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Booking Trains Online: A Guide for First-Timers

So, we all know that booking trains online can be the key to getting the best fare. But, where do you begin? Let us take you through using the Railsmartr website for the first time.

Getting started with booking trains

So, the first thing to do is to head to the Railsmartr homepage. Once you’re there, you’ll have this tool on your screen:

railsmartr journey planner with no information entered.


So, we need to know where you’re going from, where you’re going to, and when you’re going. Finally, we want to know how many people are travelling! Let’s add that information in now:

railsmartr homepage showing information entered for a birmingham to london journey


We’re booking trains here from Birmingham to London for the 15th of June. We fancy a day trip, so we’re coming back on the same day, and it’s just us travelling.

The last step is to add a Railcard if you have one. These are discount cards that give you money off your train tickets, and they’re worth buying if you travel more than a couple of times a year. Lots of people are eligible for one, too. You can click here to find out more about them.

Picking the trains you’d like to use

Once you’ve told us where you’d like to go and when, we’ll give you some trains to choose from. Here’s what you’ll see:

journey planning results page on railsmartr website


Now, that’s a lot of information. Let’s start from top to bottom.

You can choose between Singles and Returns. If you choose Singles, we’ll show you the cheapest ticket for each individual train. These are usually Advance Single tickets, which are only valid on the train that you choose.

If you choose Returns, we’ll let you choose the cheapest ticket that’ll allow you to use both the outward and the return train.

By default, we’ll choose the cheapest ‘tab’ on the screen for the trip. If a return ticket is cheapest, you’ll see those first. If it’s two single tickets, then you’ll see them instead.

So, what do the snails mean? They basically mean that it’s a slower option. This isn’t a bad thing, as slower trains can mean savings!

Picking the right ticket

When you see a train you’d like to travel on, you can click on the price for more options. By default, we’ll give you the cheapest option, but you’re able to choose any ticket that’s valid on the train you pick:

booking trains on railsmartr: the main fares available on the 0906 train from birmingham to london


If you choose ‘View all fares‘, you’ll see more. For example, if you want to use the Underground or bus when you’re in London, then you might want to buy a Travelcard, which gives you unlimited travel on most transport in London for £2 extra.

booking trains on railsmartr: all fares available on the 0906 train from birmingham to london


You can choose the ‘i‘ symbol to see more information about the ticket. There’s a lot to take in, but some of the information is really important:

booking trains on railsmartr: information about a day travelcard from birmingham to london


Here are the important things to look for:

  • Can I break my journey? – Did you know that most flexible tickets allow you to break your journey? For example, you could jump off at Coventry on the way back to meet a friend for a drink, then take another train later. You could even choose to end your journey there altogether
  • Route – This tells you if you need to go a particular way or use a certain company. In this case, you can only use West Midlands Railway and London Northwestern Railway trains
  • Restriction code – In isolation, this doesn’t mean much. But if you click on the code, it’ll take you to a dedicated page:
national rail website showing the conditions of restriction code sk


This turns the code into plain English. Now you can easily see when you can use your ticket. Remember that unless you have an ‘Advance‘ ticket, you don’t need to use the exact train you choose when you’re booking trains.

Booking seats

If the train you’re taking offers seat reservations, you’ll be able to book a seat at no extra cost. Here’s what the list of options looks like:

booking trains on railsmartr: selecting a seat preference


It’s pretty self-explanatory. Choose where you want your seat to be, and whether you want to be at a full-size table or an ‘airline’ style seat. You can also pick which direction you’d prefer to face.

Remember that these are only preferences. If a train is busy, we’ll have to pick the next-best seat we can find. Some trains also can’t guarantee which way they’ll face. In this case, you won’t have a direction specified on your reservation.

How should I receive my ticket when I’m booking trains?

Finally, we’ll ask you how you want to receive your ticket. You can choose between an eTicket and Collecting from the station.

If you choose an eTicket, we’ll email it straight to you. You’ll receive a booking confirmation email, and then a separate email with the tickets will follow.

You can print it out or show it on any electronic device. You could even do both! There’s no need to ‘activate’ it and you don’t need to be connected to the internet to use it. Simply download or print it before you go.

If you opt to collect from the station, we’ll send you a collection code. Before your train leaves, you’ll need to use a ticket machine and follow these steps:

  • Select the collect tickets option
  • Insert the card that you paid with into the machine
  • Remove your card
  • Enter the collection code
  • Wait for all tickets to finish printing.

All that’s left to do is enter your card details and pay.

Is there anything else I should know?

Well, you’re ready to go! You now know about booking trains online with Railsmartr. Unsure about how to use the train when you get there? Don’t worry, we’ve written a useful guide to help you on your journey.

Remember, Railsmartr is completely independent. We don’t work for any rail operators, so we’re happy to ‘tell you like it is’. We’ve written about whether using First Class is worth it and which trains are the best and worst for taking luggage. We’ll show you the slower and cheaper routes that others won’t, too.

Best of all, we don’t charge any extra fees. Changed your mind and need to travel on a different day? No worries, you’ll only ever pay the difference. If your ticket is refundable, we’ll do that for you without any extra charges.