Saving money on travel
Getting to and from university can be expensive. To help you bag a bargain we've put together some top tips for saving on travel.
Trains are probably the quickest way to travel around the country, with direct links between UK cities and several smaller towns in between. Unfortunately, finding low-cost train tickets can also be time-consuming.
Book as early as possible
Train tickets can usually be booked at least ten weeks before the date of travel. Advanced tickets are only available online but are also inflexible. The ticket will usually only be eligible for use for a specific train and time.
If you feel like you can’t make such a commitment so far in advance, you can book advanced tickets up to and including the day before your journey, but the discount will decrease the closer you get to your travel date.
Get a railcard
The 18-25 railcard is available for all 18-25 year olds and mature students in full time education. While the initial outlay is £30 a year, or £70 for three years, it can save you up to a third on fares.
If you frequently travel by rail with a specific person the Two Together railcard also costs £30 and saves you a third on journeys taken together, and is not age-restricted.
For students in London, railcards can also be linked to your Oyster card to help save money on your city journeys.
Some student bank accounts include a free railcard, so it's always worth doing your research on this too.
Booking tickets for off-peak times can be a real money-saver. Most train companies have off-peak and super off-peak options. All journeys outside of rush hour are generally cheaper, and most weekends and bank holidays are also classed as off-peak travel. Super off-peak times can vary, depending on the route or company, but generally, you’ll get the cheapest fares between 10am and 3.30pm and after 7.15pm.
Split your tickets without changing
Buying individual tickets for the constituent parts of your journey can work out much cheaper than a single ticket for the entire trip and you don’t even have to change trains.
If you're travelling from point A to point C (via point B), it may be cheaper to buy two separate tickets: one from point A to point B, and one from point B to point C. As long as your train actually stops at point B, your two tickets are perfectly allowed within National Rail rules.
Raileasy has a handy split ticketing search tool to save you the effort of calculating the cheapest route.
Buy two singles instead of a return
Another curious feature of the rail fare system is that buying two single tickets for a journey can sometimes be cheaper than buying a return. Try entering into the system before you go straight for the return ticket option.
Use discount websites
Sites such as Trainline, Raileasy and Megatrain all either offer cheap tickets themselves or have a search function to help you calculate the cheapest route.
Although it’s not usually as fast as travelling by train, bus and coach tickets are far cheaper and can be a great money-saving alternative.
Young Persons Coachcard
The Young Persons Coachcard offers a third off National Express coach fares for those aged 16-26. The card costs £12.50 a year or £30 for three years – a one year card could pay for itself after just one trip.
As with train tickets, coach fares are also cheaper if you're prepared to go at a less desirable time. In many ways, this is almost a blessing with coach travel, as travelling outside of peak hours should hopefully help you to avoid the rush hour traffic.
Megabus famously offer coach travel from as little as £1, and although this offer doesn't extend to all routes, it's certainly not to be sniffed at. At different times in the year, Megabus even offer free seats (with a 50p booking fee) across different routes. However, the number of these is limited and they can be snapped up very quickly.
Cycling is increasingly popular in the UK and cities with considerable student populations such as Oxford, Cambridge, York and Norwich are full of cyclists. Bikes are one of the best, cheapest ways for students to get around.
As well as helping you save time and money bikes are environmentally-friendly and an excellent way of staying fit. If you live a mile away from university and cycle there and back every weekday, you’ll do ten miles of exercise without any CO2 emissions.
Cycling is also a fantastic way to explore your surroundings which may not be easily accessible by bus, train or walking.
Bikes are cheap to buy
A basic bike can cost as little as just £20 if bought second hand. Remember that you get what you pay for and if the offer seems too good to be true it could be stolen.
A new bike could cost you anywhere between £200 and £400. A new, good quality bike may only cost slightly more than a zone 1–4 monthly travelcard in London and a top-of-the-range bike will still be cheaper than buying a car, motorbike or scooter.
The added extras are cheap
The cost of a bike is cheaper than most other modes of transport, and the added extras are also affordable.
- Safety helmets cost £15-30
- Lights can cost as little as £5
- Maintenance costs fairly cheap– provided you look after it – and pumps cost between £10-20
Bike locks will vary more in price. Generally, you should spend 10% of the cost of your bike on a bike lock. The better the bike lock, the less likely you are to end up spending money replacing a stolen bike.
As a backup for your lock it’s worth getting insurance – which cold cost as little as just over £10 for a whole year if you shop around to find the best deal – and invest in an ImmobiTag Electronic Cycle Protection (£15), to help find your bike if it does get stolen.
