How to avoid TheTrainLine fees

TheTrainLine.com 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 TheTrainLine.com, 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.

59 responses to “How to avoid TheTrainLine fees”

Showing comments 41 to 59

  1. Janet

    I am so cross….the train line complicated website asks for a delivery address and a billing adress but won’t let you check it before you pay so I just paid £11 for it to be posted to the wrong address. When I phoned to see if they could change it from their end. They just said “Computer says NO” There is clearly the technology to do this so to me this is extortion.

  2. Ben Stephenson

    I am really unhappy that I paid for tickets through the Train Line and I doubt I will use or recommend this method again. My train was cancelled due to signalling problems and no other transport was provided as a way of getting to our destination (without missing the concert we were going to) that day. We had to find our own way and pay for alternative transport. I then find that even though I had no control over my cancelled journey that I am going to still get a £10 admin charge for my cancelled journey!!! I have also had to pay to send my tickets recorded delivery back to ensure the refund. An appalling service.

  3. Jonathan

    @Ben Stephenson, do you mean you were at the station, discovered the train was cancelled, then the ticket office wouldn’t refund you because you bought online? I’ve been in a similar situation before. It isn’t thetrainline’s fault the train was cancelled, though: if you would have arrived an hour late, you can instead send the ticket to the train operator for a refund under the standard rail compensation scheme. This won’t help you with a refund for the return journey, although I don’t know whether you still travelled home by train.

    I certainly agree that station ticket offices should offer refunds for tickets bought online if you decide not to travel because of disruptions.

  4. Chris Han

    It must be noted that East Coast Trains charge a non-optional £1 insurance for First Class Delivery, which only shows up in the ‘Your card has been debited by £xx.xx’ after you’ve bought your tickets.

    http://tickets.eastcoast.co.uk/ec/en/Information/PostalDelivery.aspx#First+Class+Post

  5. Giannicola Bonora

    Thank you very much for your precious post!
    Last time I booked through trainline the card fee was still 1£ so you saved me to be ripped off nex time!
    I’m very used to find the cheapest flights online, but with trains everything seems more complicated!
    I’ll follow you on Twitter!

  6. Rachael

    GNER ARE RUBBISH THEY HAVE OUTSOURCED TO INDIA AND DO YOU NOTICE HOW THEY DO NOT HAVE A COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE ON THEIR WEBSITE OR AN ADDRESS TO WRITE TO THEY ARE THE WORST COMPANY ON PRINCIPLE I WOULD RATHER FLY THAN USE THEIR INCOMPETENT SERVICES!!!

  7. Jonathan

    @Rachael: GNER hasn’t existed since 2007. Are you referring to the East Coast service?

  8. edward marley

    I recently got tickets from the trainline.com I put the date I was going and the date I was coming back it gave me tickets to buy so I got them when I printed them off they were wrong they had only gave me day return tickets I called them as soon as I noticed and got someone who could barely speak English I explained the situation and they told me there’s nothing they can do and is have to pay 10 pound to cancel the tickets in order for me to get a refund even tho I only wanted them to change the ticket and is pay the extra amount they told me no they can’t do that so I said I won’t be using there company again because they have no customer care the operator then said to me do you think your a valuable customer just because you have bought one ticket now I’m no expert but surely every customer is valuable so basicallythey have there money and they don’t care about how I travel so I advise everyone to NOT USE THE TRAINLINE.COM as they do not care about there customers

  9. Sheila

    I brought what I thought was a bargain ticket from the trainline I typed in to go from birmingham snow hill to london but when the conformation came through after I’d paid for the tickets it was from birmingham international which is 5 stops away from where I paid for and now I can’t get my money back or change my tickets back to birmingham snow hill. I am soooo angry no I am LIVID and I will NEVER use that wrectched crooked company again!!!!

  10. Travis

    Ive just literally thrown away £7.90 by booking train tickets between London and Swansea through the trainline.com. I would have saved myself that money had i gone directly to the great western trains website. Why do they lie saying that they offer the lowest fares, when this is clearly not the case???

    Thats the LAST time I will EVER use the trainline in fact i am blocking it from all my web searches! AVOID! AVOID! AVOID!

  11. Blubo Facebook

    Hi Jonathan
    Thank you so much for this moneysaving tip!
    I can confirm that your information is still accurate on 19 July 2014
    I just booked a ticket at the same cost as trainline.com but minus the booking fee / credit card fee etc
    PLUS i was able to get a double whammy points bonus by
    using my nectar card combined with my American Express Airmiles card.
    Wow! I think you just made my day… Thanks!

  12. J Legge

    I also have had trouble with trainline.The first tickets I purchased the machine didn’t give me all the tickets but though I had the receipt and had to buy another ticket had no joy with a refund.
    Then I had problem with trains being cancelled and kept tickets and had to rebook for a different day as needed to stay another day because of the disruption.so cancelled ticket and rebooked for which they charge you £10 plus you have to buy the new ticket and claim back for the ticket you didn’t use so far I’ve nothing.They are saying my tickets haven’t arrived but I sent Royal Mail recorded delivery?I think once you’ve given your money to trainline that’s it even if they cancel your train!
    I had checked that I would get a refund as didn’t want to waste money on recorded delivery if I wasn’t going to get a refund.
    No refund so far .If it doesn’t come I shall never use them again!

  13. david baker

    I see that trainline.com shows up on bank/card statments as country of origin LUX, that is the transaction appears to be carried out in Luxembourg.

    I wonder why this company is based in Luxembourg?

