Key tips for how to get the lowest ski train and snow train fares and how to save money when travelling to ski resorts by train.
Tip 1: Book early if possible, especially for independent travel
Most train tickets are sold in price bands and the earlier you book, the more chance of finding cheaper tickets. Therefore, it's important to know when booking opens is important. The Eurostar Ski Train is now on sale for the entire 2015-16 season, as is the London-Lyon leg of the Eurostar to French Alps via Lyon. By contrast, tickets for indirect journeys (where you change train in Paris, for example) go on sale around 90 days before the date of travel, with the first tickets going on sale in October 2015.
You can already book ski holidays by train with the Eurostar Ski Train and Eurostar + TGV from some tour operators - to view these packages visit our ski holidays by train section.
Tip 2: Rail-inclusive ski packages can be very good value
Most tour-operator rail-ski packages include the train element and transfers from station to resorts, and with everything included, these can be good value. Some of the bigger tour operators like Inghams and Crystal have their own allocations of seats at fixed prices. In some cases these are matched at the same price as flying. In some cases there is a small supplement for taking the train, but then you are getting a far better quality of journey, so still worth it, we would say. Plenty of independent ski tour operators can offer train travel too - at rates that are similar to public rates.
You can view and browse all these packages in our rail packages section.
Tip 3: Use the phone, not just the web
Whether you are booking independent rail travel to ski resort, or a rail-ski package from a tour operator, use the phone as well as the web. This will help you find independent fares or rail-ski packages that aren't obvious to find online, even though they exist. Booking websites and rail company call centres have access to the same fares, but by phoning up you can frequently benefit from the expertise of staff who can help find what you want.
And indeed, the systems that power train-company websites don't allow certain kinds of train to be booked in one go. It's bonkers, considering this is the year 2015. The underlying ticket systems are sometimes so complicated that the online interface can't cope. However, the member of staff at the train company call centre can.
So start your research online, but then pick up the phone - either to check that what you've found is in fact the best option; or to get someone to help you find what you are after and save you the frustration. This is especially the case when booking for a group of friends or family - you may be talking about £1000 or more worth of train tickets. It's worth a phonecall for peace of mind, even if you end up booking online. Indeed, there are at least six reasons to book rail travel on the phone.
|Rail company||Phone number||Opening hours|
|Eurostar||01233 617 575||8am - 7pm Mon-Fri; 9am - 5pm Sat-Sun.|
|Voyages SNCF||01732 520 550 or 0844 848 5848||9am - 7pm Mon-Fri, 9am - 6pm Saturdays.|
|Switzerland Travel Centre||0207 420 4934||9am - 5pm Mon-Fri; 9am - 1pm Saturdays.|
It is worth noting that some rail-ski packages and some independent fares may not be apparent or viewable online - another reason to phone.
Tip 4: Going indirect may save you money
If you are headed for the Tarentaise region (for resorts such as Tignes, Les Arcs, La Plagne and Meribel), served by the direct Eurostar Ski Train, you might find that you could save around £50 - £100 per person by taking indirect trains back. That means that instead of taking the direct Ski Train both ways, travel out on the direct train but come back by TGV to Paris and then Eurostar from Paris to London. Sure, you have to change in Paris, but you can do this easily - see our guide - simply by taking a taxi (costs about 15-20 euros per taxi).
Conversely however, sometimes the direct Eurostar Ski Train can be cheaper than the combination of Eurostar + TGV. Sometimes if you are booking a direct train outbound, rail company websites won't physically allow you to book an indirect option inbound - so if this seems to be the case, phone them.
Snowcarbon will show you these options - start at our resorts and journey planner section and then you'll be able to click to view pricing and booking options. Booking sites we recommend are Loco2, Voyages SNCF (formerly Rail Europe) and Eurostar.
Tip 5: Book combined journeys in one go
Some rail journeys from London to the Alps combine a Eurostar to Paris and then a train from Paris to the Alps. This onward train from Paris might be a daytime TGV train or overnight Corail Lunea sleeper train to the French Alps.
But this throws up a question, because the Eurostar booking horizon is 120 days ahead of your date of travel - further ahead than the 90-day horizon for booking your onward train. Should you book these journeys separately or in one go?
The answer is that on balance, it is better to wait until the whole of your journey is bookable - and book it all in one go.
You can read a fuller explanation about this here: Should you book your Eurostar before booking onward trains to the Alps?
Tip 6: When booking online, check fares for "one adult" first
When you are checking fares online, rail-booking websites - including Snowcarbon - ask you to select the number of people. It is set at "one adult" automatically, and when you first search for fares keep it this way (checking for just "one adult" initially). Doing this will help you make sure of finding the cheapest tickets.
Why is this important? Rail fares are sold in price bands, with a certain number of seats available at each price. If you try to book a group of say "4 adults" and there are only two tickets available at the lower price, the rail-company's online booking system may sometimes automatically charge the higher price for all four tickets. They do this because the rail-booking systems are not sophisticated enough to book the two lower price tickets and then the two higher price tickets. Ridiculous perhaps, but that's the reality.
Fortunately this won't happen often, because the chance of your booking taking up the last of the cheaper and first of the more expensive, is small. So normally you will be shown the cheapest tickets for all your party. But on occassion, this may not be the case. So check prices first using the default of one adult.
If in any doubt when booking online or if you find that the system is asking seemingly too much for multiple adults, phone the rail company call centre and ask them to book the seats for you.
Tip 7: On the phone, state that you want help finding the lowest fares
If you are on the phone to a rail company’s call centre, state clearly at the start of the call that you need help finding the lowest-priced fares.
