Ordinarily, advance tickets are non-refundable, “but we know nothing about the current situation is normal,” one disgruntled rail user told the BBC.
Sue Taylor, 46, had purchased an advance ticket from London to Glasgow with Avanti for the end of October. The plan was to stay with friends.
When she booked, there were no restrictions in place – but since then, households in Scotland have been banned from visiting each other indoors indefinitely, making her visit untenable.
Avanti has refused to refund the ticket, offering only to change it to an alternative date for a £10 fee.
“Do I change it now for £10, only to have that date become unworkable and have to pay another £10 to change again? There's no winning for me,” she said.
Passenger watchdog Transport Focus said customer should not be penalised for sticking to the guidelines.
“Passengers no longer able to travel because of local lockdowns shouldn't be out of pocket for doing the right thing,” said chief executive Anthony Smith.
”If they are asked not to travel, it seems unfair that they will lose the money for pre-booked journeys.
“While the government continues to provide high levels of support to make sure the day to day railway keeps operating, advance tickets must be made more flexible or the railway will lose both custom and goodwill.”
Another would-be passenger, Aaron, had pre-booked tickets to Newcastle with his girlfriend to celebrate their one-year anniversary last weekend.
But the pair cancelled the trip after local restrictions were introduced there on 18 September, with residents told not to socialise with anyone outside their household and to avoid public transport other than for “essential journeys”.
He was “shocked” to be told he would not be eligible for a refund for the non-essential journey, with the only option being to pay £10 to rebook for another date.
LNER, the operator, isn’t selling tickets beyond November – and Aaron is loathe to rebook while it remains unclear how long restrictions will last.
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group told The Independent: “In response to the coronavirus outbreak in March, the government announced that advance tickets bought before the outbreak could be refunded due to the exceptional circumstances the country faced.
“Operators and other train ticket retailers are making it clear at the point of booking that an advance ticket is not refundable, although the date and time can be changed for a small fee, and they also offer refundable ticket options.
“Significant taxpayer funding continues to help maintain rail services which is supporting the country’s recovery from the pandemic and after careful consideration the government does not intend to allow refunds for non-refundable advance tickets.”