ÖBB Nightjet

Night train can be cheaper than flying, UK consumer organisation finds

ÖBB Nightjet ÖBB

Taking a night train can be cheaper than taking a flight, new research by on-profit UK consumer organisation Which? has found. This applies mostly to groups or families. Especially when such items as baggage costs are factored in. 

Looking at the cost of air travel versus train travel for sleeper routes, the night train can turn out cheaper for some travellers. Flights might seem a lot cheaper until you factor in the cost of baggage and an extra night’s accommodation, the consumer organisation points out. In Europe, analysed were destinations Vienna with the ÖBB Nightjet and Berlin with the European Sleeper service, which will start on 25 May. The two UK sleeper trains were also compared with flights.

While costs are one aspect, it is well-known that flying causes much more emissions than taking the train. For the analysed routes, plane journeys were found to emit up to seven times more CO2 per passenger. This means someone could go seven times on a night train vacation or one time on a trip via airplane, while causing the same amount of CO2 emissions.

Groups or families can save money

The consumer organisation found that a family – or group – of four could save nearly 100 pounds (115 euros) travelling by sleeper train, while a bigger family could save more than 250 pounds, around 290 euros. The comparison or ‘snapshot research’ only looked at private compartments in the night train, as this compares more fairly to the hotel room that would otherwise need to be booked. With a night train, passengers get in in the evening, and wake up in their destination city with a full day ahead of them.

As it is looked at from a UK perspective, all travels start in London, taking the Eurostar to Brussels or Paris to continue the journey by night train. Each route was checked on the same day, where one-way flight and sleeper train fares for a week in August were compared. Flights departing before 9am or after 5pm were excluded, because this might involve additional costs such as a taxi fare, airport parking or staying in an airport hotel. The flight also included two items of hold luggage and a night in an Airbnb/Vrbo in the destination city.

Two of the three European services were cheaper for families of four and six. Groups of four could save 94 pounds, while a bigger group could reduce their holiday bill by “a whopping 267 pounds”, says the organisation. More precisely, both destinations Brussels and Vienna can be cheaper for groups of 4 to 6, only the route to Vienna via Brussels is more expensive, as from the UK it is apparently cheaper to travel via Paris.

For two people, taking the night train was found to be more expensive, note that this is for a private compartment.
European Sleeper and Nightjet both offer cheaper sleeper fares if you share a couchette or sleeper cabin with other travellers. Children under five travel free on Nightjet if they share your bed; and children under three travel freely on European Sleeper. In general, international trains do have to be booked quite early to get the cheapest price, and when passengers want a private compartment, booking on time is wise.

Travel within the UK

Both UK existing sleeper services were also compared with domestic flights: GWR’s Night Riviera from London Paddington to Penzance, and the Caledonian Express from London Euston to the Highlands.

The price of Cornwall’s sleeper service was similar to the cost of flights, but cheaper when a passenger has a railcard, which gives a discount of around 50 pounds. The more luxurious Caledonian Sleeper to Aberdeen is more expensive than flying for two adults, while a family or group of four or six would pay a similar amount. Railcard-holders do not get a discount on this service, the consumer organisation points out.

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Author: Esther Geerts

Former Editor RailTech.com

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