Is a Railcard worth it in the UK?

Last Updated on 1 November 2022 by Dan

Hello everyone! I’ve just purchased a shiny new Network Railcard and am fresh from doing the sums to see if it’s worth it – so that’s inspired today’s article to look at the wider range of what’s available in a UK Railcard.

UK Railcards come in a number of shapes and sizes depending on what you’re eligible for an each come with their own restrictions, so I’ll try and decode what might be best for you.

Is a UK Railcard worth it in general?

For the majority of people who are taking more than 2 or 3 journeys a year at a weekend or off-peak time the answer is very likely to be yes.

Most of the cards we’ll be discussing offer at least a third-off fares at those times. With the price of tickets being what they are, covering the cost of the railcard (£30 a year) is really not difficult.

The groups a railcard won’t suit are those who never use the train, or would only use it strictly during the peak morning commute on a Monday-Friday before 10am. Unless you’re in some very specific criteria, the timing restrictions on these railcards are likely to limit the savings and if you’re making the trip on a regular basis, exploring getting a season ticket is likely to be a better option for you.

Is a UK Railcard worth it if you live in London?

I think just about every Londoner should pick up a UK railcard, even if they never get on a train outside the city. The reason for this is that there’s a not-especially-well publicised trick that allows you to have your railcard linked to a physical Oyster card.

If you do this, it’ll save you a third on all off-peak tube journeys, which really adds up when zooming around the capital.

I wrote about how to use trick in one of my very first articles on this site in my list of tips and tricks on saving money on tube and train fares.

A season ticket holder in the South? You already have a UK railcard.

Again not well known, but if you have any kind of rail season ticket which include an “Annual Gold Card” as proof of purchase (this includes an Annual Oyster ticket) then this automatically acts as the equivalent of a Network Railcard, so there is no benefit purchasing another railcard!

Better yet, if you’re travelling with up to three adults they can also benefit from your 1/3 off.

Unfortunately, this perk is limited to mainly southern locations – you can find a map on the annual gold card page at Network Rail’s website.

Lots of railway tracks for using your UK Railcard

Save on a UK Railcard by buying it for multiple years

In the case of nearly all the above UK Railcards, you can purchase them at a cheaper price when buying it for 3 years rather than 1.

The discount is usually pretty significant (in most cases this applies you pay £70 for the 3 year UK railcard, rather than 3 lots of £30, which equates to around a 23% discount) so unless you see any significant lifestyle changes that might cause the most appropriate card to change, it’s something worth considering.

What type of UK Railcard offers the best value?

It generally depends on your circumstances, but I’ve tried to structure these in an order where we start most beneficial and work down – as most won’t be eligible for the top UK Railcards.

If you’re lucky enough to be eligible there’s one clear winner:

The 16-17 Saver

Offers a discount of 50% which is higher than most railcards with very few restrictions, aside from naturally age – ah to be young again…..

You can find details and buy online at Network Rail here or if you prefer to use The Trainline click the link for their page on digital railcards.

Disabled Person’s Railcard

If you meet the eligibility criteria, the Disabled Person’s Railcard is the next best option – the discount is the standard 1/3rd off, but provide some flexibility to be used at any time of the day which others do not and allows you to apply the same discount to another person travelling with you. Details here.

You can find details and buy online at Network Rail here, or if you prefer to use The Trainline click the link for their page on digital railcards.

16 -25 Railcard

If you don’t have children, next up is the 16-25 Railcard – it offers 1/3rd off most fares however during most of the year there’s a minimum ticket charge of £12 before 9.30 for standard tickets. I mean an early lecture is bad enough….

You can find details and buy online at Network Rail here, or if you prefer to use The Trainline click the link for their page on digital railcards.

Veteran’s Railcard

The Veteran’s Railcard works in a near identical fashion to the 16-25 Railcard above, aside from the eligibility criteria. You will need to provide proof of eligibility which can be provided in a number of forms which are listed on the UK Railcard website.

You can find details and buy online at Network Rail here, or if you prefer to use The Trainline click the link for their page on digital railcards.

25-30 Railcard

If you’re older, the 25-30 Railcard is near identical, with the only difference some minor exclusions in the terms and conditions compared to the above card (except if you live or are travelling in Scotland, in which case I suggest taking a closer look).

You can find details and buy online at Network Rail here, or if you prefer to use The Trainline click the link for their page on digital railcards.

Senior Railcard

If you’re at the other end of the age spectrum and over 60, the Senior Railcard offers a similar benefit, excluding any discounts on travelling during the morning rush.

You can find details and buy online at Network Rail here, or if you prefer to use The Trainline click the link for their page on digital railcards.

From here on – who are you travelling with?

Beyond this, the best UK Railcard for you becomes quite a bit more dependent on who you’re going to be frequently travelling with and where in the country you’re based – my attempt to put anything in a value order here completely falls apart because it’s so personal.

As a result these aren’t in any particular order, but I’d suggest that if you’re in the covered area the Network Railcard should be your first look.

