Eurostar is to reward last-minute holidaymakers for their spontaneity with a new fare aimed at people who don’t mind what time of day they travel.
The Snap ticket will allow travellers to get to Paris or Brussels for £25 each way, but time of travel will only be given 48 hours in advance.
Passengers have to sign up via Facebook and specify whether they would prefer to travel in the morning or afternoon.
The fare can only be booked in the week before travel and once passengers have paid for their ticket they are locked in, even if they don’t like their allocated departure time.
That means anyone who chooses a weekday morning could end up on the first Paris train of the day at 5.40am, while anyone who opts for the afternoon might not reach the City of Lights until 11.32pm.
The £25 one-way price, based on a return journey, undercuts Eurostar’s previous lowest fare of £29 one way, and appears designed to increase occupancy of the firm’s new trains.
Eurostar’s 10 e320 trains, so called because they can reach 320km/h (200mph), can carry 900 passengers, compared with the 750 in its original fleet.
Offering passengers a financial incentive to be more flexible is also intended to help the company spread demand across its Channel tunnel services, helping it fill seats that would otherwise be empty.
Eurostar hopes the service will be popular with those who have less rigid schedules, such as students and pensioners.
Its commercial director, Nick Mercer, said its research had convinced the company there was a “strong appetite for spontaneous travel”.
Enticing last-minute travellers could also help Eurostar recover from a difficult period in which passenger numbers fell following the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels.
It is also hoping for an increase in cross-Channel traffic from this summer’s Euro 2016 football tournament in France.
Eurostar was a joint venture between the French and Belgian railway services and a special-purpose vehicle called London and Continental Railways owned by the UK government until the Treasury took control of the UK’s 40% stake in 2014.
The institutional investors Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and Hermes Infrastructure bought the UK’s stake last year in a deal worth £757m to the exchequer.