Fridays (except Bank Holidays). Minimum fare of £19.60 on Anytime Day Travelcards applies at all times. 
Disabled Persons Railcard 34% No time restrictions. Discount also applies to one passenger accompanying the card holder. 
HM Forces Railcard 34% (60% for children) Leisure travel only. Cannot be purchased at stations or online. £12 minimum fare applies Monday to Friday (except Bank Holidays, during July & August and on Advance tickets). Not valid on First Class fares except First Class Advance tickets.
Veterans Railcard 34% £12 minimum fare applies Monday to Friday (except Bank Holidays, during July & August and on Advance tickets). 
Job Centre Plus Railcard 50% Valid only on Anytime, Off-Peak and Super Off-Peak tickets, as well as Season Tickets for up to three months.
Senior Railcard 34% Not valid for journeys wholly within the Network Railcard area during the morning peak. Exceptions apply. 
Two Together Railcard 34% Not valid before 09:30 Monday to Friday (except Bank Holidays). 
Family & Friends Railcard 34% (60% for children) Not valid for journeys wholly within the Network Railcard area during the morning peak. Exceptions apply. Not valid in First Class.

Are there any other types of Railcards?

Yes! As we mentioned above, you can buy a regional Railcard if you live in certain parts of the country. Click on the links below to find out more about each one:

At the moment, you can’t yet buy tickets with these discounts on the Railsmartr website. Watch this space though, we’re working on it!

Can you use Railcards on Season tickets?

Out of the National Railcards on offer, you’re only able to use the 16-17 Saver and Job Centre Plus Railcard on season tickets. If you commute only on selected days every week, it’s still likely cheaper to purchase individual tickets with your Railcard (provided it’s within the time restrictions of the Railcard you have).

Season tickets are already discounted, but they provide the best value if you’re consistently commuting five days a week.

I can’t use any of the types of Railcards! What now?

We know it’s frustrating when there’s no Railcard on offer that fits the bill. Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of great value tickets on offer. Take a look at our guide to cheap train tickets that you might not have discovered before. It’s a great start. We’ve also written about other discounts that you can get.

Don’t forget that when you book with Railsmartr, we don’t charge any fees. Need to change when you’re travelling? No problem at all. We don’t charge admin fees on that, either.

Why are train tickets not available to buy?

Some of us like to be organised. Other times, we do things a little last minute. In both of these cases, we sometimes get hit with a bit of a painful question: why are train tickets not available to buy? Here’s our handy guide to booking horizons, why they matter and how to know when to buy your tickets.

What is a ‘Booking Horizon’?

Why are train tickets not available to buy? It could have something to do with something called a ‘Booking Horizon’. Just like looking over the horizon lets you see far away, the idea of these is that they ideally let you book train tickets for dates far away!

They’re usually pre-set at a certain number of weeks into the future. This gives rail companies and Network Rail the chance to decide what the timetables will look like when it comes to things like engineering works. During the week, there usually won’t be many changes so you can usually book further into the future on weekdays. On weekends, there’s likely to be some changes, so the rail industry needs a little longer to finalise all of this information.

Once all of this information is passed to the rail companies, they can start allowing you to book your tickets! With this, they’ll release any cheap Advance tickets they have, if they sell them for the trip you’re making.

Great, so why are train tickets not available to buy?

We made it sound awfully simple, didn’t we? Why are train tickets not available to buy, then? If that’s all there is to it, why isn’t there a definitive answer to when you’ll be able to grab the best bargain?

Well, it used to be (and still is, in some cases!) that you can buy train tickets 12 weeks in advance. There were some exceptions on weekends when timetables for engineering works needed some fine-tuning.

Unfortunately, in the months prior to COVID-19, issues arose with the planning of the timetable. This meant that six weeks became the new target to aim for. The COVID-19 pandemic then made everything a lot worse, with timetables needing to quickly adapt to changing demand. As a result, changes had to be made at much shorter notice.

And that’s the situation where we are today! Network Rail are often still finalising timetables at very short notice, meaning that rail operators can’t allow you to buy the tickets. If they did, you might end up buying a train that didn’t exist!

