Bargain-conscious rail travellers who book ahead are increasingly being rewarded with a first class, high-speed service at roughly the same price as "no frills" air travel.
Train firms including France's SNCF are increasingly adopting market pricing, and passengers prepared to book between 14 and 90 days receive discounts of at least 50 per cent.
High-speed TGVs now operate internationally between Paris and cities in neighbouring countries such as Luxembourg, Geneva, Zurich, Milan and Turin.
Kate Andrews, director of online rail agent loco2.com, told Business Traveller: "These lower fares are most popular with travellers with fixed plans who wish to upgrade to first class. Lead-in prices for the trip between Paris and Milan or Turin are £26 in standard and £41 in first class."
When I checked fares for September 18 between Paris (Lyon) and Milan (Porta Garibaldi), I wasn't able to obtain the very lowest prices. But I could secure accommodation for a peak hour train at £40.50 in standard and £62.50 in first class.
Rail prices for September 3 are higher at £49.50 and £76 respectively.
By comparison, airline prices can be either roughly the same, compared to first class rail, or hugely more expensive.
Easyjet was charging between £50 and £120 - before adding ancillary fees - depending on flight times.
But the biggest shock was the prices charged by Air France or Alitalia, who wanted almost £500 for a one-way ticket. Why? Because on this route these two carriers still adopt the old-fashioned policy of only making promotional fares available to passengers who buy return tickets.
Although Paris to Milan takes seven hours by train (Paris to Turin takes 5hrs 40 mins) the section through the Alps is particularly scenic and makes a change from the usual bland airline experience.
Other examples of lead-in TGV prices are:
- Paris Est to Luxembourg - £23 standard, £41 first class
- Paris Lyon to Geneva - £34 standard, £60 first class
But remember these special TGV fares are non-exchangeable and non-refundable.