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A guide to seat reservations on trains

On many trains in Great Britain, it’s possible to reserve a seat. But how do you make a reservation and what else do you need to know about them? We’ve got you covered with our guide to seat reservations on trains.

What are seat reservations on trains?

A seat reservation is your way of making sure that you’re able to sit down on your trip. It’s the only way of guaranteeing that you’ll be able to get a seat. On most trains in Great Britain, you can travel without one. But, it might mean that you have to stand. And on a long trip, you don’t want to have to do that!

When will I get seat reservations on trains?

When you book a ticket with Railsmartr, we’ll always offer you a seat reservation if they’re available. Advance train tickets always come with a seat reservation, too. This is because they’re tied to a specific train, and by allocating you a seat, it means that companies can keep track of how many tickets they’ve sold.

Which trains offer seat reservations?

When it comes to seat reservations on trains, whether or not you get a seat reservation can depend on the company and where the train is going. Here’s our handy summary to which companies offer seat reservations, so you know what to expect:

Operator Seat reservations? Additional Information
Avanti West Coast Yes  
c2c No  
Caledonian Sleeper Yes Reservations are compulsory
Chiltern Railways No  
CrossCountry Yes  
East Midlands Railway Yes Only on trains between Sheffield/Nottingham and London
Eurostar Yes Reservations are compulsory
Gatwick Express No  
Grand Central Yes  
Great Northern No  
Great Western Railway Yes Only on trains to/from London. Reservations on the Night Riviera sleeper train are compulsory
Greater Anglia No  
Heathrow Express No  
Hull Trains Yes  
LNER Yes  
London Northwestern Railway No  
London Overground No  
Lumo Yes Reservations strongly recommended
Merseyrail No  
Northern No  
ScotRail Yes Long-distance services only
South Western Railway No  
Southeastern No  
Southern No  
Stansted Express No  
Thameslink No  
TransPennine Express Yes Except on local services Leeds – Huddersfield and Huddersfield – Manchester
Transport for Wales No  
West Midlands Railway No  

What happens if I can’t sit in my seat?

We know this can be frustrating. If you book a seat reservation, it’s only natural that you expect to be able to sit in your seat! There are a couple of reasons why this might happen.

If the seat reservation system isn’t working on your train or the reservations haven’t been marked, then this usually means that the reservations have been cancelled. This is because it would be difficult for people without reservations to know where they can sit! In this case, simply take any available seat.

It might also happen if there has been disruption. Reservations might not have been able to be downloaded if a train didn’t start at its normal station.

If this happens and you can’t find a seat, speak to a member of staff if you can. Some rail operators also have a seat guarantee scheme, which means that you might be able to get a refund if you had to stand up. The main company that offers this is LNER.

I don’t have a seat number! What now?

Sometimes, if you get an Advance train ticket, it might look something like this:

ticket without seat reservation on trains

But what does it mean when you’ve been given a reservation that says ‘no specific seat’?

When you purchase an Advance ticket, you need to catch that specific train. However, rail operators can’t sell an endless number of Advance tickets, as they’d end up becoming too full! By issuing you a reservation with no specific seat reserved, they’re giving you what’s known as a counted place. This allows them to monitor how many tickets have been sold for the train. Once they’ve sold a certain number, these counted place reservations will run out and they’ll stop selling Advance tickets for that train.

If you’ve booked an Advance ticket very close to your departure time, you may also find that there is no specific seat reserved for you. It can also happen during large events where trains are expected to be busier than normal.

I can’t stand up and need a seat!

We know that sometimes, people might not be able to stand. Whatever the reason is that you’re unable to stand, there are two things that might help you.

First of all, you’ll find priority seats on every train. They’re clearly marked and are designed to be given up when someone who needs a seat needs to sit in one. Many operators also offer a priority seat card, which means that you can show it in order to ask someone to let you sit down.

It’s also possible to book assistance for your journey. Click here to find out more about booking assistance.