Virgin Trains is to axe a perk for railcard holders, which enables them to get off-peak fares on peak time journeys, much to the dismay of passengers who rely on it to get to work. But you can still book now for travel after the change takes affect.

Currently, passengers with a 16-25 railcard, a Family & Friends railcard, a Senior railcard, or a Disabled Persons railcard can buy discounted off-peak tickets for use on Virgin Trains' West Coast Mainline peak services, which run between London and major destinations including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

But from 6 September, while railcard users will still get a third off off-peak fares and advance peak fares on Virgin Trains as normal, they'll no longer be able to buy off-peak fares for use on peak journeys.

Virgin says it's canning the discount to bring it in line with the rest of the industry, adding that it's the only train operator to offer this double discount. See our Cheap Train Fares guide to see if you can cut costs.

However, the move has come under fire from affected passengers, some of whom say they'll now pay quadruple the price.

'Threat to people's jobs'

Georgia May, a 22-year-old who commutes from Rugby to London for an internship, has started a petition calling on Virgin to U-turn on its decision. It has nearly 500 signatures.

In particular it highlights the plight faced by commuters like herself with a 16-25 railcard, who may no longer be able to afford travelling into London if they're undertaking low paid or even unpaid internships, or working in entry level graduate jobs.

She says: "I commute from Rugby to London everyday with a 16-25 railcard. My daily commute is £27 return a day, however this is trebling in price to £86 – more than my daily wage. I commute as I cannot afford to rent in London.

"This change is a threat to people's jobs as they will no longer be able to afford to travel to the roles they worked so hard to get."

Hannah Young, a 25-year-old copywriter living in Birmingham, also commutes to London for work. She has over a year left on her 16-25 railcard, but says her daily travel costs will now increase to £110.90 from £34.15.

She has written an open letter to Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, asking him to consider the impact of the new policy. She told "Virgin Trains' railcard offer makes living outside the high rent of London and staying close to friends and family a doable option.

"The commute isn't much longer than a lot of London-based colleagues do, and relocating isn't something I really want to do. Birmingham is where my partner and I call home. 

"The alternative to consider is London Midland. Its yearly season ticket is almost half the price of Virgin Trains', but the day's travel would also be around twice as long. It's a big decision, and two weeks isn't very long to trial alternatives and work out priorities."

Can I book now for travel after 6 September?

Virgin Trains has confirmed that if you book tickets before 6 September, you can still travel using the double discount after the new rules come in. It says you can buy tickets using the discount before 6 September for travel at least 12 weeks in advance.

Does this affect Virgin East Coast Trains?

Virgin East Coast does not offer a double discount scheme, so passengers on this line are not affected. The change only affects Virgin West Coast Mainline customers.

If you're unhappy, complain

If you're unhappy by the move, complain to Virgin Trains. There's no guarantee you'll get anywhere, but the more people who complain, the more likely Virgin Trains will be to listen. You can use our free online complaints tool, Resolver*, to help with the complaints process.

Also, see our Cheap Train Fares guide to see if you can cut costs.

Virgin Trains passengers face fares increase as it axes railcard perk
Virgin Trains passengers to be hit with fares increase as it axes railcard perk

What does Virgin Trains say?

In a statement, Virgin Trains says: "From 6 September Rail Card holders will no longer be able to buy off peak tickets for use on our peak services. We are the only train operator to offer this double discount where customers can use discounted, off-peak tickets on peak-time trains.

"Customers who book tickets before 6 September can still travel using the double discount after the new rules come in. Normal railcard discounts on peak and off peak tickets are unaffected and there are still many great deals available, particularly with some planning and flexibility."