Don’t they want my business?

How hard can it be to buy a train ticket?

I’ve been trying to buy in advance, to take advantage of cheaper advance fares.

First attempt: go to nationalrail.co.uk, enter details of my journey, select my trains.  It gives me a price, and I click to buy.  It offers a couple of options (forward or backward, window or aisle seat etc, no commitment on their part).

So far so good.  But then it takes me from nationalrail’s site to firstgreatwestern.co.uk for the actual purchase.  Except, FGW shows me the timetable for my selections, but tells me the journey I selected doesn’t exist!  Huh?  OK, click on my selected trains on the timetable, nothing happens.

Try again, same thing.

Try a different tack: start from the beginning on FGW site.  This time it takes me through to a point where it invites me to log in or register.  There is no option for what I want to do – just buy an effing ticket for the journey I’ve just selected, if you please!  Grrr … OK, let’s play along.

By the time I can log in, it’s telling me my journey doesn’t exist.  Again!

OK, google for other sites that’ll sell me a ticket (hope I don’t stumble on a fraud site).  thetrainline.com gives me the same journey and then the same effing login/registration crap: bugger that.  Raileasy and Railsaver both timeout trying to show me a timetable.

Finally I get to a site called mytrainticket.co.uk, which appears to work and after some annoying crap it presents my options rather nicely.  Only by now, the cost of my ticket has just doubled, and is no longer any cheaper than an open ticket.  It’s doubled at nationalrail, too – I guess all my queries have told their system this journey is in lots of demand😦

At some point in all this I also tried ‘phoning FGW.  Even the bloomin’ ‘phone cut me off after I selected the “buy a ticket” option.  Is this managed by the same people as the website?

Grrr ….

On a separate note, I also had a look at travel to Brussels for FOSDEM.  I asked for a ticket from Plymouth through to Brussels, which was OK.  But then I also tried to see if it would let me book a package inclusive of hotel, after checking the place I’ve stayed in recent years and been less than enthused by this year’s price.  Eurostar’s site tells me it’s not possible to book a hotel because my journey starts in Plymouth!

Yeah, right.  If I’m travelling to Brussels on the Friday and returning to Plymouth on the Monday I must be wanting a hotel for three nights in [guess where]?  Here’s a clue: it’s the same as if my starting point had been London.  Evidently that guess is too difficult for Eurostar’s developer.

Bah, Humbug.

Posted on January 11, 2011, in railways, rants, travel, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. UK train booking sites all suck. FGW will happily sell off peak tickets for on peak trains, leaving you to sort the problem out at the station.

    Eastcoast, ( http://www.eastcoast.co.uk/ ) has a good reputation; it’s the only one that lets you book a bicycle in at the same time you get a ticket

  2. …and people wonder why some of us despise public transport.

    (There are plenty alternatives within the `personal, individual transport’ realm that don’t include vehicles that pollute as we know them.)

  3. I’m not sure, but I think Britain is unique in the world in terms of the appallingness of its train booking and pricing structures. I don’t know any other country that, in all seriousness and with a straight face, expects you to know weeks in advance precisely when and where you’ll want to travel.

    You can buy a Eurorail pass that will take you through Europe from Finland to Portugal. It’s valid in 22 countries, including Ireland. You can travel at your own pace, by train, from Galway to Athens, without ever booking a seat or even needing to know the time of a train… *except* across that big lump of land between Ireland and the continent.

    Wall. Revolution. Just sayin’.

  4. I’ve just returned from Berlin where trains are frequent, punctual and cheap. There’s no concept of “peak” and “off-peak” travel, just sensibly priced fares that are valid all day, and tickets that are fully transferable across modes – bus, rail, U-Bahn etc. The services are well-used but not overcrowded – a real pleasure compared with the expensive hell that is Transport for London, and the general obscurity of fares, ticketing and information that prevails in the UK public transport “system”.

  5. @vet – no, Spain’s RENFE is a steaming dung heap, or at least it was a couple of years ago when I last had the pleasure. Maybe that’s improved. I know the FGW booking system has got worse during then.

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