There are cheap European train tickets out there, with each train operator offering their own special deals and bargains. We share our tips on how to find them.
In the battle of trains versus planes, cheap flights tend to steal the show with no frills deals and easy-to-use websites. But, with a few tricks of the trade, you can bag early bird rail fares to rival the budget airlines. In addition to our blog, finding cheap train tickets, here are some more country specific details on finding cheap train tickets in France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands as well as on Eurostar.
Deutsche Bahn Sparpreis tickets
Where: London to any city in Germany
When to book: Six months in advance
If you're looking for cheap trains to Germany, the Sparpreis family of tickets are pretty special. They are particularly well known for their great value fares between London and Berlin. However, the good news is that they apply to almost any city in Germany, our most popular being between London and Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich.
There really is no trick to finding a Sparpreis ticket. You simply have to search for tickets between London to Germany, because every day there are typically four high-speed Intercity-Express (ICE) trains which offer these bargain fares. They work in partnership with Eurostar which will take you as far as Brussels, departing London Monday - Sunday at 06:25, 10:25, 14:25 and 18.25 where you will meet your nice ICE train. Bear in mind that Eurostar operates a different timetable at the weekend so you won't always be shown connections that are eligible for the Saver Fare on Saturdays and Sundays. The biggest tip is to book them as far as possible in advance, with booking open six months before the dates of travel. When you perform your search, you can see if you have bagged one of these Sparpreis fares by clicking on the fare conditions drop down menu. They come in two types: Sparpreis Europa and Super Sparpreis Europa, the former offering more flexibility.
- If it's too early to book on your preferred dates, you can set up a booking alert and we will let you know via email when tickets have been released.
- A First Class Sparpreis ticket offers Standard Premier seats on the Eurostar portion of your trip, with complimentary drinks and a light meal included.
- If you're keen on getting a good view, these tickets aren't recommended. Travellers with these value tickets often report being seated alongside the pillar i.e. between two windows.
TGV Prem's tickets
Where: French and international high-speed trains
When to book: Three months ahead for domestic tickets, 120 days for international TGV
There are many high-speed services operating in France and also travelling internationally within Europe. Also known as TGV, or Trains à Grande Vitesse, their equally grand and great value fares are called Prem's (and yes, this is where they put the apostrophe, sorry). Think premature when it comes to prem's because, basically, you need to be the early bird to catch them. In the past these tickets were totally non-flexible, but now there is an option to get Prem's on semi-flexible tickets too. The best way to find these is to book as soon as you hear that they have been released into circulation. We always update our customers via our newsletters, social media outlets and blogs. Popular TGV routes include Paris Avignon, Milan, La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Strasbourg and Nice.
- Tickets typically come on sale three months ahead, but during summer months the booking horizon is extended making it possible to book further in advance. Sign up to our newsletter to be among the first to know about a summer extension, or set a booking alert to get a route-specific reminder when booking opens.
- Cheap tickets are also available on international TGV, so look out for these tickets on France-Italy TGV and TGV Lyria from France to Switzerland. These can be booked 120 days in advance.
Cheap Eurostar tickets
Each Eurostar train has a limited batch of their cheapest fares. To find these, simply search for trains six months in advance, or set a booking alert for your preferred travel dates to get a reminder when booking opens. The sooner you book, the greater your chance of finding the cheapest Eurostar tickets. Read more in our blog Everything you need to know about Eurostar.
- Eurostar currently offer a modest discount for return tickets, and the cheapest fares seldom sell out in the first week or two of sales opening. So if you're planning a two-week holiday, it is usually worth waiting until your outbound and return journeys are available to book.
- If you're flexible with the time and date of your travel, consider an early morning or mid-week departure which tend to sell out more slowly, making it easier to find cheap tickets.
- If you want to go further afield in France, it may be worth waiting until domestic French TGV fares come on sale a month later (see below). These tickets, that combine the Eurostar with an onward TGV, can sometimes be cheaper than booking tickets separately.
Eurostar tickets to other French destinations
Where: London to more than 50 cities in France
When to book: Three months in advance
In addition to selling tickets for trains to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Lille, Eurostar also offers low-cost train tickets to other cities in France, working in partnership with French national train operator SNCF. These combine Eurostar and high-speed TGV into one fare and sometimes offer a discount for travellers from the UK heading to destinations in France.
These tickets come on sale three months in advance. Although they are not always cheaper than buying a Eurostar and TGV ticket separately, you're guaranteed a seamless itinerary and avoid the hassle of multiple purchases. Popular destinations on these trips include London to Tours, Aix en Provence, Bordeaux, Cannes, Reims, Lyon and Marseille.
Thalys discount fares
The instantly recognisable, red high-speed Thalys fleet has been in operation for almost 20 years. Thalys dominated the high-speed rail market for more than a decade, travelling at a cool 300km/ph between Paris and Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam, with only a few stops en route. Although there is now competition on some routes, ICE high-speed trains from Brussels to Cologne for instance, there are still excellent value tickets on Thalys train. Especially if you book as soon as they are released, which we will inform you about via newsletter, on social media or, if you have set a booking alert, via email.
- If you're considering a train which begins or ends in Germany, you might like to consider waiting until 91 days before travel so you can see the whole range of fares - from all rail operators - on that route. Search three months in advance and you'll see the Thalys tickets only, but wait until 91 days before and you'll find Sparpreis fares, as mentioned above.
Image credits: Panoramic view on Baden-Baden church and the city iStock ©RomanBabakin, House tanners, Petite France district. Strasbourg, France iStock ©g215, Paris station iStock ©manjik, Calanques iStock ©PocholoCalapre, River Leie, coloured houses and Belfry tower in Ghent, Belgium ©KavalenkavaVolha,
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