The pandemic has also meant that many companies are suffering from a shortage of staff, due to sickness and industrial disputes. When this happens, companies need to be able to confirm a stable timetable. This could mean reducing the timetable, or waiting until they know how many staff are available. Some companies have struggled more than others, too.

How do I know when I can book?

You’ll find all of the current available booking dates on the National Rail website. Here’s a guide of when you can typically expect tickets to generally become available for different rail operators at the moment (October 2022). Bear in mind that engineering works may affect these horizons and some days may be excluded:

Operator Weekdays Weekends
Avanti West Coast 6 to 7 weeks in advance 1 week in advance*
Caledonian Sleeper 12 months in advance 12 months in advance
Chiltern Railways 7 weeks in advance 6 weeks in advance
CrossCountry (East – West) 7 weeks in advance 6 to 7 weeks in advance
CrossCountry (North – South) 7 weeks in advance 6 to 7 weeks in advance
EMR (Liverpool – Norwich) 11 weeks in advance 7 weeks in advance
EMR (London routes) 9 weeks in advance 5 weeks in advance
Grand Central up to 24 weeks in advance up to 12 weeks in advance
Great Western Railway 12 weeks in advance up to 12 weeks in advance
Greater Anglia 8 weeks in advance 7 weeks in advance
Hull Trains up to 24 weeks in advance up to 12 weeks in advance
LNER up to 12 weeks in advance** up to 12 weeks in advance
Lumo 7 weeks in advance 6 weeks in advance
Northern 5-6 weeks in advance 5-6 weeks in advance
ScotRail up to 8 weeks in advance up to 8 weeks in advance
Southeastern 12 weeks in advance 8 weeks in advance
Southern up to 12 weeks in advance 10 weeks in advance
SWR (Weymouth route) up to 12 weeks in advance up to 12 weeks in advance
SWR (Portsmouth & Isle of Wight) up to 12 weeks in advance up to 12 weeks in advance
SWR (Exeter route) 1 week in advance*** 1 week in advance***
Thameslink 12 weeks in advance 6 weeks in advance
TransPennine Express 6-7 weeks in advance 6-7 weeks in advance
Transport for Wales 6 weeks in advance 6 weeks in advance
West Midlands Trains 10-12 weeks in advance 4 weeks in advance

*Avanti West Coast are currently running a temporary timetable and services may only be confirmed at late notice. Check before you travel.

**Services north of York to Edinburgh and beyond are generally available earlier than 12 weeks in advance.

***The route between Salisbury and Exeter St Davids is currently operating a temporary timetable due to track issues. Timetables on this route are updated on a week-by-week basis at present.

All information in this table is subject to change and is intended as a rough guide only. It is published without liability. It was correct at the time of writing (21/10/22). Railsmartr bears no responsibility for loss, inconvenience or additional costs incurred as a result of the use of this information.

It’s nearly my date of travel! Why are train tickets not available to buy?

As we’ve mentioned above, sometimes rail operators might not be able to confirm timetables until shortly before the date of travel. Yes, that could mean just a couple of days! However, there is another reason why train tickets might not be available to buy.

During COVID-19, many rail operators altered the way that their reservation data was shown online, so that it would automatically give you a seat reservation where possible. This encouraged social distancing and ensured that train tickets stopped being sold when all of the allocated reservations were filled. After this, it would show as ‘sold out’.

However, with the exception of the Caledonian Sleeper train, there’s no need to have a reservation to board a train. You might prefer to have one, but you don’t need one! These ‘compulsory reservation’ markers have hung around though, meaning that trains will still stop being selectable when all of the seats are filled.

This doesn’t mean that the train is ‘sold out’, but you might need to pick a different train that isn’t full in order to buy your ticket. Don’t worry, if you’re buying a flexible ticket, you’re not tied to any particular train, so long as it meets any date or time restrictions.

We know this can be frustrating and might make the ticket buying process a bit trickier. So if you have any issues, please contact us and we’ll be happy to help with this.

Is it possible to book too far in advance?

Sometimes, some websites will allow you to buy an Off-Peak, Super Off-Peak or Anytime ticket without a reservation before timetables have been officially confirmed. These are the most expensive type of tickets and they can be bought right up until your train leaves, so there’s no need to buy them months ahead!

