Friday, 14 November 2008

National Express top in online train ticketing

There are at least 17 different places you can buy UK train tickets on line. 15 of them are virtually, identical but National Express East Coast offer a better service and cheaper tickets. Here's how.

I've been looking at the different online ticketing schemes in the UK. There are 15 train operators, two independent retailers (thetrainline.com and raileasy.com), and Network Rail offering online ticketing services. They all offer timetable search, and will all sell you tickets - except Network Rail, who will find tickets and prices, but forward you to one of the other sites for purchasing.

The surprising thing is that actually, there are only four distinct applications available. All the train operators except National Express East Coast use the same application that thetrainline.com uses. I think the application was originally developed by Cap Gemini for Virgin, under the trainline.com brand. How can I tell? Well looking at the code, they all contain this text: <meta name="keywords" content="trains, times, tickets, timetable, fares, railway, stations, booking, travel information, reservations, trainline, virgin, cap gemini">

Now, there's not much to choose between all the Cap Gemini sites. They're all looking pretty tired now, the navigation is awkward, and the all suffer the same little stupid faults. For example, choosing an outward journey date, you don't have to specify a time, but when you choose a return date.

National Express East Coast make it much easier to choose the price that you want to pay, and find an available train. And, they make it easier to experiment with different dates, routes and so on. It's the only site that lets you do that on the same page that they display the times and prices.

On top of all that, they offer 10% discounts on Advance tickets, something none of the other sites do. So they're cheaper than any other site. The only drawback is that they don't make it easy to see which route the train takes - for example, they show the number of changes that you have to make, but not where those changes are.

Raileasy's site seems a bit wierd to me. It's a bit easier than the cap gemini sites, but offers less choice of outward and return options. One thing they do well is displaying routes.
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