This article originally appeared on Ecocult, a blog and brilliant resource on sustainable fashion and travel by journalist Alden Wicker. Alden teamed up with the eco-friendly Pan-European train-booking company Loco2 who covered four train tickets for her and her husband to try out their train system in Europe. Below are her honest opinions.
Train travel has been increasing across Europe, and especially the UK. But along with that, there have been complaints about the price of rail tickets. Meanwhile, Ryanair posts inexplicably cheap fairs, like €12 from Lisbon to Porto. And EasyJet isn’t far behind.
You might think that it’s a ridiculous deal when you find a flight like that. But you know Ryanair’s record profits must come from somewhere. Some people think it comes out of lax safety. Ryanair and EasyJet fortunately operate under the same safety regulations as other European airlines, so that’s probably not it. More likely you’re just not taking into account all the hidden costs of flying on these cheap airlines as compared to trains.
Some people look at me weird when I tell them I decided to take the six-hour train ride from Brussels to Berlin instead of hopping on a “cheap” and “short” flight. Um, I think you’re the crazy one, my friend. Here’s why “low-cost” carriers will actually cost you more than trains:
1. All Those Fees!
One time we showed up to the airport, and were told that we couldn’t use digital tickets on our phone to check in. We had to have printed tickets. Oh, and the fee for printing the ticket was $30 a piece. Luckily, we had given ourselves extra time, so I dashed to the airport hotel to print off my ticket. The hotel had a requirement that I buy something from the café to use the printer, so I got a coffee for $3. A lot less than $60, but still, it was frustrating and stressful!
This was in South America, but according to Tripsavvy, Ryanair in Europe will charge you a fee if you fail to check in online and properly print your ticket – the entire ticket, including the advertisement. Don’t have a printer at your AirBnB? You’ll have to go find one and pay for its use. If you type your name wrong or put in your shortened name that is different than what is on your passport, you’ll be charged from €42 to €160, depending on the carrier. If you go over the paltry carry-on baggage allowance of Ryanair (which is basically the size of a backpack) you’ll be charged from €12 to €20 per extra kilo. And there are additional fees for checking more luggage than is allowed, from €100 to €200, and other checked baggage fees (more than 30 of them) from €15 to €150. If you miss your flight because of Ryanair’s own super long lines, and that would cost you €75 to €90. There’s the fee to use the wifi, and you have to pay extra for more legroom if you’re taller than the average man. Oh, and be prepared to be marketed and advertised to relentlessly! The UK is considering cracking down on these hidden fees, but until then, you either need to play their video game, or choose an option in which there aren’t hidden fees, like trains.
How the train costs less:
If you buy a train ticket, that’s pretty much it in terms of fees. Your suitcase can be the biggest size – as long as you can drag it onto the train and stash it, you’re golden. You don’t need to check-in or print your ticket to avoid fees. You can spell your name completely wrong – as long as you show the conductor your scannable code on your phone, you’refee to change your ticket is much lower on trains – about €19 – and you can do it until midnight the day before you travel. The wifi is free. The seats have lots of leg room standard. On a train, Second Class feels like First Class, and First Class isn’t even that much more expensive. Basically, the price you see is what you get, and the experience of traveling by train exceeds your expectations.
2. Playing (and Losing) the Ticket Price Algorithm Game
The “dynamic pricing algorithm” that airlines use can shift ticket prices hour by hour, and is designed to take advantage of you when you are struggling – last-minute flight searching because of an emergency, train travel disruptions, indecision – all these situations cause prices to spike. Websites throw cookies on your computer so they can play you psychologically, and flight comparison websites don’t actually help that much. There’s a ton of advice across the internet on how to beat this, but since there are so many secret variables involved, there is a superpowered computer relentlessly mining data to get you to pay the highest price possible, and every airline is different, the house will always come out ahead. At best, you will lose hours of your time researching and learning how to get the best price. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll decide it’s not worth it and just book the damn ticket, knowing a lot of people probably paid less.
How the train costs less:
Train ticket prices might rise as you get closer to the date, but that’s about it in terms of the algorithm.
With Loco2, you can easily compare prices across several routes and train systems, so you can find the best price. Plus, you can set booking alerts for when the tickets you want to book go on sale. (Loco2 is the only website that has this service.) Most people aren’t familiar with when train tickets go on sale, which can differ according to country, rail operator and even type of train. Booking alerts let you buy train tickets the moment they are released, which can help you save money and get the best possible seats and times.
