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Third-party rail ticket retailers charge booking fees up to £6.50, watchdog says

Office of Road and Rail found ticket retailer sare 'drip pricing' train fares
Office of Road and Rail found ticket retailer sare 'drip pricing' train fares - iStockphoto

Buying rail tickets through third-party retailers such as Trainline will cost passengers extra, a watchdog has found, with some charging booking fees of up to £6.45.

The Office of Road and Rail found that 12 third-party retailers were adding booking fees to the cost of tickets, with these costing passengers between 45p and £6.45 per ticket.

The report also warned that in some cases these retailers were using a practice called “drip pricing”, where companies do not include the extra fees in the initial advertised price.

The warnings were included in a 25-page report published by the rail watchdog on Monday in which they looked into the issue of booking fees and the prevalence of drip pricing.

Out of the 19 third-party sellers which have been approved by the Rail Delivery Group, the body which represents rail operating companies, 12 were found to charge additional booking fees, or finder’s fees.

Finder’s fees are charged by retailers who offer split-ticketing, where multiple tickets are purchased for different sections of a journey, instead of just one ticket for the entire trip.

The 12 companies to charge fees were MyTrainTicket, Omio, Rail Europe, Railboard, Raileasy, Sojo, Split my fare, Train Hugger, Trainline, Trainpal, Trainsplit and TrainTickets.com.

Government is looking to get a grip on drip pricing
Government is looking to get a grip on drip pricing - TOLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Telegraph has found that Rail Europe, which offers tickets for continental journeys, is responsible for the biggest fee found, with the firm charging a flat £6.45 booking fee for all purchases.

Trainline, the biggest third-party retailer, fees vary depending on when a customer is booking and whether they book on our website or on our app.

Unlike third-party retailers, rail companies are not allowed to charge booking fees when travellers buy tickets directly from them.

The watchdog also raised concerns about third-party sellers increasingly using ‘rip pricing.

This is the practice that is also widely used by air ticket and concert sellers in which a lower price is initially shown, only for this to be increased at the point of sale once fees are added.

These extra costs can be for booking fees, processing fees, paying for extra luggage or printing out passes.

Companies such as Ryanair have become notorious for the practice, which can increase the cost of tickets well beyond their expected price when customers finally come to pay.

Seven companies charging

The watchdog has now written to seven of the 12 retailers charging booking fees which have been found to use drip pricing. The Office of Road and Rail would not disclose the names of the offending companies.

Stephanie Tobyn, director of strategy, policy and reform, said: “Consumers can now purchase rail tickets from a wide variety of websites and apps.

“This report highlights that some online retailers are not as transparent as they need to be when it comes to how they display or provide information on additional fees.

“We want to ensure consumers are provided with timely and relevant information when making purchase decisions and that drip pricing does not undermine consumer confidence when purchasing rail tickets online”.

The Government has taken steps to try and get tough drip pricing with new laws to ban the practice being included in the King’s Speech in November.

This will not see the outlawing of the additional fees but companies must be more upfront about the cost at the point of sale.

Ryanair was critical of the move at the time, warning the Prime Minister not to interfere in pricing strategies.

Neil Sorahan, the low-cost airline’s finance chief, said: “It’s wrong, first and foremost, to get involved in the pricing strategies of any business, regardless of what sector it’s in.

“If you look at the ancillary products, they’re all discretionary spending.

“I think it’s better if governments stay out of pricing strategies and let supply and demand figure out which way that’s going to go.”

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