14 Great Ways to Get Cheaper Student Travel Around the UK and Beyond
In a post-recession age when money is tight for all of us, finances are likely to be an ever-present worry when you’re still at school and earning only a modest income from a part-time job or pocket money.
One of the major costs you’re likely to have to consider in order to enjoy life in your spare time is transport. Whether you’re commuting to and from school, going to visit friends or relatives, or planning a day trip or holiday in the UK or beyond, it pays to be aware of the many ways in which you can make significant savings on the ever-increasing cost of travel. The tips and tricks in this article will show you that the high cost of transport doesn’t have to stand in the way of your plans.
1. Get the coach between cities with Megabus
Prepare to be amazed at the phenomenally cheap prices offered for coach journeys by Megabus, which offers cheap bus and train travel between UK cities and even over the Channel to various European cities. With fares starting at less than £1.50, Megabus offers significant savings over the cost of rail travel and means you won’t have to nag your parents to drive you to places anymore!
2. Save a third on rail travel using the 16-25 Railcard
If rail travel is unavoidable, you can save a third off the cost of train tickets with a 16-25 Railcard. Though you’ll have to pay for it – it costs £30 for a year or £70 for three years – it will quickly pay for itself in the money you’ll save. It’s valid on all Standard and First Class Advance fares, and the only restriction is that a minimum fare of £12 will apply if you travel between 4.30am and 10am midweek, except in July and August. Because of this restriction, and the fact that the 16-25 Railcard won’t get you a discount off the price of a season ticket, it’s unfortunately not an ideal solution if you’re using the train for a daily commute to school. However, if you’re likely to travel by rail at the weekends, or for day trips, it will quickly prove its worth. The 16-25 Railcard also entitles you to a huge number of discounts on days out, restaurants, holidays and so on, so it allows you to save money on other things as well.
Who knows how the ‘powers that be’ decide how train tickets should be priced, but a weird loophole in ticket pricing structures means that it’s sometimes cheaper to book tickets separately for each leg of your journey than it is to book a single ticket for the entirety of your journey. For example, a ticket from Oxford to Birmingham costs around £30. However, if you were to buy a ticket from Oxford to Banbury, and a separate one from Banbury to Birmingham, you might well find that your journey works out cheaper. Don’t ask us why – it’s just the way it is! Luckily, a number of apps and websites exist to help you calculate and compare the costs of splitting journeys; here’s some more information on split ticketing from Raileasy. Splitting your tickets in this way is totally legitimate – all that matters is that each individual ticket is valid and that the train you’re on does actually stop at the destination printed on the ticket. You don’t even need to get off the train you’re on! It’s baffling, but it works.
4. Book train tickets 12 weeks in advance
If you know well in advance that you’re going to be travelling somewhere on a certain date – to a wedding, for example – you can make substantial savings by booking your train ticket at least 12 weeks in advance. According to thetrainline.com, booking in advance can save you an average of 43%; sometimes much more. If you’re ordering tickets online in advance, you can also save money by electing to pick up the tickets at the station on the day, rather than having them posted to you for an extra fee. Just don’t forget to take the debit or credit card you booked with for proof of purchase (if your parents booked for you, you’ll need to get them to come along to the station with you to collect the tickets from the machine).
5. Get an Oyster Card if you go to London regularly
For cheaper travel around London, if it’s something you do regularly, it’s well worth acquiring an Oyster Card. This is valid on all London buses, the London Underground, Tram, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), London Overground and most National Rail services within London. It’s a pre-paid smartcard that you top up with credit in a similar way to how you top up pay-as-you-go mobile phones, and it gives you cheaper travel across the London transport network, capping prices each day to avoid you having to spend more than necessary. To get an Oyster Card, all you have to do is sign up online (or at a London Underground station, Oyster Ticket shop or various other locations) and put down a £5 deposit (refundable if you ever want to return your card, along with any remaining credit). If you’re only going to London for the day, a London Travelcard would be more appropriate.
6. Take advantage of Sail & Rail deals to Ireland
Organising a last-minute trip to Ireland? Then you can take advantage of the RailSail deal from Irish Ferries, which offers combined train and ferry tickets from just €42 (about £34) per person, each way (also bookable through thetrainline.com). The flat-rate fare depends on how far you are from the port, calculated by which zone you fall into – a bit like the zones on the London Underground. It’s ideal for last-minute trips because the fare doesn’t change, even if you book on the day. Even better, you can take two bags of any weight with you, and you don’t have to take a passport.
