Best time to buy ferry and plane tickets : 7 French travel updates

We also look at the new Trenitalia route and the (considerable) ‘hidden’ costs of flights

More Trenitalia links, Volotea’s new Brittany hub, the hidden costs of air travel, and Paris’ old RER trains that are to be replaced
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This week you may have seen our articles about the air traffic controller strike announced at four French airports for November 20, the 200,000 Ouigo tickets on sale for €19 and the invalid car insurance that has left many drivers exposed.

Air travel updates:

The extras added to plane tickets now represent half of the income for some airlines, a study has found

Passengers are regularly confronted by a host of ancillary costs when booking tickets. These vary between airlines but can include:

  • Fast check-ins
  • Priority boarding queues
  • Check-in luggage
  • Seat selection (including for passengers who want to sit together)

These ancillary costs, which are not immediately made clear to passengers when they look at ticket prices, represent a major windfall for low cost airlines, according to a study by IdeaWorks and CarTrawler.

The airlines that profit the most from additional costs are:

  • Wizz Air - 56%
  • Frontier - 54.9%
  • Spirit - 54.3%
  • Allegiant - 51.3%
  • Ryanair - 44.7%
  • EasyJet - 31.4%

While full-service carriers such as Air France and British Airways do not exploit passenger choices as readily, the industry as a whole has benefited from them in their recovery from the travel slump following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Profits from ancillary costs reached record levels in 2023, rising to $117.9 billion from a previous high of $109.5 billion in 2019.

Ryanair will continue to offer a discount to European Erasmus students during their studies

The low-cost airline has extended the deal with the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) programme for the seventh consecutive year to offer students a 10% discount on four flights over the year of their studies.

The deal also offers students one free 20kg check-in bag per flight.

Since 2017, ESN students have bought more than 700,000 tickets under the deal with Ryanair.

The ESN is a Europe-wide student organisation that supports and develops student exchanges, typically at university level for one year of their study program.

Since Brexit, the UK is no longer in the ESN, however a limited number of ESN students from Europe still study there.

ESN president Rita Dias welcomed the new deal with Ryanair.

“The continuing partnership between Ryanair and ESN represents a key step in ESN’s commitment for more inclusive and affordable mobility for students around Europe,” she said.

“The lack of financial means and the uncertainty of additional costs are one of the main obstacles for participation in the programme and often have a negative impact on students’ overall experience.”

Air France will continue its domestic flights between Paris Orly and the south

In a sudden U-turn, the airline says it will continue to fly to the Paca region following political pressure from the region’s president and the mayors of Marseille and Nice

Air France had announced its withdrawal from Paris-Orly on October 18.

Under the plans, flights to the Paca region were going to be operated by subsidiary Transavia from 2026.

However, president of the Paca region Eric Ciotti, who also leads right-wing party Les Républicains, immediately denounced the proposal.

“This is an intolerable sacrifice of provincial regions,” he declared on X (formerly Twitter)

Mr Ciotti called on "the state, as a stakeholder [in Air France], to reconsider this decision and find a viable, long-term solution”

On November 14, the Paca region, Air France and the mayors of Nice and Marseille released a joint statement announcing that “quality service would continue” between the region and Paris Orly.

The statement pointed to the “lack of a high speed link between the region and the capital" as a key factor in requiring a “consistent, high quality air link.”

“The Paca region and Air France-KLM will work together, with the full support of the Ministry of Transport,” said the statement.

Air France’s proposed withdrawal from Paris Orly would see it concentrate its aircraft at the international hub of Charles de Gaulle airport to the north of Paris.

Volotea is adding 13 new destinations from its new hub in Brest

The Spanish low-cost operator, which already flies to seven destinations from Brittany, announced this week it was expanding to make Brest its ninth French hub.

Volotea has announced the first four new destinations that it will fly to from 2024, which are:

  • Athens,
  • Barcelona
  • Faro
  • Palermo

The announcement comes as a bonus to the Breton airport, which has seen a proposed end to its domestic links to Paris-Orly.

