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Rail alternatives for viable European routes

How Navan promotes rail alternatives for viable European routes

author two

Samantha Shankman

author two

Ed Brooks

29 May 2024
4 minute read
A comparison of train and air travel prices in Europe using Navan data.

Train travel has experienced a resurgence in Europe in recent years. Night trains are back crisscrossing the continent, countries like Spain are investing to expand their high-speed networks, and in France the government has banned flights on routes that can be travelled by train in under two and a half hours to reduce emissions.

Navan has responded to this shift by significantly broadening its train offering and developing smart features that promote rail alternatives where suitable.

The Rail Alternative Pop-up lets travellers know when there’s a viable rail alternative during a flight search. When there is, travellers can easily swap their view of flight schedules and see rail options, then switch back if they still prefer to fly.

Why did we introduce the feature?

The French government’s regulation was a significant milestone in the shift towards lower-emitting transport as countries around the world work towards reducing their environmental impact — and more countries could follow suit.

We therefore developed the feature to support companies that need access to a broad range of transport modes. For companies trying to reduce the carbon emissions of their travel programme, this feature — built into the booking flow — helps their employees keep sustainability in mind.

Bans on short-haul flights likely to grow

The majority — 17 of the 20 busiest — of European air routes cover less than 434 miles (700 kilometres). Over this distance, trains running from city centre to city centre can offer faster, more convenient, and more sustainable journeys.

It’s one reason France acted to discourage unnecessary air travel by officially restricting short-haul domestic flights in April 2023 — the first ban of its kind in Europe. According to Navan data, since the ban was initially proposed in September 2022, domestic rail bookings within France have increased.

Aside from seasonal lows, this shift increased significantly year-on-year from April 2023 to 2024, especially on the Lyon–Paris and Lille–Paris routes. The Paris–Strasbourg, Marseille–Paris, and Aix-en-Provence routes, however, show a steadier trend; these routes aren’t affected by the government’s two and a half hour rule.

Booking trends: top train routes in France

The rail alternative feature in the Navan platform supports customers in preparing for any similar policy changes that might occur in other countries, thereby helping their efforts to reduce their environmental footprint.

“As more of these short-haul flight bans are mandated across Europe, Navan remains ahead by ensuring we have the appropriate inventory, coupled with as much self-service functionality as possible for our customers,” said Stephanie Weaver, Navan’s Director of Rail Partnerships.

When comparing all transport bookings (trains, flights, and rental cars) within Europe booked via Navan, most travellers continue to rely on flights. However, the share of rail bookings has remained consistently high over the past 12 months. Most recently it accounted for over a third of bookings and even reached almost 40% in the last quarter of 2023.

Intra-Europe transportation shifts

This is a welcome trend for companies, and not just because of the lower emissions. Companies can also significantly reduce spend when travellers choose trains over planes.

Here’s how the average booking prices of trains and planes have changed over the past year. 

Price trends for train and plane travel from 2023 to 2024

The price level for both flights and train travel has remained relatively stable over the last 12 months. However, if employees decide to travel by train instead of plane, they can save an average of almost £120 per booking. 

Price comparison of train and plane travel in Europe

The Rail Alternative Pop-up is one element of the platform's sustainability offering, which also includes the following functions for admins:

  • Real-time data on CO2 emissions
  • Comprehensive carbon measurement functionalities
  • In-depth CO2 reporting capabilities

As part of this, Navan displays carbon emissions data in the flight shopping experience, so travellers can make more environmentally conscious choices.

In a world where time and resources are often limited, travellers strive to make better decisions but often find it challenging to find alternative options. The Rail Alternative Pop-up, seamlessly integrated into the booking flow, helps travel bookers keep sustainability top of mind, makes them more aware of their options, and simplifies the booking process, saving them valuable time and emissions.

For travellers, choosing rail options is made easier by the depth and quality of content available through Navan. The platform has Europe's leading train inventory, including Deutsche Bahn, UK Rail, Eurostar, SNCF, Amtrak, SBB, Italo, Trenitalia, NS International, SNCB, and Renfe.

Navan is committed to giving users the best self-serve travel experience possible. In addition to self-serving train bookings, travellers can cancel bookings themselves online without using an agent, and self-serve booking changes with many rail providers.

What customers say about Navan’s sustainability offering

Navan customer Steelcase is already convinced of the benefits of the feature: "At Steelcase, we have ambitious, science-based targets for reducing emissions. This also applies to emissions from business travel," says Julia Kehoe, Senior Analyst of Sustainability at Steelcase.

"Navan’s rail alternative feature builds on its other complementary sustainability features, empowering our travellers to consider sustainability alongside cost and convenience in their decision-making process."

- Julia Kehoe, Senior Analyst of Sustainability at Steelcase

Explore the rail alternative booking feature directly in the Navan platform today.

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