Train tickets from station machines twice as expensive as online bookings - YAHOO FINANCE
JANUARY 20, 2024
Travellers buying tickets at train station ticket machines are being charged up to double the price of a booking online, research shows.
A same-day, one-way ticket from Holmes Chapel in Cheshire to London cost £66 at the station’s ticket machine but online the same trip was £26, a 156% difference, according to consumer group Which?.
Someone buying a same day, one-way ticket from Northampton to Cardiff would have paid £107 for their ticket from the machine, 148% more than buying online, where the price was just £43.
Overall, fares purchased online were cheaper around three-quarters of the time, and on average, same day journeys cost 52% more from machines. In 2022, around 12% of tickets were purchased from a machine — some 150 million journeys.
Services offered by different ticket machines could vary significantly, with passengers often facing restricted choice and, as a result, higher prices.
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One of the key reasons why tickets from machines are often more expensive is because most don’t offer "advance" fares — cheaper tariffs which are available to buy in advance of travel. Depending on the route, these can even be available up to 10 minutes before departure.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “The price differences we found between booking online and using station ticket machines were simply astounding. Millions of tickets are purchased using ticket machines every year, meaning that huge numbers of us are potentially paying significantly more than we need to when we commute to work or visit friends and family across the country.
“Wherever possible we’d recommend booking train tickets online for the cheapest options, but that won’t be possible for everyone. Significant numbers of elderly people don’t have internet access at all — leaving them with little choice but to run the gauntlet of ticket machines which either don’t offer the best prices, or make it difficult to find the appropriate fares.”
Currently, just one in six of the 1,766 train stations under the Department for Transport's control has a full time ticket office; 40% are staffed part time, and 43% don’t have a ticket office at all.
Which? also warned that train passengers could also be easily caught out by their ticket validity, with many machines often not making it clear what times and which services certain tickets are valid for.
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If there’s no one at the station available to ask for help, passengers risk a £50 penalty fare plus the price of a new ticket for their journey.
Using machines may also be problematic for those trying to book tickets weeks in advance. For example, Great Western machines at major stations, including Oxford and Paddington, only sold tickets for same day and next day journeys.
Which? sent mystery shoppers to 15 stations — each run by a different train operator — and checked the price of 75 journeys from a ticket machine against the price available from the UK’s biggest ticket site, Trainline.
Mark Plowright, director at Virgin Trains Ticketing, said the difference can actually be even higher.
“It's important to note that the Which? report only compared against Trainline and didn't look at the value offered by other online retailers through points, rewards and other perks, so the value gap is actually much greater," he said.
"Rail retail is a growing market, and competition between apps like Virgin Trains Ticketing is driving great value for customers who have a smartphone, but all rail passengers deserve to get the best value for their journey wherever they choose to buy their tickets," he added.