A MoneySavingIdiot claims for a train delay

My name is Kelvin, I'm a features writer at MoneySavingExpert.com... and I'm an idiot with money. I've no excuse – after all, I write for the UK's biggest consumer website. But sadly, while I play a part in helping people save every day using MSE, my personal relationship with cash is a mix of fleeting highs and lingering regret.

Having been an MSEer for a while now, I've been doing my own personal Money Makeover since last year in the hope I'll become more like a MoneySaver and less like a cashpoint set to 'free for all'.

Over the next few weeks, I'm hoping to share a few of my stories from the personal finance frontline. I'll let you know how I've got on trying to practise what I preach, and show the reality of some of the MoneySaving basics we talk about week in, week out. After all, it's all very well overhauling your finances and turning the tables on cash-hungry companies when you're a MoneySavingExpert – but what if you're a self-confessed MoneySavingIdiot?

One of the first things I tackled was making a claim for a train delay. Small beer, but anywhere was a good place to start given that I'd recently spent £40 I couldn't afford on a pair of metal-toed trainers I've since worn just once.

While my train delay reclaim story is almost a year old now, I'm recounting it here in the hope that if, like me, you find MoneySaving doesn't come naturally, it might provide you with some small inspiration...

What happened

Heading straight from MSE Towers to Newcastle-upon-Tyne on a Friday night to attend a wedding the next day, my train was delayed. First by arriving 20 minutes late, then by another half an hour or so en route. Good start.

Heading back two days later after a lovely weekend, a similar fate awaited me. (If you read the tweet below carefully, you may be able to spot where my patience began to wane a little.)

On the up side, the delay was a slightly-less-painful half an hour. On the down side, the gentleman sat next to me may have been a competitive snorer.

How I tried to claim my money back

Despite the unwelcome snoozical accompaniment from my neighbour, once I knew the train would definitely be getting in late once again, I got straight on the case. I had a butcher's at MSE's Refund policies by train company (after being reminded to do so by MSE Sarah) and saw I should be able to get at least 50% of the total fare for my journey back.

I sprang into action, intending to make my claim via Delay Repay before the journey's end. Or at least I would have if I hadn't had mobile tickets – to claim by Delay Repay online, I needed to attach an image of my tickets, and as it turned out the Virgin Trains East Coast Travel Buddy app wouldn't allow me to take a screenshot of them. Useful.

Well, that solves that! Except it didn't... because it turned out Delay Repay on Virgin Trains East Coast's website wasn't working.

My new-found MoneySaving spirit was cut down in its prime, and I resumed watching Spiderman: Homecoming while trying to ignore my companion, who'd ramped up the intensity of his snoring to that of a thousand elderly bulldogs.

What I did next

Two weeks later, I shook off my MoneySaving torpor and, following Virgin Trains East Coast's instructions, submitted my claim via email instead of via its website and used my booking confirmation in lieu of being able to take a photo of my tickets.

Took all of 10 minutes – job's a good 'un. Or it was until I got an email back a few days later.

So to recap, I couldn't take a photo of my tickets as proof of my claim as I had mobile tickets, and I couldn't take a screenshot of them because Virgin Trains East Coast's app didn't allow me to. Following Virgin Trains East Coast's advice, I'd submitted my booking confirmation instead, only to get an email telling me that wasn't valid and helpfully suggesting that instead I should submit a photo of my tickets or forward my booking confirmation.

Exemplifying the stoic nature of my new-found commitment to MoneySaving, I immediately gave up all hope of ever successfully submitting my claim.

What I did after that

A month later, I tried again. By this time the whole shebang had dragged on for so long that Virgin Trains East Coast were no more, with the East Coast Main Line having been taken over by London North Eastern Railway (LNER).

I hit up LNER with little hope, fully expecting it to shoo away Virgin Trains East Coast's unfinished business like it was an unruly pigeon. The enthusiastic response rekindled my hope, but experience dampened my expectation.

What I got

Just four days later, a pleasant surprise plopped into my inbox – it turns out in the end all it took was that tweet with my claim references:

Cynicism was replaced by cautious optimism, and I began checking my bank balance daily, as opposed to bi-monthly. Eleven days later, boom.

Credits roll, as do tears.

What I learned about claiming a train delay refund

Don't let my travails put you off claiming – in the vast majority of cases, it'll be muuuuuch quicker and easier.
We've full help in the usual MoneySavingExpert style in our  Train Delays guide – but here, for any fellow MoneySavingIdiots out there, are my personal learning points:
  • Claim as soon as possible. You've got 28 days from the date you travelled to do it, but if like me you're not a huge fan of personal admin, it's easy to put it off in favour of virtually anything else – and LNER advise you claim within 48 hours anyway.

  • Twitter's definitely the quickest way to get a response. Ain't no shame in public shaming. Well, not in this instance anyway.

  • Don't give up. Bureaucracy's about as fun as eating a pie full of wasps, but try not to let it put you off when you're up against it.

  • If you do give up, get back on it when your patience has returned. It might seem like the ship's sailed, taking your cash with it, but there's every chance it'll have a kindly captain willing to return to port with your share of the booty.

In short, it's well worth making the effort. I got over £50 back and you could claim £100s – check out these success stories for some more inspiration, and MSE Rhiannon's How train delays helped pay for my games console blog.