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”

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  1. lesley whittle

    I checked a price on the trainline, then went down to the ticket office to book it. The office used to be staffed by grown ups, it now has a 20 year old blonde in it. She refused to accept that I had seen the lower price online, refused to accept the printout, and finally got rid of me by saying “its obviously an online only price”.
    You can’t win.
    I wasn’t aware that railways could have ‘online only’ prices, nor was I aware that you cannot now (if you want the online price) avoid the booking fee!!

  2. Jonathan Rawle

    Lesley: what was the type of ticket that you bought online? Some train companies sell discounted tickets on their own websites that are not available elsewhere, but I wasn’t aware of TheTrainline selling these. Cheap advance tickets are also limited in number, so the one you saw online may no longer have been available by the time you arrived at the ticket office.

    You can always go to the website of any train company and buy the same tickets as on TheTrainline without any extra fees. You can then collect the ticket from the machine at the station, usually within 15 minutes.

  3. lesley whittle

    Thanks for the reply.
    I ended up buying the ticket at the railway station – for £2.55 more than the one I saw online (which was £10.55) – had I paid the £1 booking fee, I would still have been £1.55 better off with the online ticket. what I couldn’t understand was why this fare appeared online, but the ticket office couldn’t access it: I’ve never had that before, and I go up to London twice a year. I wondered if there’d been some sort of recent change?

    It was a normal “cheap day return” from Lenham in Kent to London Victoria with a Senior Railcard (has different times ‘allowed’ than the Network Railcard).

    However, I still have not been able to run to earth whether or not I can collect tickets from Lenham – it has the “click and collect” machine, but neither it nor the nearby stations appear anywhere on anyone’s list of “collect your ticket from the machines”. I asked at Faversham this morning – the operative said I could collect anywhere there was a machine: but if the station isn’t on the list, how can I select it? (I should have asked him this, but he was answering all my other questions, I forgot that one – and he would, no doubt, have said that that was a problem with thetrainline or redspottedhanky).

    I will always now use National Rail’s website – while checking the others for cheaper deals.
    I’m very interested in an reply aboutthe ‘click and collect’ machines.

  4. Jonathan Rawle

    The cheapest ticket I can find (“Super Off-Peak Day Return”) is £12.55. I don’t know why TheTrainline showed you a cheaper price.

    You can collect your ticket from any station with a collection machine, not just the station you select on the website. I believe the list is just there to ensure there is actually a machine at the station the customer intends to use; however, it’s not kept up to date. So just select any station then collect it from Lenham. The staff in the ticket office can also print your tickets if you give them the reference, for example if the ticket machines are out of order, but again if you have a jobsworth employee, they may claim they can’t do that.

  5. lesley whittle

    Thanks Jonathan – that was exactly the information I needed but have still not been able to locate on the railways online sites! (I was trying to get a cheap ticket to cornwall in October this morning and again having trouble!).
    I also had a problem a few years ago with my son being given a pre-paid ticket by the army, being told he could only collect it from a specific station, which turned out to be the case (cue long hassle ……) which led to me thinking the station list was, in fact, the only list – though I did wonder what was going on when all the little tiny stations near me got ticket machines but weren’t on “the list”.
    The GWR trip to Cornwall was a nightmare – people sitting in the aisles on way there, no access to a drink or the loo as a consequence (and this on a trip of over 4 hours!). And just about the same on way back, with ‘train rage’ all around me as people found others sitting in their ‘reserved seats’ and thinking they weren’t going to actually get their seats! Really unpleasant. The whole system seems broken. And I never did get a discounted ticket – the ticket machines offer the same prices as the websites. Hey ho. Am seriously thinking about driving the next time – at least I can listen to the radio without people snoring wetly around me. Geez. I’m turning into “disgruntled from tunbridge wells”.

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