How to avoid TheTrainLine fees is a website that allows UK rail passengers to buy their tickets online. It has just introduced booking fees, meaning that a ticket booked with TheTrainLine now costs more than buying the same ticket at the station. Fortunately, there are alternatives.

The slippery slope to booking fees started some years ago, when TheTrainLine introduced a charge for paying by credit card. This then increasaed from £1 to £1.50, £2, and is now an extortionate £2.50. The fee could be avoided by paying by debit card. The newest fees are £1 for having the tickets posted to you, or 50p if you choose to collect them from a “FastTicket” machine at a railway station. These latest fees can not be avoided, as you have to obtain the tickets somehow.

So what is the alternative? It is important to remember that it’s possible to buy any rail ticket from any outlet. You don’t have to buy the ticket from the station your journey starts from or from the same train operator, and you can also buy cheap, advance tickets in person. TheTrainLine’s claim that they can save customers £63.28 on an Edinburgh to London journey, for example, is quite misleading as they are comparing an advance purchase ticket with one bought on the day of travel. The cheaper ticket could be bought at your local station, assuming it was convenient to go there.

Of course, it’s not always convenient to go to the station to buy tickets. Even if it’s nearby, there may be long queues, or it might not be manned at the right times. The customer can also never be sure the person in the ticket office has explored all the ticket options to find the cheapest, which can be quite time consuming. Fortunately, most of the train operating companies operate their own ticketing websites. For example, I use the website of my local operator, First Great Western. Once again, remember that it’s possible to buy any ticket from any outlet. Just because you are using a particular train operator’s website doesn’t mean the journey has to involve travel on that operator’s trains.

TheTrainLine and First Great Western rail ticket sites

Most of the operators’ websites are actually provided by none other than TheTrainLine. Anyone used to the latter would feel quite at home. The layout and interface are practically identical, it’s just the colours and branding that are different. It even appears as TheTrainLine on your credit card statement! However, unlike TheTrainLine’s own site, the train operators’ own sites don’t levy the extortionate additional charges and booking fees. At the time of writing, if you book a ticket with First Great Western, it is free to have the ticket delivered or to collect it from a FastTicket machine, and there is no credit card fee either! Therefore, it’s possible to save up to £3.50 just by using a site with different branding. In addition, TheTrainLine insists on selecting insurance for the journey by default, which the customer must remember to deselect. First Great Western leave the insurance option unselected so that the customer need only check the boxes if insurance is required.

According to Wikipedia, TheTrainLine accounts for 20% of all train tickets by value. It also runs the websites of 16 out of 20 of the train operating companies, most of which don’t charge additional fees. So next time you book a train ticket, please try the site of one of the train operators. You’ll save yourself some money, and hopefully reduce the market share of, whose position as the largest retailer of tickets has clearly made it complacent, to the extent that it believes it can rip off its customers without them going elsewhere for their tickets.

65 responses to “How to avoid TheTrainLine fees”

Showing comments 21 to 40

  1. Andrew Quarrie


    I’d like to second the praise for National Express East Coast. I wanted to pay using my Solo card, which TrainLine do not accept. Even though I was going from Tiverton in Devon to Elstree in Hertfordshire, I was able to book this journey via the NEEC website, pay using Solo, and pay no fees for booking or collection of the tickets etc. Fab all round. Spread the word people, if TrainLine start losing business they will be forced to reappraise their fees.

  2. Mike

    Great comments on here and it looks to me like The Trainline’s rip-off dominance is at last disappearing. Just found a new service on Southern ( which seems to use the same technology as National Express.

    No fees and no hassle from The Trainline, and the system is far, far easier to use.

    I know where I’ll be buying my tickets from in future.

  3. Karen

    I purchased a return ticket London-Aberdeen with trainline and booked an off-peak ticket leaving at 4pm. Not being familiar with the UK train system, I was not aware of the “off-peak” part and that 4pm falls within it. I was forced by the ticket collector to pay an additional £96. Now why then was I allowed to make such a booking online I will never understand. I had also booked a berth sleeper on my way back but when I arrived at the train learned that in fact, since I had not made a “reservation” I had not.

