How can you get the best train fare deal on Greater Anglia?

Trains at Liverpool Street

Train fares between Suffolk and London are - mile for mile - among the most expensive in the country, but you can find cheaper deals if you shop around. - Credit: Paul Geater

With more people venturing back on to the region's trains - and more wanting to make leisure trips to London or East Anglia's towns and cities - passengers will once again be looking for the best ticket deals.

Greater Anglia is starting to see more people travelling on its trains - but while the Department for Transport is looking at "simplifying" fares, there remains a great deal of confusion about how to get the best deals.

Ipswich - and stations to the north of the town - do have some of the most expensive tickets to London in the country when calculated on a mile-by-mile basis.

That is a hangover from the old British Rail days when it was considered an "InterCity" station rather than Network SouthEast like Manningtree just over the Essex border.

That means there are no "Day Return" tickets available to buy on the day of travel - the official cheapest off-peak return is £45.90. You can save money at the weekends if you buy separate tickets from Ipswich to Manningtree and Manningtree to London.

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But the real savings come if you book in advance - you can then get returns from £20 if you choose less popular trains. The problem is you are then committed to particular services and you don't have the flexibility to come home early if you (or your children) are feeling tired or  later if you decide on a whim to stay longer.

One way to cut the cost of walk-on tickets to London, if you make several trips to the capital over a year, is to buy a railcard for £30 - that offers you a third off all rail fares. And everyone is eligible for one of these.

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The rail industry has its senior railcards (for those over 60) and its young people's railcard for people up to 25. The Trainline offers a railcard that goes up to 30 for those who book with them.

The industry also has family railcards which offer big discounts for those travelling with children (they don't have to be your own!) and Two Together railcards for two named people travelling together (you don't have to be a couple).

There's also the little-known Network Railcard that anyone can buy - this costs the same and offers the same discount but it is only valid in the old BR Network South East area. But that goes as far as Manningtree (or Cambridge for people travelling from West Suffolk) so by splitting your ticket you can make significant savings.

If you're travelling from Ipswich at the weekend you can split the ticket at Manningtree and the Network Railcard will save you £11.90 on the ticket. If you make three weekend trips to London a year it would pay for itself! The savings are even greater if you travel during the week when fares are higher.

The majority of rail fares are not set by individual rail companies - they are fixed by the government through the Department for Transport and the Rail Delivery Group. The only fares that are set by companies like Greater Anglia are the advanced-purchase fares that are much cheaper at the cost of no flexibility.

The government is still talking about taking steps to simplify rail fares - but ministers seem to have been talking about this for decades and there seems little immediate prospect of a major change.

Stadler train at Woodbridge

Rural services offer better mile-for-mile value and now have modern trains like this service leaving Woodbridge. - Credit: Paul Geater

There are fewer options for shopping around on local services - but they tend to offer better "pounds per mile" value in any case. 

And for those who like riding on trains and exploring the region, the Anglia Plus rover tickets give unlimited travel for either one day or three days in seven on Greater Anglia's routes north of Ipswich and Cambridge.

They cost £24.70 or £49.40 and railcard holders (except the Network Railcard) can get a one-third discount on their prices.

Children can travel for £2 with adults who have these tickets - meaning they can be good value for a family day out.

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