7. The six week flight-booking rule
Turning to air travel now, and once again the amount of time you leave booking your flight can have a huge impact on the price you pay. Contrary to what you might expect, prices are often hiked for last-minute travel, so unless it’s totally unavoidable, try not to leave booking until just before you travel. For the budget airlines Ryanair and Easyjet, the optimum booking time for the cheapest prices is thought to be around six weeks in advance. On average across all airlines, research has shown that five weeks in advance is the optimum booking time.
8. Shop around for the cheapest flights
As with many purchases, it’s a good idea to shop around to get the best deal when it comes to buying flights. The good news is that there are lots of websites designed to help you do just that; SkyScanner, Cheapflights and Flightchecker are just three examples. You’ll need to compare airlines every time you fly, as there’s unfortunately no single airline that guarantees that they’ll always have the cheapest prices for every destination at every time of day, week or year. Also, don’t forget that sometimes, the budget airlines aren’t actually cheaper than an airline such as British Airways, so don’t rule out these supposedly more expensive carriers.
9. Be flexible with your travel dates and times
Further savings can be made if you’re able to be flexible about the dates and times you fly. This is because being flexible allows you to take advantage of the times of the day and week when fewer people travel, when airlines lower their fares to encourage more people to book. For example, flights at awkward times of the day, such as very early in the morning or very late at night, are often cheaper, so if you don’t mind disrupting your sleeping pattern temporarily, you should be able to save money.
10. Book a package holiday just for the flight
Companies such as First Choice and Thomas Cook offer great prices on all-inclusive holidays – breaks that include the flight, accommodation, food and drinks. The prices are so good, in fact, that it can sometimes be cheaper to book an entire package holiday than to buy the flights on their own. So, even if you already have accommodation sorted (staying with relatives, for instance), it’s worth taking a look at the package deals available to see if they work out cheaper than the cost of a flight on its own. You’re under no obligation to stay in the hotel that comes with the package deal if you don’t want to.
11. Avoid paying for luggage
Many airlines charge for any luggage that weighs over its prescribed limits, whether the overweight luggage is checked or cabin bags. Some also charge you to check in any bag and limit you to just one item of hand luggage. However, if you’re canny about it, you can easily avoid paying anything for your luggage. A golden rule is always to travel light, ideally keeping your luggage to a single item of cabin luggage. The other consideration is that most major UK airports don’t weigh your hand luggage – they measure it. So if you are checking a suitcase in, and it’s close to the weight limit, take some items out of it and put it in your hand luggage instead. Hand luggage on Ryanair and Easyjet doesn’t usually get weighed in Gatwick, Luton, Manchester, Edinburgh, Stansted or Birmingham (or Dublin, going outside the UK). Furthermore, if you’re carrying your luggage, such as a rucksack, rather than using a wheeled suitcase, the airport is much less likely to check its measurements. However, always check the luggage requirements of the individual airline before you fly – they’re all different, and you can avoid being caught out at the airport and having to pay extra simply by doing a little research in advance.
12. Don’t fly directly into Germany
Sometimes it’s the lesser-known factoids that can save you money. For example, if you’re heading for Germany, you can save money by flying into a neighbouring country if your destination is anywhere near a border. This is because the country has high airport taxes, and it can work out cheaper to fly into Poland or the Netherlands and get a train into Germany instead. The same principle could apply elsewhere, so it’s worth checking out prices to different airports even if they’re in a neighbouring country, as doing so could prove substantially cheaper (and it can mean the difference between being able to fly with a budget airline or not, if your destination airport isn’t served by a budget carrier).
13. Share a lift
Another cheap way to travel is sharing a lift, either with friends or through a website such as Liftshare, National CarShare or Mylifts.com. These websites allows you to share journeys with others, clubbing together either on a regular basis or for a one-off trip, such as to a sporting event or festival. You pay the driver a share of the petrol costs, so you both benefit. You have to be 18 or over to use these services, and Lifeshare has a good list of safety tips to ensure you travel safely. This could be a good option if you need to get to somewhere that isn’t well-served by public transport, or that’s more difficult to access.
14. Get a bike
Finally, if you want to save money on travelling around your own town or city, have you thought about getting around by bike? Many places have dedicated cycle lanes to increase your safety, and as well as saving you a huge amount of money on bus or train fares, you’ll keep fit as well! If you have any other cheap travel tips you think we’ve missed, we’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below and help others save.