Train travel allows you to relax, enjoy the scenery and arrive at your destination fresh and eager to explore its points of interest.  For those used to driving on the right hand side of the road, it is MUCH more relaxing than having to face driving on the “wrong” side of the road.  Here are some surprising ways to obtain steep discounts on train fare in Great Britain and the Underground in London, to make the trip even MORE enjoyable.

There is a bewildering array of discounted rail passes and tickets.  The question is “what’s right for you?”  Generate a draft itinerary and apply your scenario to the various offerings.

When booking online you will have to specify at which station you will collect the tickets (usually from a machine).

Railcards

These are available to people aged 16 to 25 and anybody aged over 60.  The current cost is £30.00 and they provide a discount of 33%, so can often pay for themselves in one journey.  If you have a UK driver’s licence or a UK passport, you can purchase online, however, non-UK citizens can purchase the rail card in person at staffed rail stations if a passport is presented, see senior rail card elegibility.  The National Rail verifies that USA passports are accepted. When on the train both the ticket and rail card must be shown.

Advance Purchase 

'Advance' tickets can provide very high discounts if one books tickets sufficiently far in advance (these are in addition to 1/3 savings obtained through railcards.) These advance fares are first made available 90 days before departure and may be limited in quantity so one should lock in a purchase before they are gone.  Booked and pay for your travel in advance through use of the National Rail Enquires website: National Rail.  Be sure to indicate use of the rail cards and look for the advance fare or off peak offerings.  For Advance tickets you need to specify a specific time train, for off-peak fares you can travel on any train outstide of restricted hours (usually before 9.30 in the morning). Tickets are only valid for the train booked, and if you travel on a different train you will have to pay again, at the full fare. The discounted fares can be purchased prior to having obtained the rail card.  

Web discounts 

Different lines/parts of the country have their service provided by different train operating companies. Many of these offer special web discounts, or discounts for certain periods (eg month of August).   These discounts should be reflected on the National Rail website. However, if you know the name of the operating company it can also be worth checking their website to make sure you are getting the best discount. 

London Underground 

Another bewildering choice had to do with the various discounted fares on the London Underground.  The guide books explain Oyster cards and various types of travelcards, but neglect to mention that rail card holders can get 1/3 discounts on the adult Off-Peak Oyster pay-as-you-go fare for most journeys on the Underground in zones 1-9.  In addition, they can get a 1/3 discount on the Off-Peak daily price cap (£6.30 for zone 1-4).  To qualify for these discounts, holders must present their railcard and passport when purchasing the Oyster card at any London Underground ticket office or at a National Rail ticket office that issues Oyster cards, see senior discounted pay as you go travel.

There is a £5 fee for the Oyster card, but it can be refunded if you return the card to an Underground or National Rail ticket office.  Purchase your discounted Oyster cards at the Underground ticket office and returned them at Heathrow at the end of the rail line at a small National Rail office near the platform.

One of the benefits of Travelcards over an Oyster card is it provides 'two for one' discounts to main attractions - see  www.daysoutguide.co.uk  To qualify the tickes must be purcashed from Rail stations (not underground).