I'm trying to book train tickets from Edinburgh to London, we have a child who just turned 4. Whenever I go to reserve seats I'm given the option to reserve only 2 seats and not one for the child who will travel free.

How do I reserve 3 seats? One option that works is that I select Child's age to be 5 and then I'm given an option to reserve the third seat but obviously I have to pay child fare then when my child can enjoy free travel. I'd rather pay the child fare and guarantee a seat if its more trouble to get a seat right when we board.

I have tried at TheTrainLine and VirginTrains websites so far.

  • I won't make this an answer as it isn't applicable to your journey. But cross county (crosscountrytrains.co.uk/tickets/ten-minute-reservations) offer reservation by text so your ticket isn't checked. However, it can only be used on the day and all reservations could already have been taken. And the seat given is likely not the be near those already reserved by the parents.
    – skifans
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 12:01
  • There is a very high chance that even if you pay for tickets including for your 4 year old then you will not be guaranteed a seat on the train. Your ticket guarantees you travel, but not necessarily a seat I believe. Commented May 2, 2018 at 14:01
  • 2
    @Dezza No, if you reserve in advance you will get an allocated seat number. When you board the train, the signage above the seat will show the reservation (unless it’s not working that day!) and you’ll get a ticket confirming the seat number.
    – Traveller
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 17:11
  • 3
    @HankyPanky You can't "buy a seat reservation." You can only buy a ticket with a seat reservation, or a ticket without a seat reservation. So, if you buy three tickets with seat reservations, you have three reserved seats; if you buy two tickets with seat reservations and bring an under-five for free, you only have two seat reservations. The only way to get three seat reservations is to buy three tickets with reservations. (It used to be possible to buy a reservation separately but people who didn't know exactly when they wanted to travel abused it by buying reservations on a bunch of trains.. Commented May 2, 2018 at 17:20
  • 1
    @HankyPanky Ah, I see where you're coming from. The comment you were responding to has misunderstood. Obviously, if you buy a ticket with a seat reservation, you have a seat reservation. Commented May 2, 2018 at 17:53

4 Answers 4


It looks like you've discovered all the options. From the Virgin Trains site:

Kids under 5 go free

Yup, that’s right – totally free. However, as under-5s don’t need a ticket, they also won’t have a reserved seat. There are a couple of ways to make sure there’s a place for their little legs to get a rest.

  1. If you’re feeling spontaneous every train has an unreserved coach which should have some empty seats. If you ask the station staff in advance, they’ll happily tell you which coach it is and exactly where to stand on the platform to be ready.

  2. If you want to ensure you’re under 5 gets a seat then its best to purchase a child’s ticket in advance. Grab a child ticket along with a Family and Friends Railcard (see above). This can be as little as a couple of quid, gives you both a discount, can be used for advance fares, and for bargain travel during peak times.

It doesn't appear there's an option to take advantage of the free under-five fare and reserve a seat. A railcard could be advantageous if you want to book the child fare and get a reserved seat.

  • 24
    Wow, that second item has a misuse of "you're", a misuse of "its", and a failure of parallelism. Yikes! Commented May 3, 2018 at 20:33
  • 2
    I just hope their ability to operate trains is better than their ability to write. Commented May 4, 2018 at 20:04
  • 2
    The appropriate railcard in this case would indeed be the Family & Friends railcard - which discounts adult fares by 1/3 and kids fares by 60%. Up to 4 adults and 4 kids can get this discount with a single railcard. The railcard does cost £30 for a year, but if you're doing a long journey such as Edinburgh to London it could pay for itself with just that journey alone! You can find out more information at familyandfriends-railcard.co.uk .
    – KingJ
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 9:33

Part of the point of the free travel is that the small child is assumed not to require a seat. You will not be able to reserve a seat for them without paying a fare. Obviously if there are spare seats when on board they can use them.

Worth considering a Family and Friends railcard. In my experience it is cheaper to buy an adult and child ticket with the card than just the adult ticket alone without. It might well pay for itself on this journey alone.

  • 4
    Possibly stating the obvious, but the Edinburgh-London route is always extremely busy. I would not count on being able to get a seat for the entire journey without a reservation. I’d also check for ongoing maintenance work on the line before booking to avoid getting caught up in bus transfers between key stations like Preston and Carlisle. Personally, I prefer the East Coast line into Kings Cross.
    – Traveller
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 7:31
  • 2
    @Traveller Most trains from Edinburgh to London are on the East Coast route, which goes through neither Preston nor Carlisle. Commented May 2, 2018 at 16:12
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    @David Richerby The Virgin West Coast line to Euston goes through Carlisle and Preston
    – Traveller
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 17:07
  • 1
    @Traveller Yes. But most trains from Edinburgh to London are on the East Coast route. Commented May 2, 2018 at 17:16
  • 2
    @Traveller Look more closely. Most of your "West Coast" trains are actually East Coast trains to King's Cross, with a Tube transfer to Euston. Commented May 2, 2018 at 18:42

National Rail's summary of child fares makes the issue much clearer, at least to me:

Children under five years of age may accompany fare-paying passengers free of charge, unless the Train Company you want to use specifies otherwise in their notices and other publications. However, children under five years of age who are travelling free may only occupy a seat which is not required by a fare-paying passenger.

Since their seat is not merely not guaranteed, but subject to withdrawal at any time, it's clear why you can't reserve one. If you want your child to have a reservation (or even the right to occupy their seat for the whole journey!) then paying the child fare seems like the way to go.


The option I took a few months ago (with a 4 year old too big for long periods on a lap) was simply to put her in my reserved seat and sit on the floor/stand/perch on the edge of her seat. As an (able-bodied) adult the discomfort of having to do this is minor compared to the discomfort of dealing with a grumpy small person. I was booking a long journey with several legs, some of which didn't even have reservations, but I'd have had to pay for her all the way through or juggle ~16 tickets for the 2-person round trip (which isn;t handy when you're carrying a child and large rucksack through the barriers with little time to spare).

Carriages with reserved seats in them tend to be rather full, due to the way reservations are assigned to seats, so if you're averse to paying for a child's seat, you might find you're better off in a carriage without reserved seats. That's a gamble of course. It's common, though annoying, for people to reserve a seat and then sit elsewhere (very common on my intercity commute). But if you have an "advance" ticket you will have a reservation and are supposed to sit in that seat by ticket validity rules.

  • 1
    Thank you so much for your valuable answer. I decided to buy a child ticket and reserve a seat for him. Since it’s a single one way advance ticket it wasn’t too much extra cost. Commented May 3, 2018 at 13:52
  • Thank you for posting the question: it reminded me to book some tickets (with child) while I could still get the advance fare! Commented May 3, 2018 at 13:53

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