Cycling will save you money
Using public transport may not feel expensive but with regular use, the costs can begin to stack up.
If you were to use the bus to go to and from university every week you could spend anywhere from £10–20 a week. That’s £80 a month, not including other journeys you make.
If you drive, parking in city and town centres can be very expensive – cycling in and around your university town or city could save you hundreds of pounds on parking fares.
Cycling will save you time
Bikes can be a quicker way to get around than cars, motorbikes or public transport.
With a bike you can take the most direct route, you have to worry about timetables, and you can avoid traffic by using bike lanes.
You can earn extra money
Owning a bike opens up new avenues for part-time work. Many food delivery and courier companies like to employ students who own a bike.
In addition, having a bike increases the number of workplaces for you, as you won’t have to limit yourself to somewhere convenient to get to by foot or public transport.
Although bus and train travel remove the stress of having to drive yourself, if you own a car it might make sense to get your money's worth from it. However, you should be aware that most London universities do not recommend this due to the lack and cost of parking, as well as congestion charges.
Avoid busy hours
As with most means of transport you’ll save money if you avoid travelling during peak times. If the motorway is busy, your fuel efficiency will be much worse, and you'll have to buy more petrol sooner.
Car share with a friend
It may be unlikely you have a friend at university who lives in the same town or village as you, but there's a chance you'll know somebody who lives somewhere you pass on your journey. If this is the case, then it might be worth sharing a car when driving to and from your university town. Having an extra person on board means you can split the fuel cost, and it also gives you some company during what could be a dull few hours.
Car share with others
There are a number of car-sharing websites that can help you to find people who are looking to do a similar journey to you. Websites such as National Carshare and Student Carshare allow you to contact other people and organise journeys, with the latter holding links with many universities and colleges around the UK.
When car sharing with strangers, it's always important to bear in mind your personal safety. National Carshare and Student Carshare both have sensible suggestions to help ensure that everything goes smoothly, such as showing your IDs and giving family members/friends details of the journey beforehand.
If you don't own a car, but you can drive, then maybe a car club is the option for you. If you're at a campus university or live near it, there's a good chance that the only time you will need a car is when you drive back home.
Car clubs offer you the chance to rent a car at an hourly rate. As insurance is often included in these rates, car clubs provide a very cost-effective way to travel around the country by car.
If you ride a motorbike or scooter, it's worth considering using one during your time at university as they can save you money.
There are cheap models available
If you need a new bike or scooter there are plenty of good quality, cheap options. The Bike Market lists a brand new 125cc bike, ideal for learners and beginners, for £1,800. 125cc scooters are similarly priced. They now also have a handy bike chooser tool so help you narrow your search.
In 2019, the road tax for a bike or scooter with an engine of 150cc or less was £20 a year. Even for a bike with an engine of 600cc or higher the tax was only £91. Compared to the road tax for a car, this a bargain.
Fuel costs can be lower for motorbikes and scooters, depending on which bike you buy and which car you are comparing it to, but motorbikes and scooters are often cheaper to run than cars as motorbikes and scooters tend to achieve more miles per gallon.
You can earn extra money
An added perk of owning a motorbike or scooter is the opportunity for getting a part-time job. Major cities are full of companies needing people to deliver their products and services. These companies often allow for flexible working hours – which is ideal for students.
Learning to ride and maintenance costs
If you can’t ride a motorbike or scooter but want to learn, there are some initial costs to consider.
- Lessons cost around £20–30 depending on which training school you use
- Provisional licenses cost at least £34, but you won’t need one if you already have a full car license
- Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) costs on average £120
- DSA tests have three parts to it and will cost just over £100 for all three
- MOTs for a motorbike cost a maximum of £29.65, cheaper than the £54.85 maximum for a car
Maintenance in general can cost more as it is more common to need work done on your bike. Some of this can be avoided by going for a scooter where the engine and drive are more self-contained.
Safety gear such as a helmet, protective gloves, trousers, jacket and boots can cost a few hundred pounds. Remember to wear ‘All the Gear All the Time’ (ATGATT). Most safety gear is designed to look normal when you get to your destination as well. The armour in the jacket/trousers is often removable and many are designed to look just like normal jeans or leather jackets.
As well as keeping yourself safe on the bike, you need to keep your bike safe from would-be thieves. Carry a cover to hide your bike when it’s parked and, if your budget stretches far enough, make sure you have a decent chain and a disc lock.
It's worth taking these precautions, as the average thief won’t bother looking under a cover and will be put off if the lock looks hard to break.