Restrictions on altering Advance ticket

Discussion in 'Fares Advice & Policy' started by Bogied, 29 May 2015.

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  1. Bogied

    Bogied New Member

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    Hi everyone,

    Before I start, I appreciate that newbies on Internet forums often miss the basics so I want to be clear that I know Advance tickets are not refundable (unlike this guy ;))

    I bought an Advance ticket on FGW but fell ill the morning of the trip. "No problem," I thought. "I haven't collected the tickets and it's a regular journey so I'll just pay £10 to change the date."

    Only, I couldn't. FGW's website didn't offer that option. In response to my question of 'why?', FGW later wrote back saying that amendments can only be made on-line within 5 days of the journey otherwise they have to be made at the station, which wasn't really an option with D&V... :shock:

    Trouble is, that restriction isn't stated anywhere. And I know it isn't stated anywhere both because I couldn't find it in the T&Cs and also because FGW said as much! Their response has basically been 'We know we don't tell you about the restrictions but we don't think they're important (so go away).'.

    The opinion of a solicitor friend is that this is "a material alteration to the original contract" since those restrictions weren't offered or even available at the time of purchase. FGW have, in effect, said "You can alter the ticket" but later added "although only in a particular way at a particular time." Virgin Trains East Coast, by contrast, are much clearer.

    His advice is to take FGW to County Court and given the arrogance of the responses from FGW I really think this might be a good idea - if only as a public service (the tickets weren't that expensive).

    My only hesitation is that I would be surprised if I'm the first person either to experience this issue or to do something about it. Am I right to be surprised?
     
  2. bb21

    bb21 Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    What's D&V?
     
  3. Olympian

    Olympian Member

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    I suspect it stands for Diarrhoea and Vomit...
     
  4. gray1404

    gray1404 Established Member

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    So much as I understand that you might not be able to alter your ticket online, I see no reason why, given you had not collected the ticket yet and provided the time of the booked train had not passed, that FGW could not have altered the date and time of the ticket over the phone for you. Did you try calling them the morning of the trip?
     
  5. DaveNewcastle

    DaveNewcastle Established Member Fares Advisor

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    Good luck with your challenge in the County Court!

    The tickets could have been changed, right up to the day of travel, by yourself or someone acting for you (such as your friendly solicitor, or simply a friend), by taking the tickets to a station whose ticket office had access to pre-booked ticket orders. The ability to exercise that 'Term' of the Contract was not withdrawn from you.

    What was unavailable was the means by which you chose to notify the Company of your wish to exercise that 'Term' - via their website. I struggle to see how a claim could succeed against FGW where the passenger chooses to vary the contract of the day of fulfillment and wishes to notify them by one means only - one which unfortunately, had not been set up to effect the change you wanted at such short notice.

    I disagree with your 'solicitor friend' that your choosing to vary your contract only by means of an internet booking site and on the day of contract fulfillment and finding that that one method of varying your contract was no longer available amounts to a "material alteration to an original contract". In fact, I'd argue the opposite, that it was you that was seeking to bring about a "material salteration to an original contract" and seeking to do it precariously close to the time of fulfillment when many or all of the arrangements for your fulfilling contract would already have been put in place.
     
  6. gray1404

    gray1404 Established Member

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    Would I be correct in saying that provided the tickets have not been collected yet from the TVM, then changes could still be done over the phone - even on the day of travel before the booked departure time of the first train? (is it even possible to do a telephone change even if the ticket has been collected already)
     
  7. Bogied

    Bogied New Member

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    The train departs 15 minutes before FGW's web sales line opens. Are they usually more helpful than a website? If so, thank you and I'll know for next time but that would have made no difference here.

    First, thank you for your considered response. Naturally I disagree entirely :lol: but it's nice not to get shouted at simply for being an ignorant newbie!

    The issue hangs on the fact that altering the date or time of the tickets does not amount to an alteration of the contract. Why? Because the T&Cs are explicit that such an amendment is permitted - and this therefore forms part of the contract. An attempt to cancel an Advance ticket would indeed be an alteration. But an amendment to an Advance ticket is no more an alteration to the contract than seeking a refund to an unused flexible ticket (as is, also, permitted in those T&Cs at time of purchase).