Sometimes, two stations won’t have any Advance tickets available between them. But, if you were expecting to find some and you didn’t, it’s okay to wait a little longer until they appear. If it’s a weekend, it may be that engineering works are planned and the timetable needs to be confirmed.

It’s the same if all of the trains show as ‘sold out’ many weeks in advance. Don’t panic! They’re just not available to buy yet.

Ready to book your next journey? Simply visit the Railsmartr website. You could also check out our guide to some cheap rail tickets that you might not have known about!

Cheap train tickets: Money-saving alternatives for your next trip

We all want cheap train tickets. That’s why you’re on this page and that’s what thousands of people search for every single day. Plus, we all know the usual ways that we can save. Get a Railcard, book in advance, you know all of that. But what if you want to be spontaneous and book the night before, or on the way to the station? Here’s our handy guide to the cheap train tickets that you might not have discovered before.

What’s in this blog?

Looking for a particular route or fare? Choose from the list below or simply get scrolling!

1. Manchester to London

Manchester to London is big business and drives a huge amount of demand. Tickets at busier times can be extremely expensive, so it can feel rather hopeless when you’re trying to bag a bargain. But, if you’re happy to make a single change of train at Crewe, you can save without compromising on flexibility. All you need to do is buy a ticket routed West Midlands Trains/Transport for Wales only.

Let’s take a look at the prices. In brackets, you’ll find the savings versus the full ‘Any Permitted’ fare:

Ticket Type Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Return £132.00 (-£237.40) £87.10 (-£156.70)
Off-Peak Return £50.40 (-£53.50) £33.25 (-£35.30)
Super Off-Peak Return £39.20 (-£64.70)* £25.85 (-£42.70)

*No Super Off-Peak ‘Any Permitted’ fare available. Comparison versus Off-Peak Return.

When can I use these tickets?

All of these tickets are valid to return within one month.

How long will the journey take?

On this journey, you’ll need to travel from Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe with Transport for Wales. You’ll then change onto a London North Western Railway/West Midlands Trains service that will take you to London Euston.

On most journeys, it’ll take 4 hours* to travel to London, and 3 hours and 30 minutes to travel to Manchester. Be aware that during engineering works, this may take longer and you may need to travel via Birmingham New Street.

*Due to the minimum connection time at Crewe being 10 minutes, all ticket-selling websites will give you a long (1 hour and 5 minutes) wait time at Crewe which extends the journey to more than 4 hours. But, if you’re able to, you can catch the train an hour earlier (giving you 5 minutes) which is usually a connection that can be made. This will reduce the journey time, but be aware that it isn’t guaranteed.

Visiting Manchester? We’ve produced a guide to Manchester train stations.

2. Liverpool Lime Street to Brighton

Looking to get from Merseyside to the South Coast? It can be an expensive trip. Luckily, there’s cheap train tickets out there to get you from A to B for a fraction of the cost. Our next ticket is one that’s routed West Midlands Trains and Southern only.

These are flexible tickets too, and they’re valid across London on the Underground. You’ll need to change at Crewe and pop across from London Euston to Victoria on a direct tube train. There’s also versions of this cheap train ticket that’ll take you to stops on the way, such as Gatwick Airport. Perfect if you’re catching a flight!

Let’s take a look at the prices, with savings in brackets:

Ticket Type Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Return £135.60 (-£314.80) £89.45 (-£207.80)
Off-Peak Return £71.50 (-£59.80) £47.15 (-£39.75)
Off-Peak Day Return £62.40 (-£69.30)* £41.15 (-£45.75)

*No Off-Peak Day Return ‘Any Permitted’ fare available. Comparison versus Off-Peak Return.

When can I use these tickets?
How long will the journey take?

On this journey, you’ll need to travel from Liverpool Lime Street to Crewe, and then Crewe to London Euston on trains operated by London North Western Railway/West Midlands Trains. In London, you’ll catch the Victoria Line to London Victoria.

On Mondays to Saturdays, you’ll need to catch a train to Lewes or Hove before changing to reach Brighton. On Sundays, Southern operate direct between London and Brighton without the need to change.

Journey times start at around 5 hours and 25 minutes to complete the whole journey down to Brighton, and can reach up to 6 hours and 15 minutes, depending on connection times.

