Are train staff told not to reveal best prices?

TV programme claims some train staff have been told not to tell passengers about cheaper tickets

Updated: 
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A new report claims that train staff have been told not to inform passengers about tickets that could help save them money. The claims are made on tonight's Dispatches programme, which includes secret recordings of staff training.

The programme secretly recorded a trainer telling First Great Western staff not to advise passengers if they could save money by buying a different kind of ticket, because they would expect it every day.

In response, the company told the programme that this wasn't official policy, because as the trainer said elsewhere in the briefing, the company follows the Association of Train Operating Company rules which means they should always offer the best possible deal.

It said it was disappointed the trainer 'initially got the answer wrong' but it was pleased 'he clarified the position later'. It added that the company would make sure all trainers 'are clear about the correct position in the future'.

Split tickets

Later, the undercover reporter asked her duty manager about split tickets, and whether station staff ought to tell passengers about them. She was told not to do so unless the customer specifically asked for a split ticket - because this was what the Department for Transport rules states train companies should do. In response, the company said the recorded conversations 'accurately reflect the rules every train operator must follow'.

They added that the rules need reviewing to make 'the ticket buying process simpler and clearer' and they have made 'recommendations to Government on how to progress this further'.

Ticket machines

The report also said that the prices differ between different ticket machines - depending on the train firm operating the machine. Its researchers uncovered one journey which cost £100 more if you used a specific type of machine.

Northern Rail told the programme it had added information posters to the machines "that offer guidance on what type of ticket the machines can and cannot offer and how other operators' machines may display fares differently". They added that they were working towards a situation where the ticket machines all offered the same prices.

Reduce the prices
The rules make it clear that station staff should offer the best possible ticket - although there's some confusion as to whether this includes split tickets.

However, the programme shows how important it is to do your own research first, to uncover the best possible price for your journey.

There are five steps well worth trying.

1. Start early. The tickets become available about 12 weeks in advance, and the best deals will go first, so you'll need to time your search for 12 weeks before you travel. The timing of when tickets are released does vary, so if you do a search and don't see any tickets marked as 'limited availability', it means the cheap tickets may not have been released yet.

2. Book a specific train. This means you can buy a cheaper 'advance' ticket. Just make sure you don't miss your train!

3. Travel off-peak, when you can save up to 50% on the cost of your ticket.

4. Check out the travel cards. Many of them entitle you to a saving of 30%, and you may be surprised at the kinds of cards available. The 'two-together' card, for example, doesn't require you to be a couple. As long as you are travelling together, you can save 30% of the price of your ticket.

5. You should look at split tickets. A really useful site is trainsplit.com, which splits the journey into any number of legs for you, and finds the cheapest possible combination for your journey.

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