Tricks to afford an annual rail season ticket

Save hundreds of pounds on your rail commute by spreading the cost of an annual season ticket.

Every January trains fares jump up, and 2020 will be no different. It’s been announced tickets will go up by an average of 2.7% from January 2nd. And even though it’s less than the increases in 2018 and 2019, it’s still a harsh increase for many frustrated train travellers.

The same tricks will apply to cut your fares, such as buying in advance or splitting the ticket, but what about regular commuters?

Well, the best way to pay less is usually to buy a season ticket, with a 12-month ticket offering the biggest savings. BUT these annual passes require you to stump up a lot of cash upfront. And that’s not easy for everyone.

Will a season ticket be better for you?

In most cases, a season ticket will be cheaper than paying day-in, day-out. It’s worth taking five minutes to work out the cost of your commute to see what savings can be made. Remember, you won’t actually be going every day, so account for weekends and holidays.

It won’t be the best option for everyone though – especially anyone part-time For most of my working life I’ve bought an annual season ticket. But when I reduced my time at the day job a couple of years ago doing this no longer made sense.

When to get a season ticket

If you haven’t got one and are thinking about it, get it before January 2nd so you can avoid the fare increase. However, even if you buy it before this date, if it starts from the 2nd onwards you’ll still pay the new higher price.

Timing your season ticket

Of course, if you already have one then you can’t buy it to beat the increase and will have to wait for renewal. It can sometimes be worth timing when you buy your season ticket, and possibly getting a week or month-long passes to keep yourself going. For example, If the dates worked, I always used to time my holiday close to the end of a season ticket, and start the new one when I returned.

Ways to spread the cost of an annual season ticket

Find out if your work will give interest-free free loan

This is usually the best option – if your work offers it. It’s better than using savings too, as you can leave that money earning interest elsewhere.

Here’s how it usually works:

  • You fill in an application form with your HR dept. Expect to provide proof of the season ticket cost. You can also usually choose how many repayments you’d like to make.
  • Once it’s been signed off, the full amount is paid to your bank with your salary
  • You’ve then got the cash to buy the season ticket
  • Each month the loan will be taken from your pay before it gets to you.

Use a 0% interest purchase credit card

As with any big purchase you don’t have savings for, a 0% credit card helps you spread the cost. Don’t forget that you are borrowing money, so you need to make sure you pay off the debt to avoid high-interest payments when the promotional 0% period ends. You’ll also have to make at least the minimum repayment every month. Personally I’d pay it off as quickly as possible.

Try a commuter club

These are loans on annual season tickets, with payments spread out over 10 or 11 months. You will pay interest, but it’s still cheaper than buying monthly season tickets. The main one is Commuter Club.

Opt for monthly or weekly season tickets instead

If you can’t do any of these, then most of the time you’ll still save money with a monthly, or even weekly, season ticket.

However, if you are in London and use pay as you go via Oyster or contactless there are daily and weekly caps. These usually work out better than weekly season tickets You can see the different fares and caps on the TFL website.

Extra season ticket benefit in the South

Something I really miss about my annual season ticket is the free Gold Card. This railcard gave me a third off most fares in southern England for you and up to three other adults. You get this with a TFL season ticket too, not just mainline rail.

Once you have it you can also buy a different railcard for £10 for a friend or family member.

My tricks to cut the cost of train tickets

You can read more about these and other tricks I use to make train travel vaguely affordable in my 10 tricks for cheap trains guide.



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