Expert insight

The difference between mobile and e-ticketing?

24 September 2018 by Josh Collier

We look at the different tickets types and how to make the right choice when buying rail tickets for business travel.

You could be forgiven for thinking mobile, or m-tickets, and e-tickets are much the same thing. But it is very useful to know how one differs from the other when it comes to planning a business trip along with which train operating companies (TOCs) accept either or both forms of ticketing.

When a travel management company, or a corporate customer, is booking a rail journey, it can be done through either a booking tool, such as Evolvi (used by Capita Travel and Events) or Trainline, or a ticket issuing suppliers direct booking application (of which Evolvi and Trainline both are) and this is where you need to consider the type of ticket you would prefer.

What is an m-ticket?

It can be booked through the booking site directly or a booking application, but the ticket can only be fulfilled through the application and will only be activated on the day of travel.Key things to consider here are that you must have a valid internet connection and sufficient battery power to be able to activate the ticket.

What is an e-ticket?

It can be booked through the booking tool and the ticket can then be printed out. Alternatively, by clicking on the downloadable link included within the confirmation email, the ticket can then be saved in the pass wallet of an Android or Apple device. The barcode is static so can be printed out as well as kept on your mobile. It can be scanned at the ticket barrier or by a guard and will be in a QR/barcode format.

Which one should you choose?

On the face of it, there is a good case to be made for m-tickets, and the industry is further along with m-tickets than e-tickets at this time. For starters, a mobile ticket is obviously the eco-friendly option. It doesn’t require the need to be printed or thrown away. Plus, mobile tickets have fraud-prevention measures in place, requiring tickets to be activated only on the day of travel.

But the mood within the industry suggests that e-tickets will become the preferred choice going forward simply because m-tickets are restricted to phone only and can only be downloaded via a ticket-issuing system's application.

Firstly, however, a couple of issues need to be addressed so that TOCs are satisfied that e-tickets cannot be reused or refunded when they have in fact been used. 

Before you book your ticket

There are some other practical factors to consider before booking a ticket, depending on where somebody is planning to travel to and from.

  • The vast majority of ticket barriers and gates are currently not equipped to read mobile or e-tickets at stations, so the traveller will have to show the ticket to station staff to be let through the barrier, which will impact on the time taken to exit/enter the station, especially at peak times.

  • Neither ticket option is available on routes where a cross-London connection is needed.

  • On routes where a change of train is needed, and multiple suppliers are included in the same journey, the route cannot be mobile-fulfilled.

  • E-ticketing is only currently available on advance fares as TOCs work towards implementing a solution that would detect fraud on non-advance tickets. Currently, m-ticketing offers greater control in this respect. 

  • As an example, Virgin Trains announced in June that travellers can purchase m-tickets for non-advance and advance journeys across all ticket types.

  • Other TOCs that accept m-tickets across all ticket types and all routes include Northern, West Midlands, Arriva Trains Wales, CrossCountry and First TransPennine Express.

  • M-tickets and e-tickets are limited on two of the larger TOCs – East Midlands and Great Western.

  • E-tickets are available to use on some advance journeys with Virgin Trains, CrossCountry, Grand Central, Greater Anglia, Arriva Trains Wales and First TransPennine Express.

  • Both m-tickets and e-tickets may not be available on all routes so it’s worth checking what is offered on your route.


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