I've come across a rather interesting looking discounted fare for a UK rail journey. The slight snag is that I can't seem to buy it on the website of the train company that is offering it. Instead, the terms and conditions of the fare state:

Can be booked through rail appointed travel agents only. Any changes or refunds must be made through your rail appointed travel agent.

I've never heard of a "rail appointed travel agent" before. What is one? Are the usual UK train ticket selling websites them? Do our good friends at Loco2 count as one? And if not, where can I find one who'd be able (and willing!) to sell me this special fare?

(The fare I'm looking at is train operating company (TOC) specific, is time limited, and offers a decent looking discount. I suspect the "rail appointed travel agent" restriction is to reduce the number of people taking the offer up! Hopefully the answers to this question will help people who come across future fares like this, not just me for this one)

1 Answer 1


The vast majority of UK rail fares are "settled" between train operating companies (TOCs) through a central system called the Rail Settlement Plan (RSP). When you do a search on National Rail Enquiries you will see RSP fares (some exceptions may include some Open Access Operator fares).

TOCs can discount certain TOC-only Advance fares (i.e. Advance fares that are for routes wholly within their TOC franchise area) in order to attract customers to book directly with them rather than with a third-party retailer like TheTrainline (or another TOC). The TOC still has to pay the full pre-agreed price through RSP, meaning that they will be making a loss on these discounted fares (offsetting the loss as a marketing cost because the customer is likely to book directly with them again in future).

Rather than selling tickets to individual customers, "rail-appointed agents" are usually Travel Management Companies (TMCs) buying tickets on behalf of corporate travellers (see this thread). My understanding is that agents can only issue fares via RSP just like any TOC or online third-party retailer, and do not have access to any special fares.

It is therefore likely that you have discovered some sort of anomaly and it is not actually possible to purchase the fare.

However, if you are able to provide further information about the TOC and the fare in question I will be able to provide a more precise answer. The regulation of fares and the franchising system in general is a mess and there are some odd exceptions to the rules, and so it would be worth providing more detail.

To answer your question about Loco2, if and when we start selling UK rail we would unfortunately be unlikely to be able to offer any special fares, only what is available in RSP (i.e. the prices you see on National Rail or TheTrainline etc). A "rail-appointed travel agent" is an offline agent, whereas as a third-party online retailer (whilst still an "agent") connects its software to the RSP system somehow. Loco2 would count as the latter.

  • The fare deal in question is the east coast try before you fly offer, which needs to be ticketed before the end of the 2nd of March. The T&Cs specifically say "Can be booked through rail appointed travel agents only"
    – Gagravarr
    Feb 9, 2013 at 13:15
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    This is a product aimed at business travellers who usually fly to London from Scotland (hence calling it "Scottish Executive"). It is only available through "rail-appointed agents" because they are deliberately trying to capture the corporate market. This is an example of a TOC-only fare, so East Coast will be making a loss on this as they'll have to pay the full price via RSP (probably also one of the reasons they are only offering it via TMCs, otherwise the losses would be much greater). (I can add this as part of the answer if you amend the question appropriately)
    – Jamie
    Feb 9, 2013 at 13:52
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    So in order to access this fare, you would have to set up an account with a Travel Management Company/rail-appointed agent. I don't know of any rail-appointed agents that are not TMCs but there may be some out there (i.e. old-school 'offline' travel agents).
    – Jamie
    Feb 9, 2013 at 13:55
  • The specific fare is fairly short lived, so wouldn't seem to make a good question. The general principal for the next time one of these comes up was what I wanted to know! I came across the offer via a business show, where they were quite clear it was trying to capture those who'd otherwise fly. Does anyone (eg atoc) publish as list of rail appointed agents?
    – Gagravarr
    Feb 9, 2013 at 14:04
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    Not as far as I know. It's also a bit of a grey area in terms of whether an online retailer would be allowed to refer to themselves as a "rail appointed agent" and therefore offer the fares. For example clicktravel.com is a TMC but also has a normal online retail site takethetrain.co.uk. It's not clear how ATOC/RSP would make the distinction here in terms of which customers they were selling to etc
    – Jamie
    Feb 9, 2013 at 14:50

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