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Rail ticket 'rip-off': passengers routinely denied cheapest fares

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Rail passengers are routinely being denied the cheapest fares when they buy tickets at stations, The Telegraph can disclose.


Self-service machines — which are used to purchase almost a quarter of all tickets sold annually — offer wildly different fares, an investigation by this newspaper shows.


Customers buying from a machine can pay more than £200 when a ticket for the same destination can be found elsewhere at the station for more than £100 cheaper.


For example, at machines run by train company Northern Rail in Leeds, passengers buying a First-Class Anytime Return to Birmingham were charged £271.


Only feet away, an East Coast trains machine offered the same journey using a First-Class Off-peak Return for £145.70. This type of ticket is not available for customers using Northern Rail’s machines, which means that some passengers might not be aware that they could save £125.30 by travelling off-peak.


The Telegraph investigation examined rail fares across the country and found that customers were being offered different prices for the same journey depending on which operator’s machine they used.




The best way to ensure you don't get ripped off is to buy your ticket at the ticket office.


Ticket office clerks are required by law to offer the cheapest tickets, regardless of which company they work for.

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The best way to ensure you don't get ripped off is to buy your ticket at the ticket office.


Ticket office clerks are required by law to offer the cheapest tickets, regardless of which company they work for.


This is not correct.


"Impartial retailing" does not always apply. Train Operators can create "dedicated" ticket offices which only offer a limited range of products. For example, London Midland have a ticket office at London Euston, but ONLY sells LONDON MIDLAND ONLY tickets, and will not sell or advertise Virgin Trains/London Overground products etc.


Certain other tickets, particularly 'Advance' can have restrictions as to when they are sold. Normally in the former Network SouthEast area, ticket offices do not have to sell any product that requires a reservation prior to 10am, as this causes excessive queues.


And finally:


There is no "law" that mandates this. Compliance with the ATOC Ticketing & Settlement Agreement (TSA), (which covers impartial retailing) is normally mandatory in franchise agreements. If an operator breaches a franchise obligation then the DfT may take action against the TOC, but there is no actual law which requires the cheapest ticket to be sold.

Some operators like Grand Central are not subject to franchising and if they don't comply with the TSA then not much anybody can do.


The government introduced privatisation, and this is a perfect example of it working in practice. Different companies selling different products, with the customer free to choose which company/machine they purchase it from. Customer has the ability to shop around for the best price!

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firstclass is absolutely right, there is no 'law' that obligates TOCs in the way that the OP suggests.


It is a case of travellers taking the time to check to see what the best deal is for them, just as it is to ensure that ticket they do buy is valid for the journey at the time and place that they intend travel and it may be that if they ask for assistance at the booking office then a better fare might be available, but it is not always the case for the reasons shown.

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Best way to buy tickets is online! I always get a good deal and you can either print them off at the station or get them sent to you, I have never paid postage either and they are usually here in a couple of days

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It really pays to spend a little bit of time online checking the best possible ticket prices, in particular 'split ticketing'. This is where you buy more than one ticket for the journey, using a point on the route where the train actually stops and booking a second ticket from there rather than one for the entire journey.


For example. I live in Doncaster and want to go to Derby using off-peak trains. The normal off-peak return fare is £23.00 if I book a through ticket. But, if I book an off-peak return from Doncaster to Sheffield it's £6.20 then an off-peak return from Sheffield to Derby is £11.10, a total of £18.30 saving £4.70 = 20% cheaper.


Another quick example. Doncaster to Leicester. Normally £36.30 off-peak return. Again split at Sheffield so the same £6.20 off-peak return for the first part then Sheffield to Leicester is £26.20 off-peak return, total £32.50, saving £3.90 (10.7%)


I can use the same trains at the same times and, if I book online, I can collect all the tickets in one go before I depart from a machine at the station, or have them posted to me if I buy them in time to do that.


I have to say that when asked, booking office staff often do offer the cheapest option but NOT and split ticketing fares as I've found to my cost. I now check all intended trips carefully and will amend my journey to suit if I can find a better deal.


Booking ahead also pays off. A recent trip to London with my wife could have cost £171.00 off-peak return for both of us. By booking in advance we got singles, going down by East Coast and returning on Grand Central for a total of £26.10, yes, for both of us. A little over 15% of the original cost !


There are little extras to be had for having online accounts too. One operator I use gives reward points which can add up to a free trip or other goodies, eventually :-) Another operator gives me Nectar points.


I don't work for any of the operators, just passing on personal experience.

Be good to those who give you advice that helps - click the star to give them your thanks by way of a reputation credit.


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