    That being the case, limiting the facility to a website "which unfortunately, had not been set up to effect the change you wanted at such short notice", or even to a "ticket office [which] had access to pre-booked ticket orders", and (mostly importantly) without specifying this at the time of purchase, is indeed a material alteration.
     
    Last edited: 29 May 2015
  8. bb21

    bb21 Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Maybe I am misunderstanding you. I take it that you tried to amend your booking on the day of your proposed trip before the departure time, which is obviously within 5 days of the journey. Right? Or am I totally getting the wrong end of the stick?
     
  9. gray1404

    gray1404 Established Member

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    You can argue as much as you want on this one but you are not going to get anywhere. You have not kept to the terms and conditions of the ticket and changed your booked train before departure (subject to the opening times of the booking office or telesales line you wish to change it at or though). Your ticket therefore has no value any more and you would be better cutting your losses. No amount of arguing the toss on here is going to change that I am afraid. I know you say you wanted to change it online. If you honestly believe that when you booked your ticket you were under the impression (which a representation made on that website) that you could also change it online and there was no mention of any timescale (5 days) then I would respectfully write a complaint to FGW explaining such and ask what they are able to do you assist you. As you make this journey on a regular basis they may give you a rail travel voucher. This is highly unlikely though given the terms and conditions of the ticket have not been met. If you really feel strongly that you have been hard done by then, after you have first complained and given them chance to reply, you could ask for it to be reviewed by a Manager or take the matter to Passenger Focus (or both). This would really be a more sensible way of dealing with the matter rather then shouting legal action. It is also less of a cost risk for you.
     
  10. DaveNewcastle

    DaveNewcastle Established Member Fares Advisor

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    I'm sorry that I'm unable to see why it is obvious that you would disagree with me. It's not unexpected, but neither is there any reason why it would be apparent. But anyway:
    I'm no longer clear whether I am debating a matter of law with you as the passenger or your 'solicitor friend' as a professional. I am happy to help whre I can, but your argument is not persuasive.

    Perhaps we should look at some of the fundamentals.

    Firstly, there is the general body of Railway Law and Contract Law which can assist us in understanding a specific situation. A Railway Ticket is evidence of a contract to be conveyed between two points, a Contract which is binding on the Railway Companies, and not on the passenger. The Contract is formed with a wide range of Conditions and with references to supplimentary documents, timetables, guidance and a canon of Case Law. All of this helps us with the wide range tickets which can be used for any convenient train between the two points (and sometimes for certain other trains).
    These contracts can be formed and then be altered by the agreement of both parties before (and in some circumstances during) travel.

    Secondly, there are specific contracts which tie the parties to a specified train at a specified time and on a specified day. These are 'Advance' tickets and are specifically available on a defined train only - the tickets state 'Booked train only'. There is also a canon of Case Law which applies to these unalterable contracts; in previous years they have been known by other names, but the principles have been very similar - authorising travel (usually at a reduced fare) on a specified train only. The Terms of an Advance ticket make it clear in a wide range of statements during booking, sale, receipt and travel, that they are ONLY available on the specified train and that travel on any other train will require the payment of a new fare.
    (See R v Frere[/I,] Great Northern Railway Co v Palmer, London & North Western Railway Co. v Hinchcliffe and others.)
    These Contracts can be formed but cannot be altered. The advertised arrangements for passengers wishing to change their travel plans when they hold a cheap Advance ticket is not a change to the contracted terms. It is an agreement to cancel and refund that Contract entirely, and then, at the same time, to form a new Contract for the passenger's new choice of date, time, start and terminate stations, for which privilege an administrative fee of 'up to £10' is chargeable. There is absolutely no reason why that new Contract would necessarily be for travel on the same route - it's a brand new Contract.

    Where you or your 'solicitor friend' might be getting confused is in conflating the arrangements for a change of a flexible ticket (which is a change within the terms of an existing Contract) with the offered arrangements to refund a passenger wishing to abandon their Contract and to rebook another journey (which the Company offers to do where there is time available to do so).

    The crucial point is this. You (as the passenger) holding a cheap Advance ticket tied to a specified train are not varying the terms of any Contract. You are cancelling it (and in your example you are doing so at the last minute to the possible inconvenience of the Railway Company). That ticket is not changeable in any way at any time.

