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Seat reservations

Seat reservations

Yes, all trains that have reservations usually have one coach that is part (or even fully) unreserved. You can sit in this coach if you don’t have a seat reservation. The coach used varies between train operating companies.

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Your seat reservation will have a letter for the coach, and a number for the seat. Something like A21. This will be on your ticket. If you have more than one reservation, because there is more than one person travelling or because you are changing trains, then all the reservations will be listed on your ticket. When you’re at the station, look for signs that show where your coach is expected to stop. These are present at all major stations. If you’re getting on where the train starts, then simply walk along the train to find the right coach. Coaches are usually in sequential order. On the train, your reserved seats will be marked electronically (above the seats on the side of the carriage) or with a paper coupon on the headrest of the seat.

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If you cannot get a seat reservation at the time of booking, it will be for one of the following reasons:
  • The train service you are travelling on does not have reservable seats (usually on shorter routes). In fact, you can reserve seats on almost all long-distance trains, and many shorter-distance ones too.
  • The train operator has not made seat reservations available on this service on this date. Even though they are usually available, this might be because of engineering works or altered timetable
  • Seats that are reservable have all been booked already
More details on seat reservations are available here.

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Some train operators don’t have actual seat reservations. This means that their coaches don’t have letters and the seats are not numbered. Nevertheless, they do offer cheap Advance tickets. As Advance tickets have mandatory reservation, something has to be put in the reservation system. “Coach *** Seat ***” means that you don’t have a specific seat reserved on the train for you. In this case, simply sit anywhere in the same class of accommodation as your ticket. We realise this is really frustrating for customers – but we don’t have an easy way of distinguishing between the two types of ‘reservation’ just yet. In particular, some train operators mix the two, depending on what train you are on and even what ticket you hold. At the moment, you’ll find these ‘sit anywhere and there isn’t really a seat reserved for you’ situations on all services operated by:
  • Northern Rail
  • Southeastern
  • Southern Railway
  • South Western Railway
  • LNWR / WMT
  • Chiltern Railways
You will also find them on most services operated by:
  • Transport for Wales
  • Greater Anglia
  • Great Northern and Thameslink
And on some services operated by:
  • GWR
  • ScotRail
We are looking at ways in which we can make this all a bit clearer for you!

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Where the train is reservable, and you are buying your tickets far enough ahead, we should be able to make a seat reservation for you. This is regardless of your ticket type – Advance, Off-Peak (or Super Off-Peak), or Anytime. Advance tickets will always come with a seat reservation where available. Please see What does *** *** mean on my seat reservation”. Instead, for Anytime and Off-Peak tickets, seat reservation is optional.

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No, there isn’t. In fact, seat reservations with Railsmartr are always free.

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For most trains and most tickets, you will need to buy your tickets and make your reservations no later than the day before travel. Sometimes, tickets are available until 18.00 (6pm) the day before travel. In you want to reserve a seat on particularly busy trains, we recommend buying your tickets as early as possible. For example, this is the case of trains leaving London on Friday evenings, or before or after bank holidays. Some train operators allow purchase of the rather mystifyingly-named Advance Purchase on the Day . This means that you will get a reserved seat on the train, even though you bought on the day of travel.

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You can reserve seats on almost all long-distance trains, and many shorter-distance ones too. In practice that means:
  • All Avanti West Coast trains
  • All LNER trains
  • Almost every CrossCountry train
  • Almost every TransPennine Express train
  • More East Midlands Railway trains
  • GWR trains that are long-distance trains to or from London Paddington, as well as those from Cardiff to Portsmouth
  • Some longer-distance ScotRail trains
  • Greater Anglia trains between London and Norwich
  • A few Transport for Wales trains
Sorry, we’d love to be able to write a much simpler explanation here, but it just isn’t that simple! Where a reservation is available, we’ll always let you reserve a seat, providing that the train is not so busy that there are no seats left. At the moment you can only reserve a seat at the same time as you buy your tickets. We hope to soon introduce the ability to make a reservation after you buy.

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