One more thing that will make your booking cheaper: Loco2’s website and app is in English, Spanish, Italian and German, and gives you the ability to process your payment in pound sterling, euros and US dollars, which helps you avoid surprise foreign transaction fees!
Once you buy a plane ticket, that’s it. You are locked in. If you miss your outbound flight or second connecting flight, they’ll likely cancel your return flight on you. The fees to change your flight are so high that you might as well just not cancel at all and let them keep your money. You have to buy way ahead of time, or else you’ll pay through the nose.
How the train costs less:
You can show up to the train station and buy a ticket 15 minutes before departure if you want. If you like the look of a city on your way somewhere, you can hop off the train and then just buy another ticket again the next day to complete your trip – or not, it’s totally up to you! If you have a low-cost Interrail pass – you can hop on a full train, as long as you’re cool with sitting in between cars and making friends with other backpackers. And conductors and ticket agents don’t check to see if you have an onward ticket for rail passes, but they sometimes do for flights. So you can take the train into a country without having to decide when you’re going to leave ahead of time. The fee to change your ticket is much lower on trains – about €19 – and you can do it until midnight the day before you travel. In short, train travel is way more flexible than plane travel, which will save you money if you have to (or want to) change plans at the last minute.
Loco2 also lets you set up email compensation alerts, which – depending on which train operator you travel with – will email you to alert you to a potential compensation claim, if your train is late or cancelled. And they recently launched a new Cancellation Protection service, which lets you apply for reimbursement of non-refundable, multi-leg journeys, in the occurrence of rail strikes or other unforeseen cancellations. Loco2 is the first train booking site to provide this feature for international rail trips.
4. Losing or Leaving Behind Valuable Items
This starts as you pack up your items. If you’re flying on a low-cost carrier, you need to fit everything in a mini suitcase. If you’re packing at home, this is mildly annoying, as you can’t bring all the outfits or supplies you might want. But when you’ve been traveling for a while, this becomes an emergency, as you start leaving things behind that have value that you could totally sell for money at a flea market if you had the time (guilty). Even if you’re flying on a normal airline and don’t want to check your luggage, you start getting rid of half of your toiletries or buying special travel-sized items.
Or you might be human and make a mistake, as we all do. There was traffic on the way to the airport, the security line is scarily long, and you’re rushing through, and they hold up your expensive reusable water bottle that you forgot to empty and tell you that you have two choices: go back around to do the security line again with the empty bottle, or let them keep it so you can make your flight. They’ll also throw out that expensive artisanal jam you bought as a gift, your razor blades that go with your safety razor, your metal reusable spork, expensive skincare products, and a myriad of other items that, silly you, you never considered could be used to murder someone. Apparently security operates on the assumption that we could all secretly be ninjas.
Or, even worse, you pull everything out of your luggage or off your person (laptop, camera, cell phone, tablet, toiletries, watch, sunglasses, belt, necklace) to put in three different bins, and you leave something behind. My best friend showed up to Berlin stressed and upset because she somehow left her expensive toiletries at security and had to repurchase all of them. If you’re into nontoxic skincare like us, that can cost hundreds.
How the train costs less:
You can bring anything on the train, though! There’s no security check or luggage weighing or allowance. Bring your safety razor and blades, all the leftover contents of your refrigerator, your full water bottle, full-sized organic aloe vera, and aerosols. Load up on a case of wine, if you want. No one will stop you.
5. Lost or Damaged Luggage
When I arrived to Copenhagen, I found out that my luggage hadn’t made it, and they were giving me a €50 allowance to get everything I needed for a sustainable fashion conference. Haha, okay. My suitcase did eventually show up – two days later, after I had bought myself replacement makeup, skincare, and professional clothing. Two things made this barely tenable: one, Johanne from Bedremode took me and Holly from Leotie Lovely to an amazing flea market where almost everything was under €20, and two, I had already been planning on buying a few new things since I was coming to Europe after traveling in South America. But still, it cost me a lot of money and stress.
How the train is better:
You don’t have to worry about this on trains. If it’s a carry-on, you can put it right above your seat. If it’s large, you can put it at the end of the car. Thieves aren’t very, very rarely interested in a heavy piece of luggage that probably just has used clothing inside, but if you’re worried, you can buy a small, thin bike lock for it.