    These are the remarks which I made to indicate my suspicion that you had not grasped the distinction which I have made above. I'm sorry that I had not made it clear even in the passages which you have quite rightly quoted. The arrangements which (from the point of view of an unwell passenger) appear to be a change of Contract are not, in fact, a change of Contract. They are arrangements under which a person who has at no point ever been obliged to fulfill their part of the contract (the passenger may stay away from the railways all day) can suddenly ask to cancel their contract for that single and specific journey and recieve a refund less a fee when they rebook a completely separate Contract.
    For clarity, I'll repeat, the arrangement to cancel one Contract for travel by rail and then to rebook another Contract with a refund from the original is not an arrangement within the first Contract.

    There are reasons why cheap 'Advance' tickets are so much cheaper than more flexible tickets. One of those reasons is that they are not 'flexible'.

    I will continue to help no matter how much you may disagree with me, but I will not assist you in your proposed claim against FGW for breach of Contract.
    --- old post above --- --- new post below ---
    To offer a personal opinion and illustration, I am a regular user of high-value Advance fares. A cheap Advance from Newcastle to London on Monday morning in First Class will cost nearly £200 (while an Advance for that journey booked a few months ago might have cost under £50).
    When I suspect that I might be unable to travel on a booked service, I will sometimes book 2 or more cheap Advances for the same morning, knowing that I will surely be able to travel on one of them to get to London on time for work, and that 2 or 3 cheap Advances have been cheaper than one more flexible ticket. If I (and my railway colleagues) thought that Advance tickets were more flexible then I wouldn't have bought more than one for the same journey!

    I have in the past agreed with your sentiment that an unused Advance ticket has no residual value and am pleased that operators are wiliing to make some transfer value availble since then (subject to an admin fee for cancelling and rebooking).
     
    Last edited: 29 May 2015
  11. MikeWh

    MikeWh Established Member Senior Fares Advisor

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    Dave,

    A brief mobile interjection. When you amend an advance ticket you don't cancel the previous contract completely. The amended ticket must have the same origin and destination and is only valid if accompanied by the original ticket.
     
  12. gray1404

    gray1404 Established Member

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    "The amended ticket must have the same origin and destination and is only valid if accompanied by the original ticket. "

    Does that mean then (wrongly) someone could decide to revert back to their old travel plans and use the original ticket?
     
  13. CyrusWuff

    CyrusWuff Established Member

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    No. At the point of making the change, if done at a station, the clerk should cancel the original reservation(s) and dispose of the reservation coupon(s), leaving you with the original ticket, excess, change of journey fee and new reservation coupon(s). If you subsequently change your mind again, that would count as another change of journey and attract an additional fee.

    As for the OP's issue with FGW requiring 5 days notice for a change of plans, I suspect that's down to not being able to setup a change of journey for collection by ToD, so it has to be sent by post.
     
  14. Bogied

    Bogied New Member

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    Correct.

    Correct, but the critical aspect is that I was unexpectedly prevented from keeping to the T&Cs. Put it another way, I could not reasonably have foreseen the limitations that silently came into force at T-5 days.

    And yes, I've been through all the escalation to the supervisor, the manager, etc. etc. (true, I haven't bothered with Passenger Focus Groups, but really?). I've either had questions answered I didn't ask (laziness) or I've just been ignored (arrogance). What this tells me is that FGW staff take the mental short-cut of "Advance ticket: can't refund" without considering whether that is true in 100% of cases. In my experience, it's that sort of arrogance / laziness in large companies with no-one taking responsibility where some sort of legal prodding is very effective.

    Me. His advice is second-hand via me. I just about qualify as a barrack-room lawyer (but a consistently successful one I might add).

    First, I should point out that I haven't come here for advice. I probably didn't make clear that this has been going on for months and we have done our research: my case is a strong one. If I was the defendant I might not wish to reveal my position but as the plaintiff this will be with FGW soon anyway. For that reason I am happy to debate this with you on an open forum as a matter of academic argument, and please do feel free to dissuade me, but really the only thing I'm missing is this next bit.

