My review of Business Premier on the brand new Eurostar e320 trains (Part 1)

Slightly later than anticipated, for which I apologise, this is the continuation of my review of my recent Eurostar trip to Paris on the new e320 trains.

The first part of this report, covering the Eurostar lounge at St Pancras, is here.  A companion article on the three ways of using American Express Membership Rewards points to book Eurostar is here.

For clarity, Eurostar provided me with a free Business Premier outbound / Standard Premier inbound ticket to Paris.  I was planning to pay, but when I got in touch with them to ask which services would have the new trains – it is impossible to tell before you book – they offered me a ticket and I accepted.  (You can take the boy out of Yorkshire but …..)  It was a good job I did as I had an ‘equipment swap’ and they were happy to rebook me which would not have been possible if I’d paid.

Eurostar Business Premier review e320 new trains

Background to the new Eurostar trains

Known as the e320, because 320 km/h is the theoretical top speed (a speed not actually achieved at present), the new Eurostar rolling stock is being built by Siemens and phased in over a couple of years.  The first train entered service in November 2015 and there are currently nine new trains in operation out of a planned 17.

You will only find them on the Paris route at present although the company has recently announced that they will operate to Brussels from early 2017.  The new Amsterdam route, starting in late 2017, will exclusively use the new trains as the old stock is not compatible with the Dutch electrification system.

The reason for putting them on the Paris route first is capacity.  These trains are big – both physically longer and, because passengers are carried in the first and last carriages for the first time, able to seat substantially more people.  An e320 carries 150 more people than the existing e300 trains.

Eurostar has a special section on its website dedicated to the new trains which you can find here.

Eurostar Business Premier review e320 new trains

It is not possible to tell before booking which Paris services will operate with the new trains.   You CAN tell after payment when you come to select your seat.  If there are 16 carriages it is a new train (pictured above), if there are 18 carriages it is an old train (pictured below – I had one of each on either side of me when boarding).

Eurostar Business Premier review e320 new trains

Even then, however, there is a high chance of changes.  My original outbound service was switched a few days before travel but Eurostar was happy to rebook me as I was on a review trip.  My return service was switched from an old train to a new train at the last minute.  The rebooking system is very clever – when you scan your ticket to get through the check-in gates, it automatically prints out a new seat reservation ticket for you.

First impressions

If you’ve never travelled with Eurostar, the key thing to note is that Business Premier and Standard Premier have identical seating although passengers are seated in different coaches.

Apart from any variance in ticket flexibility, the only differences are a) the ability to use the lounges with Business Premier and b) the meal service onboard.  Standard Premier is usually excellent value for money off peak if you are travelling for leisure and appreciate the extra space offered by 2+1 seating compared with 2+2.

Remember that if you have an American Express Platinum card you receive Eurostar lounge access automatically (no guest allowed) so in that case the only difference is the meal.

The new cabins feel light, bright and modern – the designers did a good job here.  The first impression you get, if you are a regular Eurostar traveller, is that the seats have gone slimline.  The previous seating was big and bulky.

Eurostar Business Premier review e320 new trains

To be honest when I sat down I had a bit of a shock.  I sat down quite sharply, because I was used to be old padded seating, and banged my bottom on what is a relative hard seat.

Eurostar Business Premier review e320 new trains

Just to be clear, the seat was not uncomfortable even after I had sat in it for two hours.  It reclines if you want and didn’t feel at all narrow.  It just came as a surprise after the old seats which were more like armchairs in Business Premier!

Eurostar Business Premier review e320 new trains

If you are tall, like me, you might find the table design annoying.

On the old trains, the tables fold out from the middle rather like you are opening a book.  The new design is different.  Similar to a business class airline seat, the table extension is stored vertically and you pull it out, locking it into a horizontal position.  The problem is that the tables have a ‘V’ shape to allow the table extension to slide in and out.  This makes it harder to stretch out your legs under the table.  

You can see what I mean in this picture.  This is the table before it is extended – pulling the white part at the front brings up the extension from inside the ‘V’.

Eurostar Business Premier review e320 new trains

If you have a single seat, the table folds down from the back in the seat of front of you.  This, below, is what I had on my return journey.  The seat had plenty of legroom.

