Many people don't understand train ticketsRail ticket websites add to confusion

20 September 2011

fast train UK

Few people understand what their train tickets entitle them to – and train websites aren’t helping.

Which? surveyed rail passengers to find out how much they understand about the three main train ticket types - Advance, Off-Peak and Anytime tickets. 

Just 1% correctly identified all the various elements of any of these tickets.

A worrying 61% didn’t know that Advance tickets are not refundable, with 48% not knowing they commit you to a specific train.

Only 49% knew the more flexible Off-peak tickets allow travel on any train outside peak times and just 18% knew they were refundable.

These findings were despite 76% of people saying they were confident they knew how to find out about ticket restrictions.


Which? has previously highlighted a number of failings in the selling of tickets and the provision of information by rail companies.

Rail watchdog Passenger Focus is now calling for the differences between ticket types to be made much clearer when buying online. 

It wants websites to explain the difference between ticket types making it clear that Off-peak tickets don't tie you to a specific train whereas Advance tickets do.

Passenger Focus also wants to see sites plainly describe what a 'flexible' or 'open' ticket means as their flexibility can mean they offer better value than the cheapest tickets.

train tickets

Which train website?

Buying online is the most popular sales channel for train tickets, accounting for four in ten purchases. 

But which website should you buy from? 

Train companies’ own websites sell tickets without any extra fees. 

A few, such as East Coast, give discounts on Advance tickets on their routes.

However, third party websites such as The do charge fees – for booking or using credit or debit cards. 

The only such site we looked at that doesn’t charge fees is Red Spotted Hanky. Most of the other third party websites charge fees, either for debit or credit cards, booking or both.

With a fares review forthcoming and the recent governmental McNulty report recommending the complexity of the ticket system be addressed, Which? hopes this situation will improve.

Or join the Which? Conversation on how clued up you are about buying train tickets online.

To get the best value ticket for your money, read our free cheap train ticket guide.