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Know when and how to pick up low-cost advance rail tickets.

We all know that the priciest train tickets are the ones you buy on the day you travel, and that the earlier you buy one the cheaper it’ll be.

But how do you get these advance tickets? Here are the simple things I do to make sure I don’t pay more than I need to.

Understand when advance fares are available

You’d think anytime before your journey date would count as advance, but in fact, most train tickets aren’t put on sale until 10 to 12 weeks in advance of travel.

Some train companies will put fares on sale much earlier, those these tend to be weekday tickets as weekend ones are those likely to be affected by engineering works, and subsequently announced later.

Check advance fares are actually on sale

Ok, so 12 weeks before travel and you’ll get the cheaper fares right? Well, not always. Lots of train booking websites will sell you tickets even though advance fares aren’t actually available.

I had this recently where Trainline said a weekend return from London to Leeds in ten weeks would cost a huge £113.50 – compared to the £36 I’d expect that far in advance.

Confused, I checked on the LNER website. I discovered these advance fares won’t actually be on sale until four weeks before travel. So the very expensive Trainline ticket was just a generic price.

If you have bought one of these non-advance fares before advance fares go on sale, see if you can get a refund from the rail company.

Set an alert for your travel dates

To make sure I know as soon as advance tickets are released, I’ll generally put a note in my phone’s calendar to look for the tickets around that 12-week point (if I know that far in advance).

But I’ll also use alert services. These send you an email for your exact journey.

The best one is probably from the Trainline as it covers all the different networks. However don’t book with The Trainline as you’ll be hit with extra fees.

Some train providers also offer their own alert service (such as LNER). Other’s have usually have a page sharing what tickets are currently available.

Advance tickets are available right until you travel

There’s actually more than one price for an advance ticket. Once the cheapest have sold out, the next level becomes available and so on. In fact, it’s possible to get an advance fair on the morning of travel with some rail companies.

Yes you might miss out on the very cheapest fares if you aren’t booking 12-weeks ahead, but it’s always worth checking as soon as you know you are going somewhere by train.

Monitor price increases

Another handy tool from Trainline is on its app. Here you can see a prediction for when fares are likely to increase. It’s based on booking data so it’s not going to be 100% accurate, but it helps give you a sense of when a change could happen.

Not all routes have advance fares

Frustratingly not all routes have advance fares, meaning the price you pay is the same whenever you buy your ticket. If you’re not sure whether they’ve just sold out or simply not available, you can do a quick search for different dates to check.

> More on how to save money on train tickets


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