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‘Confusing’ train fares cause passengers to pay too much

Difficult to choose cheapest tickets online

Book in advance for the best train fares

Book in advance for the best train fares

Passengers are paying too much for their train tickets online due to the complex, jargon-heavy fares system, says a rail watchdog.

Consumers have a ‘misplaced sense of confidence’ about which train tickets they are buying, according to a report released today by Passenger Focus. They are used to making straightforward purchases elsewhere on the internet, so expect to be able to do the same for trains – however, the complex fares system makes this difficult and causes consumers to buy tickets which are more expensive than is necessary.

Common mistakes made by passengers were that they misunderstood the term ‘open return’; they did not remember to check if two singles were cheaper than a return or vice-versa; or they had no knowledge of alternative, potentially-cheaper routes.

The Which? guide to cheap train tickets shows you how to avoid these obstacles and get the best deal.

Overpaying for train tickets

The news follows research Passenger Focus carried out last year into ticket vending machines at stations. Again, passengers found it difficult to get the best-value ticket from a machine, often forcing them to go to the ticket office instead.

Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: ‘Companies that use websites to sell train tickets must do more to make sure passengers do not overpay. It is too easy to pay over the odds simply through lack of familiarity with the fares system and its bewildering jargon. 

‘Making sure that passengers are not overcharged when they buy online may help improve passengers’ perception of fares and value for money on Britain’s railways. As more and more tickets are sold online it is vital this is got right.’

Which? recently launched a new tool to help passengers claim compensation for train delays. To see what you’re entitled to, just tell us who you travelled with and how long you were delayed for.

How the system could be improved

Passenger Focus makes several recommendations for how online ticket buying could be improved, including:

  • ensure greater clarity about which tickets are for one train only, and which can be used on whichever train you wish
  • ensure time of day restrictions associated with a ticket can be checked easily
  • ensure that the ‘permitted routes’ that can be used between A and B can be checked easily
  • tackle jargon that is confusing to passengers
  • implement a range of functionality improvements that will make it easier for passengers to buy tickets online.

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