I have to get to the UK periodically from Maastricht and, as the summer travel season approaches, the fares are shuffling. So, the best deals may not be the usual alternatives, and I’m finding that a little digging can save a lot.
Here are the methods I’m following; I’d be interested in other ideas?
Note: I have not been solicited nor compensated for this essay: it contains my own research and opinions.
However, if I go from any Dutch Station directly up to Cambridge, the price inexplicably drops to £67. This is all inclusive: from any Dutch station through London and onward, saving both the 25 euro fare to Brussels and the £34 fare up from London, plus there are no added fees if you use a debit card to pay. I can’t explain it, but I could only find it on the Eurostar website, not through RailEurope or eRail.
Here’s the fine print – it’s also nice that you can use the Dutch ticket up to a day in advance, giving time to enjoy Brussels.
Ferry: Day ferries to Dover leave from Dunkirk or Calais and take an hour and a half to cross. I like Norfolkline and P&O (less fond of SeaFrance): all are comfortable alternatives to flying (in good weather), and new boats, better food, and free WiFi are coming online (ah, competition). Fares are 30 euro one-way, including two people and a car and are best booked at least 3 days in advance.
Prices were 66% less when booking Dover-Calais-Dover than Calais-Dover-Calais on the same day last time I purchased. Buying multi-trip ticket books can also drop the price dramatically, and a coupon search will occasionally turn up a code for 10% off. The lines allow some flexibility if you miss the boat, the car travel from Maatricht to the French docks takes 4 hours, and another 2 up to Stansted (the Dartford Crossing on the M25 Orbital is a killer either way), so this is a day trip, with about 100 euro in gas.
I’ve never used it, but there are also “Rail and Sail” discount packages that use Stena lines overnight ferries between Hoek van Holland to Harwich, connecting to NS and National Rail trains at either end.
Flights: I usually make the trip by air, an hour’s flight with either Ryanair (from Eindhoven) or EasyJet (from Amsterdam). There is talk that a Maastricht service may start; I haven’t been able to find the rumored cheap alternatives from Koln or Brussels. Skyscanner is a good one-stop spot for comparing fares and has nice tools for seeing ‘by country’ at a glance and ‘by day’ for a month. One-way fares are generally around £40 if I book at least a week ahead and don’t check a bag, so total fare is about £70 with train / bus connections to the airport.
So, at the moment, the train is looking both fast and cheap. Can anyone else do better?