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redspottedhanky adds booking and postage fees – where should you book now?

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Many of you will have received an email from last night advising that they are introducing a £1 booking fee and a £1 postage fee for all train ticket bookings.  This was, in some ways, inevitable since Atos – the parent company – must have been swallowing heavy losses on the business.  It has spent a lot of money on promotion and, once you account for credit card and postage costs, would not have been making much money per ticket sold.

Later in the year I will do another full analysis of the best ways to book.  In the meantime, it is worth summarising the key points to consider.  This is the decision tree I would follow when booking a train ticket.

Question 1: Does the train company I am using offer a discount for booking with them?

Some operators, including East Coast, offer a discount on their non-flexible fares for booking directly with them.

  • With East Coast, this is 10% – and you still earn loyalty points (no credit card fees, no booking fee, £1 postage)
  • With Cross Country, you save 10% for booking direct (no credit card fees, no booking fee, £1 postage or, shockingly, £1 to collect from a ticket machine at the station)
  • Virgin Trains does not offer a discount but does offer 2 Flying Club miles per £1 or 2 Nectar points per £1 spent on Virgin Trains tickets.
  • First Great Western, First Hull Trains, Scot Rail and First TransPennine Express also offer 2 Nectar points per £1 spent.

The train operator sites generally carry modest, or no, credit card fees, booking fees or postage fees. This means they are likely to offer the best overall deal.  First Great Western offers free postage, no booking fees and no credit card fees AND 2 Nectar points per £1, for example.  However, as you will see below, their sister company FirstTransPennineExpress beats this by ALSO offering 1% TopCashback on top.

Question 2: Should I use an independent train booking site?

If your train company does not offer any special discounts or loyalty points, you may want to consider the independent booking sites. In general, though, they are a poor deal.  redspottedhanky now falls into that category as well.  Let’s look quickly at the policies of the major booking sites:

1.5% TopCashback, £1.50 booking fee on a return trip, 2% credit card fee. Postage is free, however. Result = waste of space.

2.1% TopCashback or they award Avios via the estore. The Avios earnings rate is 2 per £1 spent, so you effectively get 1.5%-2% back that way. £1.70 postage. 2% fee for credit card purchases. There is a £1 booking fee. Result = waste of space. The cashback or Avios reward will be offset by the loss of credit card points, and it is especially poor if you need your tickets posting.

2.1% TopCashback. Postage is £1.50 with a shocking £2.50 booking fee AND a shocking 4.9% credit card fee! Card fee is reduced to 2.5% on orders over £200. Result = speechless. Anyone caught using this company should be sent to their nearest medical professional.

NO TopCashback, 2% credit card fee, £1.50 booking fee. At least postage is free. Result = pretty bad.

NO TopCashback, no credit card fee, £1 booking fee, £1 postage fee.  Result = pretty bad.

It is difficult to recommend any of the third party booking sites now that redspottedhanky has introduced fees.

Question 3: Should I book with another train company on their website?

Now that all of the independent booking sites charge fees, the train company websites are looking a lot more attractive.  Here are the cashback rates on offer (based on being a TopCashback premium member):

  • Gatwick Express 4.2% (GE only)
  • First Hull Trains 3.15% (FHT only) plus 2 Nectar points per £1
  • East Midlands Trains 2.62% (EMT) or 1.05% for non EMT trains
  • South West Trains 2.5% (SWT only)
  • First TransPennine Express up to 4.7% (1.05% for non FTP trains) plus 2 Nectar points per £1

Assuming you are not travelling with the train companies listed above or with a train company which offers a special discount for booking on its own site, First TransPennine Express seems to be the best dealYou get 1% cashback, you get 1% in Nectar points and there are NO credit card fees, booking fees or postage fees.

If you don’t have a Nectar card, East Midlands Trains would be just as good.  1% cashback via TopCashback plus no credit card fees, booking fees or postage fees.

Don’t forget your Tesco vouchers

redspottedhanky is a Tesco Clubcard partner. You can redeem your Clubcard vouchers for double their face value in redspottedhanky vouchers.

