Train ticket machines 52pc more expensive – five ways to cut your fare

A woman collects her train tickets from a machine as data released shows ticket prices from machines cost 52pc more than buying online
Which? sent mystery shoppers to stations across England to compare vending machine and website prices - Yui Mok/PA

Commuters are being charged up to twice as much to buy train tickets at machines compared to booking online, new research has found.

Travellers often find it hard to book the best value fares at ticket machines as they are often unavailable or difficult to find, according to consumer group Which?.

The group sent mystery shoppers to 15 stations across England – each one run by a different train company – and checked the price of 75 journeys from ticket machines against the price on online booking website Trainline.

For each journey, they bought the cheapest one-way ticket for travel that same day, the following morning, and in three weeks’ time.

Which? found that train fares purchased online were cheaper around three-quarters of the time, and on average same-day journeys cost 52pc more from machines. In some cases, the machine price was 154pc more than tickets offered by the Trainline website.

It comes as figures show that just one in six of the 1,766 train stations under the Department for Transport’s control has a full-time ticket office, with 43pc not having a ticket office at all.

Last year, government ministers proposed closing thousands of railway station ticket offices in England. The plan was scrapped in November in the face of widespread public opposition.

Commuters and holidaymakers are also having to deal with regular strike action on many routes.

View of Buxton train station and ticket office area
Despite the difficulty buying better value fares at vending machines, 43pc of stations have no ticket offices to help passengers - Charlotte Graham

According to Which?, a same-day, one-way ticket from Holmes Chapel in Cheshire to London costs 154pc more for a ticket from the station’s ticket machine compared with buying online, with the machine charging £66 against Trainline’s £26 split-ticket option.

A same-day, one-way ticket from Northampton to Cardiff cost £107 from the machine, 148pc more than buying on Trainline, where the price was just £43.

Which? said the ticket machines it used often restricted commuters’ ticket choices by not selling cheaper off-peak tickets during peak times, even for future journeys.

Unlike online ticket companies, machines often do not offer cheaper advanced fares or split-ticketing and their off-peak fares are less visible on the machine interface, the group said.

It found that at a ticket machine in Hitchin, the only option available was an anytime single to York priced at £133, despite travelling at an off-peak time early in the morning. The online price was just £55.


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The train operator responsible for the machines at Hitchin, Great Northern, said off-peak tickets for same-day travel could be found by selecting the “tickets for future travel” button on the machine’s main screen.

Rory Boland, of Which?, 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.”

A Great Western Railway spokesman said ticket machines are “not intended to provide the same range of tickets as online or in-person sales” and that “current regulations do not allow train operators to recommend split tickets from ticket machines or ticket offices”.

A rail station member of staff assisting a person at the ticket machines in Waterloo Station train station in London
Which? said the difference in pricing between online and ticket machines was ‘astounding’ - Kirsty O'Connor/PA

A spokesman for industry body the Rail Delivery Group said: “Since the industry set out the case for fares reform in 2019, there has been some good progress, but more can be done.

“The introduction of single-leg pricing and expansion of pay-as-you-go contactless fares are both important changes making fares easier and simpler for customers.

“We will continue to work with government and industry stakeholders to achieve further reforms and deliver more benefits for our customers”.

On Tuesday, operator London North Eastern Railway launched a two-year trial for some of its routes, which involves reducing the number of fares and pricing tickets based on demand.

Five ways to cut your fare

While train journeys are notoriously expensive, and are getting even more pricey from March, there are cheap deals available.

Season tickets and Railcards

If you regularly travel the same routes, such as for your commute, an annual season ticket is usually the cheapest option.

Other options that will save you money on commuting are seven and 30-day season tickets.

There are a range of railcards that can bring down the cost of travel, such as the 16-25 Railcard. This costs £30 a year and gives holders a third off most single, return and advance fares. You can buy this card until a day before your 26th birthday, or at any age if you are in full-time education.

The Disabled Persons, Family & Friends, HM Forces and Senior railcards also offer savings to account holders. However, no discount will be applied to season tickets.

There are online calculators available on National Rail’s website, as well as other operators, where you can find the best option.

Split tickets

Trainline and other booking websites offer split tickets, where they provide two separate tickets at the cheapest price for the same route. If they don’t, booking websites and offer this service.

You won’t need to change trains as split tickets are valid as long as the train calls at the station you buy the tickets for.

Book in advance

Most train operators put their advance tickets on sale 12 weeks before the date of travel, meaning if you know where and when you want to travel you can get tickets when they first go on sale.

If you sign up to website price alerts, some rail companies will alert you via email when your travel dates go on sale, so set up a reminder or make a note in your diary of when to buy.

Check for slower routes

Sometimes rival services operate the same or very similar routes, but might stop at more stations or simply not offer a “fast” service. By using a slower service you could make major savings on your travel costs.

Avoid booking fees and use sales

Online booking sites usually offer the best deals but be aware some charge booking and delivery fees.

For example Trainline adds up to £1.50 to the cost of your booking, depending on whether you book online or through its app. Rail operators typically do not charge booking fees if you buy tickets on their websites, and sometimes offer discounts if you book directly.

Have you found a clever way to cut your train ticket costs? Email

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