1. It pays to plan
Britain has some of the most competitive fares in Europe — but only if you book in advance. Our walk-up fares are some of the most expensive around, especially if you try to travel during peak hours, Monday-Friday. Booking in advance saves a whacking potential average of 43% on walk-up fares. Savings are less in Europe, around 23-32% on average.
2. What’s in a name?
Everything, when it comes to snagging that big saving. European operators name their advance tickets very differently, although thankfully they’re often grounded in the international language of commerce. Look out for words such as ‘advance’, ‘super’, ‘prems’ and ‘promo’.
3. Know when to book
Rail operators in Europe release their tickets at different times. For example, you get the best deals on Eurostar and German operator Deutsche Bahn if you book six months ahead, whereas Spain’s Renfe and Italy’s Trenitalia usually open booking only around three months before the date of travel. In the UK, you can book a maximum of 84 days in advance. Set yourself an alert for key booking periods for the countries you intend to travel to/through.
4. Look out for seasonal timetable changes
The booking period varies widely between French train operators, with seasonal timetables often modified in December for winter ski train type services and in July for summer services. Keep your eyes peeled for changes and associated deals.
5. Last minutes matter
Left it until the very last minute to book that train ticket? Panic not. In the UK, cheaper advance tickets are often available for purchase until 18.59 the day before travel — sometimes as late as 23.59. So it’s always worth hopping online and buying, rather than waiting to queue at the counter for a wallet-wounding experience on the day of travel. Savings can be found in numerous places online but nobody can make discounts like the train operators themselves. Just be wary of eye-watering booking fees.
6. Travel midweek
Most people travel at the weekend or at the sharp ends of the week. If you go midweek, ideally on a Wednesday, it could be up to 16% cheaper than travelling on a Friday.
As all international train journeys from the UK start with Eurostar, you’d better know when to look for those cheap tickets. Eurostar has London-Paris tickets for under £50 available each day of the week but Loco2.com reckons your chances of finding one is best on Wednesday afternoon.
Published in the March 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)