A guide to UK railcards and getting cheap train tickets

A guide to UK railcards and getting cheap train tickets

Many of us will remember our first railcard - the sense of independence, freedom, and savings associated with that little paper card with the dodgy photo of our 16 year-old selves.

All railcards are designed to make rail travel more accessible financially. However, the variety of railcards offered in the UK can be confusing. Indeed, it’s possible that the perfect railcard for you is out there but you don’t know about it. As part of our mission to help you find great value train fares, here is a list of UK railcards, all of which you can use at the point of purchase on our website and app to get some impressive discounts.

To better understand UK railcards there are a few details of each card which are good to know about. Firstly, all of them can be purchased on National Rail’s website or at a staffed UK railway station. If you’re getting the railcard at the station, then you need to bring a passport photo and valid form of ID. Forms are available at the station and the staff can make the card for you on the spot. If you live outside of the UK, you are not eligible to buy railcards online. However, you can do so via a registered travel agent or at a UK train station. This means if you’re coming to the UK to study in the summer, for example, you would be able to buy a railcard.

It should be noted that, in the UK, railcards are valid on all journeys, both at peak and off-peak times. However, at peak times you can only use railcards when the cost of the ticket is over £12. This doesn't apply to the Disabled Person’s Railcard. This essentially means a railcard is almost always worth using, except for a short journey at peak times. Just try it out for yourself on a long trip, such as from Edinburgh to London and you will see that, in many cases, the railcard almost pays for itself on one trip. As savings can easily hit the £30 mark with one-third coming off the price of the tickets.

Types of UK railcard 

  • If you have a disability, you may qualify for a Disabled Persons Railcard. This entitles the passenger to one-third off rail fares. The same discount also applies to one friend or family member travelling with the Railcard holder. The Disabled Railcard costs £20 a year or a three-year card is £54.
  • The Two Together Railcard costs £30 per year, which is perfect if you always travel with the same person. With this card, two travellers are named on the same card and you must always travel together to get one-third off the normal ticket price.

  • The Family and Friends Railcard entitles four adults and four children under 16 to gain discounts from the same card. It costs £30 for one year or £70 for three years, and gives one-third off the total fare. Note that children aged 5-15 years old can always travel in the UK on a child’s ticket, saving 60% on all journeys. When the young people named on the card turn sixteen they can no longer travel with the Friends and Family Railcard discount. However, they can then apply for a 16-25 railcard. It is also worth remembering, however, that once one of the young people in your family or group turns eighteen, he/she can be the designated adult on a Friends and Family Railcard, if travelling with younger children.

  • For young people, aged 16-25, the 16-25 Railcard is a three-year railcard available to buy online for £70 for three years or for £30 a year. It also offers one-third off rail fares and, according to National Rail, an average traveller saves up to £200 per year.
  • The UK government has now extended this in the form of a new card for those aged 26-30 year olds. This new railcard launched fully on 2 January 2019. Like most UK railcards, it costs £30 a year and provides a discount of one-third off normal fares.  
  • A more recent addition is the 16-17 Railcard, enables teens travelling more independently to school or college to gain good discounts, where they may have travelled on a Family and Friends one in the past.
  • The Senior Railcard, for those over 60 years old, entitles travellers to exactly the same discount as the Young Person’s Railcard.

  • The Network Railcard is for those travelling in London and the south-east of England and who are aged 16 or over. The card costs £30 per year. Examples of journeys in the south-east where you can gain great discounts with this card include London to Margate, London to Eastbourne and Windsor to Oxford.  See this useful map of all areas covered by the Network Railcard. All train operators in the south-east accept the card and you can use it when you buy your tickets with us.

Always remember to carry your railcard with you when travelling, as the ticket inspector will usually ask you to show it. For more information see our help articles on senior cards, youth cards and accessible train travel in Europe.

Photo credits top to bottom: Young family in train ©dimarik, Texting at the train station Pointing ©Martin Dimitrov, On Train Arrival On Phone iStock ©Kosamtu, Waiting for a train iStock ©gilaxia 

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