Advance tickets, otherwise known as advance fares, are single one-way train tickets that offer excellent value for money but must be booked in advance. Advance tickets usually go on sale up to 12 weeks ahead of travel, but they are also sold in limited numbers. 

Generally speaking, advance tickets are often offered for long journeys only. Popular advance tickets include Liverpool to London and Manchester to Edinburgh. It is rare to find advance tickets for short journeys, although some do pop up from time to time. 

The main benefits to buying advance tickets are that you will save money and you will get a seat, which is not always guaranteed with busy trains. If you are travelling a fair distance, then this is an obvious benefit. It is also possible to buy advance tickets in first class at a cost rivalling a standard class ticket on the day, however this is not always the case. 

To help you buy the right ticket, here is our guide to advance tickets and advance fares:

Buying advance tickets and fares

Advance tickets are offered by virtually all train operators in the United Kingdom. You can discover and buy advance tickets online through most operator’s websites, however some operators require that you ring them. You cannot buy advance tickets at a train station and they are not available on the day of travel. They always have to be booked in advance. 

Sometimes, advance tickets may also become available closer to departure. This happens when a booking is cancelled. Usually, the number of tickets available due to this is low and so the train operator may contact a ticket holder and enquire as to their suitability for a newer ticket. As such, it may be worth registering with the train operator for ticket updates.

The best time to buy advance tickets, from a cost perspective, is as early as possible. Tickets purchased 12-8 weeks in advance will usually be cheaper than those purchased later. You can save even more money by mixing and matching advance tickets for a return journey. It is possible to save 75 per cent on a two-way journey by buying two advance tickets. 

What will happen on the day of travel?

When on-board the train, you can take your seat as usual. The ticket inspector will make his or her rounds and review your ticket as normal. Providing everything is in order, they will stamp and pass this back to you or they will keep the ticket if that is the operator’s policy. 

Why are advance tickets so cheap? 

Advance tickets typically cost 10-40 per cent less than standard train tickets. The reason they are offered at a lesser price is to ensure that trains meet a minimum booking threshold. That is why they are also limited in number. Once the train operator sells an advance fare allocation, they will remove the offer and resume standard train ticket sales.

Can I get advanced fares even cheaper?

Yes, there are several ways to do this. Child discounts apply for all advance fares with most train operators and National Railcard holders get a 1/3 discount off Standard Class Advance fares. A 1/3 off Standard Class Advance fares is also offered to 16-25, Senior, HM Forces and Disabled Persons National Railcard holders. Click here to find out more about the Railcard.

Another way to get advance tickets for cheaper is with a cashback service. For example, Quidco offer new customers 3 per cent cashback on purchases with Trainline including any advance ticket purchases. You can also earn 2 per cent cashback with Virgin Trains with Quidco and 4.5 per cent cashback for advance tickets with TransPennine Express trains. 

What are the disadvantages to advance tickets and fares?

The biggest disadvantage is that they are non-refundable. This is an important point to keep in mind if you may have to make changes to your plans. However, it may be possible to make a change to your journey for a small fee plus any difference in the fare payable. And so, it is advisable that you find out the terms of your ticket before you but it. Another disadvantage to advance tickets is that changes to the advance ticket are not possible when on-board the train. So, the train operator and route must remain the same. 

What happens if my train is cancelled or delayed?

Holders of advance tickets will be compensated or special arrangements will be made to put them on another train if their train is cancelled or delayed by more than 60 minutes. If the train is cancelled by the train operator, then a refund should be allowed. Alternatively, you may buy a new ticket and use this as part-exchange for the older ticket, although different operators have different policies with regards to this so we recommend checking with them.

Are advance tickets always limited?

Most advance tickets and fares are, but not all of them. For example, Virgin Trains lets you book tickets 12 weeks in advance irrespective of whether they are called ‘advance tickets’ or ‘advance fares’. You can also save money by ordering tickets just a week before you travel, although the discount will be lesser than if you booked an advance ticket 12-8 weeks ago. 

Are advance tickets worth it?

Providing you definitely need to catch a train in the near future, buying an advance ticket is a sound investment. You will get a 10-40 per cent discount by buying advanced on each ticket you purchase so the potential cost savings here are plentiful.

The caveat to bear in mind is that advanced tickets are non-refundable. So if you do change your travel plans, you won’t get your money back. Lastly, we will say that advanced tickets get snapped up quickly so if you see one don’t ponder for too long. We also recommend you sign up for ticket updates with your favourite train operators to get in on ticket deals early.