This is not the best use of Clubcard vouchers, especially now that RSH has brought in fees, but if you have some spare and do not necessarily need extra Avios or Virgin miles, it is worth considering.

You can also redeem American Express Membership Rewards points for East Coast gift codes at 0.6p per point. The gift codes are issued instantly so you can book immediately.

Finally, if you use the East Coast line, ignore everything written above.

If you book a lot of train tickets and use the East Coast line, I would – regardless of cashback – recommend that you book ALL of your travel via the East Coast website.  The reason is that East Coast Rewards is a VERY generous loyalty scheme as long as you redeem your points for travel on East Coast.  You can get up to 15% of your spending back in free East Coast travel!  I won’t go through all the numbers again now but the key points are discussed in this article.

Comments (60)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Barafear799 says:

    confirmation that the charges are in already – thanks for lots of warning in the email RSH!

    Sorry – hope it’s ok to link to somewhere else?

  • Tom says:

    TranspennineExpress are currently offering 4 Nectar points per £ until the end of Oct.. in case anybody cares about Nectar points

  • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    10% off Virgin advance fares for Virgin Money customers (but doesn’t look like they restrict the offer)

  • squills says:

    Surprised nobody picked up on Dralain’s point (first post). This could save you £loads.

    New free TicketySplit tool takes on train pricing farce
    Same train, same time, even the same seat – just pay less by splitting your tickets

    We’ve finally cracked it. Our new advanced tickets TicketySplit tool takes on the ridiculous train ticket pricing anomaly that means buying two separate tickets sometimes costs less. It can save some regular travellers £1,000s. Here’s an example…
    Birmingham to Newquay advance single = £150

    This train stopped at Cheltenham so instead the tool suggested…

    Birmingham to Cheltenham advance single (£21) + Cheltenham to Newquay advance single (£44) = just £65.

    Bookmark our free TicketySplit tool. Tell it when & where you’re travelling and it crunches thousands of advance & walk-on ticket combos to check if you can split and save. If so, you can buy them with just a few clicks.

    • squills says:

      It work! Just tried Truro to Bristol Temple Meads £46 and it immediately saved me £9 😉

      Try it yourselves…

      • squills says:

        Truro-Glasgow same thing!

        Success! You can save £9.00 on this journey –
        without even getting off the train!

        • squills says:

          I can even save 10p on the £10.90 route I’m using daily at the moment! That’s really stupid pricing on Cross Country’s part, it’s the same train all the way with just 1 stop, so why would you make buying 2 ‘half fares’ cheaper than buying just 1 through ticket?

          • squills says:

            Bit annoyed now! 😉

            I had to get the train back from Bristol a couple of months ago (on the way back from Squills Towers/ Ryanair lol) – and if I put in my actual ticket time…sure enough…

            Success! You can save £11.00 on this journey –
            without even getting off the train!

            Except I didn’t, of course 😉

    • Rob says:

      I have been planning a post on this but has been pushed back, will not probably appear for a fortnight

      • squills says:

        You should possibly reconsider. Think about your readership.

        5% go F and another 10% go Club or aspire to/ will eventually/ used to go F/ Club.

        Whereas 90-100% are probably interested in the reasonable expectation of saving 25% on their next £40-50+ rail ticket.

        Easy enough to use TicketySplit to see the right route & split, then actually buy the ticket in any number of other ways, incl RSH/ Tesco etc.

        • Raffles says:

          More about practical considerations – I ‘lost’ 4 working days in Vegas and I am out of the UK all next week as well. When I get back I have to clear a backlog of stuff and then start pre-writing pieces to partially cover our 12 day holiday over half-term in late October! There will not be much in-depth posting of any sort until November!

  • Fenny says:

    Quick question about RSH points. As they expire at the end of the year, can you convert them into e-vouchers that will last longer? My current rail plans are fluid, so may or may not happen before December. And as the fantasy GP points will come through at some point, I don’t want to lose those.

  • MB says:

    Virgin Trains are offering 4 Nectar points per £1 spent until 11th October. Is that better than the FTP deal?

    • Rob says:

      About quits if you value a mile at 1p. Nectar is a worse deal at the standard rate of 2 per £1.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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