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Book now to beat the Christmas and New Year rail chaos

Hoping to visit family and friends over Christmas and New Year? It pays to book your train tickets now

Rail users hoping to visit family and friends over Christmas and New Year are being warned to book now to avoid disappointment. 

Ten days of engineering works are planned for key mainline routes over the holiday season – causing hundreds of cancellations and delays at a time when ten million journeys are expected to be made. It means fewer trains will be running and cheaper ‘advance’ tickets will be in greater demand. 

Planning ahead: Advance tickets are released in batches up to 12 weeks ahead of travel

Ray King, editor of train campaigning group Railfuture, says: ‘Now is the time to act if you want to see loved ones over Christmas. Hopefully, you can still get a good deal by booking promptly. Start by checking the website National Rail and putting in the specific details of when you hope to travel. Engineering works should show up.’ 

Booking early is vital to get the best price. The same seat can cost as little as a tenth of the full price if you are able to purchase an ‘advance’ deal before the day of travel. In the smoke-and-mirror world of ticket pricing, it is fiendishly hard to track down the cheapest seats. Advance tickets are released in batches up to 12 weeks ahead of travel – meaning the same travel ticket bought today could cost twice the price in a week’s time. 

Rail users should also compare prices from National Rail with ticketing websites such as Trainline to see if they can offer a better deal. But be wary of booking fees. 

There is also ‘split-ticketing’ where you can buy different tickets for specific legs of the same journey which work out cheaper overall. Websites such as TrainSplit specialise in this – as does Trainline. 

King adds: ‘Rail-goers also have nothing to lose by talking in advance to someone at the ticket office who might be able to provide travel suggestions that can save them money.’ 

Railcards, typically costing £30 a year, can knock a third off the price of an off-peak ticket. Options available include cards for those aged 16 to 25, 60 and over, and for two named people.