Buying rail tickets online

25 August 2011

As the number of rail passengers swells, more and more of us are buying tickets online. For most passengers this is a positive experience – time to consider choices, lots of info and no pressure from those behind you in the ticket queue.  We recently finished our first bit of research into buying tickets online. A mix of the experienced and inexperienced were interviewed in depth and presented with a range of sites and questions.

The result? Lots of good practice, lots of great examples of good clear information and lots of improvements. No one site stood out as ‘best’ – personal preferences seem to dictate which site passengers prefer to use. However, we picked out lots of things where things could be improved. Ultimately it is quite difficult to totally simplify a system where two singles can be cheaper than a return, but not always. Book ahead for the best deals? Yes, usually, but quotas are sometimes released late. First class can be cheaper than standard. Also the bewildering jargon and lack of information we found with ticket vending machines is also present – ‘…any route permitted’, but finding out what they are is difficult. ‘Not via HS1’ – what is HS1? ‘London terminals’ – what are they?

We will work with the industry to keep hacking away at this jargon and our report will form part of our input to the Government’s forthcoming fares review. In the meantime, I usually buy from the website of the train company I’m travelling with.  Some give discounts on their own tickets and there are no credit card fees.

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