    The trainline website is apallingly misleading and misinforming and I cannot understand why it still exists!

  4. Peter Short

    Well my problem with the lies in the fact that I get charged TWICE for tickets. Some nice person at this shocking company TAKES MY DETAILS and tries to manually input the data into their system again, despite the booking going through A-OK on the website in the first place.

    The most recent debacle has just incured me £70.00 of bank charges!!! Am not going to hold my breath to see if I get them paid back!!! 🙁

  5. Ken Grindley

    Sounds like I am not alone, I booked a first class ticket with trainline and the failed to send the tickets, I accepted the £10 penalty for refund and bought a new ticket at the station.

    To date I have had 15 phone calls, 400 minutes plus on hold, spoke to 10 normal staff, 3 supervisors and 2 managers (although job titles do seem to be interchangeable) and 4 months later I still do not have a refund, below is a list of standard responses they have next to the phone:
    * Its takes 24 hours for an email to reach you
    * The refund department can only be accessed by email (they are in the UK like me but you cannot speak to them)
    * Refund is being processed it will take X amount of days to reach you (X = anywhere from 48 hours to 14 days)
    * We will ring you back to save phone charge, promised 5 times to date I have not had a single call from trainline.
    * Everybody works in a different building so you can never speak to anybody you have spoke to previously

    Please feel free to add to add to the list of automatic responses.

    Previous phone call 10 minutes ago on hold for another 25 minutes and guess what, I will have an email in 24 hours and a refund in 3 days.

    Having tried everything myself I am now elevating this matter to my company legal team, lets hope they have better luck.

  6. Jonathan

    Have you tried writing by post? Try general customer services, by special delivery if necessary:

    PO BOX 1111
    EH11 3AF

    Forget the refund department, as it seems they only consider refunds to be for when you decide not to travel, not for when you’re claiming your money back because of their mistake.

  7. Eileen Slatter

    after watching a advert to order tickets from trainline to save money on the adverts, I decided to get in touch with these people as my daughter and I wanted to visit BOURNEMOUTH and return the same day, I spent ages at the computor getting the information wasnt given the price after ages was given two option 1. to go back wich obviousley didnt want to do that as I had already gone back numerous times to get the information and it was not coming up so I pressed the phone option thinking the information was going to be given on the mobile but alas no was given a code wich was then put in the info box with a charge of 25pence and the only info I was then given was what time the train was going the next day wich I already knew, nothing about the price so i then rang them after a pointless run through the methods again on the computor as if I hadnt a clue what to do, the lady i spoke to on the phone informed me that the price was exactly the amount I would of paid by walking into the station tomorrow, when I complained of the total waste of time not forgetting the 25pence for a useless text Maria Gregory at informs me i should have booked a month in advance but the advert on telivision does not give that information neither did the information on site and strangly enough it wasnt possible for me to write to them she just give me this e-mail address that does not give you access to write to them anyway so I expect weighing it all up it is all a total waste of time and effort just another con to rope people in and collect there money, the last words that she spoke was “would you like me to book these tickets for you anyway”I replied “no thats okay I will get them in the morning at the train staion”. thankyou.

  8. Nina

    I booked tickets with them, and enetered a new delivery address as they had a few of my old ones and purchased. on my confirmation email they had an old address. SO i rang straight away, nothing they could do couldnt change my adress and i would only get a refund if my tickets were returned! a disgrace!

  9. Martin



    Quite simply, they are a disgrace to customer service and the rail industry
    Charging booking fee’s collection fee’s and credit card fee’s can not and WILL NOT be tolerated.

  10. mat

    checkout some nice tips.

  11. Joanna

    My company has just spent in excess of £2,000 on rail tickets for a conference through the On checking these tickets I found the seat reservation numbers did not tally with the email confirmation, some tickets had the wrong dates, and some seat reservations were missing. ALL THE FAULT OF THE TRAINLINE!!!! I have telephoned them twice. The first time I gave all the details to a very nice man (off-shore) who promised me he would send me an email with details of how to get tickets changed and receive the missing seat reservations – no email. I called again and spoke to a lady (off-shore) who had not heard of the man I spoke to earlier, and on hearing I had 38 journeys on one reference number decided to leave me on hold listening to music for over 30 minutes. Needless to say I hung up. I have traced various Directors on the internet and they will be receiving a daming letter from me regarding their company’s service. I very much doubt that my company will be using their services again. I only hope they have not achieved Investors in People or some other accolade as everything about is consistently bad.

