Did you know a Railcard can be bought and downloaded immediately?

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

I had to book some Gatwick Express tickets last night and realised it made sense to get a new Friends & Family Railcard.  We would recover the cost in one trip and would then have it for the next 12 months for, effectively, free.

If you are planning to take your kids on a train trip during half term, it is worth noting that Friends & Family Railcards can now be bought and downloaded instantly as can most other Railcards.

This was a lifesaver last night, as I could download the Railcard and then immediately book my Gatwick Express tickets for use today.

During the purchase process on the Friends & Family Railcard website you have the option of selecting a Plastic or Digital railcard.  If you choose Digital, you are emailed a code after purchase which you type into the Railcard app on your phone.  The Railcard can be added to two phones if necessary.

Railcards now available for immediate digital download

This allows you to buy a Railcard and buy discounted tickets immediately without having to wait five days for a Plastic card to arrive.

As a reminder, a Friends & Family Railcard gets you 33% off Standard Anytime, Off-Peak and Advance adult fares and 60% off for kids’ fares.  Restrictions apply on times of travel and which trains are included.

First Class travel is not included.  Gatwick Express, Stansted Express and Heathrow Express services ARE included.

The Friends & Family Railcard website here has more details.

How to access some Lufthansa airport lounges with an American Express Platinum card
Save up to £70 on Virgin Atlantic Premium flights

Click here to join the 15,000 people on our email list and receive the latest Avios, miles and points news by 6am.

Amazon ad
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.


  1. Phillip Ash says:

    Also worth remembering there is a “two together” railcard which also gives a 33% discount for two specific people travelling together. That card CAN be used for first class travel.

  2. Two things. Firstly, you can use Tesco vouchers at 3x face value to pay for the card. Secondly, the app is tied to your phone, but it can be transferred. I nearly got caught out after changing phones, opening the app and finding no card. This was followed by a frantic searching of old emails with sporadic 3G/WiFi and a very patient conductor.

    • Lady London says:

      Worth downloading or screenshotting any ticket or pass if it’s in an app and holding it as a PDF etc in phone if you could be in train in low/no coverage areas.

  3. Richard M says:

    I wouldn’t bother with the Gatwick Express. The regular Southern service is over £5 cheaper and takes just 3 minutes longer

    • Would normally agree but with luggage and the ability to sneak in via the back entrance makes it worth it.

  4. “I could download the Railcard and then immediately book my Gatwick Express tickets for use today.”

    This, and similar wording later in the article may lead some people to believe we need to have a railcard before booking tickets with a railcard discount. Just to clarify for anybody who doesn’t know, you can buy tickets with railcard discounts any time; you just need to have got the railcard before travelling. This works to the advantage of infrequent travellers who may want to book Advance tickets 12 weeks before travel but don’t actually need the railcard until their travel date. This is possible online and at ticket machines. I don’t know if staff at ticket counters will sell a discounted ticket without the railcard being presented.

    • Good point.

    • Yorkieflyer says:

      Counter staff generally insist on seeing railcard on ticket purchase I’m my experience but obviously no problem on line or from machines as you say

    • Lady London says:

      No ticket counters will always insist on seeing the card. They ignore comments that you could just as well have purchased the the same ticket on Trainline etc and gone through the gate with it without showing the card.

      Gatwick has only recently allowed tickets on phones (no paper) to go through the entry/exit gates. That finally gets rid of the security risk of having to haul the credit card you paid with out of your pocket to put into the machine to collect a prepaid ticket. Also avoids the sleazy touchscreens on those machines which must have bugs from all over the world on them

  5. Thanks for reminding me about rail cards! Got a weekend in London booked in May so it may be worth investing in one.

    • When is the best time to buy rail tickets? I don’t use public transport much (only because it’s rubbish up here), prices showing expensive 3 months out and less so 2 months out, is that usual?

      • Cheapest 3 months in advance on day they are released for your journey. At least that was the long established ‘rule’. However, I don’t know what rail companies are playing at these days. Some look to me like they are releasing 12 weeks in advance on weekly cycle as opposed to 12 weeks to the date. Also notice some releasing tickets 3 months in advance at full fares and only adding the advance fare later (this might be what you are seeing). LNER supposed to sell weekdays to London 6 months in advance according to their own website but they don’t. Scotrail I cannot figure out either. You just have to keep watching for tickets on your travel dates become available. If they don’t look like cheap advance fares they will likely be loaded a few days to a week later. Companies let you sign up to alerts notifying you when cheap fares are released. With LNER I have learned not to rely on those either. By the time I receive the email the cheapest fares on early morning trains are usually gone.