3. Travelling via Barnham

When it comes to travelling around the South East, cheap train tickets can be difficult to find, as they usually involve a long slog into London and then back out. If you’re happy to avoid London and take in some of the beauty of the South Coast of England, then you’re in line to save a packet!

These are all flexible tickets, and to/from a wide variety of stations in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset. The only restriction is that you need to avoid London, and make sure you travel through Barnham. These tickets are usually routed via Barnham or ‘Edenbridge/Polegate‘.

Let’s take a look at some examples, with the saving versus the fare via London in brackets:

Ashford International to Portsmouth Harbour (routed via Edenbridge or Polegate)
Ticket Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Day Return £33.80 (-£80.70) £22.30 (-£53.25)
Off-Peak Return £31.20 (-£46.40) £20.55 (-£30.75)
Off-Peak Day Return £19.30 (-£54.00) £12.70 (-£35.65)
Brighton to Bournemouth (routed via Barnham)
Ticket Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Day Return £34.90 (-£85.90) £23.00 (-£56.70)
Off-Peak Return £34.90 (-£70.30) £23.00 (-£46.40)
Off-Peak Day Return £25.80 (-£70.30) £17.00 (-£46.40)
Hastings to Weymouth (routed via Barnham)
Ticket Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Day Return £34.90 (-£124.70) £23.00 (-£82.30)
Off-Peak Return £37.90 (-£83.00) £25.00 (-£54.75)
Off-Peak Day Return £31.70 (-£82.50) £20.90 (-£54.45)
When can I use these tickets?
How long will the journey take?

This very much depends on the route that you choose to take and where you’re travelling from and to. Based on the examples listed above, you can travel from Ashford International to Portsmouth Harbour in around 3 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours.

Brighton to Bournemouth takes 2 hours 30 minutes to 2 hours 50 minutes, and Hastings to Weymouth takes around 5 hours. All of these times are of course subject to change during engineering works or disruption.

4. London to Gatwick Airport

Cheap train tickets from London to Gatwick Airport are out there, but you need to pick the right train first! For the cheapest fare, you can take Thameslink services from London St Pancras, Farringdon, City Thameslink, London Blackfriars or London Bridge.

Southern-branded trains from London Victoria provide the middle ground, while Gatwick Express-branded trains are the most expensive. Sometimes, the Gatwick Express trains aren’t even any faster!

Let’s take a look at the fares first that are valid from all of the stations listed above, including Victoria (unless stated).

Ticket   Operator Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Return   All from London Victoria only (inc. Gatwick Express) £38.70 £25.50
Anytime Day Return   All from London Victoria only (inc. Gatwick Express) £22.00 £14.50
Anytime Return   All except Gatwick Express £38.80 £25.60
Anytime Day Return   All except Gatwick Express £22.00 £14.50
Off-Peak Day Return   All except Gatwick Express £19.50 £12.85

As you can see, if you’re travelling to meet a relative or flying in and out on the same day, then Gatwick Express can attract quite the premium. If you need full flexibility and need to travel from Victoria, then the difference is a little smaller.

Let’s take a look at the fares now that are only valid from St Pancras, Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars and London Bridge. They’re routed ‘Not Underground’, so you could take Southern trains for part of the route if you wished, but Thameslink runs the direct trains on this line:

Ticket   Route Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Return   Not Underground £24.50 £16.15
Off-Peak Day Return   Not Underground £14.60 £9.60
Super Off-Peak Day Return   Not Underground £11.40 £7.50

Quite a difference! If you’re travelling out on a Saturday and back on a Sunday, it’s cheaper to buy two Super Off-Peak Day Singles (£11.30/£7.45 with Railcard).

When can I use these tickets?
How long will the journey take?

Wondering what the trains are like? We’ve written about the best train to Gatwick Airport.

5. Weekend Super-Off Peak fares in the South East

Cheap train tickets are available at weekends on many routes operated by Great Northern and Thameslink. While Super Off-Peak fares exist throughout the network, these ones can offer a significant discount and make day trips even more affordable. On one particular route, Greater Anglia also offer a competing fare!

