If you regularly catch trains, such as to and from work or to a college or university, then a Railcard could save you more than £100 over the course of a year.
The Railcard is effectively a pass which entitles the holder to reduced train fares. You can use a Railcard to get a discount on pre-booked train fares and fares at the station.
However, it cannot get you a discount on weekly or monthly tickets or season tickets. The Railcard discount applies only to singles and returns.
You can use a Railcard at any time of the day to save money on train fares. However, for all journeys that are made between 4.30am and 10am Monday to Friday a minimum fare of £12 applies. So you have to spend at least £12 on a train ticket (single or return) for the Railcard to get you a discount between 4.30am and 10am Monday to Friday. There is no minimum fare for off-peak tickets or at weekends or during July and August.
It’s also important to consider that not all train operators offer a Railcard discount – although most of them do. You can view which train companies give Railcard discounts here. Operators who offer a Railcard discount include Virgin Trains, TransPennine Express, Southeastern, Great Western, Thameslink and Scotrail.
How much money could I save?
Research conducted by National Rail – the company who issue Railcards – states that the average annual saving for 16-25 Railcard users is £187.36. However, there are a few different types of Railcard to choose from which we will go into in greater detail below.
Choosing a Railcard
There are 5 Railcards available currently issued by National Rail, which are:
Two Together Railcard;
Family & Friends Railcard;
Disabled Persons Railcard.
Each of these cards is valid for select train operators across the United Kingdom including in Scotland and Wales. Here’s what you need to know about them:
This Railcard costs £30 per year and holders are eligible for 1/3 off Standard Anytime, Off-Peak, Standard Advanced and First Class Advanced fares. To be eligible, you must be aged 16-25 and or over 25 and in full time education. This is the most popular Railcard on offer.
The average annual saving with this card is £187.36.
Top tip – Students can bag a 16-25 Railcard for even less. Holders of a National Union of Students (NUS) Extra card can get a full 12 per cent off a 16-25 Railcard bringing the total cost down to £26.40 – click here to find out more about this NUS-exclusive offer.
Two Together Railcard
This Railcard costs £30 per year and it is a single card for two people travelling together. It offers the same 1/3 discount on the tickets described above, but makes life easier for a couple. To be eligible, both persons have to be aged 16 or over.
The average annual saving with this card is £151.49.
Family & Friends Railcard
This Railcard costs £30 per year and it is a single card for up to four adults and up to four children. A 3-year card is also available for £70. To travel on this card and get a discount, children must be aged 5-15 and be accompanied by at least one adult.
The average annual saving with this card is £131.87.
This Railcard costs £30 per year and it is a single card for those aged 60 or over. There is also a 3-year card available for £70. To be eligible for this card, you must be aged 60 or over. You can be retired or in employment and still be eligible for this card.
The average annual saving with this card is £121.50.
Disabled Persons Railcard
This Railcard costs £20 per year and it offers 1/3 off Standard Anytime, Off-Peak, Standard Advanced and First Class Advanced fares. To be eligible for this card, you must be in receipt of PIP, DLA or other another disability payment and have a disability.
The full list of eligibility criteria can be found here.
The average annual saving with this card is £121.79.
Special Offers and Perks
The Railcard doesn’t just get you a discount on train fares – it also qualifies you for partner discounts. Holders of any of the above Railcards automatically qualify for National Rail partner offers covering days out, lifestyle, theatre and travel.
The special offers and perks offered differ by the type of Railcard you have. So for example, the Disabled Persons Railcard qualifies the holder for rail travel assistance and a Southeastern Priority Seating Card, while the Two Together Railcard qualifies the holders for Virgin Experience Days. There are a variety of special offers for theatre tickets and money off shopping, with one current offer being 15 per cent off London Fashion Weekend entry.
The offers that Railcard holders get access to are, overall, very good. You can get 20 or 30 per cent off when you shop online with several retail outlets and there are a range of experience day vendors to choose from where you can save up to 20 per cent. Combined with a cashback service, you can easily get 40 per cent off at some top online retail stores.
Railcards – The Bottom Line
The Railcard is definitely value for money if you catch trains regularly – however you should keep in mind that it won’t get you a discount on season tickets.
Full time students and those who are in full time employment are obvious candidates for a Railcard. In fact, most Railcard holders are students. Disabled persons will also really benefit from a Railcard because holding one will get them a priority seat on Southeastern trains.
If you only catch a train once or twice a year, then a Railcard isn’t going to be a good long-term investment because you won’t claw back the money you spend on the Railcard. So we recommend the Railcard to frequent users of trains only.