Christmas: Train travellers face steep prices and tough competition for seats over festive period

Engineering works, among other factors, have increased demand for train tickets. Credit: PA

Train passengers have been scrambling to get affordable tickets ahead of a festive period where seats are much more limited than usual.

Competition for seats is tough due to engineering works, social distancing rules and a brief window (December 23 -27) in which coronavirus travel rules will be relaxed.

Furthermore, advance tickets become more expensive as they sell out, so those currently without tickets face missing out on cheap prices.

"In many cases, prices are likely to rise rapidly and tickets may be hard to secure," Steve Nowottny, news and investigations editor at, said.“The usual rule with Christmas trains is to snap up cheap advance fares as soon as they’re released. But while that still applies, advance fares are generally being released later this year than the usual 10-12 weeks ahead." 

LNER's advance tickets have gone on sale on Friday. Credit: PA

Ahead of releasing its tickets for the festive period on Friday, London North Eastern Railway (LNER) warned that travellers may need to book "as early as possible".

The operator, which runs trains on the East Coast Main Line between London King’s Cross and Scotland, expects its Christmas Eve services to quickly sell out.

Capacity onboard trains is “substantially reduced” to enable social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic. People without pre-booked tickets are not allowed to travel.

Avanti West Coast, which operates trains on the West Coast Main Line, is releasing its advance fares from December 1.

These cheaper tickets are usually available 12 weeks in advance, but their release has been delayed during the pandemic due to short-notice timetable changes.

How to find affordable train tickets

  • Book early - As soon as you know when you can travel, look into booking an advance ticket. These tickets become more expensive as they sell out so it's worth buying then once you have a plan. The trainline's ticket alert service notifies you when cheap advance tickets are available, while National Rail's future travel chart shows the furthest advance date that you can buy tickets.

  • Split tickets - for longer train journeys, you can save money by splitting your tickets into multiple legs. As long as the train stops at every station where you split tickets, you don't have to get off the train. Trainline's SplitSave app or bespoke split ticketing websites can help you find a relatively cheap combinations.

  • Buy a railcard - If you travel by train regularly, a railcard can get you a third off of selected train fares. Only certain groups are eligible for a rail card, such as those aged 16-30, travellers over 60-year-old, veterans and people with disabilities.

  • Check single prices - Check if buying two singles is cheaper than buying a return, as this can sometimes be the case

This year, seats are much more limited than usual. Credit: PA

Avanti West Coast has urged people to "book ahead and make a seat reservation" as to help manage social distancing on trains, the operater as "significantly reduced the seating capacity."

Engineering works have also increased demand for tickets.

London King’s Cross station will be closed for six days from Christmas Day as part of the £1.2 billion upgrade of the East Coast Main Line.

An LNER spokesman said: “We understand the disruption this engineering work may cause to Christmas plans this year, so we are urging our customers to plan and book their travel as early as possible.”

There will also be reduced services from busy stations like London Waterloo, London Liverpool and Bristol Temple over the festive period.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has asked the public to consider whether they need to travel by train at all over the Christmas period.

On Tuesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said people should consider not travelling by train at Christmas.

He told BBC Breakfast: “We have got to understand there are limitations to the (rail) network caused by, for example, things like the need on some trains to pre-book tickets at this time, in order to prevent overcrowding.

“So we are going to be appealing to people to look very carefully at the transport route they take and of course even making a choice about whether they travel at all.”

Steve Nowottny echoes this sentiment, she said: "Do weigh up too whether you definitely need to travel, and if a train is the best option for you, as tickets are likely to be in fierce demand.”