Booking train tickets can be an expensive endeavor, but there are ways to find cheap fares if you know where to look. As an avid train traveler for over 10 years, I’ve learned how to navigate the system and get the best deals on tickets. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll share my top tips for finding cheap train fares for travel within the US and internationally.
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The #1 rule for getting cheap tickets is to book as early as possible, especially if you’re booking a popular route at a busy travel time. Train companies release tickets around 3 months in advance, and the cheapest fares get snapped up quickly. I like to book 6-8 weeks before my trip if possible. Sites like KAYAK allow you to search prices for future trips so you can get an idea of the best time to purchase.
Booking in advance also allows you to take advantage of early booking promotions many train companies offer. Sign up for email alerts from companies like Amtrak to hear about limited-time deals.
If you can be flexible with your travel dates and times, you’ll have a better chance at finding cheap fares. Train tickets tend to be most expensive on Friday and Sunday afternoons. Traveling at off-peak times like midweek and early mornings/evenings can mean big savings.
Also consider taking alternative routes that are less popular if the savings justify the extra travel time. And don’t forget to check both one-way and round-trip fares when searching—sometimes two one-way tickets are cheaper than a round-trip!
Use Train Search Engines
Rather than checking individual train company websites, use an aggregator site like Wanderu or KAYAK to search prices and schedules across various providers all in one place. This allows you to easily compare fares and options.
These sites also provide price prediction tools and alerts to notify you when cheap advance fares become available. Setting an alert for your desired route is a great way to grab deals as soon as they appear.
Take Advantage of Discounts
Many train companies offer discounted fares for seniors, students, military members, groups, etc. Amtrak has a number of discounts like the everyday Senior and Military discounts which let you save 15% on tickets. Groups of 20+ people booking together can get up to 30% off.
There are also options like rail passes and rail cards that provide ongoing savings for frequent train travelers. The Eurail Pass lets you travel by train across Europe at a fixed discounted rate, while BritRail passes offer similar savings within Great Britain.
Use Membership Perks
If you travel by train often, join the train company’s membership or frequent rider program. Amtrak Guest Rewards members can earn points to redeem for free travel along with other perks like access to members-only fares.
Similarly, Eurostar Snap provides members exclusive access to cheap advance fares on UK routes. The one-time registration fee pays for itself quickly if you travel more than a couple times per year.
An advanced tip for saving money on UK train travel: Split your journey and buy multiple tickets instead of one. Counterintuitively, this can greatly reduce fares on many routes. Carefully check the cost of separate tickets from stop to stop along your journey—you’ll often pay much less overall compared to a ticket from origin to final destination.
Just be sure to allow enough time for connections when splitting tickets. Sites like TrainSplit can optimize this process and find the cheapest ticket combinations for your trip.
Use Cash Back and Loyalty Programs
When purchasing tickets, go through cash back sites like Rakuten to earn a percentage back. You can also pay with a travel rewards credit card that earns points or miles to put toward future trips.
If you frequently book accommodation, flights, and trains on Expedia, join Expedia Rewards to earn points you can redeem on train tickets and other purchases. Loyalty goes a long way in saving money on train travel over time!
Follow Deals Pages and Social Media
Most train companies promote deals and sales on their websites and social media pages. Follow or like pages for companies you use often so you never miss a bargain fare when they post new promotions. Signing up for email alerts is also a great way to hear about limited-time offers directly from the source.
Check out the Deals section on sites like Amtrak and Eurostar to find their latest discounted fares. I like to browse these sections regularly as new deals pop up frequently.
Use Coupon Codes
Look online or sign up for promo emails from sites like Groupon and Travelzoo to get codes for 10-30% off train tickets. Groupon in particular runs great Amtrak coupons in my experience.
RetailMeNot and other coupon sites also compile the latest promo codes for cheap travel booking. These codes provide an easy instant discount off your total fare.
Book at the Station
While booking online in advance is often cheapest, if you are departing very soon, check ticket prices at the train station. Last-minute tickets can be deeply discounted compared to what you’ll find online.
This is a risky move though—fares could jump higher or train could sell out. So only rely on the station if you’re feeling spontaneous!
Sometimes alternative transport like buses and rideshares can be cheaper than the train, especially for short distances. Sites like Wanderu allow you to compare prices for trains, buses, flights and more.
You can filter by factors like duration, number of stops, departure/arrival time, etc to find the best fit. If the cost savings are significant, an alternative route may be worth considering.
Travel During Sales
Certain times of year like January and September tend to have more train sales centered around New Year’s resolutions and back-to-school. Holiday weekends also often have discounted fares to incentivize leisure travel.
Sign up for email alerts from train providers to hear about seasonal promotions the moment they are announced. Act fast though – these holiday deals tend to go quick!
Using all or some combination of these savings strategies when booking train travel can add up to major savings over time. Train tickets don’t have to break the bank – with flexibility, planning, and some insider tips you can unlock huge discounts. Happy (affordable) railroading!