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:
- Anytime Return tickets are valid for five days on the outward portion and a month on the return portion. You can break your journey as many times as you’d like both ways.
- Anytime Short Return tickets are valid for the date printed on the ticket when you’re travelling on the outward portion. On your return portion, they’re also valid for one month.
- Anytime Day Return tickets are valid only on the date printed on the ticket. You’ll need to make the outward and return journey on the same day.
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:
- Long-distance trips, where the Super Off-Peak Single (valid for one day) and the Super Off-Peak Return (outward valid for one day, return valid for one month) are offered. On a weekday (excluding Bank Holidays) they’re usually not valid to arrive into London or to leave from there until late morning or early afternoon. Most of the late afternoon and early evening will be excluded, too. Some tickets (such as West Midlands Trains tickets on the Crewe to London route) also apply these time restrictions on a Saturday.
- Short-distance trips will often have a Super Off-Peak Day Single and Super Off-Peak Day Return offered. Similar to their long-distance equivalents, all peak hours will be excluded. In some cases, they might only be available on weekends (such as on Thameslink).
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.