Eurostar Business Premier review e320 new trains

Connectivity and in-train entertainment

This has the potential to be quite impressive.  Unlike the old Eurostar trains, the new rolling stock will have a wi-fi service.  At present, however, it is not fully functional.  From next May, when Europe-wide mobile phone roaming comes into place, it will be less of an issue anyway as you will be able to use your UK data plan in France or Belgium.

What you do get now is in-train entertainment which is streamed to your tablet or mobile phone.  I didn’t use it but the selection looked good:

Eurostar Business Premier review e320 new trains

The plug situation is well covered.  Each pair of seats has both a UK and a European socket to share – see below.  For the solo seats, the seat map shows clearly which seats have a UK socket and which have a European one.  All seats have a USB socket.

Eurostar Business Premier review e320 new trains

In Part 2 of this review, also published today, I will look at Raymond Blanc’s Business Premier catering and some of the other tweaks that Eurostar has installed on its new trains.

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My review of Business Premier on the brand new Eurostar e320 trains (Part 2)
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  1. Sam Brown says:

    Dear Raflles

    Great review of Eurostar. But one thing you fail to mention, which I think is quite important, is that (as I understand it), the primary benefit of Business Premiere in Eurostar is not service, but flexibility. I think you can change your ticket to any train with a guarantee of getting on, and you can even get a full refund if you like…. But maybe I got this wrong?

  2. Just wanted to check with you. You said that the new trains are physically longer but then on the seat map, 16 carriages is new and 18 is old?

  3. Genghis says:

    OT – foreign currency refunds to credit / debit card.
    I am due a refund in a foreign currency (CNY) but I have cancelled the initial payment card and have asked for a refund to another card which was agreed to. Should the refund go to an ‘FX load free’ card (such as Lloyds Mastercard or Clarity) or does it not make a difference? Would I get the same amount back in GBP regardless of card?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Unfortunately you won’t get the £ amount back (even if it’s to the same card) as it will be processed using the exchange rate on the day of the transaction. The banks also sting you with the usual conversion charge as well.

      • Genghis says:

        Ok thanks. I understand the GBP depends on on the day exchange rates but was unsure about conversion fees. I’ve sent to Clarity anyway to avoid this charge.

  4. Another Business Premier benefit used to be a minimum check in time of 10 minutes, don’t know if that’s still the case?

  5. Travelling in Eurostar Standard (not premier as reviewed here), the new train seats are very uncomfortable and MUCH less comfortable than the old train. I have now used the new standard seat maybe 10 times and always arrive sore!
    I really find this disappointing , given the years that Siemens / Eurostar have had to get this right and the years I am going to have to put up with it.
    When on Eurostar, if you spot a middle-aged gentlemen pulling out a pillow to sit on you will know who it is.

    • Totally agree with you on this. As someone who takes the Eurostar regularly, the new seats are a big step down. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the blinding hospital-quality lighting as well. In the old seats, I was always able to sleep. On the new trains, you’d be lucky if you don’t wake up with someone’s elbow in your face.

      They also consistently have issues accepting card payments on the new trains. The terminal only seems to work 30% of the time.

      I get that they are trying to up their revenues by cramming more people on the trains, but this isn’t quite the “upgrade” they promised.

      • I said the carriages were light and bright!

      • Odd that nobody has mentioned the nausea-inducing swaying on the new trains. The staff are well aware of the problem – apparently due to poorly-calibrated suspension – and promise that a fix is on its way.

  6. Genghis says:

    Another OT – Heathrow Rewards ran a double ‘air miles’ promo around Christmas time just gone. Were there any before that? I.e. might there be another one coming this Christmas?

  7. “These trains are big – both physically longer and, because passengers are carried in the first and last carriages for the first time”

    The old trains have a locomotive at each end of the train, whereas all the kit needed to power the new trains is under the floor so there is no need for a locomotive.

  8. David C says:

    Travelled on one of these today, Standard Premier, and found the ride quality and seat comfort every bid as bad as mentioned here. “Just to be clear, the seat was not uncomfortable even after I had sat in it for two hours”: profoundly disagree.

    • Honestly, I didn’t have a problem with it! Back on it in 2 weeks (if I get a new train) so will focus more closely on my bottom :-)