Taking the train is a great way to travel, but the ticketing system is complicated and if you aren't careful, you could end up paying way over the odds for your journey.

Here are our top tips for saving money on train tickets, wherever and whenever you're going.

Buy cheap train tickets in advance

Most people know it's a good idea to book train tickets before the day they want to travel. But did you know that the very cheapest tickets for your journey could be snapped up as early as 12 weeks in advance?

Network Rail is obliged to prepare its train timetable 12 weeks ahead, so train operators often release their lowest priced fares shortly afterwards.

Some operators make cheap tickets available even earlier than this - up to 24 weeks in advance in some cases.

If you know you'll be making a particular journey several weeks or even months before travelling, you might make a significant saving by booking your train tickets now.

A good rule of thumb is to look for cheap train tickets as soon as you know you'll be going somewhere - even if your journey is only days or 24 hours away. You could still cut the cost of train travel by booking your tickets as late as the night before you travel.

Choose Advance tickets

Train operators offer a huge and varied array of ticket types, so it's no wonder people feel confused.

One type of ticket worth knowing more about, though, is the Advance ticket. These are companies' very lowest-priced fares, often released as far as 12 weeks in advance.

When you buy an Advance ticket you commit to travelling on a particular train at a particular time, and this should help you shave a little more off the cost of your journey.

Advance tickets are great for the organised or for anyone who knows their planned activities won't run late.

However do not buy one if you're at all likely to miss the train you originally planned to catch. Your ticket won't be valid on any other service and you'll have to buy an expensive 'on the day' fare to complete your journey.

Try two single tickets

You could be forgiven for thinking that a return train ticket would offer better value for money than two singles - but strangely, that often isn't the case.

Booking two single train tickets instead of a return could see you make a big saving, especially if you're planning a long or expensive journey.

When you search for train tickets here at TrainTickets.com, we'll always show you if buying two single tickets will be cheaper than choosing a return.

Split your tickets

Split ticketing is the process of buying multiple train tickets for a single journey, even if you'll be staying on the same train the entire time you are travelling. Quite bizarrely, this can be miles cheaper than buying just one ticket.

If you were planning to travel from Birmingham International to Winchester, for instance, you could save money by buying two tickets: one from Birmingham to Banbury, and then another from Banbury to Winchester. In this case, you could cut the cost of your journey without even needing to leave your seat!

We know split ticketing is a tricky thing to get your head around, so whenever you plan a journey on TrainTickets.com we'll automatically show you if you could save money by buying more than one ticket to cover your trip. We want to make split ticketing clear, simple and quick - so if is recommended for your journey you can buy all the rail fares you need in a single transaction.

If you'd like to know more about how split ticketing works, read our full split ticketing guide for further information and advice.

Consider an alternative journey

Going the direct way to your destination makes a lot of sense, but may also cost more than taking a circuitous route - so if you're not in a rush to get where you're going, it's worth checking whether a slower service could save you money.

It could be that you'll save a significant sum for as little as 20 or 30 minutes extra travel time.

Whenever you search for a train ticket at TrainTickets.com, we'll check whether travelling to your destination via an alternative route might be cheaper for you and will display the results automatically.

Use a railcard

National railcards usually cost around £30 a year, but once you've got one you'll save a third on most train fares. Regional railcards can also help you cut the cost of local travel.

If you're a regular train traveller and can find a railcard to suit you, having one will almost certainly make financial sense. In fact, if you're planning a big journey you might 'make back' the cost of your national railcard the very first time you use it!

Check out our railcards guide for information on the different types of railcards available, how they all work and where to get yours.

Avoid extra charges

When you've spent time and effort searching for cheap train tickets, the last thing you want is to be hit with extra costs such as booking fees and credit card charges.

Here at TrainTickets.com we charge neither, and we make it easy for you to see how much your train tickets will cost before you decide to book them.

You can read more about how we make money here.