You’re trying to get from Sheffield to Luton Airport but the train ticket is £90, which is a large chunk of your fee. But there’s nothing else you can do – you need to make this flight.
But what if someone could tell you how to halve the price?
Read on for Paula’s top UK transport hacks and email her at [email protected] if you have more tips to add to the list! Also check out The Definitive Guide to Flying with your Instrument
1. When & how to buy train tickets
It’s usually better to book trains as far as possible in advance, especially for longer journeys. It’s rarely a good idea to rock up at the station and buy a ticket – it’ll be the full whack.
Sometimes it’s only a few quid more to book a first class ticket and well worth it for longer journeys. Just beware that sometimes weekend first class services don’t have the complimentary food/drink that weekday ones do!
Something well worth checking out is whether National Rail charges you a higher price for purchasing a journey involving a change. For example, an anytime ticket with a Network Railcard from London Kings Cross to Bury St Edmunds with a change at Cambridge costs £34.50. A ticket from Kings Cross to Cambridge costs £15.30 and another ticket from Cambridge to Bury St Edmunds costs £10 for a total of £25.30.
2. Where to buy train tickets
Virgin Trains App
This is my favourite as you can hook up a Nectar card, it stores your payment info, and you can use it on any train company in the UK (not just Virgin) so no trying to remember 15 different sets of login info. Some services even have a mobile ticket you can show on your phone! The only downside is you don’t get always seem to get a receipt emailed to you for tax purposes.
National Rail App
I use this regularly to look up train times. It is also possible to purchase tickets here, but it’s a clunky interface and it takes you to each separate train company’s site, where you then have to remember the passwords and deal with a different clunky interface.
The Trainline App
Very popular, but it charges a fee so it may be more expensive.
Can have very cheap tickets if you book far enough (usually at least a month) in advance.
3. Airport Travel Hacks
- Avoid the Heathrow Express unless you want to go near Paddington – otherwise it’s expensive and leaves you in an inconvenient part of town.
- Tube is the cheapest way to get to/from central London. When taking the tube, Barons Court is the best place to change between the District/Piccadilly lines. It involves an extra stop, but the interchange is on the same platform, so it’s much easier with luggage.
- Uber pooling is a cheaper option and sometimes if they can’t match you with another passenger, you’ll still get the lower fare while having the taxi to yourself.
- It’s now possible to use Oyster or contactless pay-as-you-go but if you are making a return journey, it’s still cheaper to buy a return ticket online.
- Gatwick’s train station is located in the South Terminal, so make sure you allow extra time if your flight is at the North Terminal.
- To get to Luton via the train, you have go to to Luton Airport Parkway (LTN) and take a 10-minute bus ride to Luton Airport (LUA). Make sure you include the journey to LUA as part of your ticket – or alternatively, if your ticket is extremely expensive, sometimes buying the bus ride separately can drastically reduce the cost of the ticket.
- National Express offers coaches to Luton, which are generally cheaper than the train.
- Stansted Express trains leave from Liverpool St Station and have free wifi.
- National Express offers coaches to Stansted, which are generally cheaper than the train.
- Book as far in advance as possible.
- Remember to arrive an hour before departure to allow for check-in and security!
- Eurostar has discounts for under-26 passengers.
- If you buy a coffee before going through security, they have handy little trays especially to hold drinks while they go through the X-ray machine – ask for one if they don’t offer it.
- There are only two cafes beyond the Eurostar check-in so I definitely recommend getting food before security. When travelling abroad, I always buy lunch before departure so I don’t have to deal with it when I arrive.
The National Rail has a wide variety of railcards. I especially recommend the 16-25 Railcard and the Network Railcard (all ages, but only certain parts of the southeast and after 10am). If you travel frequently by rail, they will pay for themselves quite quickly.
The Bite Card is free and offers 10% discount from food at railway stations, from fast food such as Pumpkin Cafes to a selection of pubs around the UK. You can order it online – I highly recommend!
Otherwise, buy food at the station or bring from home as train food is expensive and low-quality. Bring cash just in case you want a cup of tea and the train card machines are down!
7. London Tube
This could be the subject of a dissertation! But a few quick tips.
1. With the 16-25 Travelcard you can get 1/3 off Oyster Off-Peak pay as you go Daily Price Cap and Off-Peak pay as you go single fares for journeys on National Rail, London Underground and Docklands Light Railway.
2. With contactless card payment, you can benefit from weekly (Monday – Sunday) fare capping so if you’re not sure how many journeys you’ll make, this can be a better option. However, a monthly travelcard is generally cheapest.
3. The Zuti London Tube app gives you journey times between stations (operating without wifi or 3G). A good rule of thumb is that the distance between Zone 1 stations is the number of stations x 5/3 (e.g. London Bridge to Bond Street is 5 stops so about 8 minutes).
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