    Second, because what I was hoping to find was that someone else had taken this position and won (or lost!). I'm surprised that isn't the case but I guess someone has to be first. Thank you for case law examples but I can't really see the relevance: the critical aspect is not the limitations on travel explicit in a specific ticket (as I think those cases refer to) but the undefined restrictions that apply after purchase of said ticket.

    It looks like MikeWh disagrees with you but as it happens the point is moot. Either the T&Cs allow for the original contract and / or ticket to be amended with a new date and time, or for the original contract & ticket to be cancelled and new ones issued (for clarity, because we agree you can't just cancel an Advance ticket, let's refer to this as an exchange of contract & ticket). It doesn't matter to me which occurs - the point is that I was unexpectedly prevented from doing either!

    Let's try a thought experiment. Do you agree that only the date and time, and no other aspects such as the departure or destination, of Advance tickets are amendable prior to the date and time of travel? If you say...
    • "No": I'll point you towards the T&Cs which say otherwise (but I don't think anyone is arguing this, are they?)
    • "Yes": This is my position.
    • "Yes, but...": Then I'm arguing that the 'but' must be specified at the time of purchase ... and FGW admit that it was not.

    Correct.
     
    Last edited: 30 May 2015
  15. gray1404

    gray1404 Established Member

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    (true, I haven't bothered with Passenger Focus Groups, but really?)

    Passenger Focus (I believe it is now getting called Transport Focus) was set up by parliament to represent the interests of rail users. When a customer has not been ale to get their complaint resolved with a train company, they can take it up with a member of management of the train company on the passengers behalf. Sometimes they are able to secure a good outcome. I suggest you fill out this form here
    http://www.transportfocus.org.uk/contact/complaint
    More information is contained here
    http://www.transportfocus.org.uk/help/rail-complaints
    You have nothing to loose and you might just get a positive outcome. You will still be able to issue legal proceedings if you don't get the outcome you want.
     
    Last edited: 30 May 2015
  16. najaB

    najaB Veteran Member

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    While from this thread it appears not to be possible with FGW, my company's contract with TheTrainline allows amendments on Advance tickets to be made as little as 10 minutes before departure (provided the tickets haven't yet been collected). So it would appear to be a TOC by TOC by vendor limitation.
     
  17. bb21

    bb21 Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    In that case I don't see what FGW's problems are, as you have done exactly what they asked in the email/letter quote by you

    It's a bizarre requirement to me. The excess coupons together with your original ticket could both be collected from the station when you get better or posted to you, seeing that you will not be travelling at your original time so time will not be an issue.

    Please keep us informed of your progress. You are very brave to do this, but for a good reason I think.
     
  18. Bogied

    Bogied New Member

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    Perhaps I've been unfair on them, then. I think I had assumed that they were just talking shops between disgruntled, but otherwise powerless, customers. I will definitely consider them next time.

    That's certainly what I've found in my research. FGW implied that it was limitations in the National Reservation System that was the issue but maybe it was FGW's systems (in)ability to interact with it? Dunno.

    Well after months of back-and-forth, over the weekend, I was refunded the value of the tickets in vouchers which I shall probably use on a FGW service. :D So all is well.

    Now, I'm not so arrogant or naive to believe that this definitively proves me right. Realistically I was just put in the 'Difficult Customer' pile and maybe they thought "Stuff it, there's a strike coming up and we've got enough to do!" Still, I was right enough and that's ... enough.

    And, ironically, if this sort of thing happens again and I am unable to travel to the station to collect the tickets, any future case would be weakened because it can be shown that I knew about the restrictions second time around. But I think that if the tickets are valuable enough I might just haul myself to the station anyway!

    Or get them from a different TOC website - and to hell with the Nectar points! :lol:

    Thank you, everyone, for your input.
     
    Last edited: 2 Jun 2015
  19. gray1404

    gray1404 Established Member

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    Could you take this to Passenger Focus anyway...yes you are happy that the value of the ticket has been given back to you in Rail Travel Vouchers, but I think it needs to be cleared up how far before travel you can make changes when booking with FGW and, if needed, suitable warnings are placed on their site when customers book tickets.
     
  20. najaB

    najaB Veteran Member

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    It's definitely not the main system as I've checked and we can actually make changes right up to the departure time (not 10 minutes before as I posted above).
     
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