Remember that you can mix and match tickets, taking one route on the way out and another on the return leg.
You might also consider going just one way by train, and flying back (or vice versa). Normally, buying a single train ticket to or from Europe costs about 25% more than if it was bought as part of a return journey, but this can still be worth it overall.
Tip 8: Check on discounts for children
For travel from the UK to the Alps, children under 4 can travel for free on Eurostar and European trains (but without a reserved seat).
Independent fares to the Alps for children aged 4-11 are approximately 30% cheaper than adult fares. And sometimes the discount is even greater.
On some services in Switzerland and Austria, children travel for free if travelling with an adult family member.
You can find out more in our Guide to Family Travel to the Alps by Train
Tip 9: In some cases, shop around
For most French destinations, for example, Loco2, Eurostar and Voyages SNCF (formerly Rail Europe) usually have access to exactly the same fares.
However, for other destinations, different rail companies may have access to different fares, as well as specialist knowledge of their region’s trains.
On Snowcarbon we’ll always put you in touch with the most appropriate rail company for your destination. You can read more about your booking options here too.
Tip 10: Consider transfer costs
Bus tickets from railway stations to resorts usually cost 14€ or less, and a full taxi doesn't cost much more person either. Some hotels, chalets and tour operators will pick you up from the station free of charge - always check this.
Taxi and bus fares from station to resort are shown on the transfer-guide page on each ski resort listed on Snowcarbon - and they are a big saving over airport transfers.
Tip 11: Discounts on domestic rail travel to St Pancras
If you are travelling to London from another part of the country, you can get disounts on domestic rail travel to St Pancras.
This little-known service - only available by phoning the number below - not only gets you discounted travel to London; it also gives you the reassurance that if your regional UK train or your returning Eurostar trains are delayed or cancelled your onward carrier will reaccommodate you even - regardless of the type of ticket you have.
The tickets also include tube transfers and railcard discounts where appropriate.
To get the discount, you phone 01233 617 913 and give them the reference number for your Eurostar tickets – either for tickets booked independently, or via a tour operator. You can only do this service once the domestic booking window has opened, and only over the phone. Eurostar says:“As the office is singly staffed some perseverance may be necessary at busy times! We must have time to post the tickets out to the client. Tickets booked at short notice or over the value of £50 are subject to an £8 special delivery charge on the total.”
The office is staffed from 9am – 5pm Mondays to Fridays by a wonderfully helpful and knowledgeable chap called Bob.
Tip 12: 'Youth' and 'Senior' fares can be a red herring
Train companies offer discounts for Youths (age 11- 26) and Seniors (aged 60 and over). However, never assume that Youth fares or Senior fares will be cheaper than Adult fares. Sometimes, due to glitches in the over-complicated rail ticketing system that exists, the opposite is the case.
Snowcarbon Founder Daniel Elkan discovered this by chance, in the course of researching fares for Snowcarbon, and has written a feature for The Guardian about the problem. And indeed, the excellent Seat 61 website says the same thing.
Even if Youth or Senior fares are cheaper than adults, it's only by about 3% - 4%. Nothing to get very excited about.
So always check fares using only adults first, and then double check for any possibly discount for youths or seniors after that.
Tip 13: Discounts for groups of 10 or more
For most journeys to the Alps, you need to have 10 people to get a group discount. Your group could be just adults, or a mix of adults and children, and either way a group discount would apply.
However, for certain types of journey, the rules state that the first 10 tickets in the group booking must all be of the same ticket type. That means that in order for the tickets to be booked as a group and have the group discounts apply, the booking must include a minimum of 10 adult tickets or 10 child tickets. Now, if your group consists only of adults, that's all fine. But what if you are a family party with a mix of adults and kids? Well for most journeys, this doesn’t matter. But for some journeys, it does. (see also table below)
|Train journey||Train company you are booking with||Group discount||Mix of passenger age types OK?||Groups can book in advance of the public booking window?|
|Eurostar Ski Train (direct)||Eurostar||10% or more||Yes - any mix of ages counts||No, but they can register||Yes (= Scenario 1)|
|Eurostar Ski Train (direct)||Voyages SNCF||5%||Yes - any mix of ages counts||No, but they can register||Yes (= Scenario 1)|
|Eurostar + TGV||Eurostar||10% or more||Yes - any mix of ages counts, as long as the fare is a Connection Fare||No, but they can register||Yes (= Scenario 1)|
|Eurostar + TGV||Voyages SNCF||Up to 50%||Yes - any mix of ages counts, as long as the fare is a Connection Fare||Yes||Yes (= Scenario 1)|
|Eurostar + sleeper train||Voyages SNCF||Up to 50%||Yes, but minimum of 10 of same age type required||Yes||No (= Scenario 2)|
As a rule of thumb, it's worth applying for group travel discounts, because you will still be able to choose to book as a non-group with normal public fares, and the train company will be able to advise at time of booking as to which is likely to be cheaper.
You can find out more about group discounts in our guide to travel and discounts for 10 or more people.
Tip 14: Take the new route via Lyon
The new Eurostar direct service from London (and Ashford) to Lyon has opened up a whole range of new journey options. What is more, the pricing on this route means that you can save on train travel to the French Alps - especially at peak dates such as Christmas, New Year, February half term and Easter.
You can find out more about the route with our guide to travel to the Alps via Lyon.
And to see how much return fares to Lyon currently cost, you can view our Live Ski and Snow Train Prices page.