Is it better to book your Eurostar before your TGV?

By: Daniel Elkan
Sat 29 Apr 2023
Relaxing cats
Daniel Elkan


More and more UK-based skiers are choosing to travel from the UK to the Alps with a combination of Eurostar to Paris (or Lille) and then TGV to the Alps. Lovely journeys; wonderful scenery; a great way to travel. 

But when it comes to buying train tickets, there’s a question: is it better to book your Eurostar in advance of your TGV? This article aims to help you decide...

Officially, Eurostar trains go on sale around 330 days in advance. Depending on the date of travel, TGV trains go on sale between 60 and 120 days in advance. So that’s quite a time difference between when you can buy your Eurostar and TGV tickets for Alps travel. 

Since train-ticket prices increase the closer you are to the date of travel, skiers often ask whether it is better to book the Eurostar as early as possible, instead of waiting for the TGV to go on sale (and therefore booking Eurostar and TGV at the same time).   

Children on board EurostarDaniel Elkan, Children on board Eurostar

To help answer this question, I consulted rail experts, rail-booking agents, ticket websites and rail companies. 

My conclusion (spoiler alert) is that on balance, it’s generally better to book your Eurostar in advance.

In fact, I used to feel that this was a case of ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other’. However, since the pandemic, Eurostar has changed how it issues tickets: 

You can now book a Eurostar and switch your booking down the line, free of charge, paying only the difference in fare. 

Eurostar used to charge a fee for doing this but it doesn’t any more. This makes booking Eurostar trains in advance more of a no-lose gamble. That’s why I would now suggest that it’s better to book your Eurostar trains before your TGV trains go on sale – particularly if that’s going to be a gap of several months – in order to save money.  

The starting price for Eurostar trains to Paris, Lille, Brussels etc is around £49 one way, even for peak ski dates. The official cheapest return Eurostar fare is £78. Closer to the time of booking, it’s common to see one-way fares of about £100 - £195. Booking in advance can certainly save you money. 

A very useful took is Eurostar's low-fare finder. This shows you a two-months-at-a-glance view of the lowest Eurostar fares per day.

If booking Eurostar trains in advance of TGVs, you’ll want to ensure that the ones you choose match up well, timing-wise, with the TGVs that you’ll be booking months later.

Families travel on the TGVDaniel Elkan, Families travel on the TGV

Predicted schedules

In the table below, you’ll find the departure times, from Paris Gare de Lyon, of TGVs headed to various stations across the French Alps. This will give you a picture of the departure times you’ll be aiming for, because as mentioned, TGV timings tend to be quite consistent, year on year. Additionally, we have included a table showcasing the arrival times of TGVs returning to Paris Gare de Lyon.

As a rule of thumb, depending on your destination: 

a)    on the outbound journey, a Eurostar that leaves London at 08:31 (or earlier) is the safest bet for reaching all French destinations. The Eurostar that leaves at 09:31 is a safe bet for certain French destinations. 
b)    for your return journey, book a Eurostar that departs Paris no earlier than 16:13 

 

Direct TGVs on Saturdays - outbound

 

That's just some of the direct outbound TGVs. And below are just some of the direct return TGVs.

Direct TGVs on Saturdays - return

Destination station Depart (Paris-Lyon) Arrive destination
Aime La Plagne 08:38 13:41
Aime La Plagne 13:22 18:01
Annecy 09:43 13:28
Annecy 12:43 16:32
Bourg St Maurice 08:38 14:02
Bourg St Maurice 13:22 18:21
Cluses 10:27 15:09
Grenoble 10:10 13:13
Grenoble 13:58 17:13
Landry 08:38 13:52
Landry 13:22 18:12
Modane 07:25 12:02
Modane 14:45 18:49
Moutiers-Salins 08:38 13:24
Moutiers-Salins 13:22 17:40
Oulx 09:23 14:23
Oulx 14:45 19:23
Sallanches 10:27 15:28
St Gervais 10:27 15:36

 

What dates will TGVs go on sale for winter 2023-24? 

Predicting when TGVs will go on sale isn’t an exact science, and SNCF can be annoyingly opaque about when it will be. But things tend to follow a pattern, year on year. Based on what happened last season, this is a prediction for winter 2023-24. Note that sale for 25th March onwards travel dates were unusually late last season, and normally it would be earlier in January.