You can find them on the routes between Bedford and Brighton (via London), between north of London and the Sutton Loop, and between Peterborough/Kings Lynn/Cambridge and London Kings Cross. Greater Anglia have a competing fare between Cambridge and London Liverpool Street. These fares aren’t available for journeys wholly within London Zones 1-6.

Let’s take a look at some example return fares:

Route   Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Bedford to London (Thameslink)   £18.10 £11.90
London (Thameslink) to Brighton   £14.50 £9.55
Cambridge to London Kings Cross   £20.70 £13.65
Peterborough to London Kings Cross   £23.30 £15.35
Cambridge to London Liverpool St   £15.90 £10.45
When can I use these tickets?

It’s simple! They’re valid all day on weekends and Bank Holidays. You’ll need to make your return journey on the same day.

How long will the journey take?

This can vary depending on the route you’re taking and when you’re travelling. We’d advise checking National Rail before you travel, or double checking when you book your ticket with us. Engineering works often take place on weekends, which can cause your journey to take longer.

thameslink cheap train tickets

 

6. Leeds to Glasgow

Cheap train tickets between two of the most vibrant cities in the UK can be difficult to find. Usually, you’ll need to travel via York and Newcastle, which can be expensive.

There is an alternative though! You can choose to take the scenic Settle & Carlisle Railway up to Carlisle before changing for a train to Glasgow Central. Just book a ticket routed via Appleby. If you need flexibility, you’ll save a packet. Let’s take a look at the fare, with the saving versus the ‘Any Permitted’ fare in brackets:

Ticket Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Return £68.10 (-£78.60) £44.90 (-£51.90)
When can I use these tickets?

Easy! There’s only an ‘Anytime Return’ available as a return fare on this trip. You can travel whenever you’d like. Break your journey as many times as you like, with your outward journey needing to be completed within five days. You can return up to a month later.

How long will the journey take?

On average, it’ll take around 4 hours and 15 minutes to travel from Leeds to Glasgow Central. Travelling from Glasgow Central to Leeds takes around 4 hours. You’ll need to change at Carlisle on this journey.

Wondering what there is to do in Glasgow? Take a look at what we saw on a day trip to Glasgow.

7. Birmingham to London

There’s plenty of cheap train tickets from Birmingham to London. The only issue is knowing where to start! With three operators and two different routes to choose from, it can be difficult to know which route is best for you. However, if you’re happy for the journey to take a little longer, there are some bargains to be had. The cheapest flexible tickets are those routed WMR/LNR only or via High Wycombe. Trains via High Wycombe are operated by Chiltern Railways.

If you travel on the first route, you’ll leave from Birmingham New Street and travel via Northampton into London Euston. Trains via High Wycombe leave from Birmingham Snow Hill and Birmingham Moor Street instead, and travel via Leamington Spa and Banbury (as well as High Wycombe!) to London Marylebone.

Let’s take a look at the fares on offer. We’ve popped the saving versus the ‘Any Permitted’ equivalent in brackets:

Ticket   Operator/Route Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Return   via High Wycombe £135.30 (-£53.50) £89.25 (-£35.35)
Anytime Return   WMR/LNR only £99.20 (-£89.60) £65.45 (-£59.15)
Off-Peak Return   via High Wycombe £58.00 (-£7.80) £38.25 (-£5.15)
Super Off-Peak Return   via High Wycombe £36.40 (-£29.40)* £24.00 (-£19.40)*
Off-Peak Return   WMR/LNR only £39.00 (-£26.80) £25.70 (-£17.70)
Super Off-Peak Return   WMR/LNR only £29.00 (-£36.80)* £19.10 (-£24.30)*

*No Super Off-Peak Return ‘Any Permitted’ fare available. Comparison versus Off-Peak Return.

When can I use these tickets?

This is a little tricky as each route has its own restrictions! Here they are in a nutshell:

How long will the journey take?

We’ve also taken a trip to compare all three operators between London and Birmingham.

8. Grand Central, Hull Trains & Lumo

These three operators are known as ‘Open-Access’ operators. They run trains outside of a franchise or contract and operate everything at their own commercial risk. Of course, they need to persuade people to use their trains, so they’ll offer cheap train tickets, even if you’re buying on the day.

