Nearly half of UK households say that they would struggle to cope if their monthly outgoings rose by £99. We look at how you can create some financial 'breathing space' to help you out if you lose your job or become ill.
How to save on your rail fares
Image © PA Wire
Rail fares are set to soar 25% in the next four years if the government persists with its above-inflation hikes, a rail union has warned.
The Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) said fares would rise by 8% on average next week, followed by sharp hikes in the coming years.
As a result, an annual season ticket from Swindon to London would rise from the current £7,024 to £9,009 by 2015. Similarly, a season ticket from Manchester to Liverpool would jump from £2,536 to £3,253, the TSSA said.
The union is calling on the government to abandon such sharp hikes, which it described as an "unfair stealth tax". However, the coalition has insisted that the hikes are necessary to fund ongoing investment in UK rail infrastructure.
How can you avoid rail rip-offs?
So with dramatic fare rises seemingly unavoidable, it's important to take whatever action you can to cut the cost of train travel. Here are our top tips to help you do just that.
1. Book in advance. If you can, book 12 weeks before the day of travel - this is when the tickets are released, and is the optimum time for grabbing a bargain. It may be difficult most of the time, but it's a must for holidays and travel around the festive season, when trains are busier and more expensive.
If you can be flexible with your dates then this could help you avoid peak times and weekends, which both bump up costs. If you are travelling at short notice or have not had a chance to book in advance it may not be too late. It's possible to get discounts online on the day of travel, and generally just about any option is cheaper than simply buying at the station on the day you travel.
2. Research prices. National Rail Enquiries is a good starting point to check schedules and prices first. But take a look at the site of the train operator you'll be using too, as they often have special offers. Most let you sign up for emails so you know when certain tickets go on sale, and you'll also be informed when promotional tickets go on sale for as little as £1.
3. Avoid charges. Before you book online, find out whether you will be liable for any fees. TheTrainLine and RailEasy sites both make booking charges and add on credit card fees. You might want to use them for research but buy elsewhere.
4. Invest in a railcard. If you are eligible, railcards can be a very wise investment that pays itself several times over. There are several different types, such as for 'Friends and Family', '16-25' and 'senior' travellers.
5. Split your tickets. It may seem like a lot of fuss and an unlikely way to save money but for certain trips, it can be as much as half the cost to buy different tickets for different parts of one journey. All you have to do is take the same journey with two tickets instead of one - and you don't have to break your journey at the middle station. For example, for a return trip to Edinburgh, it may be cheaper to buy a single ticket to York and then from York to Edinburgh, rather than a return for the whole journey.
Splitting works because different rail companies charge for different parts of the same journey. It's perfectly legal to split tickets providing the train you take stops at all the places you have bought tickets for and does not just pass through them. Once you know your route and date of travel, you can research options on the National Rail site. There is also an independent consumer site - SplitYourTicket.co.uk - which does the work for you.
6. Buy two singles. We are always led to believe that a return ticket saves us money but on some routes, at some times, two singles may be cheaper. Again, check National Rail and other sites before you travel.
7. Don't assume a season ticket is cheapest. With many overland stations now signing up to Oyster Card or similar schemes, you may save money by 'touching in and out' and topping up as you go. Hull Trains, National Express and Virgin all sell carnets - books of single tickets - which are a more flexible option for some travellers.
What's more, don't assume that you have to purchase a 12 month season ticket. If for whatever reason you know you won't be travelling in to work for a period at some point in the year, you can request a shorter season ticket.
8. Travel in packs. If you're travelling in a group, offers like Groupsave can help you cut costs. The size of the discount will likely depend on the amount of people you're travelling with, but it's certainly worth investigating.
9. Get compensated. If you get let down by a delay or cancellation then consider getting some money back. If your train is delayed by more than 30 minutes you may be due for a partial refund so keep your ticket and pick up a reclaim form from the station.
Bear in mind that train companies are only obliged to pay compensation for a delay if it is due to circumstances that are 'within their control'. Examples of things outside their control include acts of terrorism, severe weather conditions and line closures at the request of the emergency services (such as a lineside fire that makes it potentially unsafe to operate services).
If a delay is deemed to be out of a train company's control passengers are not automatically entitled to compensation. However, many train companies will now offer a goodwill gesture if you have been significantly delayed so it is always worth asking for compensation.
If you are travelling on the underground and your train is delayed by 15 minutes or longer then you can make a compensation request via the TFL website.
Got any other top tips for cheaper rail travel that we've missed? Why not share them with other readers
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Having been a 'commuter' working in London in the 70's, let me assure you, nothing has changed in respect of who bears the brunt of fare increases. Those that do not use the trains will tell you, if you use them, you pay for them. I do not have a car, but the moans and groans over petrol increases from people who drive round the corner to get a paper, baffles me.
This year, 2011, I have made 7 journeys, 4 to London, 2 to Cardiff and one to the Midlands, and by booking early, as I do with my 60+ Railcard, the total cost has come to just about £200.00 - I live in the North West.
Sadly, the major 'cash cow' in this country is the tax payer, always has been, and always will be. Just think of the massive expenditure being given for that 2 week event in London next year, which the mass majority of British people are unable to afford to go to, but they pay their taxes?
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I DON'T EXPECT YOU TO READ THIS AND ALTHOUGH YOU HAVE OUR EMAIL YOU WILL JUST IGNORE EVERYONE.
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