Consumer Champion – Are Train Tickets Too Expensive?

Train tickets – overcharging and what you can do about it.
A Channel 4 documentary earlier this week highlighted just how confusing and complex the UK’s train ticket pricing structure is – and how many passengers are routinely overcharged.

Of course, any system that mixes regulated and unregulated pricing schemes, combined with a complex network of competing operators will be a breeding ground for confusion, and a potential opportunity for the unscrupulous to make a quick quid. So what can you do if you feel you’ve paid too much for your ticket, and who can you complain to?

Not getting the cheapest fare?
The convoluted system of ticket rules and different rail operators means that the ‘cheapest’ ticket you are offered either online or at the station ticket kiosk may not actually be the lowest possible price for that journey.
One way around this is by splitting your fare up into separate parts, which can be cheaper than buying just one ticket for the whole journey. Our partners at offer a ticket-splitting tool called Tickety Split. This allows you to work out whether or not your planned journey would be cheaper being broken up into more than one purchase.

Paying when you don’t have to
Another issue I’ve discovered is when we at looked into rail fares you end up paying when you don’t have to. For example, Children under 10 can travel free within Greater London, yet when you buy a child’s ticket from a station outside zone 6, they will often give the option of ‘bundling’ in a travelcard for an extra cost – extra cost for travel that ought to be free. In our example, we found that a child’s return ticket from Winchester into Waterloo cost an extra £2.35 when you added a one-day travelcard. Train companies do not make you aware of this loophole, and are happy instead to sell you a ticket. And it’s not just an issue that’s limited to travel in and around London – we found several examples of such unnecessary charges around other cities around the UK, too.

The official rules and what sort of redress you’re entitled to
When you take a train, you purchase a ticket under the National Rail Conditions of Carriage and these are referenced on the ticket. It is important to realise our information covers your basic rights. Some train companies (also known as TOCs) may offer you improved compensation. If your train is more than an hour late then you are definitely entitled to compensation. As a minimum you are entitled to a refund of 20% of your single ticket and 10% of your return ticket. However, you can find the compensation can actually be as high as 50% for more than a 30-minute delay. If something does go wrong always remember to ask. The bad news is your compensation will be in the form of National Rail vouchers, so you will be back on the trains again! You can choose any train company to use these with but they cannot be used for online train ticket purchases. Keep persisting and some companies will change these vouchers to a cheque refund.

If you are not satisfied
If you are not satisfied with the resolution then you have the right to escalate your case to Travel Focus (covering outside of London) or London Travelwatch (for London).

What about incidental costs?
If your train is delayed and you cannot get to your final destination, you can claim for hotel or taxi costs. However, you should make the stationmaster or train conductor aware of the situation. Be sure to take down their name in case you need to prove you gave them advanced warning.

Season tickets
The majority of customer journeys are with season tickets and the refunds are calculated based on the delay. For a weekly ticket if the delay is greater than 1 hour you are entitled to 20% of the ticket price divided by 7.
For monthly tickets it depends on the train company. If they operate the Passenger Charter scheme then your discount will be applied when you repurchase a ticket, if they fail to meet their charter levels.
The alternative is the “delay and repay” scheme where you receive compensation every time the train is more than 30 minutes late. However, you need to make a claim.

Get out of jail free (for train companies)
There are certain situations where compensation is not due. Train companies can avoid paying any compensation under the following circumstances:
-Vandalism, suicide or trespassers on the line
-Line closure by Police of fire services
-Exceptional weather conditions
-Unused train tickets

If you don’t use the train ticket
Advance tickets are not refundable unless the train was delayed
Season tickets of more than one month you can get a refund on a pro-rata basis