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Finding cheap train tickets in the UK can be a bit of a hassle. Not because such tickets do not exist, but rather because it can be quite difficult to know where to look for them because of the vast number of train service providers, ticket providers, train networks, routes, etc. All of this can make the task of finding a cheap train ticket confusing, especially if you have not traveled with the National Rail in the UK before.

To start off, there are approximately 26 different companies operating trains in the UK (that does not include companies operating in Northern Ireland as it is not part of the United Kingdom, and that number does also not include train networks such as the London Underground.

Some of the most popular providers would be companies such as:

East Midlands Trains - Connecting cities such as London, Nottingham, York and Derby.

Northern Rail - Popular service provider if you want to travel from one place to another in the northern parts of the UK.

First ScotRail - Responsible for many of the train journeys in Scotland.

Virgin Trains - A rather new train service provider that has proven to be quite popular. Covers most areas in the UK.

CrossCountry Trains - Has trains traveling between many cities outside the London area. Cities such as; Liverpool, Aberdeen, Reading, Bournemouth, Leeds, Plymouth, Bristol and Doncaster.

Traveling by train is one of the most popular methods to getting around in the UK. The railway system in Great Britain is actually one of the oldest in the world. Of course, in the early days, when trains went by the name locomotives, the system was mostly used for transporting goods from one place to another. However, since then, the railway system is now used by many people to travel around to the many cities of GB, getting to and from airports by using train service providers such as Stanstead Express and Heathrow Express, and by getting from one underground station to another in the London Underground system.

In total, there are approximately 2500 different railway stations in the UK. Some of the most busy train stations in the UK are Waterloo Station (situated in London), Liverpool Street Station (also in London), Birmingham New Street (Birmingham), Glasgow Central (Glasgow, Scotland) and Manchester Piccadilly (Manchester, north west England). Between these stations, there are many different traveling routes, some of course, more popular then others.

Some of the heaviest trafficked routes would be routes such as:
  • London, traveling through Coventry and Birmingham, ultimately ending up in Liverpool.
  • Starting in London, taking you through Swindon (south west England), Cardiff (Wales) and then stopping in Swansea (west Wales).
  • From Glasgow (Scotland), going through Preston, Manchester, Sheffield, Leicester and then stopping in London.
  • From Edinburgh (Scotland), down the eastcoast through cities such as; Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesborough, York, Peterborough, and with the last stop in London.
  • From Liverpool, with stops at big cities such as Manchester and Leeds, ultimately with the last stop at Hull in eastern England.

All of this and more makes the railway system in the UK one of the most extensive systems in the world, outranking many countries with a higher population count.

Fortunately, you can quite easily book a ticket at your nearest station or from the comfort of your own home by doing it on the Internet or by phone.

Let's start with covering how you book a train ticket offline by visiting the nearest train station.

You will be able to buy a ticket at almost every station (given that you make your visit there during the day of course). There is usually a ticket booth where you can make your purchase, but also where you will be able to ask the staff for help in case you have any questions concerning travel routes, prices, changes, etc.). The staff is usually very good at finding the cheapest, yet fastest, travel option for you.

Just as with booking tickets online or by phone, booking your ticket long before the day when you are actually traveling is preferable (more on this later).

There will also usually be different types of tickets available depending on whether if you are an adult, child or student, and, if you plan on traveling in first or second class.

Train stations in the UK usually also have ticket machines where you can, in a very simple process, by your ticket, paying with cash or by card. The ticket machines are often a great option if you are in a hurry, as the queue for the machines is usually considerable shorter than the queue of people lining up for the ticket sales booth.

When it comes to booking train tickets online or by phone, which is becoming more and more popular because of the convenience of not having to visit your nearest station, one vital thing is important to keep in mind: If you are asked to collect your ticket before departure, do not forget to do so because if you do not, there is a risk that they will sell your seat on the train to someone else. The time limit is usually something like 30 or 45 minutes before departure (you will have to look this up when you order your ticket).

However, this may not be applicable to you as it is becoming more and more common that travellers carry their digital receipt with them on their phone or laptop.

There is also the option of having your ticket delivered to your home. However, this will cost you a small fee of course.

Tips on Finding Cheap Train Tickets

  1. As briefly touched upon earlier, book early. As a general rule of thumb, just as with plane tickets, the earlier you book your train ticket, the cheaper the ticket purchase will be. Travelers who book their ticket in the last minute will often have to pay a lot more, sometimes more than twice as much for the same ticket, in comparison to someone who booked their ticket one month or more in advance. With many train service providers, you can book your ticket as much as three months in advance.

  2. Travel when no one else is traveling. In other words, avoid peak hours. Peak hours are usually in the morning when people are commuting to work, and in the evening when people are commuting home from work.

  3. If you plan on making more than train journey, look out for deals that let you book several train journeys at once. Alternatively, many train service providers offers travel cards that lets you make an unlimited number of trips over a period of time. A great example of such a travel card is the Oyster travel card that you can purchase if you plan on traveling in the London Underground or by bus in London over a period of time such as a day (one day travel ticket) or one week (weekly pass).

  4. Travel in groups. Through tickets that often goes by the name of groupsave tickets, you can often save money by travelling with others. So purchasing a ticket both for yourself and a fellow commuter or friend, you can save a substantial amount of money.

  5. Buy your ticket online. Often there are special offers and discounts online, that you can not get if you are booking your ticket offline, say at your local station. Take advantage of this and visit the websites of train service providers and see what they have on offering.

  6. If you are, say, a commuter, consider buying a season ticket. A season ticket is a perfect option for someone who regularly travels from one destination to another. However, a season ticket may not be the best option. A one month ticket may be better, depending on your needs. Just as with the travel cards, you can save a lot of money by buying a season ticket instead of buying a new single-journey ticket every time you make your journey.

  7. If you are young enough to be mistaken for being a university student, even though you are not, getting a student ticket will be cheaper than getting a regular ticket for one adult. However, you may not think that this is the ethically right thing to do, but, it is a common thing that many people do, so it is something that you can keep in mind.

  8. Avoid traveling in first class. First class tickets is the more expensive option, this is because of the better customer service that you get by traveling in first class, but also because of the often flashier interiors in first class train carriages.

Finding great, cheap train tickets for your traveling in the UK does not have to be difficult. If you are booking in advance, the most preferable option would probably be to book your ticket online. As mentioned earlier, booking your ticket online will often open up options to special discounts and offers, it lets you do the booking from the comfort of your own home, but it also saves you the travel expenses to and from your local train station.