Origin station Depart (Alps) Arrive Paris-Lyon
Aime La Plagne 09:32 14:16
Aime La Plagne 17:08 22:14
Annecy 09:29 13:16
Bourg St Maurice 09:12 14:16
Bourg St Maurice 16:48 22:14
Cluses 09:54 14:31
Cluses 17:01 22:34
Grenoble 09:47 12:49
Landry 09:21 14:16
Landry 16:58 22:14
Modane 09:13 13:16
Moutiers-Salins 09:50 14:16
Moutiers-Salins 17:26 22:14
Oulx 08:36 13:16
Oulx 14:36 19:16
Sallanches 09:36 14:31
Sallanches 16:41 22:34
St Gervais 09:28 14:31
St Gervais 16:33 22:34

 

Key points to help you decide whether to book in advance

1.    Eurostar operates a system by which bookings are now flexible
So you can later change your booking to a different Eurostar if you need to. However, you will pay the difference in fare between what you had paid originally and what the new ticket costs. Although this effectively makes booking a no-lose gambit, you’ll have paid for the Eurostar in advance (without knowing how much your TGVs are going to cost). You can read more about Eurostar’s policy here: https://help.eurostar.com/faq/rw-en/question/Can-I-change-my-booking.

2.    In general, TGV schedules change very little, year on year
So, you can have a fairly high degree of confidence about booking a Eurostar first. The Snowcarbon Journey Planner shows some of these predicted, recommended journey schedules for winter 2023-24, for a number of fantastic ski resorts.

3.    Allow enough Paris-transfer time outbound
On the journey outbound, you’ll want at least 60 minutes between the arrival of your Eurostar and the departure of your onward TGV from Gare de Lyon (or Intercite de Nuit (night train) from Gare d’Austerlitz. Ideally, 90 – 120 minutes will make the station switch far more relaxed. 

4.    And on the return
Coming back from the Alps, you’ll need a minimum of 100 minutes to change station in Paris, but preferably 120 or more, for the switch from Gare de Lyon or Gare d’Austerlitz to Gare du Nord. The extra time required is for the check-in for your Eurostar at Gare du Nord. 

5.    Stopovers can be advantageous
If you travel out to Paris the night before (eg on the Friday) and stopover, you can then choose any TGV the next morning (eg on the Saturday). By stopping over in Paris, you’ll arrive at your ski resort much earlier than you would have done if you set out on the Saturday morning from the UK. Similarly, on the return journey, you could ski all day, get a late TGV back to Paris, stop over and then get a Eurostar back to London the next morning. More time in resort, more choice of trains, and your connection is even more assured, due to the stopover.  

6.    HOTNAT’s got your back
If you do end up missing a connection, it doesn’t matter anymore whether you’ve booked your Eurostar and TGV separately. Under HOTNAT (more about this below), you’ll still be allowed on the next available train.

7.    Booking agents can help
Don’t feel that you need to take on the task of booking online by yourself. There are expert rail booking agents such as The Travel Bureau and Trainseurope that can organise the Eurostars and TGVs for you. You can find out more about rail-booking agents in our guide to booking rail travel to the Alps

8. Travelski Express - an alternative
For some destinations, an alternative to Eurostar + TGV journeys is the direct Travelski Express train (formerly Eurorstar Ski Train), which normally goes on sale in June. For more information about see our Guide to the Travelski Express.

 

What if I miss my connection? 

Imagine that you are on the Eurostar to France, but it’s running very late for some reason. Unlikely, but possible. You realise that you are going to miss your TGV connection. 

You’ll need to travel on the next available train. Will this be possible? The answer is yes. 

Whether or not you originally booked your Eurostar and TGV together, at the same time, or whether you’ve booked them separately, you’ll still be allowed to board the next available train. 

The same thing is true in reverse: 

If your TGV is delayed and it means you’ll miss your Eurostar back to London, you’ll be allowed to travel on the next available Eurostar. 

I asked Eurostar, Rail Europe and Trainline to comment on this topic.

 

What Eurostar says

A Eurostar spokesperson told me: ‘Under the ‘Hop on the next available train’ (HOTNAT) agreement, should a traveller miss their connecting TGV due to a delay to their Eurostar, they would be reaccommodated onto the next available TGV. The same applies if a traveller misses their connecting Eurostar due to a delay to their TGV. The traveller is required to ask service-desk staff or the conductor of the delayed train for a HOTNAT stamp on their ticket or separate form. The traveller must then present this stamp to the connecting train provider staff to be reaccommodated onto the next available service. HOTNAT applies on journeys that are booked as separate bookings.'

 

What Rail Europe says

Rail Europe is a leading rail-booking website. A spokesperson told me. "Right across Europe, every single day, many thousands of people make journeys which require multiple tickets, which may or may not be purchased in a single transaction. These journeys work because of carriers' shared obligation to get passengers to their destinations. 

"It really doesn't matter at all if your Eurostar and TGV trains are booked separately. Both Eurostar and SNCF are members of Railteam and the HOTNAT principle applies. So, to take your examples, someone travelling from London to the French Alps (or vice versa) using Eurostar and TGV really will be accommodated on the next available train if a connection is missed. Our view at Rail Europe is still very much that relaxed itineraries reduce the risk of missed connections and make for better journeys overall."

Dog on TGVDaniel Elkan, Dog on TGV

Consumer protection - affected?