The expansion of Volotea’s presence in Brittany will create 30 full-time jobs at the airport and should see 346,000 new passengers, says Volotea.

Last year, Brest airport catered for 776,232 passengers.

Read more: Regional French airports under threat as auditors question value

Train Travel updates:

April is the cheapest month to book LeShuttle for a summer trip says a report by a UK Consumer magazine

The study by Which? looked at the average prices of tickets in 2023 from the UK to Europe on ferries and trains booked up to eight months in advance.

For an August trip to France on Le Shuttle, prices for start at:

  • January - £163 (€186)
  • April - £153 (€175)
  • August - £200 (€229)

Most ferry routes were on average less expensive in January, however the magazine found a surprising result for the Portsmouth to Le Havre route:

  • January - £370 (€423)
  • April - £294 (€336)
  • August - £255 (€295)

The greatest average price increases came on the Portsmouth to Caen route:

  • January - £302 (€345)
  • April - £349 (€399)
  • August -£381 (€436)

In general, it is best to book as early as possible and avoid booking in the last three months before departure.

However, the findings suggest that if you cannot book early, sometimes it can pay not rush into a purchase but instead track the prices up to the last three months.

Read more: Richard Branson ‘plans London-Paris train service to rival Eurostar’

The first new metro train for the Paris metro arrived two years behind schedule on November 13.

The RER NG, a bigger, more spacious and more energy efficient train will enter service immediately.

The new train will operate on the RER line E, between Saint-Lazare, in Paris, and Chelles-Gournay, in Seine-et-Marne.

“Passengers will see that the space is much more generous,” announced Henri Poupart Lafarge, CEO of manufacturer Alstom.

“It is what is known as a ‘boa’ - movement from one car to another - is very fluid. It has much wider doors, which allow for improved accessibility.”

The RER acts as a combined city-centre underground and suburbs-to-city-centre rail network.

Some of its trains date from the 1970s, and the network has been in sore need of modernisation.

The new trains were ordered as part of a €3.75 billion contract in 2017, with the first scheduled for delivery in 2021. The region has ordered a total of 371 of them.

However, the project has been hampered by delays.

“I told Alstom, ‘the delays must end now,’” said Valérie Pécresse, president of Ile-de-France Mobilités, the organisation that manages public transport in the Paris region.

“They have to catch up with the timetable by delivering four trains a month.”

The new trains offer a 20% improved capacity on those currently in service, with 1,550 places on each one, a third of which are seated. Alstom says their new trains also use 25% less energy.

The Ile-de France region also announced that it will invest €471m to extend the RER by 330km by 2031.

The investment will fund the creation of 70 new stations, 69 of which will be on the new Grand Paris Express line, which is scheduled to open in 2024.

Read more: Bedbugs also in Paris metro, says driver

Trenitalia is adding two more trains to its Paris to Lyon route and will also operate trains to the ski resorts via Chambery this winter.

Three of the Italian high speed trains have been in operation between Paris and Lyon since October, to increase to five from December 10.

The new trains will depart from Paris at 07:30 and 15:18, and from Lyon at 11:28 and 20:38 each day.

Trenitalia will also offer a weekend service from Paris to Chambery via Lyon, allowing people to travel to the nearby ski resorts.

However it is not permitted to sell tickets from Lyon to Chambery.

Tickets between Paris and Lyon are available on the Trenitalia website, starting at €23, and weekend tickets to Chambery from €42.

“As a long-distance operator we are not allowed to compete with local services,” Trenitalia France manager Roberto Rinaudo told Le Progres.

Mr Rinaudo also gave an update on the repairs to the Paris to Milan line, which was affected by a landslide in the Maurienne valley in August.

“No reopening date has been set. We still have several months of reparations ahead of us. It’s an enormous job,” he said

Read more: Major ski stations in France to open early as metre of snow arrives

Read more: How can I get to the ski resorts in France?