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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.

  • ChrisH says:

    Just on the east coast point – I too am sitting on a lot of points with them. One thing that worries me is that the new franchise is due to start next spring/early summer so if the new operator decides not to honour the points then I’ll need to dump them fast (probably on beer!)

    I know when I had GNER vouchers (back in the day) I had a limited amount of time to use them when they lost the franchise.

    Just worth bearing in mind

  • Geoggy says:

    I travel a lot on Virgin in First class and always use East Coast unless there is an RSH voucher knocking about.

    The Virgin trains loyalty scheme “Traveller” is shockingly badly designed. I spend more than they ask for over the course of a year with them, but their criteria wants this spend over 3 months – after which you can then spend nothing with them but you get 12 months worth of free weekend travel.

    I’ve given them feedback on this via CS and Twitter and they haven’t bothered to reply.

    So I use East Coast and take the points. If I can’t use them I will just redeem them in the gift / booze section – its better than the big fat nothing I get from Virgin.

    • Kai says:

      Even if you are in I think you are limited to one return journey per weekend and you have to book the specific train in advance.
      I live in Essex and Greater Anglia, although being rubbish in many aspects offers unlimited free weekend travel along any of their routes to members who pay for any season ticket using direct debit. This is of some good value to me as I travel to London a lot during the weekend.

  • Rob says:

    That is not what the rules say – interesting to know they don’t follow them!

  • Raffles says:

    What? Raileasy has a link for the switched on to avoid the booking fee and credit card fee but is happy to charge the uninformed?! Great.

    • JQ says:

      Same with BA!

    • Kai says:

      This is just common in the UK. Shops have discounts available but you have to enter a promo code to get the discount or pay the full price otherwise.
      Was really shocked when I arrived in this country!

      • Lady London says:

        It’s disgusting as this discriminates against those who are not net-savvy, in particular older people who may be most in need of a fair deal. Welcome to the new modern UK.

        • YOUP says:

          Presumably Raileasy don’t pay any commission to advertisers via that link, whilst on the fee-based website they do?

        • The reason is that, by having that link on the MoneySavingExpert web site, it means we don’t have any marketing costs to factor in.

          Even ATOC acknowledge (as per the ORR Retailing Review Consultation Document) that, when you add in marketing costs, third party retailers’ (like us and RSH, TTL) cost per sales is “more than 5%” which is the commission we receive.

          If anyone is interested in the charges we then have to pay back from that commission, please mail me or let me know thro’ this forum.

          BTW the ORR is asking for comments about its Consultation Doc before 31st Oct and these can be from “individuals”. So if you have an issue about rail retailing you want to raise with the regulator, now is the time.

          Our site is the first time there has been genuine price competition in the rail industry. Apologies to Tickety Split but, if you can’t do return journeys, you can end up encouraging people to buy 2 x splits that are more expensive than a bog standard return. Our split site is only in its first iteration just now but soon advance splits will be included and that will be followed by a revolutionary new journey planner that really will open up/reveal genuine competition.

          That only charges 10% of any saving it finds. Some people say “thanks, now I’ve foind the split I’ll go and book it on a TOC site”. We say to that errr how do you then expect these kind of sites to survive and, if you think you’ll ever be able to spend your reward/points on genuine split savings on a TOC site, I’d suggest you don’t hold your breath 🙂

          Never been on here so don’t know the score about email addresses but mine is:

          [email protected]

          One final thing, we have a free to use API if any of you have any ideas about innovative new rail journey planning/booking sites. We can only afford to give 3% (of our 5% commission) but we do make it including fees so partners can earn more for their efforts.

          • Rob says:

            Thanks for posting Mike. I have plans for a piece on split ticketing soon so I look foward to trying out both the MSE and Raileasy options. Rob

      • Nick says:

        Absolutely true and it is unfair. But on the plus side at least in the UK you have all these opportunities to save. In other countries no chance. You pay full RRP every time

        • Trevor says:

          “All these opportunities to save” ??? And by that you mean rather than get ripped off a lot (paying full RRP in £), you get ripped off a little (using a discount code), yet still pay more than elsewhere for the same product or worse service. I’m not sure there is a plus side to thsi setup, except the fake sense of victory.

