Booking train tickets can appear complicated. One reason for this is the vast array of different ticket types on offer from the UK's train operators.
To help you make the right decision on which to buy, here's what you need to know about the main types of tickets available now.
Three categories of ticket
Most train companies offer three 'categories' of ticket:
- Anytime tickets
These are very flexible, with no time restrictions on when you can travel.
- Off-Peak tickets
These are semi-flexible, but carry some time and/or date restrictions. They can't be used on peak time trains.
- Advance tickets
These are not flexible. Advance tickets are booked in advance for use on specific trains, at specific times and on specific dates. They are not valid on other services.
Anytime tickets are usually the most expensive of the three main ticket types because they offer travellers the greatest flexibility.
Here's how the different types of Anytime tickets work:
- Anytime Day Single or Day Return tickets
These are valid for one single or one return journey at any time, but only on the date shown on the ticket.
- Anytime Single tickets
These are valid for one single journey at any time of day, and are valid for two days beginning from the date shown on the ticket.
- Anytime Return tickets
These are valid for one return journey. The outward part of the ticket is valid for five days from the date shown on ticket (unless otherwise shown), and the return part of the ticket is valid for one calendar month from the start date shown on the ticket.
- Key points to note
- You may have to travel via a specific route or on trains operated by a particular company when you purchase an Anytime ticket. If this is the case, your ticket will state this clearly.
- You are allowed to break your journey at any point, and can do so more than once if you wish. This means that you do not have to make the whole of your journey at the same time, or even on the same day (provided your ticket allows breaking your journey overnight). For example, if you purchased an Anytime Single ticket from London to York, you could travel from London to Doncaster, stop off there and complete your journey to York later in the day.
- Refunds are available on unused or part-used tickets if you are unable to travel, minus an administration fee (which will be no more than £10 per ticket, depending on where you bought your ticket).
Off-Peak tickets are for use on trains that are less busy than those running at peak hours. Peak hours usually coincide with 'rush hour' - the period of the day when commuters are travelling to and from work.
Off-Peak tickets are cheaper than Anytime tickets, but can only be used at certain times of day and/or on some days of the week. You may also have to travel via specific routes or on trains operated by certain companies. In such cases, this will be clearly stated on your ticket(s).
- Off-Peak Day Single or Day Return tickets
These are valid for one single or one return journey, only during Off-Peak hours and only on the date shown on the ticket(s).
- Off-Peak Single tickets
These are valid for one single journey on the date shown on the ticket. If you can't complete your journey on the same day you begin it, you will be allowed to finish it the following day. You may only travel during Off-Peak hours.
- Off-Peak Return tickets
These are valid for one return journey, which must be made during Off-Peak hours. The outward part of the ticket is valid for travel on the date shown on the ticket. If you cannot complete your journey on the same day, you'll be allowed to complete it the following day. The return part of your ticket is valid for one calendar month from the date shown on the ticket.
- Super Off-Peak tickets
Some train companies sell even cheaper Off-Peak fares known as Super Off-Peak tickets. These are available for train operators' least busy services. The times when you may use these tickets will depend on the journey you're making, and you will be advised of these when you purchase Super Off-Peak ticket(s).
- Key points to note
- You may have to travel via a specific route or on trains operated by a particular company when you purchase an Off-Peak ticket. If this is the case, your ticket will state this clearly.
- Different train operators may operate different peak time hours. It is important that you understand the rules set by the train company whose services you will be travelling on, and avoid using Off-Peak tickets during the peak hours it has set.
- If you board a train a train during a period when your Off-Peak ticket is not valid, you will be charged the difference between the fare you've paid and the cheapest valid fare for the service you are travelling on. In some circumstances you may have to pay a penalty fare.
- In most cases, you may break your Off-Peak journey at any point, or more than once should you wish to do so. Should you not be permitted to break your journey this will be stated in the restrictions that apply to your ticket, details of which should be made available to you at the time of purchase.
- Refunds are available on unused or part-used tickets if you are unable to travel, minus an administration fee. This fee will depend on where your ticket was purchased, but will not exceed £10 per ticket.
- The day(s) for which a ticket is valid finish at 04:29 after midnight. This means that you can use late night or early morning trains that are a continuation of the previous day's services.
Advance tickets offer great value for money on most journeys. They can be booked in advance up to the day before you travel (and with some operators, on the day), but are subject to availability.
Most train operators release advance tickets around 12 weeks in advance - and even earlier on some routes - so plan ahead.
If you know you'll be travelling by train within the next few months, it makes sense to book your tickets now if you can. As a general rule of thumb, the earlier you book your tickets, the more you will save.
- Key points to note
- These tickets are not flexible. Advance tickets must be used on the specific train services they have been purchased for.
- If you board the wrong train, you will have to buy a ticket for the service you are on when a member of staff comes by. This could prove very costly, as 'on the day' fares tend to be far more expensive than advance tickets. You may also be liable to pay a penalty fare.
- If you are travelling using an Advance ticket, you may not break your journey in the way that is generally permitted for Anytime and Off-Peak ticket holders.
- Refunds are not available on Advance tickets unless the train you have bought a ticket for is cancelled or delayed and you decide you do not wish to travel. Under ordinary circumstances, if you buy Advance tickets but do not use them you will end up out of pocket.