Now is the time to save cash on Christmas train travel with these tips
**It’s Christmas trains time, Thomas Cook ATOL forms and time to ditch cash?, free £125 to switch to Lloyds and free eye tests in October. These are our Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis’ Tips of the Week.**
Remember, tips can change quickly, even while I’m on the programme. So always double-check the terms and conditions before spending. Plus, while I hope these tips will save you cash, don’t spend if you can’t afford it, don’t need it, or won’t use it.
Now's the perfect time to start booking Christmas trains
If you're train-ing home for Christmas and New Year, now's the time to start looking for tickets.
Rail firms usually confirm timetables and start selling advance tickets around 10 - 12 weeks before the travel date. Yet, oversimplifying somewhat, there are only a limited number for each journey. So if you want to book the super cheap advance fares, the earlier you do it within that time the better, as it means you can ensure availability.
So this is a heads-up to be ready to start checking your trains if you know when you’ll travel. Some firms including CrossCountry, Hull Trains and TransPennine Express are already selling fares up to 27 December, others are due to launch them soon.
For example, this week we found London-Birmingham tickets for 22-27 December for £24 return, vs £85 on the day.
If your train hasn’t released its Christmas seats yet, you can get a free email alert when it does via the Trainline's ticket alert system (though book elsewhere to avoid fees). Plus the National Rail also has a future travel chart, showing the furthest date in the future you can buy advance tickets for each train firm.
Thomas Cook, ATOL, and time to ditch cash?If you had an ATOL-protected Thomas Cook booking, the Civil Aviation Authority launched its online claims system for ATOL refunds on its website on Monday. It says it’ll aim to pay refunds within 60 days of receiving a claims form (though those who paid by direct debit should be paid automatically by 14 October). Only the lead passenger can claim, and you’ll need details of your Thomas Cook booking such as your booking reference number.
But if your booking wasn’t covered by ATOL or ABTA, whether you’ll get any money back depends on how you paid – while credit and debit card payers have some protection, those who paid by cash, cheque or BACS are unlikely to get refunds.
So I thought it a salient time to give a reminder that while it can be convenient for budgeting and impulse control (and needs protection for vulnerable people who rely on it), most should now use plastic for all significant purchases, as you get valuable extra protection.
With credit, debit and most charge or prepaid cards you get chargeback protection, which is part of Mastercard, Visa and Amex’s rules and means you should get your money back from your card provider if you don’t get what you paid for.
But I prefer credit cards as you get powerful legal protections under the Consumer Credit Act, meaning the card firm’s JOINTLY liable with the retailer for purchases between £100-£30,000. Plus, while with chargeback you’ll only be refunded the amount you paid for on the card, with Section 75 you get the entire cost back, even if you only paid a penny on your credit card.
And when used right (ie paid off IN FULL each month so you never pay interest) credit cards can even PAY you to spend – though don’t use it as an excuse to spend extra, and stick to debit cards if you don’t trust yourself.
- 5% cashback on spending with American Express. The Platinum Everyday card pays 5% on all spending in the first 3 months (max £100), then up to 1% (22.9% rep APR if you don’t fully repay). You’ll need to spend £3,000+/yr on it to get any cashback.
- Free £25 at M&S for buying a banana. New cardholders get 2,000 bonus M&S points worth £20 if you spend anything on its credit card in the first 90 days – plus there’s a 500 bonus point voucher for M&S spending, so buy a banana in M&S and you’ve made £25 (19.9% rep APR if you don’t fully repay).
- 0.5% cashback plus overseas spending with Tandem. As well as paying cashback on all spending, the Cashback card is a specialist overseas card – so spend abroad and there are no fees, plus you’ll get a near-perfect exchange rate (18.9% rep APR if you don’t fully repay). It’s beatable for cashback and spending abroad individually, but it wins as a one-card spending solution.
New £125 switching bribe from Lloyds and six free cinema tickets: The new offer pays £125 to new customers who switch to the Club Lloyds account by 5 November. Plus you can choose one of three ‘free’ annual benefits – six Vue or Cineworld cinema tickets for 2D screenings at 80+ locations, a subscription for one of 27 magazines including Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health, or Gourmet Society membership.
The Club Lloyds account also pays in-credit interest of 1% AER var on balances of £1-£3,999, and 2% AER var on amounts between £4,000-£5,000 (though these rates can be beaten by other current accounts).
To get the bonus, you’ll need to switch your account including two direct debits. There’s a £3/mth fee but you can avoid this by paying in £1,500+/mth.
Remember though that this offer can be beaten by other bank switching bribes. See Martin’s Best Bank Accounts guide for full details of all the options but in brief…
The top offer in pure cash terms is from HSBC, paying £175, while RBS and NatWest each pay £150. Meanwhile, if service is key for you, First Direct has a £50 switcher offer as well as top customer service.
Free eye tests at Boots, Specsavers & Vision Express in October: You can get vouchers online for free eye tests (norm up to £25) at participating Boots and Specsavers stores until 31 October, and at Vision Express when you book an appointment by 29 Oct for an eye test on or before 30 Nov. You’re under no obligation to buy glasses from them afterwards. Remember though some can already get free eye tests through the NHS (for eg if you’re over 60, under 16 or under 19 and in full-time education, have diabetes or live in Scotland) or through employers’ schemes.