          • squills says:

            You ignore the other side of the point, ie that in many other countries there are simply no opportunities to do as we do here, use competition amongst providers to get a good price.

            This is often true.

            In my wife’s country there’s no Amazon, no choice really between gas/ elec/ water/ phone/ internet (last ones seem to operate a cartel). Supermarkets? – yes but more like a duopoly so you need to hunt around.

        • Kai says:

          I’m sure as many discounts exist in other countries lol
          Despite all the “competitions” mentioned below, I still find England a very expensive country to live, and I had spent three years in Switzerland before I came to this country!

    • Michael says:

      The original promotion was for MSE I believe, but I just tried a google search for “Rail Easy No Fees” and the first link is the same eventual long url so its not too hidden. But as you say most would not know about it

  • idrive says:

    i am trying to use the money off from Amex for First Great Western and just found out I could book trains for all destinations ( I actually need to buy 2 return to Gatwick) but it seems that they overprice normal tickets a lot and can not buy Gatwick express or flexible tickets as normal prices. any way around this?
    i still need to do the maths, i am not sure it will be convenient to go this way

    • JQ says:

      Can’t say without more specifics but rail fares are all published, so there is no overpricing going on at any booking site, only fees

      However Southern may have special offers for its own trains (including the Gatwick Express, although there is never any reason to take this over a standard Southern train, except maybe late at night) and these will not be available on FGW’s site or on any other site except Southern

  • Nils Krumrey says:

    Interesting, hadn’t thought of that! I wonder whether it’s worth the expensing hassle of not being able to just rock up at the ticket machine for my commute. Mhmhm…

  • avstar says:

    looks like RSH dont charge the booking fee if you pay for your ticket ENTIRELY in e-vouchers… the party aint over just yet…

    • Trevor says:

      As in… if you have Tesco vouchers, you don’t pay a fee, or just their own vouchers? and are you sure the fee isn’t showing because it hasn’t actually been enabled yet (the email said “later this week” or something to that effect.

    • squills says:

      I, too, booked a ticket entirely in evouchers a few mins ago = no £1 charge.

      Maybe this is the answer.

      • avstar says:

        no charge for using RSH vouchers, such as those you get from accruing loyalty points or from the RSH fantasy games

      • Trevor says:

        So what happens if you don’t pay for a ticket entirely with vouchers? I don’t have any vouchers right now so can’t test, but here’s my thinking:
        1. Cash in your points, however few, for a 1p+ voucher
        2. Buy ticket with cash and voucher, but avoid booking fee
        3. Earn a few points from your booking
        4. Repeat to permanently avoid the booking fee!

        Sound reasonable?

        • avstar says:

          ive played around with it, booking two tickets in the last couple of days. partial payment with RSH e-vouchers triggers a £1 booking fee – full payment with e-vouchers does not. i cannot state definitively this is true for tesco RSH vouchers as i dont have any. But seeing what happens with the e-vouchers, i think its more apt to call it a fixed transaction fee (triggered by the use of non-RSH method of payment) rather than booking fee.

          • Trevor says:

            Thanks for the feedback, despite it not quite being what a I wanted to hear (but I’m not shooting the messenger). What a shame you require full payment in vouchers to get rid of the fee. Since RSH have been very quiet these past few months on promotions, seems I’ll never have enough points/vouchers to get away from it then and they’ve just lost my business. Will have to re-read the above and decide who’s my next best bet.

  • Barafear799 says:

    I can confirm later in the week has already happened – just trying to book now – and it’s there!!!
    Also, it appears that e-vouchers seemingly cannot be part used anymore – a big warning in red letters has come up:

    PLEASE NOTE: when using an e-voucher, make sure you have ticked the e-voucher box

    Once ticked the amount of the e-voucher in full is deducted from the payment.

    If the e-voucher is used as part payment then only the difference in the amount is taken by card payment.

    *Single use vouchers can only be redeemed against one purchase and lose any remaining balance after use.

    How do I know whether an e-voucher is a single use voucher?

    • squills says:

      Single use vouchers will say so.

      Other vouchers (incl from Tesco): you get the change back to use next time, don’t worry 😉

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