Buying a train ticket
This page provides some 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, products, and services available to passengers and various places to buy these from. Those selling tickets are required to provide you with the information you need to choose the ticket that best suits your needs and helps you use it properly.
The information that might be important to passengers, and how this should be provided, is set out in the industry's code of practice on retail information.
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, then one of the other ticket types might be more appropriate – but which one will depend on a number of factors such as how much flexibility you require in case your plans change. Buying a railcard might also be an option to help bring down your costs.
We have created this animation to help demystify selecting the right ticket for your journey.
Planning your journey
For one-off or infrequent journeys, you can buy an Anytime, Off-Peak or Advance ticket (and you can mix and match these tickets depending on your needs):
- Anytime – you can buy these tickets anytime, either in advance or at the last minute. The price does not change according to when you buy, and they allow travel at any time of day. They are fully refundable, although you may be charged an administration fee, depending on the circumstances.
- Off-Peak – you can buy these tickets anytime, either in advance or at the last minute. The price does not change according to when you buy. However, travel on these tickets is restricted to certain, less busy, times of day – generally outside of the 'rush hour'. These tickets are generally cheaper than 'Anytime' tickets. They are fully refundable, although you may be charged an administration fee, depending on the circumstances.
- Advance – you have to buy these tickets in advance (they are usually available from up to twelve weeks before the date of travel). Advance tickets are generally cheaper than 'Anytime' and 'Off-Peak' fares but are restricted to a specific time train rather than a range of trains and you can only get on and off the train at the stations shown on the ticket. They tend to have limited availability and the earlier you buy them the cheaper they will generally be. You should be aware that the circumstances in which these tickets will be refunded are restricted.
If you travel on a more regular basis, a season ticket might offer better value. These tickets allow unlimited travel between two stations or zones for a specified period of time, such 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. For example:
- Two Together railcard
- 16-25 railcard
- Senior railcard
- Family and Friends railcard
- HM Forces railcard
- Regional railcards
Compensation for delays
If you are delayed in reaching your final destination then 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 – so you should make a note of this – as well as your ticket, as evidence of your purchase – so remember to hang 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 of the necessary details or the ticket you used to make your journey, contact the relevant train company as they may be able to help you.
We've produced a summary document including information on compensation for delayed passengers. PDF, 631 Kb
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 it in the first instance in order to give it an opportunity to address your problem. If you are not satisfied with the response you receive, you can contact Transport Focus or London TravelWatch (as appropriate) 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 can be found on our website.
- Code of practice on retail information
- Research on information that is important to passengers PDF, 1,531 Kb
- Compensation diagram PDF, 151 Kb
- Compensation report PDF, 1,138 Kb