Should I Take The Train Or Plane?

Posted on: 25 February 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

We compare the pros and cons of travelling to Europe by train and plane.


Travel within Europe is by far the most popular holiday choice for British people, making up nearly 80% of trips abroad. But should you get there by train or plane?

There’s something romantic about the idea of train travel – watching the scenery roll by. But fewer than one in 10 trips we make within Europe are by train. Most of us fly, perhaps believing we’ll get there more quickly and cheaply.

Which? compared how long it takes to travel from London by plane and train to five major European cities and given sample costs. However you travel, the pound’s falling value against the euro means making the most of your money is more important than ever. To help, we’ve given plenty of tips to cut the cost of train and plane travel.

Check the native language version of train websites. On the Spanish version of www.renfe.es, we found fares up to 60% cheaper than on the English language version. A second-class adult single from Madrid to Barcelona was €43.80 on the Spanish version, €109.50 on the English version.

The Train Vs The Plane

Which? checked the cost and length of time it took to travel by train and plane from London to five European cities.

Train times include stopovers and Eurostar check-in times, plane times include minimum two-hour check-in time plus an hour to leave the destination airport. Prices from British Airways and Rail Europe for adult return (aged 26+) leaving 26 March 2009, returning on 2 April.

To Paris

Train Time: 2 hrs, 45min
Cost: £59.00

Plane Time: 4 hrs, 10min
Cost: £95.50

To Brussels

Train Time: 2 hrs, 30 min
Cost: £59.00

Plane Time: 4 hrs, 10min
Cost: £97.10

To Milan

Train Time: 11 hrs, 20 min
Cost: £144.50

Plane Time: 5 hours
Cost: £106.20

To Amsterdam

Train Time: 6 hrs, 10 min
Cost: £286.00

Plane Time: 4 hrs, 20 min
Cost: £92.10

To Barcelona

Train Time: 15 hrs, 30 min
Cost: £188.00

Plane Time: 5 hrs, 10min
Cost: £82.10

Air fares change regularly according to demand and the above should only be used as an example.

Rail Travel

A relaxed way to see the scenery of Europe or a slow and expensive way to reach your destination?

Pros

Trains may be less hassle. You only need a valid ticket before boarding and take luggage with you. No long queues or taking off your shoes.
While travelling, you can get up and stretch your legs whenever you want, or visit the buffet car. When you cross most borders in Europe, controls are limited, meaning no forms to fill in. Networks are also expanding – some trains in France,

Spain and Germany now reach 220mph. And there is, of course, the fact that you can sit back and watch the scenery go by, rather than pass over it from 35,000 feet.
The train often arrives in the heart of the city, so you won’t face a long bus journey or expensive taxi ride.

Cons

Travel by train, particularly beyond France and Belgium, will take longer and often costs more than flying.

Some might find the sleeper train enjoyable or wish to save on a night’s accommodation, but the cost can be a deterrent even if the journey time isn’t.

Finding The Best Fares

  • Eurostar sells through-fare tickets that let you travel from more than 100 UK stations to the continent on one ticket. You’re covered by the international railway conditions of carriage, so if you miss a connection and it’s not your fault, you’ll be re-booked, even with inflexible tickets.
  • Eurostar makes tickets available 120 days before travel and most other European rail providers sell theirs three months in advance – early booking yields cheapest results. Sign up to e-letters to alert you when tickets become available.
  • Rail passes can save money, especially if you’re travelling a lot in one country or playing destination hopscotch. InterRail offers two choices. The One Country Pass covers almost every European country, the Global Pass, allows you to travel through more than 30 different nations. Some countries also have their own pass, which can be cheaper.
  • But if you’re visiting several countries, don’t assume a rail pass will be cheapest. Point-to-point tickets can often be cheaper, certainly inflexible, non-refundable tickets booked well in advance.
  • Don’t write off first-class tickets. In many cases the jump in cost isn’t too much for the extra legroom and peace.
  • Try www.raileurope.co.uk first for tickets, but it’s also worth checking each country’s own rail provider.

Air Travel

A quick and cheap way to travel or a nightmare of security checks and delays?

Pros

Book early and you can get great value-for-money air fares. Flying to the other side of Europe can often cost the same as catching a train within Britain. It’s also usually quicker than the train, especially for longer journeys.

Flying to Europe also means you can avoid London, which can be a big convenience for those who live outside the capital.

Air travel also offers you the chance to stock up on duty free.

Cons

Some of the saving made on journey time will be eaten away by security checks, check-ins and delays in terminals. Getting to the airport is rarely a pleasure, either.

You also have the worry about lost baggage and weight restrictions. For some low-cost airlines, you pay for luggage regardless of weight limits. Air travel also emits about 10 times more CO2 for each journey.

Tips On Getting The Best Deals

  • Pay for flights over £100 by credit card. This gives you cover under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, or, if possible, make sure your insurance covers you in the event of airline failure. Buying just a flight rather than a package holiday (through a bonded company) with flight and accommodation means that you have no other protection if the airline you’re flying with goes bust.
  • Look out for sales on airline websites, where cheap deals can be found. The window in which to book is usually short and dates may be fixed.
  • Check fares from all your local airports. London for example, has five.
  • Watch out for unexpected charges on no-frills airlines. Charges for ‘optional’ services include such basic functions as using an airport check-in desk or checking-in hold luggage.
  • There are websites that let you scan fares for different airlines, such as www.skyscanner.net and www.tripadvisor.co.uk. But they don’t cover the whole market.
  • Buy snacks before boarding.
  • Easyjet and Ryanair are two of the largest no-frills airlines. Others, especially for flights to eastern Europe, include Wizz Air and Air Berlin. To see where you can fl y no-frills from your local airport, visit www.lowcost.com.

Web Links

Contacts

www.britishairways.com

www.eurostar.com

www.interrail.net

www.raileurope.co.uk

www.seat61.com

Rail Providers

Austria www.oebb.at

Belgium www.b-rail.be

Denmark www.dsb.dk

France www.voyages-sncf.com

Germany www.bahn.de

Greece www.ose.gr

Ireland www.irishrail.ie

Italy www.trenitalia.com

Netherlands www.ns.nl

Norway www.nsb.no

Poland www.pkp.com.pl

Portugal www.cp.pt

Spain www.renfe.es

Sweden www.sj.se

Do you travel by train or plane when visiting Europe?

Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below or share your thoughts with other readers in the 50connect forums.

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