Ads that don’t deliver: The Virgin Trains 20th Birthday sale

With 70% of weekend dates unavailable, this misleading Virgin Trains sale has driven me loco.

it’s been a while since I last wrote about an advert where the savings don’t quite add up, but they’re always on my radar and I wanted to name and shame the latest to feel my wrath.

At one minute past midnight last Thursday, Virgin Trains launched a big ticket sale. I’m heading to Manchester in May so this was perfect timing for me.

The details on the website and printed in the Evening Standard the next day promised £10 London to Manchester tickets, a discount of £12 on the normal cheapest fare, and significantly more if you were travelling sooner than 12 weeks away. Other routes included £4 from London to Birmingham and £14 London to Glasgow. Bargain.

It’s such a good deal I included it in my newsletter on Thursday – and I know a fair few of you took advantage (it ends 14th March). But things didn’t work out so well for me.

Weekend woes

As the sale launch approached I sat poised at my computer ready to get the tickets, waiting for the clock to strike 12. So it seemed were thousands of others and the site couldn’t handle the demand.

When I finally managed to get the site to load (it was worse than getting Glastonbury tickets), something didn’t seem right. There were no sale fares. I tried again, and after the Virgin site crashed once more, I finally got the page loaded around 12.20am. Still no sale fares. Surely they couldn’t already have sold out?

Then I found a button which opened a sale fare calendar. As you can see in the screenshot, it wasn’t just my selected Saturday which had no sale fares, but most of the weekends. I tweeted Virgin Trains, but with no response forthcoming I headed to bed.

Virgin Trains sale fare finder

Friday morning, I tweeted Virgin Trains again. This time I got a reply. They claimed they can’t release sale or advance fares as there are unconfirmed engineering works. Frustrating but fair enough.

But this wasn’t just a handful of dates. For London to Manchester (and back), only half of the weekends in the next 12 weeks (as far ahead as advance weekend tickets can go on sale) were in the sale.

For the other routes such as between Liverpool and London and between London and Glasgow it was only slightly better, with no sale fares available on numerous weekends.

Surely this should at least be in the small print, if not front and centre on the website landing page? I don’t think “subject to availability” or “Terms and conditions” apply cover it.

Virgin Trains sale twitter

Short term saving

As I delved into the terms and conditions, I found the weekend situation got even worse. The sale is advertised for travel until the end of August. Yet Virgin are unable to discount any weekend tickets at all more than 12 weeks in advance. This means there are another three months of weekends you also can’t get sale tickets for – on all routes!

So for the London to Manchester route there were only six out of 22 weekends with discounted fares! That’s less than one in three!


Yes, if you were travelling Monday to Friday it was a great deal with thousands of cheap tickets available. And if you were lucky with the weekend you chose to travel, again you’d have got a great deal.

But the advertised “travel between 25 March-24 August” is just wrong. Advertising Standards Authority rules say ads must state significant limitations and qualifications. Well, if seventy percent of weekend dates were unavailable, I’d say that’s a pretty significant limitation.

So, this isn’t just a bad ad, it’s incredibly misleading. Perhaps it’s just an oversight – but even so it left me (and I’m sure thousands of others) angry AND unable to take advantage of the promotion.

>> More adverts where the savings don’t add up


3 thoughts on “Ads that don’t deliver: The Virgin Trains 20th Birthday sale

  1. Pingback: Cash Chats podcast episode 12 w/ guest Di Coke | Be Clever With Your Cash
  2. Thankfully it worked well for me and I grabbed a couple of bargains.

    £14 return tickets to Edinburgh (from Lancashire).
    And £20 return tickets to London.

    I had to be selective on the travel times, and only one journey was on a Saturday.

    Sorry it didn’t work out well for you, Andy, but I’m really grateful you shared it.

  3. That’s really bad, I’m sure they aren’t legally allowed to falsely advertise?


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