Travelling by train to the Alps with friends, family or colleagues is fantastic fun. There are discounts for groups and you can book further in advance too
Introduction to group travel
Travelling by train to a ski resort with a group of friends, family or colleagues is a real pleasure and a lot of fun.
You can sit around a table on a train, get up and walk to the on-board cafe bar or restaurant, play games and have meals and drinks together and spend quality time - and all this as the scenery glides by out the window. It's far better than spending about the same amount of time dawdling through airport queues and cooped up on long transfers.
However, tickets for groups of 10 people or more cannot be booked online. That's because for some unknown reason decided by train companies, you can only book up to nine seats in one go online. For 10 or more, you need to book via the groups department of a train company or ticket-booking agency (or with a ski tour operator as part of a rail-inclusive ski package).
Apart from the fun of travelling in a large group, there are two advantages to booking:
1. There are discounts for groups of over 10 people. As a very rough guide, this discount is about 10%, it varies depending on several factors, such as the size of the group, date of travel etc.
2. In some cases, groups can book further in advance than the normal public-booking window. However, this is only marginally ahead of the opening of the public booking window, and with some journeys it's the same time as the public booking window.
How many people (booking together) count a group?
For most journeys to the Alps, 10 people or more, booked together, qualify for a group discount. Your group can be just adults or a mix of adults and children. The 10 people have to all be paying. Children under four, who can travel without a reserved seat free of charge, won't count as toward making up the 10 people, unless you pay for a seat for them too. To give some examples:
a) 10 adults = eligible for group fares and booking
b) Seven adults + three children (aged over 4) = eligible for group fares and booking
c) Nine adults + infant (aged 2, travelling for free) = not eligible for group fares and booking — unless you want to book a seat for the infant.
In the case of c), it might actually be worth paying for a seat for the infant, so that you get the group fares. Or finding another adult to come along as well!
A case study example of booking for a bunch of friends
In January, 25 of us went on a personal holiday that I organised to the resort of Oz, part of the Alpe d'Huez ski area (great skiing by the way). The journey was by Eurostar to Paris and then TGV. I contacted Voyages SNCF at the start of September, about one month before public tickets would go on sale. They were able to offer and hold tickets for us for £98 per person return, without committment, giving me time to get everyone to commit. I wrote an article about that trip for Ski Club's magazine, which you can read here.
Two years before, 22 of us booked a ski holiday to Alpe d'Huez by train, and the travel (Eurotar + TGV) was similarly £98 return, from London, per person, when public fares were around £130 return at the time. Again, the really useful thing was that the fares were held for us at that price for a few weeks before we had to commit, allowing us to invite friends to join us on the holiday and being able to tell them exactly how much the travel would cost.
In those cases, the group booking was relatively easy to do, gave us good prices and we were all sat together too. The journeys were certainly part of the holiday - everyone loved the train.
Can groups book further in advance?
In some cases, groups of 10 or more can book further in advance than the normal public booking window.
For the Eurostar Ski Train, you can't actually book this further in advance, but you can register your interest with Eurostar, who will then book your journey for you when the Ski Train goes on sale.
In the case of other journeys, such as Eurostar + TGV, or Eurostar + sleeper train, Voyages SNCF can actually be booked in advance of the booking window. There is no exact fixed horizon for how far you can book ahead. The normal process is that you send Voyages SNCF your request (see below) and then they contact you sometime later with a committment-free offer on the tickets.
Voyages SNCF says: "Group bookings can normally be requested in advance of the booking horizons opening. Normal booking horizons are currently 160 days in advance for Eurostar, and 90 days in advance for most other European journeys.
We are able to request the trains for groups normally around six months before the travel date, however peak booking horizons may be much shorter than this. We would send a request for your journey through to Central Groups in France, and await a reply back from them. We can give you an estimate of fares, which will be the starting from and to prices, and this is the full range of fares available on the services.
We do allow up to 6 weeks for a request to be dealt with in peak seasons, however the results do come back to us sooner than this on most occasions."
How to book group train travel tickets
Group travel (i.e. for 10 people or more) can't be booked online. Indeed, you may have noticed that on train company booking websites, such as Eurostar, Voyages SNCF and Loco2, the 'Number of passengers' input only allows for 1-9. Instead, you need to send the train companies and email, or book by phone.
For most independent train travel to the Alps, both Eurostar and Voyages SNCF can book group travel for you - see table below:
|Train company||Book by phone||Book by webform or email||Journeys bookable|
|Eurostar||0344 822 4800||
|Eurostar Ski Train, Eurostar + TGV|
|Oui SNCF||Not available||https://en.oui.sncf/en/quotation-form-for-group-travels||Eurostar Ski Train, Eurostar + TGV, Eurostar + sleeper train|
|Ffestiniog Travel||01766 772 firstname.lastname@example.org||Any journey|
What your email needs to include
In your email you should let them know the following details: departure station and destination station, daytime or overnight preference, dates of travel, number of people (including how many children age 4-11, or youths aged 12-16), whether you are interested in Standard Class or First Class and the name of the lead passenger.
About Ffestiniog Travel
Ffestiniog Travel are a train-booking option that we highly recommend because of their expertise and service so they are a great option if you are organising travel for a group and want minimum hassle. Ffestiniog are able to book trains for you as soon as they go on sale, to ensure the lowest fares. There is a booking fee for all ticketing arrangements made – this is minimal and charged as a percentage of the total booking cost, ranging from a few points up to a maximum charge of £30 - but this should be offset by the fact that they are on the ball and can secure the best possible prices, offers and upgrades on your behalf.
Ski holidays by train — Ask Snowcarbon
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