How to book lowest train fares

Advice on how to get the lowest ski train and snow train fares, and save money on ski holidays by train


Introduction and thoughts

There's no magical way of getting cheap rail fares to the Alps. However, this page has some tips about ways to book that help you save some money and book 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 rail-booking website); 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 train tickets nor make any money from recommending where you buy them. We offer impartial advice based on plenty of research and experience.


Tip 1: Book early if possible, especially for independent travel

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In general - the earlier you book, the lower the fare. Therefore, it's important to know when booking opens. Tickets for the Travelski Express (previously, direct Eurostar Ski Train) usually go on sale in the second week of June for the entire winter season. 

Indirect journeys to the Alps via Paris, for example (such as with a Eurostar to Paris and then a TGV), go on sale around 330 days in advance for the Eurostar part of the journey. 

For the TGV section of the trip, sales open in October for travel dates 60 – 120 days in advance. 
If you are confident of the timings, you can book the Eurostar leg in advance of the TGV. Or you can wait and book the whole thing in one go, once the whole journey is on sale.

One of the advantages of using a rail-booking agent is that they can book each section of the journey for you when it goes on sale.


Tip 2: Rail-inclusive ski packages can make things easy

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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, with the Ski Train now exclusively charted by Travelski Express, they are no longer able to offer packages with this train. 

Travelski Express packages can be worth considering. In some cases a Travelski Express package will save you money versus booking the elements independently.

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 ski holidays by train in our rail packages section.


Tip 3: Rail booking experts can really help

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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 ask a rail-booking expert to 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 - they help find trains and tickets you can’t find online, and take the hassle out of booking. 

The rail-booking agent we’d most recommend is The Travel Bureau:

The Travel Bureau
Established in 1984, The Travel Bureau has an expert, knowledgeable team who can book journeys for you and can help with any journey. The Travel Bureau charges a fee of £10 per traveller (sometimes less for larger groups).
Phone:  (+44) 01902 326 662 (10:00 – 16:00 Monday – Friday)
Email: rail@thetravelbureau.co.uk
Website: https://rail-travel.co.uk/

Here are three other agents we recommend:

Trainseurope
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)
Email: info@trainseurope.co.uk
Website: trainseurope.co.uk

International Rail

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
Email: sales@internationalrail.com
Website: internationalrail.com

Ffestiniog Travel
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
Email: rail@ffestiniogtravel.co.uk;
Website: https://www.ffestiniogtravel.com/rail-ticket-service


Tip 4: When booking online, check fares for 'one adult' first

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When you are checking fares online, rail-booking websites ask you to select the number of people. It is set to "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 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, but it’s worth knowing about.  

Also, it’s easier to mentally note the cost per adult than for multiple people at once. 


Tip 5: Check on discounts for children

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For travel from the UK to the Alps, children under four can travel free on Eurostar and European trains (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 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 6: 'Youth' and 'Senior' fares can be a red herring

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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 and wrote a feature for The Guardian about the problem.  The excellent rail-advice website 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, although every little helps.

So always check fares using only adults first, and then double check for any possibly discount for youths or seniors after that. If booking with a rail-booking agent instead of online, the agent will price these accordingly, so you don't need to worry.


Tip 7: In some cases, shop around

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For most destinations, for example, Rail Europe, Trainline, Eurostar and SNCF Connect have access to the same fares. However, for other destinations, different rail companies may have access to different promotional fares or certain trains or journeys not offered by other websites. So it’s always worth checking more than one website. 

As mentioned above, it’s often worth using an expert booking service such as those listed in Tip 3.  They 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 8: Consider transfer costs

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When comparing the cost of travelling by train with the cost of flying, make sure you factor in transfer costs. These can be expensive from the airport, and transfers from train stations to resorts are much less. 

Bus tickets from railway stations to resorts usually cost €14 or less, and a full taxi doesn't cost much more per person either.  

Some hotels, chalets and tour operators will pick you up from the train station free of charge.


Tip 13: Discounts for groups of 10 or more

For most journeys to the Alps, you need to have ten 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%.

Group fares normally can’t be booked online, and you’ll need to book with a rail-booking agent. 
An advantage to group fares is that they can often be booked further in advance, before the normal public booking window opens.

You can find out more about group discounts in our Guide to group train travel.


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, 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) which we can recommend.

Snowcarbon also has a guide to booking train travel in general, which we recommend reading before booking. 


Like more help and advice?

train travel to ski resorts low fares guide

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.