How to ease the pain of rail price rises

Rail passengers face a hike in fares of up to 3.2 per cent from January – but there are ways to fight back.

Writing to your MP or joining a passenger campaign group are ways to vent frustration – though being clever with how you buy your tickets is the best way to beat the financial pain of the rise.

BOOK EARLY

Rail companies sell a limited number of discounted ‘advance’ tickets up to 12 weeks before a journey – costing as little as a tenth the cost of an ‘anytime’ ticket bought on the day of travel.

But if you book a trip before January you need not pay the 3.2 per cent fare increase. Specialist train ticket websites such as Red Spotted Hanky, Trainline and Virgin Trains can help root out the cheapest times to travel, but also check directly with operators just in case they can beat the offer.

BUY A RAILCARD

There is a clutch of National Railcards available that can knock at least a third off the price of an off-peak ticket. This is usually for journeys taken after 10am.

The cost of these cards is £30 a year. Options include the 16-25 Railcard, the Senior Railcard for those 60 or over, the Two Together Railcard for two named people and the Family & Friends Railcard for up to four adults and four children.

A recent trial selling 10,000 cards for a 26-30 Railcard has sold out – but its success means the initiative could be rolled out in full later this year. Cardholders can also get two- for-one offers at attractions such as the London Eye or the Edinburgh Dungeon.

GO FOR GOLD

Gold card perks are given to those with annual season tickets when journeys start or finish in the South East. These offer discounts such as one third off rail tickets for the cardholder and up to three adults travelling with them; up to 60 per cent off child fares for up to four children; and the option to buy a National Railcard for £10.

Two-for-one entry to various attractions are also available.

BORROW FOR A DEAL

Annual season tickets work out cheaper than weekly or monthly options so consider asking your employer for a loan to pay for a year of travel upfront. Many offer a zero or low interest loan as a perk of the job.

Alternatively, consider a zero per cent credit card. Among the most competitive are Barclaycard Platinum on purchases for up to 27 months and M&S Bank Mastercard for 25 months. Pay off the balance before the zero period ends to avoid paying the go to rate of 19.9 per cent APR.

Another option is specialist financial services company CommuterClub that allows you to lock into the current rate of fares for up to 12 months and pay back the loan at 10.6 per cent APR.

A similar arrangement is offered for those commuting within London by MyCommute4Less.

SAVE WITH SPLIT TICKETS

In the arcane world of train travel you can save money buying separate rail tickets for different legs of a journey. You do not need to swap trains but your carriage must stop at the stations for which separate tickets have been purchased.

Websites such as TrainSplit and Split Ticketing can do the legwork on your behalf. For example, a return trip from Birmingham to Glasgow can cost £105.10 – if willing to split tickets at Crewe and Wolverhampton – offering a saving of £28.80.

FIGHT FOR COMPENSATION

You will only get a refund for anydelays you have suffered if you actually demand it.

At least £100 million in compensation goes unclaimed every year. Under a ‘delay repay’ agreement, adopted by many operators, hold-ups of between 30 minutes and an hour entitle you to compensation equivalent to half the cost of your single ticket.

Delays of more than an hour but less than two are eligible for a full refund of a single ticket. If you are held up for longer you can demand a full refund of your return ticket cost.

Claims must be made within 28 days of the journey and you will need to provide the original tickets and proof of purchase.

Ask the train operator for the correct form at the ticket office, online or by phone.

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