How to get cheap train tickets

I have a lot to write about at the moment, from International Women's Day to film analysis, but trains are something I've had a problem with for a while now, and after a particularly frustrating moment whilst trying to figure out the cheapest method to get to Lincoln, I snapped.

Our railway system is ridiculous, so here are some tips I've discovered about how to get cheap tickets, along with some of the more ridiculous things I've stumbled across.

Buy a railcard.
These are best if you're traveling a lot, but even if you're a student going home at the end of every semester the savings can turn out to be brilliant. With a Santander student bank account you get one for free - I was notoriously excited waiting for mine and took a gratuitous trip to Lincoln when it arrived - but over the course of weeks-months of trains journeys, they really pay off.

Book in advance.
"Book in advance and save up to £EXTORTIONATE AMOUNT". This isn't a scam, booking in advance can truly save you a lot of money. Even booking your ticket as you run to the station, or the day before, can save you a few quid on full price tickets. Although some prices are fixed, regardless of how far in advance you book, it's worth checking out.

Plan your route.
This is the most difficult, but most important, advice I can offer. If you put in "Stoke-on-Trent to Sheffield", it'll take you via Manchester. If you do it manually, you can get a return for about half the cost going via Stockport. The problem is, it's really difficult to find these things. And even if the website you use does take you via the right station, it doesn't necessarily pick you the cheapest tickets.

Here's a perfect example for you: if you book yourself onto the next train from Stoke-on-Trent to Edinburgh, it'll take you via Manchester and cost you £95. If you book two weeks in advance, use a railcard, and book your journeys from Stoke to Manchester and then Manchester to Edinburgh separately, you can get that cost down to £17. That's a saving of over 82%.

If you book (in advance) a return ticket from Stoke to Lincoln - which takes you via Derby and Nottingham - it'll cost you around £22. If you book return tickets for Stoke-Nottingham, and Nottingham-Lincoln separately, it'll cost you around £16 (both sets of figures use a railcard). It's the exact same journey.

Book a train without a railcard now direct from Stoke-London, it'll cost you £67. Book a few weeks in advance, use a railcard, and be prepared to take a slower train - albeit still direct - and it'll cost you £5.95. That'll save you over 91%.

Of course, I couldn't finish this article without addressing the journey that got people talking about ludicrous train costs in the first place.
Sheffield to London, today, without a railcard. £73.50 (though it also suggests I go via Doncaster, which would cost me £82).

Sheffield to London, a few weeks in advance, with a railcard. £11.45. 
Sheffield to Manchester: £3.30
Manchester to Stoke-on-Trent: £2
Stoke-on-Trent to London: £5.95

However, my version doesn't get you to Berlin.


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