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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Eurostar London to Paris - 20:05 is 8:05pm, not 10:05pm

In case you ever wonder, 20:05 on the military clock is really 8:05pm and not 10:05pm. Ashley and I learned that the hard way last night when we were planning to take the Eurostar train from London (Saint Pancras) to Paris (Paris Nord). Our mistake happened to be an expensive one, luckily in the end we only lose a couple of hours of time in Paris.

Here is what happened…

When I booked our Eurostar tickets last week, the only option available was the last train of the night for Tuesday. That train departed at 20:05 from the Saint Pancras station in London and arrived at 23:20 in the Paris Nord station in Paris.

Fast forward to last night...

We planned our entire day around what we thought was the 10:05pm departure time. Calculating everything else out, we figured we would be safe if we hailed a taxi from our hotel at 8:30pm, plenty of time for the few kilometer trip over to the Saint Pancras station. After our adventures throughout the day, we arrived back at our hotel to wait for what we thought was the 10:05pm train by grabbing a coffee and drinks in the bar of our hotel. I decided to double-check out reservations and my heart sunk.

I realized the departure time was really 8:05pm not 10:05pm – and it was 7:40pm. There was no possibly way to get to the train before it made its departure at 8:05pm. We stuck in London for the night without a room?

How did we get here?

1. We did not check our reservations or paper tickets we had with us. This is probably the goofiest mistake of them all. All day long I meant to double check, but Ashley and I had so thoroughly discussed and planned for the departure time of 10:05pm – could it possibly have been anything else?
2. Our assumption of the 10:05pm departure was validated by Paris, France being one hour ahead of London, England. The only problem? We calculated it as one hour behind – making the time difference and the train schedule perfectly in sync.
3. We planned our entire day around the 10:05pm departure time. Since we had discussed it so much, how could it be anything different?

Now we had a little bit of a mess on our hands. After checking with the concierge at our hotel, there were no more outbound trains available this evening on the Eurostar to Paris. No flights to Paris that we could still take. No hotel. Useless tickets since they were restricted, non-refundable, and non-transferrable. Seriously a big OOPS!

Needless to say, we were pretty frustrated – but really could only laugh at this point, getting upset would have only made matters worse. So, I had a great laugh for a couple of minutes and then proceeded to get things worked out.

Truly, everything worked at – although it was at considerable cost from what we had planned on. The irony of it is that I have a post in draft format in which I cover how dramatically inexpensive this trip really was for us based on the luxuries we have been able to enjoy. The trip will still be relatively inexpensive – just a little more than I thought.

Here is how everything worked out.

The first order was to find out if there was a place to stay the night. Luckily, the Trafalgar Hilton had a few rooms left – plus being Diamond with Hilton HHonors, the only tickle -- ₤385, yes $770 US for a single room. Do not even wonder about the great room we had previously, that was well over $1000 US. Fortunately, I still had plenty of HHonors points to convert the stay into a free night – a great, yet unexpected use of 40,000 points.

Getting to Paris provided us with a couple of different options. One, we could take a very early flight to Paris and minimize our lost time. Two, we could take the first Eurostar train out in the morning.

At first glance, it looked as if the flight from Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle was going to be the best option at a total of ₤164 for both of us. The flight left at 6:20am and arrived in Paris shortly before 9:00am. We figured that without delay, we could be at our hotel by 11:00am. But that was the price per person and with an additional ₤50 for a taxi ride to Heathrow, the earlier check in time, and the risk of flight delays and other issues out of Heathrow – it did not seem like the best option at ₤400, roughly $800 US.

The Eurostar website showed the first train out at 7:30am, and only fully flexible fares available eat ₤309 for both of us. That train put us in Paris before 11:00am and we figured we could be at the hotel before 11:30am. Plus the trip was simpler, we could get some extra sleep, and there was little risk of delay. We booked those on short order and headed off to bed for our early 5:30am wake-up call.

This morning has moved very smoothly, although there were two trains with earlier departure times (6:30am, 6:55am) that did not appear on the website. Given that the trains were pretty empty – we wished we could have jumped on one of those. We boarded our 7:30am train and just passed under the English Channel. It looks like we will have an early arrival into Paris right now.

Still the damage was not insignificant – an extra $600 plus another 40,000 HHonors points spent unexpectedly. We do realize it could have been much worse though – given the time of year for our travels, the bookings were pretty easy and I was able to defer costs for points. Luckily we are only losing a couple of usable hours of daylight in Paris after this misfortune. It could have been much worse.

Lesson learned? Not really much, we already know we should have been more vigilant in checking our itinerary. We will make sure we review our flight out of Paris on Sunday a few more times this week just to be sure.

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