  12. alan shellard

    I booked tickets on TLine website paid by Visa Debit. 5 days later I tried to collect them from Westbury Stn but it would not accept my card and would not issue tickets. Went home and discovered that the bank had sent new cards for that account 2 days before and my wife had cut up the old cards (as you should). Phoned T Line (India) they didn’t want to know but said you will need to get more tickets.” But that means I will be paying twice ” but he told me if I showed them I was paying twice they would refund the unissued ticket cost. So again I booked on line and used a new debit card then went to the station and got the tickets. Then asked for a refund as told too but they don’t want to know and will not pay out as the T&C say no card , no tickets, so no refund. Crooks!

  13. Jonathan

    I had often wondered what would happen if a card was cancelled: whether the ticket machine just reads the stripe on the card or if it needs to validate it with the bank’s database. The same thing could happen when collecting concert tickets ordered online by credit card (although the box office staff would probably be more helpful).

    I’ve just read the T&Cs, and it says, “You must have your ticket collection reference, and (unless stated otherwise) the credit/debit card used to make the purchase as identification.” It also says, “f you are unable to collect your tickets (for example due to the ticket machine(s) being out of service) then you should contact the station staff for further assistance. If there are no staff at the station, you should board your booked train, and make yourself known to the on-train staff at the earliest possible opportunity.”

    As I see it, you had the card used to buy the tickets just as required. It doesn’t say the card still needs to be valid at time of collection. The card is being used for identification, not to make a payment.

    I suggest you write to customer services, explaining what happened, and providing printouts of receipts and any unused tickets. The address is above. As I said before, don’t bother with the refunds department, go straight to customer services.

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  15. Chris

    Never use – this is a common piece of advice, but there is a problem with it.
    They run the online ticket booking for many train operators, so while the advice to avoid their own website is correct insofar as avoiding their extortianate fees goes, all well and good. But if you book online using an operator website, then need customer service, you’re stuffed. They are not just a joke, they are borderline criminal IMHO.
    I booked tickets to travel on Virgin, and subsequently tried to claim a refund. I won’t go into details, but I’ve ow resorted to asking for a charge-back to my credit card from my bank, as it seems to be the only way of getting my money back.
    They lie, mislead and buy-for-time. And that’s assuming you can understand what some of their representatives are saying …
    And calling Virgin in the UK is no better. Their “Customer Service” number goes straight to engaged everytime I’ve tried calling it 🙁

    Annoyed of Hoylake

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  17. Chris

    For anyone looking to book a ticket and avoid ‘The Dreaded Thieving Trainline’, I’ve compiled a list of the TOC’s that do and don’t use TheTrainline here …


  18. marcus

    looks as if thetrainline is doing some kind of employment scam too . They have been advertizing the same job for a year on . In this economic climate they would have plenty of applicants , including me , several times . No feed back though .

  19. Rob

    Work this one out then. I bought two return tickets from The totalling £184. When I collected the tickets from the machine on the day I was charged another £52 by SouthWest Trains!
    According to my bank – who I made a claim with as I was (and still am) sure this extra charge can’t be right – everything is in order.
    I’ll be queuing up at the ticket office next time.

  20. Jonathan

    @Rob, that sounds very odd, and seems more likely to be a fault with the ticket machine than TheTrainline in this instance. What did you get out of the machine? Presumably your tickets and a collection receipt, which usually both have the price on them. Is this £52 mentioned? What is it supposedly for? If it was a credit card, your bank should refund it. Otherwise, try writing to South West Trains and ask them what this charge was for (ask for the record under the Data Protection Act if necessary). They may just say it was a mistake and refund you.

    If you press the “collection” button on a ticket machine, the owner of the machine should never charge you anything. Your card should only be charged when you first make the transaction, with the merchant being TheTrainline, or whatever ticket agent you used.

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