Eurostar clients taken for ride, claims MEP

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details Vol.7, No.24, 14.6.01, p3
Publication Date 14/06/2001
Content Type

Date: 14/06/01

By Peter Chapman

COMPETITION chief Mario Monti says operators of the Eurostar train service may be behaving illegally by forcing

UK customers to pay more than those on the continent.British Liberal MEP Andrew Duff spurred the comments from the anti-trust Commissioner by complaining on behalf of a constituent who claimed Eurostar's ticketing policy costs UK travellers up to €136 more than continental ones for the same round trip between London and Brussels. Duff said the man was told by Belgian railway's (SNCB) Eurostar office that he could buy a ticket for a journey originating in London at a much lower fare in Brussels than he could at home.

But the traveller "was surprised to find that Eurostar would not mail him the ticket to a destination outside Belgium, even though he was fully prepared to pay for the mailing and packaging fee", claimed Duff. "Eurostar is the perfect example of a trans-European network and it would be self-defeating if the citizen were to feel they were being cheated by the operators of the service," said Duff. "We intend to follow it up and will be writing to Eurostar for their reaction."

Fares quoted to European Voice this week revealed huge price differences depending on where tickets are picked up.

Eurostar's Belgium offices said it charged UK customers €98.66 for an economy weekend return starting in London and €352 for an economy class day return. These are exactly the same prices that the company charges in Belgium for journeys beginning in Brussels.

However sales staff say these tickets can only be posted to customers in Belgium. UK-based travellers would have to pay the sterling equivalent of €114.03 and €488.70 for the same tickets. This is a difference of €15.37 and €136.70, respectively.

In his response to Duff, Monti said it was legal for companies to charge different prices for different markets. But he added that Eurostar may be behaving illegally if it has encouraged a "restrictive agreement...or concerted practice" among independent agents not to re-mail tickets to foreign bargain hunters.

Eurostar spokesman Roger Harrison said: "We are aware of the correspondence with Mr Duff. We will be studying Mr Monti's answer in cooperation with our Belgian partners in SNCB."

He said international services such as Eurostar operated a similar ticketing policy to airlines, which often charge different prices for travel between two points, depending on where the journey begins.

Harrison said the complaint might have stemmed from the way the central Eurostar computer reservations system works. For example this would technically allow a ticket office in Belgium to quote a price for a return journey starting in London with equivalent prices and conditions to one starting in Belgium, even though it was not the company policy to sell such tickets overseas.

But he said independent ticketing agents should not have direct access to this system, meaning there was unlikely to be a question of 'concerted practice'.

Competition chief Mario Monti says operators of the Eurostar train service may be behaving illegally by forcing UK customers to pay more than those on the continent.

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