News Column

Saturday Money: Rail travel: Where to book

August 2, 2014

Emma Lunn, many people's default site for train travel, charges booking fees of up to pounds 1.50 and a credit card fee of 2% (using a debit card is free), adding pounds 2.50 to the price of a pounds 50 ticket. Rival comparison site Raileasy charges a hefty pounds 2.50 booking fee and a 4.5% credit card fee, adding a total of pounds 4.75 to a pounds 50 fare. It also charges for using a debit card (75p). Phoning Raileasy costs an eye-watering pounds 1.02 a minute from a BT landline.

Train Genius and MyTrainTicket also charge booking and credit card fees.

Rail operators' own sites, on the other hand, don't charge extra. Another plus point is they occasionally offer cheaper fares and many offer loyalty points of some kind, too.

For example, if you used to pre-book the 11.30am train from London to Newcastle on 10 July, it would cost pounds 63.50, including the booking fee if you paid by debit card. Booking directly with East Coast would cost pounds 60.75 - and you could earn points on East Coast's own Rewards scheme.

The scheme offers loyalty points when a customer spends more than pounds 22 on tickets with any train operator.

East Coast isn't the only operator selling other rail companies' tickets. They all do so, you don't need to know which companies operate which routes before you book.

However, it's worth checking if a company offers discounts on its own tickets. Southern Railways, for example, offers customers booking direct discounts off Southern Advance tickets that are not available elsewhere. Meanwhile, CrossCountry allows customers to buy "Advance Purchase on the Day" tickets on its website on the day of travel. This saves money on walk-up fares but can only be booked on CrossCountry's website or mobile app.

Out of the general booking sites, Red Spotted Hanky offers the best deal. Head For Points, a website that compares travel loyalty schemes, has declared it the only "sensible" third- party option for buying train tickets. As well as no booking or card fees, it offers its own loyalty scheme.

Travellers can also spend Tesco Clubcard vouchers on Red Spotted Hanky: pounds 10 of Clubcard vouchers will get you a pounds 20 Red Spotted Hanky voucher.

Rail operators usually start selling the cheapest tickets 12 weeks ahead of travel. Several sites, including thetrainline, East Coast and CrossCountry, allow you to set up email alerts to check when cheap tickets for your intended journey are released.

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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