Network Railcard

If you’re living in the South, South East, certain parts of the South West or around London then the Network Railcard is likely to be the best option for you, as it provides 1/3 off off-peak fares (please note you can buy an off-peak ticket in advance, but it does not apply to advance tickets which may be cheaper).

However on a Monday-Friday, it’s a little restricted by having a minimum ticket price of £13, and as a result is best suited to those who are likely to use this for taking longer journeys or travelling at the weekend. It’s also important to check that you’re within the Network railcard eligibility area, which you can do at the website here.

The upside of the Network railcard is that it also allows you to apply the benefits to up to three other adults travelling with you, meaning friends and relatives can benefit too!

You can find details and buy online at Network Rail here, or if you prefer to use The Trainline click the link for their page on digital railcards.

Two Together Railcard

If you nearly-always travel with someone, there’s something to be said for the Two Together Railcard.

This works by giving you a 1/3 discount off-peak only when travelling with a specific person (this person has to be named and is subject to photo ID), so you can’t just flip that person around! You also cannot get the discount when travelling alone – so the circumstances in which you’ll make a saving here are much more specific, and need thinking about more carefully

You can find details and buy online at Network Rail here, or if you prefer to use The Trainline click the link for their page on digital railcards.

Family and Friends Railcard

The Family and Friends Railcard is a good option for those with young families, especially those outside London and the South East area as the restrictions on use during the morning peak don’t apply.

This railcard allows a 1/3 discount for adults and a whopping 60% discount for any children travelling with you.

It’s not especially clear from the railcard website, but you’re eligible to use this railcard any time you have at least one of the two named adults on the card travelling within at least one child in the 5-15 bucket.

You can find details and buy online at Network Rail here, or if you prefer to use The Trainline click the link for their page on digital railcards.

A picture of travelling with my UK Railcard at Paddington Station

Can I use a UK Railcard for First Class travel?

Most railcards do not apply to First Class fares, but the Senior Railcard and the Disabled Persons Railcard do actually offer a third off all First Class travel, and the 16-25 railcard allows discounted first class travel on advance First Class fares.

You can also see our guide to the various First Class services each train company provides, and our thoughts on if First Class is worth it on UK trains right here.

Can I use a UK Railcard on my Phone?

Yes, with any of the above UK railcards you can get a digital railcard which you can show on your phone. Remember you’ll need to keep your phone charged as not being able to show it will not be accepted!

When purchasing your railcard just select that you would like a Digital railcard (you’ll also need to upload a passport style photo of yourself for this).

Once done you’ll need the UK National Railcard app on your phone (the below picture shows this). Once done, open the app and click the plus – you can enter the code from buying your railcard there.

A picture of the UK Railcard App

Any questions?

We think Railcards are great, but the UK Railcard website is not always the best at clearly identifying key differences between the different programs and what they can do for you.

So if you have any questions, or have experiences with UK Railcards both good and bad just let us know in the comments below!

And that’s it!

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5 comments

  • I’ve recently bought a Network Railcard as it says here ‘as it provides 1/3 off off-peak fares including advance travel’. Unfortunately, I haven’t found that to be the case. For example, from Portsmouth to Waterloo: if I had bought a ticket online yesterday, it would have cost approx £15, today it costs £24 with the NR discount. I tried to use my NRcard yesterday to buy the Advance Ticket but it wouldn’t accept the card and therefore I couldn’t get the further discount I thought I would get. As I buy tickets the day before, I’m not sure what benefit my Railcard offers. I feel I’ve been duped and spent £30 for nothing. Should have read the T&Cs more carefully! If anyone knows to the contrary, please let me know.

    • Debra, thank you for reaching out. I’m absolutely mortified at this – the wording on the site was supposed to show you could buy an discounted off-peak ticket in advance, rather than an advance ticket (which a Network railcard does not apply to as you have discovered). Unfortunately the original phrasing was a poor choice on my part that I can see now had potential to cause confusion, and I can completely understand how you came to you conclusion you did.

      I have changed this immediately to make it clearer. I will also reach out to you in regard to making this right, and thank you for reading the Wilderness.

  • Thanks for clarifying this for us Dan, really appreciate your feedback and for reaching out to me and making it right. Keep up the great work here!

  • The article doesn’t really answer the titles question, Is a railcard worth it ? It’s merely an article that details the vast number of cards available and how much they cost and the % saved on tickets. In order to establish if purchasing one is ‘worth it’ then the author suggests you do your own sums! A bit pointless really. Don’t waste your time reading this. Do your own sums!

    • I’m sorry you didn’t like the article, but I disagree with this view.

      We highlight set a circumstances at the top that indicate signs where a railcard should be worth it for most, but the way the railcard system works mean that a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would depend significantly on factors like railcard eligibility for your specific and how long your journey is.

      So we’ve tried to aid this calculation by putting them into an order of what cards provide the greatest benefit to help assist that calculation, and improve on information found elsewhere with a consolidated view of the benefits and savings of each to help draw that conclusion based on your circumstances.

      The result helps people make that determination – most will know of the top of their head how much eligible travel they do and recognise if the individual railcards are worth it to them or not.

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