Train passengers are being “misled” by rail companies that are selling tickets for services that will not be running or will be disrupted by engineering works.
Research by Transport Focus found travellers were also denied the chance to buy cheap tickets for the Christmas break.
Six rail firms failed to offer a full range of advance purchase tickets 12 weeks before Christmas when the timetables should have been first released, according to the passenger watchdog.
Reservations still had not opened on Great Western, London Midland, South Western Railway and Southern by 13 October, 11 weeks before Christmas, it found.
Only 15% of services were open for reservation on Greater Anglia and 25% on Virgin Trains.
In addition, it discovered 2,648 incorrect journeys being offered during Christmas week.
The watchdog has called for a review to ensure Network Rail and train operators publish the correct timetables 12 weeks in advance of the festive season.
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It is also demanding passengers who have already bought tickets are told about changes to services, and for incorrect information to be removed from the internet or a warning issued.
It said: “Being forced to change plans can be very frustrating and breeds a sense of distrust in the railway. It also raises consumer rights issues: were passengers misled into buying something they would not otherwise have purchased; did they pay more than they needed to?”
Chief executive Anthony Smith added: “Train operators’ advice is to book early at Christmas to get the best deal, but if the timetable has not been finalised only more expensive ‘on the day’ tickets can be bought.”
In a letter to Mr Smith, Paul Plummer, chief executive of industry umbrella body Rail Delivery Group – which comprises all passenger and freight rail companies – said: “We clearly all agree this is important.”
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He added that all members would “develop a plan and get back to you more fully before Christmas”.
The findings come just over a week after the industry announced the average cost of a train ticket will rise by 3.4% in January.