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Get Home for Christmas: Cheaper Train Fares

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Even if the entire country manages to avoid a flood, getting home this Christmas is going to be difficult. It always is; what we need is some sort of sled on skies that's pulled by a magical flying mammal with antlers... sadly, there's a rotund gentleman in Lapland with a patent on that.

For most of us, we'll end up on an overcrowded, overheated train, sitting in the aisle on top of our suitcase, praying the refreshments trolley has a flat tyre.

So it isn't going to be fun - that much is a dead cert - but there's no reason you need to spend all your Christmas budget on travelling. There are ways to get home cheaply.

Book now
It's already quite late and ticket prices are taking off like they dream of working at NASA so book immediately before they skyrocket once more. Don't put it off; as it gets closer to your departure date, the prices go up by a couple of quid every night.

Better yet, pick a date and sort out your return journey to uni or you'll pay over the odds twice. Besides, the New Year invariably greets us all with a hangover and a price hike: early January is not the time to be paying more than you need to be.

If you want to avoid all this palaver for journeys in the future, make the most of that underused organisational streak you've been hiding and book up well in advance. Usually, the earlier you book up, the more money stays in your wallet.

You're looking at a maximum of 12 weeks before you travel , which is when Network Rail are legally obliged to announce their timetables. Because tickets don't always go on sale exactly 12 weeks in advance (it's not a science) it's well worth making a bookmark out of this National Rail calendar which fills you in on the earliest you can book up for a journey.

...or the night before
If you've forgotten all about booking and are travelling soon, don't think 'Holy baubles batman, I've missed my chance.' You haven't. You can always pick up an 'advance' ticket at the last minute; most companies offer them up to 6pm the night before you travel and some even later than that. It might only be a couple of quid you save but hey, use it for a much needed coffee on the way home.

Split the fare
One curious way of getting from to A to B without splashing out is to split the fare and buy tickets for separate parts of the journey. No, it shouldn't work but it does, it's just one of those beautiful little mysteries of the world.

It works like so: find out the route your journey takes (a quick google does wonders) and jot down what stations the train stops at. Spend ten minutes and rather than pay for a return ticket, price it by singles. Then think about getting more than one single for the journey - so if you're going Sheffield to Reading, try buying a 'Sheffield to Banbury' ticket and then a 'Banbury to Reading' ticket for the same service.

Try it now; we booked up for this evening and saved the best part of £6. For an off peak fair, this can look more like £30 and if you book up those crucial 12 weeks in advance, you could save £100s over a walk-on fare. We've found this great little site which should help out.

Look out for deals
Around Christmas time, there's usually a few deals running around because the ticket sellers are jostling to get your custom. Red Spotted Hanky have just teamed up with Student Money Saver to give away 30,000 £10 ticket vouchers on a first come, first served basis so students can save a little extra on their fare -or even get a ticket free. These sort of deals tend to be short lived (this one is ends tonight) and a fairly rare so if you see one, jump on it.

Pick up a railcard
A young person's railcard is £28. But it'll save you 1/3 on all your train journeys, so you'll almost certainly make your money back within a couple of hours. Just be sure to always carry your railcard with you as ticket inspectors tend not to understand if you've forgotten yours - and they will charge a penalty.

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