Third-party train websites are a popular way of booking tickets. But some charge fees that you can avoid by booking directly with the train company. Is there any benefit to using these websites?
Thanks to its annoying adverts, the Trainline is certainly the best-known independent train ticket website, but there are others out there. Have you used Travel Supermarket, Raileasy, My Train Ticket or Red Spotted Hanky?
Some – though not all – of these sites add booking fees and credit card fees on top of the cost of your ticket, just some airlines have done over the years.
Following our surcharges campaign, the government introduced a ban on excessive surcharges earlier this month. This means that credit and debit card surcharges can’t be more than the cost incurred to the business of processing the payment. We estimate this to be 2% of the total transaction for credit cards and about 50p for debit cards.
But when we examined the cost of booking train tickets on eight third-party sites and 13 train company sites, we found that some of the third-party sites are charging more than that.
Raileasy quoted the highest fees, charging a £2.50 booking fee plus 4.5% for credit card payments (or 2.5% for higher-cost journeys). Another site, Quno, was also expensive for cheaper journeys, charging a flat £2.50 for credit card payments. We’ll be writing to the sites concerned, asking them to lower their charges.
Book direct for a better deal
There are third-party sites that aren’t adding excessive card surcharges. The Trainline charges 2% for credit cards, in line with what we estimate it costs them to process those payments. But you can still avoid any fees at all by buying your tickets elsewhere.
None of the train companies’ own websites charge credit card, debit card or booking fees, and their postage charges tend to be lower. Train company websites also sometimes have exclusive cheaper advance fares that aren’t always listed on third-party sites.
All of this makes it extremely difficult to come up with an argument for not buying tickets directly from the train companies.
I do use Red Spotted Hanky myself sometimes – but that’s only because it allows you to exchange Tesco Clubcard vouchers for money off train tickets, and it doesn’t charge booking or card fees. But other than that, I can’t see a reason to use these third-party sites.