Twelve train companies have signed up to a voluntary price guarantee to refund the difference if passengers could’ve bought a cheaper ticket when buying from a machine.

The guarantee follows research by industry regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), which found that a fifth of passengers were paying over the odds when buying a ticket from a machine because they didn’t realise a cheaper fare was available for the same journey.

Its findings showed that while 7% of passengers underpaid and could be fined, 13% overpaid because they'd selected a ticket that was more expensive than required. Check out our Cheap Train Tickets guide for help avoiding pricey fares.

Martin Lewis
Get Our Free Money Tips Email!

'Customers should not be expected to hunt for the cheapest ticket'

Ticket machine problems have long been a bugbear of passengers. Prior to the changes, one MoneySaver got in touch with us after buying a return from Manningtree in Essex to London, to include tube travel.

Sarah said: "I thought this [ticket] was more than I usually paid, even with my Network Railcard discount, so I checked the price on the train. I was in fact overcharged by £5.60 as I was eligible for a super off-peak ticket for the train I was catching, not an off-peak which I was sold.

"Ticket machines need to be set up to sell the cheapest ticket for that time. Customers should not be expected to either hunt in the ticket machine for the cheapest ticket when they are rushing to catch a train, or spend time questioning ticket staff and doing their own research in order to ensure that they are not overcharged."

Sarah eventually managed to reclaim her £5.60 from the rail firm. The price guarantee should make reclaiming for situations such as this much easier.

MSE Talia is aware of this problem with the ticket machines at Cardiff Central Station. She said: "When heading to London at the weekend, it’s all too easy to select the 'London Terminals' single ticket for £57.10 on the front screen of the ticket machine.

"However, being a money saver, I know an off-peak single is £44.20. So using the machine’s A-Z destination finder I type in London Paddington and lo and behold the cheaper £44.20 off-peak single ticket appears."

Top tips to avoid paying too much

Ticket machines can be confusing, and we'd say book tickets in advance where possible. If you can't, it's still worth spending a bit of time researching your route before heading to the ticket machine so you know how much the cheapest ticket should be. Here are more tips:

  • Check the ticket type. An anytime ticket will be more expensive than an off-peak one. And there may be even cheaper super off-peak tickets available. The time restrictions for peak and off-peak vary by route so always check before you buy.
  • Select the actual destination. It's generally best to type in your actual destination as this can be cheaper – London Paddington instead of London Terminals, for example.
  • Add on your railcard. If you have a railcard ensure you add this on to your ticket selection, as the button to do so can be easy to miss.
  • Check if you actually need a Travelcard. If you're travelling into London make sure you know which travel zones you'll be visiting before paying for the most expensive Travelcard.

12 rail firms agree to refund passengers who pay too much for tickets
12 rail firms have agreed to refund passengers who pay too much for tickets

How to apply for a ticket machine refund if you’ve paid over the odds

The ticket machine price guarantee refund procedure differs from company to company. The links below will take you to each train company’s refund page.

Govia Thameslink Railway, London Midland, Southeastern, South West Trains and Virgin Trains West Coast have not signed up to the ticket machine price guarantee.

Does this ticket machine price guarantee apply to split tickets?

No. The rail regulator says this price guarantee doesn’t cover instances where you could have saved money on a train journey by buying two tickets instead of one – known as split ticketing. Find out more about Split Ticketing here.

What about refunds for in-person or online ticket sales?

The ticket machine price guarantee doesn’t cover in-person station sales or online purchases. If you think you’ve been sold a more expensive ticket than you should have in these circumstances, contact the train company or station operator directly.

ORR calls for rail ombudsman

John Larkinson, Director of Railway Markets and Economics at the ORR, said: "ORR is committed to protecting the interests of passengers and ensuring they get the best possible experience – from paying the right price for their ticket and receiving help they need on their trip, to being treated properly should anything go wrong.

"We are seeing that the industry is improving customer service in some areas, such as compensation for delays, but the quality of service when dealing with passenger complaints needs to be better.

"This is why we are supporting setting up an ombudsman and will also continue working with industry to keep offering a better service to passengers."