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ebookers Launches Online UK Rail Booking

by Continental Club on March 29, 2013  |  Leave a comment • Tagged as: , , ,

ebookersebookers has become the first of the major online travel agents to offer UK rail tickets alongside flights, hotels, car rentals and its other ‘traditional’ products. The new service is promoted with the promise of no booking fees, something which most other third party rail-only booking sites can’t say.

Continental Club has tried the system out using the ‘ticket on departure’ option familiar to many UK rail users – a reference number is provided upon booking confirmation, and the card used for payment is inserted into a ticket machine at the station to authorise ticket printing. The ebookers reservation worked perfectly.

The initial presentation of travel options on the ebookers site is clear and straightforward too, with the basic information displayed in a format more akin to one you’d expect to see when booking round-trip air travel. That differs from most rail booking sites which show outbound and return services separately – ostensibly to quickly facilitate mix-and-match itineraries.

ebookers RAIL

So far then, so good. If you’re looking for a straightforward Standard Class ticket and you’re paying by debit card, then there’s little to worry about.

However, it’s the things that you can’t do that currently mean ebookers first attempt at UK rail isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you’re hoping to travel in First Class, you’ll have to look elsewhere. It’s also not possible to use a railcard yet. Tickets can’t apparently be changed or cancelled online, even if the underlying fare conditions allow it (which, in all fairness, is very much the way that online travel agents deal with air travel and hotel bookings too). Credit card payments do attract a fee – again a situation which is not unusual with third party rail booking sites.

The bigger issue which applies to the new ebookers system, and generically to all third party booking sites, is that it can’t offer certain ticket types sold only by the train operating companies themselves, and sometimes only by the actual operating company for the service selected.

As an example, here’s a random trip for three passengers travelling between London and York, offered by the ebookers site:

ebookers RAIL GS3

The journey is operated by East Coast Trains, which offers a 2% discount on its own advance tickets when bought at eastcoast.co.uk. There’s no booking fee and no card fee. They also offer East Coast Rewards points for ticket purchases of £22 and over.

In this admittedly rather extreme example, here’s the East Coast quote on its own site for the same journey and number of passengers:

East Coast Matrix GS3

Even paying by debit card in both cases, the East Coast quote is almost £118 cheaper for the group than ebookers – because quite apart from its own 2% operator discount, East Coast can also sell something called a 3plus ticket to parties of 3 or more, which reduces the individual ticket price by 33%. In fact, in this example, the ‘upsell’ button on the East Coast site shows that the party could travel in First Class for less than the ebookers Standard Class quote.

Continental Club’s general advice when booking UK rail has always been to check which train company operates on your chosen route, and then to visit the company’s own website for the best ticket prices. For a directory of all UK train companies, visit:

Continental Club | Travel Directory | Trains

One final thing to take into account is whether online seat selection is available on the operator site – some train companies allow you to pick your carriage and seat, which can be useful.

If there’s no saving on the operator website, and the operator in question doesn’t offer seat selection, then the current ‘best buy’ route is to join the East Coast Rewards Programme and book at eastcoast.co.uk.

The ebookers launch is a good addition to their website though, and it can work well in the right circumstances. Hopefully, it will be developed to offer all the options that the individual operating companies’ sites do, and also link hotel and car rental bookings as well. It’s a good start, but for the moment and for many passengers, rail companies’ own websites will remain the first choice.

 

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