Buying a train ticket
Information to help you understand the differences between rail tickets, why these might be important to you, and some other hints and tips.
There is a range of tickets available and various places to buy them.
For example, if you travel to and from work every day, a season ticket will probably offer the best value. If you travel less frequently, another type of ticket might be more appropriate – but which ticket you need depends on a number of factors such as how much flexibility you require in case your plans change. Buying a railcard might also bring down your costs.
Ticket sellers are required to provide the information, but it’s up to you to choose most suitable ticket for your journey.
The information that might be important to you, and how this should be provided, is set out in the industry's code of practice on retail information.
We have created this animation to help you select the right ticket for your journey.
Planning your journey
For one-off or infrequent journeys, you can buy an Anytime, Off-Peak or Advance tickets (and you can mix and match these tickets depending on your needs):
- Anytime – these tickets allow travel at anytime (eg they are not restricted to specific times of day) trains and the price does not change depending on when you but the ticket, whether a few weeks ahead of travel or just a few minutes before. They are fully refundable, although you may be charged an administration fee.
- Off-Peak – these tickets restrict travel to certain, less busy, times of day – usually outside of 'rush hour'. Again, the price of these tickets does not change depending on when you buy them. These tickets are generally cheaper than 'Anytime' tickets. They are fully refundable, although you may be charged an administration fee.
- Advance – these tickets can be very cheap but are usually available in limited numbers. They must be bought in advance (they are usually available from up to 12 weeks before the date of travel). The early you book the cheaper these tickets are likely to be. They are also restricted to a specific time train and you can only get on and off the train at the stations shown on the ticket. There are restrictions on refunds.
- Season tickets – for regular travelers a season ticket might offer better value. These tickets allow unlimited travel between two stations or zones for a specified period of time, such as a week, a month, or a year. If you buy an Annual Season ticket or Annual Travelcard in the South of England, you may qualify for an Annual Gold Card, which offers discounts on leisure rail travel.
If you travel several times a year, you may want to consider buying a railcard. For a one-off fee, railcards offer discounts on certain tickets. The types of railcards you can buy include:
- Two Together railcard
- 16-25 railcard
- Senior railcard
- Family and Friends railcard
- HM Forces railcard
- Regional railcards
- Network railcard
- Disabled Persons railcard
Compensation for delays
If you are delayed in reaching your destination you may be entitled to compensation, depending on the length of the delay and the train company you are travelling with. Many train companies provide compensation after just 30 minutes delay.
National Rail Enquiries provides a list of each train company and the minimum delay minutes for a claim, as well as links to the train companies’ websites.
When making a claim you will need to provide details of your journey, as well as your ticket, as evidence of your purchase – so hold on to your ticket and ask station staff to open the barrier for you if you need to retain it for this purpose.
If you are in doubt about whether you are entitled to claim compensation, or you don’t have all the necessary details or the ticket you used to make your journey, contact the relevant train company as they may be able to help.
Things to think about when choosing tickets
The National Rail Enquiries website offers advice on finding the best fare, but things to consider include:
- Do you need to arrive by a particular time? Do you know when you want to come back?
- Are your plans likely to change? Do you want to be able to use a range of train services or are you able to commit to a specific time train?
- Do you want to be able to get on or off the train at intermediate stations?
- Are you travelling in a group?
The National Rail Enquires website also provides information on the various discounts that are available.
Making a complaint
If you are not happy with the service you have received from your train company, you should contact them first to give them an opportunity to respond. If you are not satisfied with the response, you can contact Transport Focus or London TravelWatch who may be able to take up your complaint on your behalf.
Further details on how to make a complaint and contact details for the train companies and passenger bodies are available on our website.