Grand Central operate between Sunderland/Bradford and London, Hull Trains (as you’d expect!) operate between Hull and London, and Lumo operate a very limited-stop service between Edinburgh and London.

Let’s take a look at some of their typical flexible return fares. You’ll find the saving (versus the Any Permitted fare) in brackets. We’ll start with Grand Central:

Ticket   Route Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Return   Bradford to London £178.00 (-£130.20) £117.45 (-£85.95)
Off-Peak Return   Bradford to London £102.00 (-£122.40) £67.30 (-£65.85)
Anytime Return   Doncaster to London £159.00 (-£91.00) £104.90 (-£60.10)
Off-Peak Return   Doncaster to London £93.00 (-£93.70) £61.35 (-£61.85)
Anytime Return   Sunderland to London £191.00 (-£179.70) £126.05 (-£118.60)
Off-Peak Return   Sunderland to London £132.00 (-£139.40) £87.10 (-£92.00)
Anytime Return   York to London £172.00 (-£136.20) £113.50 (-£89.90)
Off-Peak Return   York to London £119.00 (-£96.70) £78.50 (-£63.85)
Note: Off-Peak Day Return is also available Doncaster-London (GC only) – £82.00/£54.10

Next, we’ll take a look at flexible cheap train tickets on Hull Trains:

Ticket   Route Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Return   Hull to London £174.00 (-£105.60) £114.80 (-£69.70)
Off-Peak Return   Hull to London £135.00 (-£76.10) £89.10 (-£50.20)
Super Off-Peak Return   Hull to London £108.00 (-£23.50) £71.25 (-£15.20)
Anytime Return   Doncaster to London £147.00 (-£103.00) £97.00 (-£68.00)
Off-Peak Return   Doncaster to London £105.00 (-£81.70) £69.30 (-£53.90)
Super Off-Peak Return   Doncaster to London £90.00 (-£21.40) £59.40 (-£14.10)
Note: Off-Peak Day Return is also available Hull/Doncaster-London (Hull Trains only) – £91.00/£60.05 and £82.00/£54.10 respectively

Finally, we have some of the typical flexible Lumo fares available:

Ticket   Route Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Anytime Day Single   Edinburgh to London £75.00 (-£118.90) £49.50 (-£76.25)
Anytime Day Single   Newcastle to London £65.00 (-£127.80) £42.90 (-£84.30)
Note: Return tickets not available from Edinburgh/Newcastle to London. All return fares are 2x the price of a single.

You should bear in mind that all of these operators also sell even cheaper train tickets in advance, so these are the maximum fares that you’d pay. Why not book with Railsmartr today and see which offers the best deal for you?

When can I use these tickets?

This is a little tricky as each route has its own restrictions! Here they are in a nutshell:

How long will the journey take?

 

9. Northern – Advance Tickets on the go

Now, we all know that buying advance tickets is a sure fire way to get cheap train tickets. Northern is an example of a company that can give you some great deals right up to the time that your train leaves!

While Advance Single tickets tie you to a specific train, that’s less of an issue if the train leaves in the next hour or two, as you probably know that you’re definitely going to travel! Here’s some examples of fares available on the same day:

Route   Full Adult Fare Railcard Fare
Blackpool North to Manchester Piccadilly   £9.00 £5.90
Sheffield to Manchester Piccadilly   £7.50 £4.95
Leeds to Sheffield   £4.90 £3.20
Manchester Victoria to Leeds   £8.50 £5.60
Sheffield to Doncaster   £2.20 £1.35
Fares checked on 18th October 2022 for travel within two hours. All fares quoted are one-way. Advance Tickets subject to change at any time.
When can I use these tickets?

These are all Advance tickets so they’re valid only for the date and train shown on your ticket.

How long will the journey take?

This will vary depending on which train you take and where you’re going! Always check your itinerary provided when you book.

northern cheap train tickets

 

Why and how do all of these cheap tickets exist?

That’s a great question! On most of these routes, you’ll find that you have a choice of at least two rail operators or the option to take a different route. These cheap train tickets exist for a number of reasons:

To start planning your next journey, just visit the Railsmartr website.

All fares were checked on 02/06/2023 unless stated. They’re subject to change at any time and Railsmartr are not responsible for any loss or inconvenience incurred.