        • Thanks BJ. Apparently there is an issue currently with some northern services and some ticket prices aren’t being released until 6 weeks before travel date. First class prices are around the £100 mark 6-8 weeks out, but nearer £300 later than that!

        • RussellH says:

          Problem for the TOCs – particularly at weekends – is that they cannot release advance tickets for days when they have still not been told by Network Rail whether or not they will be able to actually run trains.

          Engineering works are planned well in advance, and the exact days it finally happens are supposed to be notified in time to give TOCs 12 weeks notice. But in practice, it does not always happen.

      • Not sure which line you are looking for but when I use LNER I set 2 ticket alerts, one for the outbound journey and one for the inbound. Sometimes a weekday may be listed much earlier than the weekend and it almost always cheaper to book 2 singles.

        • LNER is three months out for advance tickets but with exceptions when timetables are not confirmed (usually weekends with engineering works).

          LNER’s ticket alerts page has good, clear info on when Advance tickets are being released and you can sign up for alerts, through they can be a bit slow.

          Two Together railcard definitely works on First Class but not before 0930 on weekdays, you need to be spending approx £100 a year for it to pay for itself – ours washes its face many times over and we probably only do three or four weekends by train a year plus some local journeys.

          • On checking my travel dates there is so much rail disruption over the weekend in question it’s looking like a better option would be actually to fly! Euston to either Preston or Manchester is going to take nearly 5 hours (if all the trains are on time) and involve 3 changes.

          • Lady London says:

            If I really need to snag a cheap fare I usually set an alert for a given number of days ahead then watch manually daily. As BJ mentioned waiting for an email alert may not come through soon enough.

  6. Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    Holders of an Annual Gold Card season ticket (including Travelcards) can also buy a Railcard for themselves or someone else for just £10. Can’t be done online though.

  7. Am I missing something with Gatwick Express? There are other trains run by Thameslink and Southern that appear to only take 3-5 minutes longer and are usually much cheaper! I’m not sure but I’m sure that railcard would work on them too.

    • Railcards do work on the other services.

      When Gatwick Express first started in 1984 there was an advantage of large luggage racks (I think the other services still had single entrance doors?) and not-so-packed trains because they ran only VIC-LGW and back again.
      GWE trains also seemed to get priority in case of track closures causing delays.
      When the governement allowed GWE to carry on to Brighton (in “competition” with other Govia-owned services) the advantage of avoiding overcrowding disappeared.
      At some stage the luggage racks got smaller, although it is still somewhat easier with a suitcase on GWE.
      Does anybody know whether there is still differential treatment in case of track closures?

      (But per subsequent post, for three years from May the Southern option won’t exist from Victoria)

    • There is a secret back entrance onto the GEx platforms (and only get GEx platforms) with lift and escalator from the car park behind the station. Cab can drop you at the top of the escalator and you are on the train in 30 seconds. Job done.

  8. Lots of upgrade work starting at Gatwick from May for 2 years! Gatwick Express reduced service plus no through trains from Brighton to Victoria. However off peak tickets will be valid on GX trains. See https://www.gatwickexpress.com/travel-information/plan-your-journey/gatwick-station-upgrade

    • Yup. Hence the GX is going to be absolutely packed (half the normal number of services per hour, which will also have to absorb all the off-peak Southern Victoria to Brighton passengers) during the 2 years of works at Gatwick train station.

  9. Although the plastic card is quoted as 5 days in the article, it my experience delivery is usually extremely fast-2 days is typical.

    • Last summer when I renewed my network card around lunchtime midweek the new card arrived the next day.

  10. Key perk I don’t think you mentioned – you can download the railcard onto 2 phones for your partner, or friend I guess…

    But always double check it’s loaded before you travel. The card gets ‘kicked out’ from time to time and not always just when you change phone. Infrequent 25-30% discount codes exist occasionally as do free 1 month cards, often with newspapers.

  11. My wife and I have always got individual network railcards.. Its there any reason that we shouldn’t be getting the friends and family card?
    Note it is extremely unlikely we ever be traveling separately on trains at the same time, which is they only downside I could think of.

    • Friends and family is if you’re travelling with kids.

      You and your wife could use the two together, which has the advantage of working right across the country, not just in the South East. The two together card also seems to have a lower minimum fare. Also it seems to be valid from 930 whereas the network card is 10am. Note however you both have to travel at the same time.

    • Janeyferr says:

      Do you travel outside the Network South East area?

      The Network card has the benefit of being able to be used for just the holder. The Family card requires at least one child and one adult to be travelling.

      • Network Railcard also works for others, so you can travel with friends as well. But as noted the key advantage is being able to travel independently. The key questions is really how much of your travel is in the Network zone, or alone, vs outside.

Please click here to read our data protection policy before submitting your comment.