The hidden pitfalls of booking train travel online this summer – and how to avoid them


According to Smith, online trip planners apply brutal logic that causes problems with search results. “The journey planners are automatically programmed to try to minimize journey time. But in doing so, they sometimes add extra train changes that only save a few minutes on an hour-long journey. The system ignores the most convenient options,” he says.

Deviations between the arrival of one train and the departure of the next can also fall under the website’s algorithms, which means that instead of being shown a longer possible route, the traveler has no option.

“They are unable to add the journey by paddling that a human being would do if he planned the journey. This problem is worse for people trying to travel longer distances by train,” Smith says.

“Rail operators across Europe are not always as united as they should be in terms of timetables and ticket sales, which sometimes makes it unnecessarily complex to book a journey in several European countries”, acknowledges Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel.

“Many of us would like to swap planes for trains when traveling to Europe and this would be made easier if travelers received clearer information on how to book the most convenient journeys.”

How to dodge the system and find the hidden train routes in Europe

London to the French Alps

Rail booking site used: Trainline

Destination: London to Bourg St Maurice

Advertised journey time and changes: 10 hours and 52 minutes in total, changing trains both in Lyon and Paris

Actual journey time and changes: 10h26, with only one change in Paris

The detail: Bourg St Maurice is an extremely popular destination in the French Alps, but the Trainline website only offered one journey with an additional and unnecessary train change, which also made the journey longer.


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