Ski resorts by train

Do rail-booking websites show you the best journeys?

Thu 18 November, 2021


Daniel Elkan


Tickets went on sale on 3rd November  for TGV journeys between 3rd January and March 28th 2022. I got up early to find out how much trains cost for various journeys.

I found that for February half term (e.g. 19th Feb out, 26th Feb back) return tickets from London to the Alps were about £300 per adult (which would be 30% less for children aged 4 – 11).

For non-peak dates (I used 15th  Jan out/22nd Jan back and 5th March out/12th March back) tickets cost about £180 - £200 per adult. These prices will creep up as tickets get booked, of course. To find these prices, I used Trainline, Rail Europe and websites.

Since then, prices have gone up.

But I also discovered an important example of how rail-booking websites don’t always show you the best journey options.  In this case, the problem rested with Trainline, for journeys to Bourg St Maurice.

This is the journey that the Trainline should have shown:

Dep     London St Pancras     07:52  (Eurostar)
Arr       Paris-Nord                11:17
Dep      Paris-Lyon       13:29  (TGV)
Arr        Bourg St Maurice       18:37

However, instead of showing this journey, it showed:

Dep     London St Pancras     07:52  (Eurostar)
Arr     Paris-Nord                   11:17
Dep    Paris-Lyon     12:45  (TGV)
Arr      Chambery                 15:39
Dep    Chambery   16:23 (TER)
Arr     Bourg St Maurice        18:24

That’s a totally unnecessary change at Chambery, because the direct Paris – Bourg St Maurice exists and is running.

I checked out the same journey on Rail Europe, and it offers the journey with the direct train.


This is a classic example of algorithms not being able to give you the best journey options. It’s utterly ridiculous that this should happen.

Think what the app Citymapper does with multimodes of transport in real time.  Surely rail-booking websites can cope with rail timetables?  Clearly not, and the fault partly lies in the way that they are trying to show you timetables and tickets at the same time.

But the fault also lies with the train companies.  Why don’t they publish guideline timetables, so that everyone has a clear picture of what is possible? This is something that I’m trying to change.  Indeed, I’m in Glasgow at the moment to talk to train companies about this and try to effect some change.

Meantime, I also recorded a video to show you how this journey-schedule error happens. In the video you’ll see that I also searched journeys to other destinations (Grenoble and Cluses) and found no problems there.

See previous blog about how to book with a rail-booking agent, to give you alternatives to booking online.  There are of course many journeys (eg to resorts in Austria and Switzerland where, in some cases, rail-booking websites may struggle).  So if in doubt, remember that if the journey you are after doesn't show online, it may be because the algorithms can't find it.

In some years from now I'm sure this kind of algorithm nonsense won't be an issue any more. But for now, it exists.

Of course, for ideas for which resorts to choose and where to stay, feel free to get in touch too,

Kind regards,
Daniel Elkan
Snowcarbon Founder