What is the point of thetrainline.com?

The trainline.com sell fares on all UK trains at the same prices as those available from the rail companies own websites. However, they add a booking fee (variable according to the total amount and whether the booking is made by pc or mobile but many will pay 75p). You can collect the tickets without charge from a station machine or pay a fee to have them posted (from £1). You will also pay 2% to use a credit card but debit cards are free.

Go to any of the operating companies or National Rail and you will not pay any of these fees.

Some might say that the fare displays thetrainline use are easier to read than those of the train companies. National Rail and most of the train companies sell tickets for travel with all UK operators and allow you to compare prices in the same way as thetrainline.

The private equity owners of thetrainline are looking to float the company next month for £500 million which is pretty good business considering they bought it for £160 million in 2006.

We are always at pains to state that we are not financial experts and anyone considering investing should consult a suitably qualified professional. There might be some compelling reasons why the company is a good investment.

What we can say is that there really does not seem much point for travellers to use thetrainline. Companies that charge more for the same product than their competitors rarely thrive.

What every travel nerd really wants for Christmas

Forget the alarm clock that tells you the time around the world, the pen that can write upside down and has a NASA logo, the Bear Grylls’ monogrammed socks and the key-ring that comes with built-in calculator, bottle-opener and emergency torch, we have found the perfect gift for the real travel enthusiast.

Go to world-of-subways.com and, for little over £20, you can download a game that allows you to drive a London Underground District Line train (or a New York subway or a Berlin U-bahn). The design of the games is very realistic so any regular user of the District Line will feel very much at home.

True gamers might not be too impressed with these products. There are no zombies to kill, no car-chases and no beautiful female hostages to rescue but what is that compared to the thrill of safely taking your train into Hammersmith station and judging the length of the platform correctly, or working out how to power-down the train when you have expertly taken it back into the sidings for the night? 

Even for non-anoraks, this is surely a more entertaining option than watching the traditional Christmas double-dose of Eastenders.


A taxing question for Beardie

Richard Branson seems to have got very hot under the collar about Willie Walsh’s suggestion that the Virgin Atlantic name could disappear within a few years if Delta buy a stake in the airline from Singapore Airlines. Obviously a raw nerve there…

And if anyone wants to wind him up any more, might I suggest asking for confirmation that since Virgin Trains have won a two year extension on the West Coast route, any fees for the use of the Virgin brand name will be paid to UK-domiciled companies and UK tax paid in full.

It is not just Starbucks…


Eurostar competition delayed – again

It seems a long time since Deutsche Bahn announced they would be bringing their trains to St Pancras to compete with Eurostar. The original plan was for the service to start in time for the Olympics. Then that slipped to late 2013 and now it is “2016 at the earliest”. It sounds rather like the new Berlin airport all over again.

Siemens is having serious problems adapting the new series of ICE trains to fit the standards required for the tunnel and to allow them to run on all the networks needed. Reading between the lines, it looks as if the issues involved could be too costly and difficult to bother with so it is tempting to read “2016 at the earliest” as “some time, never”.

Most of these problems could have been foreseen – it is not as if the safety rules for operating trains in the tunnel have been changed. The affair does not reflect well on either Siemens or Deutsche Bahn.

This long delay is seriously bad news. We have long said that Eurostar is in desperate need of competition and the longer it continues without any competitor, the more complacency is likely to step in.


A welcome travel deal to Stansted

Not only is Stansted airport a schlep, it’s also pricey to get to. So we welcome the news that Stansted Express has launched an exclusively online ticket aimed at couples, friends and colleagues. At £10 each way for each person Liverpool St-Stansted (or £9 from Tottenham Hale), this “Web Duo” ticket will cut the cost for those travelling to the airport together.

The special fare is available only for two adult return journeys, and provides a saving of £23 on the normal fare. It is only available at their website, at stanstedexpress.com.

Time to ditch Virgin

Why is it that when any other company loses a contract, they take it on the chin and move on but when a decision goes against Richard Branson, it is supposed to be a matter for national outcry? Virgin are clever marketers of products but are not known for their low prices. Nor has their stewardship of the West Coast mainline been an overwhelming success (although it was more successful than their attempt at running the Cross Country service which was an abject failure).

Yesterday, the government announced a rather large increase in rail fares. Today, they say they have found a reputable company that will operate a major part of the rail network and give the government (that is us, in case Richard Branson had confused you) a much better deal. An extra £750million cannot not to be ignored. Surely any deal that reduces the large cash drain of the railway network is good news?

Any government would need a very strong argument to turn down such an offer – and Richard Branson’s false claims to be the passengers’ champion,

Virgin and their partner Stagecoach have had things their own way for too long. Some rail operators have got fat at the expense of the public and government subsidies.

FirstGroup are an experienced company. They surely know the risks of not living up to their contract. Equally, the government must be anxious to avoid another scenario where they are faced with an operator that cannot fulfil their promises. One must assume both parties have done their homework correctly.

The fact that an arch-capitalist such as Richard Branson joined forces with the country’s most militant trade union leader, Bob Crowe to denounce the deal, should be all the proof that is needed to show the government have acted wisely.

Deals too good to miss

Hotel frequent guest programmes are forever running special deals which encourage you to stay a certain number of nights to get extra points but by far our favourite offers are the simple ones – and it can’t get any simpler than the promotion just launched by Carlson (the company that operates the Radisson, Park Plaza and Park Inn brands).

To celebrate the re-launch of their programme as Club Carlson, all you have to do is join  (if you are not already a member), register for the promotion and then stay on two separate occasions between now and 15th June and you will get a free night certificate valid until the end of the year.

If you are clever, you can get away with just two individual nights in some of their cheaper hotels and redeem the reward at one of the more expensive ones. However, whichever way you do it, this is definitely a good deal. More details here.

Starwood are also about to launch their own promotion which – rather typically for Starwood – is good, but not as good as others. Stay three times between 1st May and 31st July and get one free night at a slection of hotels. Register here.

Finally, to celebrate the Royal Wedding (if that really is an excuse), Heathrow Express is offering tickets at a 50% discount up until 2nd May. Bookings can only be made on-line here – enter the code HEXB7P when prompted.

Eurostar Wins!

I really have to correct the last post – Gatwick Airport might not have handled customer communications very well during the recent snow but they still look wonderfully professional by the side of Eurostar.

There is a story doing the rounds that in late December when one of their trains was stuck outside Folkestone because of a blockage in the tunnel, they sent a car to the side of the train to collect the “supermodel”, Claudia Schiffer. Everyone else was left on board to stew. Eurostar presumably imagined no one would notice a car drawing up and one glamorous lady being escorted from the train.

Richard Brown, the Chief Executive of Eurostar, came up with the limpest response imaginable when asked if this actually happened. “Miss Schiffer travels anonymously, so I can’t confirm it.”

That sounds very much like a confirmation to me.

Eurostar has hundreds of commercially-important clients, many of them large companies who buy thousands of tickets a year. Airlines are much more likely to bend rules for major corporate clients than they are for so-called celebrities – who are often more trouble than they are worth. Not only was Eurostar’s action incredibly insensitive, it also seems commercially inept. And if they really thought they could do this without people seeing it and telling the press, then they are living in a fantasy world.

Eurostar offers

Eurostar has just launched its specials for the summer, offering £59 return fares to Europe. The new campaign, flagged Little Break, Big Difference has £59 return fares to Paris, Brussels and any Belgian station from London St Pancras International, Ashford International or Ebbsfleet International.

In promoting the deal, Eurostar have taken a side swipe at the hidden charges employed by competing low cost airlines by stating that there are no airline-style extra charges. More here.