Guide to booking lowest fares

Here are our key tips for how to get the lowest fares and best value when travelling to ski resorts by train.

Tip 1: Book early if possible, especially for independent travel

seatingphoto:Daniel Elkan Relaxing on the Eurostar

Like air fares, most train tickets are sold in price bands and the earlier you book, the more chance of finding cheaper tickets. The Eurostar Ski Train goes on sale in July 2014 for the entire seaon ahead. Tickets for indiret journeys where you change train in Paris, go on sale around 90 days before the date of travel, starting in October 2014.

You can already book ski holidays by train with the Eurostar Ski Train, Eurostar + TGV, Eurostar + Corail Lunea and Eurostar + City Night Line from some tour operators - to view these visit our ski holidays by train section.

Tip 2: Rail-inclusive ski packages can be very good value

introductionphoto:Daniel Elkan With a rep in Les Arcs

Tour-operator packages that include rail travel at preferential rates and transfers from stations to resorts are very good value.  Some of the bigger tour operators like Inghams and Crystal have access to allocations of seats at fixed prices - and they charge the same for train travel as for flying. For low-season dates and for late-bookings these are particularly good value compared to independent booking.

More and more ski tour operators are offering train travel too, often at preferential rates. You can view these on our packages section.

Tip 3: Use the phone, not just the web

new exteriorphoto:Daniel Elkan Enjoying the views at the cafe-bar

Whether you are booking independent rail travel to ski resorst, or a ski holiday by train from a tour operator, the phone is your friend. There will be plenty of occasions where you may not be able to find an independent fare, or rail-ski package online even though it exists. Booking websites and rail company call centres have access to the same fares, but by phoning up you'll get the (hopefully) expertise of staff who can help find what you want.

Start your research online, but then use 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.

Also, many packages and some independent fares can only be booked on the phone.

Tip 4: Mixing trains may save you money

new exteriorphoto:Daniel Elkan Group TGV in the mountains.

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, sometimes the direct Eurostar Ski Train can be cheaper than the combination of Eurostar + TGV.

The Rail Europe and Eurostar sites will show you these alternative options too, so look out for them - there are are savings to be made.

Tip 5: Book combined journeys in one go

new exteriorphoto:Daniel Elkan Arriving in Paris.

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, an overnight Corail Lunea sleeper train to the French Alps or a City Night Line sleeper train to Austria.

Should you book these journeys separately or in one go? That’s a common and fair question, because the booking horizons differ.  

The Eurostar booking horizon is 120 days ahead of your date of travel, while the horizon for booking your onward train is normally 90 days (or sometimes less).

Most rail-booking experts agree that on balance, it is better to wait until the whole of your journey is bookable so that you can book it in one go.

You can read a fuller explanation about this in our special guide: Should you book your Eurostar before booking onward trains to the Alps?

Tip 6: When booking online, check fares for "one adult" first

new exteriorphoto:Daniel Elkan Holiday in St Gervais and Megeve.

When you are checking fares online, the rail-company website will 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 will charge the higher price for all four tickets. That's because the booking systems are not sophisticated/intelligent enough to book the two lower price tickets and then the two higher price tickets. It may seem ridiculous or unfair, but unfortunately that is the way that the rail company booking engines currently work.

Now usually, this won't happen, 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.

Many thanks to skier John from West Sussex, who wrote in telling us about this, which he discovered when making a booking online (he phoned the train company afterward and they refunded the difference) so that we could let other skiers know.

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

seatingphoto:Daniel Elkan Chillin' on the TGV

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 can also consider going just one way by train, and flying back (or vice versa). This allows you to take advantage of good one-way fares by plane and train. 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 and group travel

new exteriorphoto:Daniel Elkan Fun near St Anton

Children under 4 can travel for free on Eurostar and European trains (but without an allotted seat) Fares for under-12s are lower too, by 10-20%, and in some cases (certain Swiss, Austrian and German trains) free if travelling with an adult family member. The If you are taking the City Night Line an an Austrian ski resort, children up to age 16 travel for free if travelling with a family member, apart from a €20 supplement each way. 

Group discounts are available too, for example Eurostar, TGV and Corail with 10 people or more people, and the City Night Line with six more people. See also our guide to group ski holidays by train.

Tip 9: in some cases, shop around

seatingphoto:Alpbach Tourism

For most French destinations, Eurostar and 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

new exteriorphoto:Daniel Elkan Transfer vehicle

Bus tickets from railway stations to resorts usually cost 10€ or less, and a full taxi doesn't cost much more person.  If the station is in the village, some hotels will pick you up free of charge.

You can see taxi and bus fares from station to resort are shown on the transfer-guide page on each resort listed on Snowcarbon - and they are a big saving over airport transfer costs.

In partnership with Three Vallee Tranfers, we have launched shared transfers from train stations to resorts (starting with shared transfers to Meribel). More of these to come.

Tip 11: Discounts on domestic rail travel to St Pancras

new exterior photo:Daniel Elkan About to board at 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.