I asked booking website Trainline whether consumer protection is affected by booking Eurostar and TGV at separate times, in a case where one leg or direction of the journey was cancelled for some reason. A spokesperson told me:

"With Trainline, you can book multi-operator journeys in a single transaction as well as in separate purchases. If there is a cancellation or delay your journey, the refund rules and conditions for each individual operator will still apply. However, if an issue with one leg of a journey affects another leg with a different operator, it is simpler to make a claim covering both legs if they were booked together in one transaction. Otherwise they can't be considered as part of the same journey, so your case can only be considered on an individual basis by the relevant operator."

In other words, you are better protected if you book your Eurostar and TGV train in one go, because you are more likely to get a refund on both legs of the journey if one train cancelled that affected the other legs. However, train cancellations are relatively rare. On a risk-reward basis, I'd say that booking Eurostar in advance is still preferable.

The view of expert rail-booking agents

The Travel Bureau

I asked David Walters, MD of expert rail-booking agents The Travel Bureau, for his views on the subject.  "Booking the Eurostar in advance is the way to get the cheapest fares. So as soon as you know what your dates are, and where you're going, we'd advise that it's worth booking your Eurostars."

Walters also advises that skiers should keep a note of when TGVs for their trip are due to go on sale. That way they can proactively get in touch with the rail-booking agent to remind the agent to book the TGVs for them. 

"With the volumes of bookings that we deal with, it's always useful when travellers proactively contact us to ensure we book their onward journey. At the end of the day, the traveller is responsible for their own travel and the onus should be on them to be on top of things."

Walters told me something else of particular interest: 

"If the skier tells us that they've booked accommodation in the ski resort, and which accommodation it is, then we can use RIT (rail-inclusive tour) fares. There's no difference in price but the train tickets can be cancelled and refunded up to six weeks before the date of travel. So that gives a huge benefit in terms of the ability to get a refund if necessary."

Walters is similarly reassuring about travellers who are delayed being allowed onto the next available train, however the journey was booked. 

"With proof from the conductor on the train that your Eurostar or TGV was delayed, travellers will be allowed to travel on the next available train. That is standard practice."

Indeed, Walters says that since January 2020, when Eurostar decided not to be aligned with SNCF and Deutsche Bahn's booking system, even Eurostar and TGV bookings made at the same time still count as two separate journeys. "For whatever reason, Eurostar and SNCF decided not to be on the same system anymore. But the HOTNAT system does mean that if your train is delayed, you'll be booked on the next available train without any hassle at all."

 

Trainseurope

Fas Mohammed is another very experienced booking agent, at Trainseurope. He told me:  "It's always a good option to book Eurostar in advance, as Eurostar gives flexibility for the tickets to exchange without any fee, only th fare difference to pay (but no refunds). 

"What we can do for our clients is we can book them and keep them on hold and once the TGV release we can price it all together. We normally monitor the trains as soon as they loaded on the system we will book them and get in touch with clients. But I always advice my clients to send us reminder emails, so that we can keep an eye if we miss something."

The views of Mark Smith, of Seat 61

I also spoke with independent rail expert, Mark Smith. As you might know, Mark is the founder of Seat61, a fantastic website with an unparalleled source of rail-travel advice. Mark is more cautious about whether to book your Eurostars in advance of your TGVs. 

Here’s what he says: 

"There's no ‘right’ answer. Eurostar dropping the change fee certainly shifts the balance towards taking a calculated risk and buying Eurostar before you can confirm onward trains.  But dropping the change fee was originally only for the pandemic and so a hefty change fee could reappear at any time without warning.

"So, it's really a question of taking a calculated risk.  If you're going to do it, book an earlier Eurostar than the one you need [on the outbound journey], so if your onward train is re-timed earlier, you can still catch it.  Go ahead if you're connecting with a lunchtime or afternoon train with later trains available if your chosen train ends up not running, but think twice if you're connecting with the last train of the day as if that's cancelled there's no Plan B."

Importantly, Smith points out that Eurostar tickets can be changed, but the route can't be. For example, a London-Lille Eurostar ticket can’t be changed to a London-Paris one.

A Eurostar spokesperson told me that there are no plans to reintroduce fees for switching your booking to a different date and time. But that doesn’t mean Eurostar won’t introduce this in the future. 

 

My conclusion 

On balance, I would suggest that it’s worth booking your Eurostar trains in advance if:

a)    if you have decided on your date of travel, ski destination and accommodation. 
b)    Eurostar prices are still cheap for that date and its several months before the TGV goes on sale

 

Choosing a ski resort and accommodation first  

It goes without saying that booking your Eurostar trains, it’s a good idea to decide which ski resort you want to travel to, and where you want to stay.

If you’d like suggestions for great resorts and accommodation, please do get in touch

Best wishes,
Daniel Elkan
Snowcarbon Founder

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Travel period Tickets go on sale
09 Dec 2023  - 01 Jan 2024 05 October 2023
02 Jan - 25 March 2024 08 November 2023
26 March 2024 onwards 25 January 2024