All you need to know about ski holidays by train

Should you book Eurostar before you book onward trains to Alps?

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).

Train Booking horizon
Eurostar to Paris 120 days in advance
TGV 90 days in advance or less (from mid October 2013)
Corail Lunea 90 days in advance or less (from mid October 2013)
City Night Line 90 days in advance or less (from mid October 2013)

Back to that question:  should you book the Eurostar  separately first,  in order to get the lowest fares on that, and then book your onward service (TGV or Corail Lunea sleeper train from Paris) later separately, once that opens?  Or should you wait and book them all in one go.

In short: 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.

The main advantages of booking the journey in one go, at 90 days out:

  • For daytime journeys with the TGV you could, depending on availability, get a Connection Fare, which if available is cheaper than booking Eurostar and the TGV separately.  NB: Connection Fares do not apply to overnight journeys.
  • It is safer bet, because booked together, the two journeys are guaranteed to match in terms of timetable connections.  Occasionally from year to year, and/or on specific dates, there are timetable changes. These only become known once the onward journey opens for booking. So if you’ve already booked a Eurostar based on a previous year’s timetable, it could mean that the Eurostar you’ve already booked might not arrive in time for you to catch the onward train.  So in that instance you would need to rebook the Eurostar section.
  • Booked in one go, your tickets count as one journey, and therefore are covered by the CIV conditions of carriage, which protects you in the unlikely event of missing a connection due to a train being late.

In conclusion
It is better to wait until the entire journey can be booked in one go.  Booking the Eurostar separately first could, in the case of overnight journeys, save you some money, but it does carry some degree of risk. If you are very confident and are prepared to accept that risk, you could book separately. Otherwise wait and book in one go.

Mark Smith, rail expert and founder of the excellent site Seat 61, also has a page of booking advice which covers this subject too.