How to get the lowest ski train and snow train fares and how save money choosing holidays to ski resorts by train
Introduction and thoughts
There's no magical way to getting really cheap rail fares to the Alps. However, this page has some tips about ways to book that will save you some money and and make it easier to book what you want, with confidence.
There are different ways to book tickets: independently or as part of a rail-inclusive ski package; online (with a rail company or railticket website) or with a rail-booking agent. Each method has advantages and disadvantages.
We hope that you find Snowcarbon to be a useful guide for you in terms of the best way to book good-value train tickets to your ski destination. Snowcarbon doesn't sell tickets directly, nor make any money from recommending where you buy them.
What we want to do is offer impartial advice based on plenty of research and experience.
Tip 1: Book early if possible, especially for independent travel
Most train tickets are sold in price bands and - in general - the earlier you book, the more chance of finding cheaper tickets. Therefore, it's important to know when booking opens. Tickets for the direct Eurostar Ski Train usually go on sale mid July, at which point you can book any dates for the entire winter season. However, the train is unlikely to run for the 2021-22 season.
Indirect journeys to the Alps via Paris, for example (such as with a Eurostar to Paris and then a TGV) work differently. Eurostar tickets to Paris, Lille and Brussels are already on sale for dates until April 2022. Tickets for TGV trains normally go on sale around 90 days before your desired date of travel, from early October.
Some tour operators can book these trains for you as they go on sale, as part of a package. To view these packages visit our ski holidays by train section.
Tip 2: Rail-inclusive ski packages can make things easy
When the Eurostar Ski Train was running, some of the bigger tour operators had their own allocations of seats at fixed prices, including transfers from station to resorts. However, until the Ski Train runs again, those bigger tour operators won't be offering rail packages.
Some other independent ski tour operators can offer flexible train travel, tailored to your requirements - at rates that are similar to public rates. There aren't as many of these as we would wish, because in general train companies such as Eurostar and SNCF don't seem very enthusiastic about helping tour operators create packages with rail travel included. In a sensible world, rail companies would be encouraging ski tour operators.
You can view and browse all these packages in our rail packages section and we will be adding more packages there as and when they become available.
Tip 3: Rail booking experts can really help
Booking train tickets online is in no way as simple or reliable as it should be. You can't rely on websites to show you all the available trains or tickets. It's nuts that things work (or rather, don't work) like that, but that's the reality.
A really good solution is to let rail-booking experts source and book tickets for you. There are several companies in the UK that do this, who offer a brilliant service by making sure that you are offered the most suitable journey options, for the best available prices. These companies charge a small fee for their services. We think that overall, they are excellent value - because they will help you find trains and tickets that you might not have been able to book online, and they take the hassle out of booking.
Here are three companies we recommend:
Helping people book rail travel since 1986, Trainseurope has an expert, knowledgeable team who can book journeys for you.
Can help with any journey.
Trainseurope charges a fee of £10 per traveller.
Phone: (+44) 01354 660222 (09:00 – 17:00 Monday – Friday; 09:00 – 15:00 Saturday)
A family run, Hampshire-based rail-booking agent with an experienced team of staff.
Can help with any journey.
Booking fees are depend on the total value of the order: Under £100.00 = £15.00; between £100.00 - £300.00 = £25.00; over £300.00 = £35.00
Phone: (+44) 03330 030 413. (Calls free within inclusive minutes package on mobile; otherwise standard rates apply.)
Call centre times: 09:00 – 17:00 Monday-Friday
Established in 1974, Ffestiniog Travel is owned by a Charitable Trust. Profits support the world-famous Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. There is a booking fee for all ticketing arrangements made, charged as a percentage of the total booking cost, up to a maximum charge of £30. As you can imagine, its expertise and understanding of rail ticketing means that they are able to advise clients on, source and take advantage of cheaper ticket prices – they know when reservations should be made to secure the best possible prices, offers and upgrades on your behalf.
Phone: 01766 515630
Tip 4: Use the phone, not just the web
When booking rail travel to ski resort use the phone as well as the web. This will help you find independent journey options or fares 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. There is sometimes an interactive clarity in a phone call that a website, or back-and-forth by email, doesn't provide.
And indeed, the systems that power train-company websites don't allow certain kinds of train to be booked in one go, online. The underlying rail-ticket systems are sometimes so complicated that the online interface can't cope. It's bonkers, but that's how it is.
So start your research online, or by email, 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.
|Rail company||Phone number||Opening hours||Booking fee|
|Eurostar||03432 186 186||Mon-Fri 8am - 7pm; Sat-Sun 9am - 5pm||£10 per total booking|
|OUI.sncf||No call centre||Not applicable||Not applicable|
|Deutsche Bahn||08718 80 80 66||Mon-Fri 9am to 8pm; Sat-Sun 9am to 1pm.||None|
|Switzerland Travel Centre||0207 420 4934||Mon-Fri 9am - 5pm; Saturdays 9am - 1pm.||None|
It is worth noting that some rail-ski packages and some independent fares may not be apparent or viewable online - another reason to phone. See also - in Tip 3 - rail-booking agents who you can call too.
Tip 5: 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 include Trainline, Rail Europe, Voyages SNCF and Eurostar.
Tip 6: 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 7: 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 8: 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 9: 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 10: In some cases, shop around
For most French destinations, for example, Rail Europe, Trainline, Eurostar and Voyages SNCF 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.
If you are getting frustrated, then try an expert booking service such as those listed in Tip 3. These guys have sophisticated booking systems and a wealth of experience.
At Snowcarbon we’ll always try to put you in touch with the most appropriate rail company for your destination. You can read more about your booking options here too.
Tip 11: 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 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. Normally, the group discount is about 10% off (vs individual fares)
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)
As a rule of thumb, it's worth checking 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: Other useful rail-travel advice websites
You'll no doubt have heard of the wonderful The Man in Seat Sixty-One, started about 20 years ago by Mark Smith. The site is a mine of useful information and advice. It isn't specialised to rail travel to the Alps, but you'll find sections like London to France useful for the French Alps, London to Austria useful for —you guessed it — Austria. It also has a guide to How to buy cheap European train tickets.
Another useful rail advice website is Show Me The Journey, founded by Simon Harper, which has a wealth of guidance and a concierge booking service too. There is a whole section about booking tickets, called An introduction to booking tickets for European rail journeys.
The important thing is not to feel like, just because advice online exists, that you have to spend hours and hours trying to work everything out yourself. There are always booking agents that can do it for you (see Tip 3) and which we can recommend.
Like more help and advice?
If you'd like more help and advice the best train travel options, resorts and accommodation, feel free to contact Snowcarbon's founder, Daniel.
He can help with specific advice and suggestions, using his years of experience as a ski journalist and expert on how to travel to the Alps by train.
Daniel knows lots of great accommodation and tour operators and independent providers that can help, so you'll get some great suggestions.
Just send Daniel an email and he'll be back in touch.
Ski holidays by train — Ask Snowcarbon
At Snowcarbon we are always happy to help you with suggestions for great resorts, fantastic accommodation and how to get there.
Looking forward to helping you.