As usual posts in the blog section reflect the views of the contributor and may not reflect the views of others involved in Save East Coast Rewards.
The current rule with advance tickets is that you must start and finish your journey at the ticketed destination and the specified trains. You should not leave the train at an earlier station or join at a later station. It is one of the drawbacks of advance tickets, they offer no flexibility but in return you get cheaper fares.
Personally I think with advance tickets a bit of common sense should be exercised. The passenger had paid for space on the train and alighting early doesn't cost the operator any extra, if it's obvious the customer isn't trying to rip off the railway then a customer should not be penalised if they need to start their journey at a later station or alight at an earlier station.
An example last year was I booked an advance first class ticket on GWR from Paddington to Penzance as I wanted to use the Pullman dining service, after booking the tickets I then tried to book a hotel and then found all the hotels in Penzance were full for some reason so I instead booked a hotel in Plymouth and alighted the train early. Although I got told that I shouldn't have done this at the barrier, they did let me through with no charge when I explained the circumstances.
In most cases an advance from (for example) London-Darlington is cheaper than London-Newcastle so the only reason you'd plan to book London-Newcastle is because that was where, at the time, you intended to go. If something comes up that means that you instead need to start or finish from a different station you're not taking any revenue away from the railway.
Flexibility is one of the benefits of rail travel, although advance tickets mean you lose most of that flexibility it seems a bit harsh to penalise someone who gets on the correct train but only wants to use a subset of their particular journey that they've paid for.
Richard Branson often talks about doing what is right for the customer, this is a good example of how expectations can be exceeded.
However, the case is a bit different if you deliberately choose a different destination in order to get a cheaper fare. Sometimes rail operators offer special fares that are promotional or discounted travel for people travelling to certain events. One example was 'Plane Relief' where they were offering £15 advance fares to Edinburgh that were aimed at flyers to encourage them to try the train Edinburgh to London. In this case the fare London-Edinburgh would be cheaper, under this offer, than the regular fares to the likes of Darlington or even ones closer to London such as Doncaster. If you bought one of these fares with the intention of cutting your journey short I understand why the operator would want to charge you an excess as you booked the ticket deliberately to avoid paying the correct fare.
What do airlines do?
With airlines it's different. You may be surprised to find out that starting a flight in another country will result in a cheaper fare, even if you're ultimately still flying from the UK. For example if you looked at British Airways for London to New York and then the same price for Amsterdam to New York on British Airways, you will most likely find Amsterdam to New York is significantly cheaper (especially for business class) even though you're catching the same flight from London but with the added leg of Amsterdam to London thrown in.
The reason for this is airlines need to be competitive. British Airways has to compete in Amsterdam with the direct flights with KLM. As most people will prefer a direct flight BA have to make their flights cheaper so that people will tolerate a connection.
With airline tickets if you miss any legs of your trip (unless it's caused by airline delays) the subsequent legs will be cancelled. This means if you've booked Amsterdam to New York you can't just turn up for the London to New York leg you need to get over to Amsterdam to start your journey.
With airlines taxes also add extra confusion. You only pay the UK Government air passenger duty if your full trip starts in the UK. That means if you book Amsterdam to New York then British Airways does not have to pay this tax to the UK Government but they will have to pay any Dutch taxes. So if you joined this trip at London rather than Amsterdam it would also mean the incorrect taxes would be paid which is a mess I don't see the airlines wanting to be bothered with.
With trains it's not usually cheaper to purchase tickets to a destination further away than you intend to travel, therefore rail operators should exercise common sense in cases where the customer decides to join/leave at a station that's only part of the journey.
Remember though at the moment the rules are what they are and so if you don't travel the full journey you may get penalised. Remember also that these tickets are valid on a specific train only so if you do decide to board/alight at a different station then check that your booked train actually stops there.