  14. Jonathan Rawle

    Apparently, it’s to save on card fees. The EU forced providers to cut the cost of cross-border transactions, but domestic transactions can cost whatever they want:
    http://bit.ly/1u0oE04

    That’s somehow ironic, given how much TheTrainline charge their customers in card fees, which surely more than covers their costs, cross-border or not?

  15. sarita

    Appalling service – only interested in extracting as much money as possible from you

    Complaint #1

    I booked two berths on the Caledonian sleeper from Aberdeen to London. When the tickets arrived I found the berth numbers a little odd. When I called to find out why I met my first problem with ‘the trainline’:

    1. Five minute conversation having to explain numerous times what was wrong with an operator who towards the latter part of the call I could hardly hear (quiet) and was on a very bad line, (crackling – perhaps he was texting on his mobile?).

    2. I found that the reservation was actually a seat, despite the word sleeper and a bed symbol by the booking.

    3. The only advice he could offer was to cancel the ticket and get a refund.

    I checked online with my booking, then checked with ScotRail online to see if sleeper berths were still available for the journey and how much an new ticket/upgrade would cost. Armed with this information I rang up for phone call number two.

    4. The operator had an improved grasp of the english language (he actually understood what the problem was), said it would be possible to upgrade the ticket and gave me a direct number for ‘the trainline’ berth department.

    5. Unfortunately greeted by a very rude operator who told me that it was obviously a seat booking and implied I must be stupid not to see that, (I have just passed my PhD), and that I had a seat because all the berths were used up so the system automatically books a seat reservation and no berths were available. Finally he said ‘the trainline’ didn’t upgrade.

    6. I asked him to reiterate this point. A service provider in the travel industry who doesn’t amend bookings, (albeit at a surcharge) is unheard of, and he told me that ‘the trainline’ didn’t upgrade. He suggested if I wanted I could re-book or cancel.

    7. When I explained that the seat price had gone up since the booking, so it would cost me more money to re-book, he told me that seat prices don’t change and that it would be the same cost. I know this is untrue as seat price is based on availability with seats becoming more expensive nearer to the journey date and time, I had also checked the price prior to the call.

    8. He suggested I cancel and re-book or take my custom elsewhere.

    9. I rang ScotRail, spoke to a kindly man who spoke my language and understood me instantly, he was very sympathetic and found a fare for marginally more money than my original booking, for exactly the same time, dates, a sleeper berth and none of the attitude.

    Result: I will NEVER book with ‘the trainline’ again. Poor advice on booking online meant I didn’t book a sleeper berth but a seat for an overnight journey! I had THREE phone calls with one operator who was helpful (passing on a phone number), one who couldn’t understand me and one who was very very rude. I also wasted an hour of my evening. I will be closing my account as soon as the wasted booking is refunded. Very badly done ‘the trainline’.

    Well done ScotRail, thank-you for being helpful and kind.

    Complaint #2

    Two hours later and unfortunately worse.

    Despite being told in each of my three phone calls I could be refunded, the last ‘the trainline’ operator informed me I would have to pay a £10 refund charge, it appears once again I am mis-informed and am being played as a fool by ‘the trainline’, whose only interest in me is trying to extract cash by hook or by crook.

    On my fourth call the operator told me I couldn’t have a refund. I was understandably not very happy and informed her that the previous three calls had each told me I could have a refund. She spoke to her manager and told me that she could refund me but instead of £10 it would be a £40 charge. Again I was not happy as this was not the amount quoted to me previously. At this point she contacted her manager who asked me to re-iterate all the problems so far. When I did so he said that it was £40 and that I would have to post back the tickets (no problem – I cannot wait to get rid of them). At this point I had been 30 minutes on this fourth phone call and the manager wanted to go back through the previous three phone calls. Although I’d love to spend my whole evening discussing poor service with ‘the trainline’ I do have other business to attend to. He also offered to call back after he had listened to them, in the next 24-48 hrs. Which I declined as I work long hours and I am not going to wait on the whims of poor customer service (once bitten twice shy).

    At this point I reached an all-time low in this debacle. Not only can I say I will categorically NEVER use this service again, I will actively ensure that this appalling episode is passed on. I will be more than happy if I never have to have anything to do with ‘the trainline’ again and I will be more than happy to spend my money with other train service providers, who on this occasion were the complete antithesis of the service I have received from ‘the trainline’.

    Be warned. AVOID like the plague.

  16. Sean

    I needed 4 return tickets from London Marylebone to Haddenham & Thame Parkway on 11th April
    Trainline price £94.40
    Chiltern Railways price for same trains £62.40

    Why are trainline tickets more than flippin’ 50% more expensive? (and flagged up by Trainline as “Cheapest”?)
    A complete rip off and a lie – I will be telling everyone I know via social media about this. Disgusting.

  17. Phil

    Today i bought a single ticket from Trainline from Paddington to Penzance.
    I slipped up, believing the they were the cheapest.

    Trainline £35 + booking fee £1-50 + c/c fee £0.73 total cost £37.23

    First Great Western. £35 no booking or c/c charges total £35

    I could have saved £2.23 Live and learn.

  18. Ian Diggory

    I booked a ticket from Aberdeen to Newcastle for £35.65 (senior railcard, offpeak, etc.) using my credit card on Trainline. My statement has a charge of £37.89, representing a 6.56% increase in the fare. Now that I check two other journeys I recently took on business I find there is a 6.3% and 3.9% increase over the ticket price.

  19. Joe

    try https://www.tripjay.com or https://www.loco2.com, no booking fees either

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