5 UK Train Ticket Secrets That Will Save You Money

For the tourist in the UK, one of the most exciting parts of travel (in my mind, anyway) is getting to take trains everywhere. While the UK does also have a bus system, I’ve found trains to be faster, more spacious, and more fun.

At first glance, train tickets might seem outrageously expensive. I still remember when my friend and I arrived at Paddington in London to get a ticket to Bath for travel that same day, only to discover a return ticket would cost £60—each!

After living in England, I would never dream of making such a green mistake now. And after working as a writer for Faremaster (a UK train ticket start-up), I’ve gleaned even more tips and tricks. Keep reading to learn how to save a buck while you travel!

Alyssa Hollingsworth / Own Work
Alyssa Hollingsworth / Own Work

1. Passes for Foreign Travelers

If you’re a foreigner traveling in the UK, you have the option of buying a BritRail Pass. These passes are good for any journeys within select regions over a select period of time. Sometimes they’ll save you money, but if you aren’t careful, they might end up costing you more than normal tickets.

Here’s the gist of how it works: You select the pass that works best for your journey—for instance, a consecutive three day South West Pass. You buy that pass before you leave your home country (you can’t have it mailed to you within the UK). When you arrive in the UK and are ready to travel, you have the pass signed at the box office or by the train conductor. For that day, you can travel wherever you want on the pass. If you’re on the three day consecutive, that means you have tomorrow and the next day to travel before your pass expires.

The BritRail Passes are good if you:

  • Are traveling far distances every day (or almost every day) of your trip.
  • Are traveling far distances at all, period. For example, when my mom visited me in England we went from London to Scotland and back, including a trip from Inverness to Reading, which was over nine hours long and would have cost us £150 each (and each way) if we had purchased our tickets at the box office the day we traveled. Needless to say, we used our passes instead.
  • Don’t want to be tied down to specific dates or times for travel (as you will be with the cheap advance tickets).
  • Catch the passes during a sale season.
  • Are traveling with children under 15 and want to take advantage of their free child tickets (one per paying adult).
Alyssa Hollingsworth / Own Work
Alyssa Hollingsworth / Own Work

The BritRail Passes won’t help as much if you:

  • Plan to stay within one smaller region.
  • Are unafraid to take advantage of other discounts (like advance tickets, railcards).
  • Are already in the UK and/or a student who will be studying there for over six months. (Spoiler: If your mom is coming to visit you, she can bring you a pass.)
  • Will be traveling exclusively on the London Tube.

Passes are great for the flexibility and convenience they bring. But definitely compare the price of the pass with the price of your tickets before you commit to one or the other.