Jon, did you know?” a friend asked me today. “There’s now Eurostar Brussels to Amsterdam and it’s cheaper than the Thalys!

As a rail nerd I did of course know it exists but I have not had the chance to take it yet. But that gave me the idea for a little test – how easily could a regular traveller find tickets for Eurostar between Brussels and Amsterdam, and compare those with Thalys and the slower InterCity service that connects the two cities? On a weekday there are roughly 3 Eurostar services, 14 Thalys services, and 16 InterCity services – all direct – between the two cities.

For this test I checked for outward Brussels Midi – Amsterdam Centraal tickets from 0900 on 17 February (just over a month from now), returning the following day after 1200. I tested three websites of incumbent rail firms – SNCB’s B-International, NS’s NS International, and SNCF’s oui.sncf but the Belgian version be.oui.sncf. For comparison I added Eurostar’s own site eurostar.com, the overseas booking portal of SNCF Rail Europe (was formally Loco2), the rail booking site thetrainline.com, and the multi-modal platform omio.

 

B-International


✅ Eurostar, Thalys and InterCity Trains
✅ Trains with connections as well
❓ Prices shown are for non-flexible tickets – to see flex prices requires a further click

 

NS International



✅ Eurostar, Thalys and InterCity Trains
✅ Gives some trains with connections as well
✅ Prices on the left are for non-flexible tickets, on the right are for flexible tickets – gives a customer a clear overview

 

be.oui.sncf


❌ Only Eurostar and Thalys shown. InterCity trains not shown
❌ Trains with connections are somehow shown, but the offered trains with connections all connect with Thalys
✅ Prices on the left are for non-flexible tickets, on the right are for flexible tickets – gives a customer a clear overview

(it also indicates with a 🍷that there’s a bar/restaurant on board… but there is on Eurostar too, that doesn’t have that icon!)

 

Eurostar


❌ Only Eurostar shown. Thalys and InterCity trains not shown (for comparison – Thalys website does not show Eurostar either)
❌ No trains with connections shown
✅ Prices on the left are for non-flexible tickets, on the right are for flexible tickets – gives a customer a clear overview

 

Raileurope


❌ Eurostar, Thalys and InterCity trains shown – but with a major catch! The 0945 Brussels-Amsterdam InterCity train is not shown (presumably because there is a 0952 departure that is quicker), but that 0945 service is half the price! While the 1145 InterCity – against which there is no competing faster service – is shown. I do not know if this is through outright malevolence, or by design, but the customer should choose here!
❌ No trains with connections shown
❓ Prices shown are for non-flexible tickets – to see flex prices requires a further click

 

thetrainline.com


✅ Eurostar, Thalys and InterCity Trains
✅ Trains with connections as well – and done really cleverly – if changing saves you time it is shown
✅ Prices on the left are for non-flexible tickets, on the right are for flexible tickets – gives a customer a clear overview

 

omio


❌ Only InterCity and Thalys shown. Eurostar not shown.
❌ Impossible to tell whether trains with connections are in there
❌ An interface so bad you have no idea what you are getting

Conclusions

On this test, thetrainline.com is the best, closely followed by NS International. B-International’s performance is also fine – you just need one more click for a full price overview.

The other sites perform awfully. oui.sncf does not show InterCity trains. Eurostar shows only its own trains. omio does not show Eurostar trains, and has an interface so bad it is next to unusable.

But special disdain is reserved for Raileurope – they clearly have all the data available, but for some reason eliminate one cheap and appropriate departure. That’s really bad.

So it’s simple then…?

So you should just use thetrainline.com, NS International or B-International then? For this route, sure.

But as my equivalent experiment last month (for a Bruges – Aix-en-Provence trip) showed, there oui.sncf was the only site to actually list all the available trains…

The sad conclusion here: there is no booking website that does an adequate job even for cross-border routes from Belgium to its neighbouring countries. That there would be an adequate site for the whole of Western Europe, let alone the whole of the EU or the whole of Europe, remains a pipe dream.

 

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    In many cases I’ve found that the ticket price depends on where you buy your ticket, like DSB wanting twice as much as DB or vice versa. I’m surprised that the different booking sites didn’t show completely different prices here.

  2. Adrian

    Hi Jon,
    I’m afraid that it won’t get any better, even though we have the independent websites. You might have also heard of the international-bahn.de website. This is the DB’s response to your booking system call. The catch is: it’s an Amadeus-based system, with many downsides (such as no link to bahn.de account, payment only via credit/debit card and PayPal, very limited parameters of the search and trying to issue multiple tickets even if one through would be available, this can go on and on…) and that is also supposed to be the “customer-friendly” solution to the end of the DB’s London offers. (By the way, these won’t come back any time soon. No it’s not DB’s but Eurostar’s decision. Take a look here: http://eurostar4agents.com/horizon) Sorry for the rant, but this trend to stop through fares (yes, with the introduction of AJC but details are not public) is just getting on my nerves. We should actually be heading for more not less through fares but noone seems interested. I’m just waiting for the rail companies to start selling tickets for each own and domestic train separately (of course in one booking with one price) and/or issuing tickets only to the border stations and requiring to book from the border with the incumbent on the other side… That surely would reduce the costs due to passenger right claims further…

    Anyway: The way to book any international rail tickets is to:
    1. take a look on a map and find multiple routes that can work
    2. establish the relevant carriers
    3. check for any through fares (if possible)
    4. compare the prices for each segment
    5. book all the segments on multiple websites (ideally at the same time, so that the price won’t change in the meantime)
    6. enjoy the trip (and if something goes wrong like missed connection or delay, forget about the compensation not to mention a hotel if travelling late)

      • Thank you for the link to this press release. Eurostar has expressed this desire to offer these tickets in September (or earlier) and at the same time they wanted to offer a “customer-friendly” solution to the issue. Now we’ve got less than 2 months to the switch and no clear message if the offer really will be offered in the future. The DB hasn’t said anything about that. Three months ago, I asked at a ticket counter (Reisezentrum) and heard that they expect Eurostar to make DB book it there online as if this would be booked by passenger online at home. That means an online ticket would be issued. Let’s also wait what role will Thalys play in this, since they operate the services between Dortmund via Cologne and Brussels to Paris. I’m not sure how will they like to have people going on the ICE to Brussels.

        The two sides could also say that it’s technically not possible or what’s more likely, end up issuing 2 tickets in one booking but presenting one price, which is what they say on the above linked page for Eurostar agents.

  3. Rian van der Borgt

    Not showing the cheaper options is a breach of Regulation 1371/2007 as far as I know.
    Also note that NMBS/SNCB’s fares for the intercity train are 1 euro (per single trip) higher than NS’s fares and that some others also seem to use this 1 euro markup.

  4. Interesting. It’s still a shame that no one is competing with the Eurostar monopoly into London though – the prices could really do with competition.

  5. Bluppfisk

    On NS you’re seeing 1st class and 2nd class just like on NMBS. In the screenshots I don’t see flexible prices but first class ones. Secondly, on our.sncf it’s normal to only see high speed. Oui is sncf’d low cost high speed offering.

    I don’t think it’s that absurd to have multiple aggregators showing the same trains. It’s the same with flights.

    • Gonzalo

      Get the bus , is way cheaper, 15 euros, and as fast as the train… scamming websites offering just the highest prices..

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