Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Not so super

Reading Mike's account of having to be in the know to get reasonably priced rail tickets has touched upon a subject close to my own heart. I've always used the National Rail Enquiries website to find tickets and fares, but I am starting to find real inadequacies with it.

It has always been a drawback that you have to put in when you want to travel before it will show you the fares. There's no way of finding out when the cheapest fares are and then seeing if you can work around that. Although it shows them now, a few weeks ago the National Rail site didn't even acknowledge the existence of the Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway (which I really must travel on one day). And I am certain it doesn't show all the available fares no matter what you do - I don't know what else I could try to get it to do that.

I am - or have been - a big fan of London Midland. For a start, I think of it as the canal railway; it runs out of Euston to all those places on the G.U. - Leighton Buzzard, Milton Keynes, Tring, Berkhamsted and so on, and then on into the Midlands through Rugby and Atherstone to Birmingham, and to Wolverhampton and Penkridge. It's the poor relation of the Virgin Pendolinos that whizz through these stations leaving a whirlwind in their wake and are the reason why you have to stand behind the yellow line. The trains however are new and nice and comfy, although the routes may be slow, and we boaters don't mind about slow, do we? Not when you can get a return to Birmingham for £17 with London Midland (two and a quarter hours), which would cost you £40.90 with Virgin (an hour and a half) That's only comparing walk up rather than advance fares - and again, having just checked that, the London Midland fares didn't come up on the National Rail search.

London Midland run the service to Lichfield Trent Valley, which is the nearest station to Chertsey's mooring at Kings Bromley Wharf, so I have been looking into this with some interest. That £17 fare is a Super Off Peak Return, with which you can come back up to a month after you've gone. Excellent value then, particularly if you are travelling at the weekend, because it's valid any time at weekends. The thing about Super Off Peaks, of course, is the restricted times within which you can use them. I often use a Southern one to travel from Newhaven to London, and the rules are clear: on weekdays you can't travel before ten, and you can't leave London between 1645 and 1915, which often suits my purposes just fine. (Although if I buy in advance, I can get an even cheaper ticket with the same restrictions which can be used on any Southern train, for as many journeys as you like, within those hours.)

So I thought I would find out what the rules were for the London Midland Super Off Peak ticket, to see how useful it would be to me. I looked on their website - so chance of extracting the information from the morass of lovely interactive green graphics there. So I emailed their enquiries address. And received this reply:

Thank you for your e-mail.

I am sorry but I am unable to give you with the information which you
require as we do not sell tickets in this department. In order that you may
receive a suitable reply to your enquiry, please contact National Rail
Enquiries on 08457 48 49 50 or www.nationalrail.co.uk

I trust I have clarified the situation. Thank you for taking the time to
contact us.

Yours sincerely,

Annette Smith
Customer Relations Supervisor


To which I replied in turn:

Dear Annette

This is very disappointing 'customer service'. I was merely asking for information that really should have been on the website, and isn't at all obscure. Would it not have been easier for YOU to contact your colleagues who know about ticketing, and pass the information on? That's what I would call the most basic customer service.

As I am enquiring about a particular, highly restricted, London Midland only ticket, I hardly think National Rail Enquiries will be able to provide me with information if the company itself can't.

I am very disappointed. Could you have another try, please, and find this information for me? Because if you can't, in your position, I really don't see how I can be expected to find it for myself.

I have received a standard holding reply again, so if anyone out there knows the answer, or how to find it, please do let me know.

6 comments:

  1. I'm afraid 'Customer Service' these days is little more than a barrier between those of us who need something done and those who can actually do it. A recent disturbing trend is a refusal to be ut through to the 'supervisor' (generally anyone who's been there more than six weeks) who occasionally is able to actually do something rather than just read from a script...

    Try getting a head offce phone number from http://www.saynoto0870.com/ and give them a call?

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  2. Don't I know it. Part of the trouble is that I hate using the phone (my beloved N95 is really just a texting machine/modem/camera/MP3 player... I don't actually talk into it). And in this era of websites and email, I really don't see why I should have to. As someone pointed out (it may even have been Stephen Fry, but I wouldn't swear to it) speaking on the telephone is a brief historical anomaly in centuries of written communication.

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  3. I agree about the phone, but sometimes it's the only way to find a real human, possble even with some modicum of free will.

    However, as Dan le Sac says - 'thou shalt not question Stephen Fry' ;-)

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  4. Apologies for the response from Annette; whilst her primary role is to handle comments, that's not the answer I would have expected her to give and will have a word.

    In answer to your question, you can use the Super off-peak at any time at weekends.

    In the week, it isn't valid between 1630-1830 (except on the 1829 EUS-CRE). Additionally you can't use it on trains due to arrive in London before 1300, or depart London before 1030.

    You should, however, be able to get a cheaper Advance fare if you can specify your train. Try out our booking tool on londonmidland.com or select 'via Northampton' on nationalrail.co.uk.

    Hope that helps,

    David.

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  5. http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-train-tickets

    http://www.atoc.org/

    http://www.bestvaluefares.co.uk/

    http://tickets.londonmidland.com/lm/en/Journe
    yPlanning/MixingDeck

    Hope these may be of help, Norman Baker MP is an effective voice on railway and public transport issues, customer service or lack of it, may be of interest to him?

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  6. He's my MP!

    Thank you David - I did get a reply today from Annette. The amazing power of blogging!

    And I asked the girl on the desk at Euston this morning and she was very helpful too.

    The hint about specifying via Northampton is useful too.

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