Hello. I see there are lots of people asking about seat reservations, although most are travelling in continental Europe. I recently completed an 8-day First Class UK-only Interrail trip and I’d like to share my experiences.
Basically, in the UK, despite what the app. says you DO NOT need seat reservations for most trains, even long-distance expresses, apart for the exceptions I’ll list below. There seems to be some inconsistency within the app/website itself where the Rail Planner says reservations ARE ‘required’ for just about everything but local trains and yet the help section says they are merely ‘recommended’. I see that as a cash-grab by Interrail - trying to sell those reservations at 6 Euro a shot through their own portal.
The exceptions are:
The two overnight sleeper services to/from London (GWR to Penzance and Caledonian Sleeper to Scotland) where seat reservations are mandatory, even in the seated coaches.
LNER. Here, seat reservations ARE required but are available FREE from the operator’s website. Even then, there are unreserved seats on most trains and I was never asked to show my reservation, either at a ticket barrier or on a train.
None of the other operators require reservations. Indeed, before my trip, I emailed/tweeted several of them (Virgin Cross Country, Azuma West Coast, Trans Pennine Express) and was told that they are not required with any rover tickets, including Interrail. I also travelled with GWR, South West Trains, East Midlands Railway, ScotRail and Transport for Wales who all operate long-distance express services where reservations are not required.
So that pretty much covers most of the major routes and, in summary, you can freely travel all over the UK, on almost any train, without ever paying for a seat reservation, despite the app. making you thing you’ll have to spend a lot extra.
If anyone has any more questions about Interrail in the UK, feel free to ask me.