Train-travel booking guide

Train companies don't make booking tickets as easy as they could – or should. Here's our guide to help you book journeys

Boy on TGV

Train journeys to ski resorts can be much better experiences than flying or driving. They’re more fun, social and sustainable, giving you plenty of space and time to enjoy the scenery en route. 

But how best to book your rail journey? Unfortunately, train companies and rail-booking websites don’t always make booking trains simple.

At the outset they make the search seem simple, because you only need to enter your starting station, ending station and dates of travel. However, as you'll read more about below, the results calculated aren’t always the most convenient.

However, SnowCarbon is here to help. We don't book journeys for you, but we can offer advice based on years of experience travelling via train and through constant research. 

SnowCarbon doesn't make any commission from people booking rail travel—there is no commercial influence behind our info.

If you only read one thing on this page, the most useful piece of advice we can give is: ‘Don’t trust just one source for journey information or prices.’ 

Rail timetables and ticket-sellers use over-complicated systems. While every company will attempt to show you their best options, the best option for you is often specific. Don’t trust as gospel the first results that you see.

This guide aims to show you the many booking options available, including independent travel online, independent travel through a rail-booking agent, or a rail-inclusive ski holiday from a ski-tour operator.

Booking rail travel online

Photo: Daniel Elkan

Booking a train journey from the UK to the Alps isn’t as simple as booking a flight. Rail operators across the UK and mainland Europe have made a dog’s dinner of integrating their booking systems.

Sometimes, booking rail travel online is simple. Sometimes it isn't.

What’s key is that you don’t treat the journey options or prices you find online as gospel. Most rail-booking websites have access to the same underlying tickets and prices. However, the algorithms they use may not find the optimal options and fares available to you. It’s therefore worth checking more than one source.

For journeys involving two or more trains, there might be more suitable schedules that algorithms won’t generate. In some cases, bookable train journeys don't show up online or are marked as 'not available'. It’s ridiculous, and the more travellers know this, the better. 

If you want extra time for a stopover, you may find that online booking systems—which automatically minimise the time between trains—simply aren’t suitable.

An alternative to booking independent rail travel online is to use a rail-booking agent (more on this below). 

Don't let algorithms fool you

Photo: Daniel Elkan

The ability for travellers to book rail journeys online is important. Most rail-booking websites are powered by algorithms (fixed computational pathways) to show you possible journeys and available tickets based on your search criteria.

Unfortunately, algorithms are rarely personalised to your ideal journey. They’re automated machines that present you with the most popular options they can find. However, like dating apps, they’re a flawed tool for matching your preferences!

Moreover, algorithms run through multiple booking systems, journey options, and ticket types before presenting you with them—booking systems and ticket types that weren’t created with algorithms in mind! It's like someone searching through a library in which the books haven’t been logically arranged. They might not find the book you’re looking for, or they might not find any book at all. 

Put simply: online algorithms often fail to show you the best journey options By knowing this, you’re in a better position to plan your journey.

Websites for booking rail travel online

If you want to book train travel independently, you can book it online or ask an expert rail-booking agent to do it for you. Here are some of the most popular options for buying tickets online.
Eurostar’s website can be useful for the Eurostar leg of your journey and for some Eurostar + TGV journeys. However, it offers a limited range of destinations and doesn’t include local TER trains.

Rail Europe
An online ticket-booking agent with a relatively easy-to-use interface and well-written guides.
An online ticket-booking agent, similarly with a fairly intuitive interface and some useful guides. 

SNCF Connect
The French rail company SNCF’s booking website. It’s not particularly user-friendly but it’s another option. 

Booking with an expert rail- booking agent

A good option for booking independent rail travel is to contact an expert rail-booking agent.

Travel agencies have experienced staff who use more sophisticated booking systems than consumer-facing websites. They can reserve tickets as soon as they go on sale and access rail options and fares you might not find online.

One big advantage of agencies is that they tailor-make your journey. You can choose a schedule that suits your party best without worrying about the frustrations of making it work when booking online.

You benefit from human, rather than algorithmic, intelligence. Rail-booking agents can create an itinerary of trains you want and book them in the most convenient and economical way possible.

In cases where tickets for different legs of a journey appear at different times, booking agencies can hold tickets for one train while waiting for others to go on sale, before combining them to give you a no-commitment quote at the best available fare.

For this service, agents charge a modest fee, which is often your best value for time and money considering the benefits of their service.

For groups of 10 or more, a rail-booking agent is essential because train websites only allow you to book for 1–9 people. To get group discounts and to maximise your chance of being seated together, you'll need to book through an agency.

The main disadvantage of using a rail-booking agent is that you’ll need to wait a short time after contacting them for their response.  

Also, in the unlikely event that you need to claim a refund for a cancelled or delayed train, it can take longer to get a refund because the agency will contact the train company on your behalf. This can save you hassle but can take a bit longer to receive your refund (as its a manual process that the agent does on your behalf). 

Recommended rail-booking agents

Below are SnowCarbon’s tried-and-tested recommendations for rail-booking agents.

The Travel Bureau
Established in 1984, The Travel Bureau has a knowledgeable team who can help book almost any journey.
There's a fee of £15 per traveller (sometimes less for larger groups) 
Phone:  (+44) 01902 326 662 (10:00 – 16:00 Monday to Friday)

Established in 1987, Trainseurope's knowledgeable staff can help book almost any journey.
There's a fee of £10 per traveller.
Phone: (+44) 01354 660222 (09:00 – 17:00 Monday to Friday; 10:00 – 15:00 Saturday & Sunday)

How to find hidden train journeys online

The idea that rail-booking websites inadvertently hide some of the best journeys between the UK and the Alps might sound mad. But it happens all the time.

Of course, booking websites don't hide journeys on purpose; rather, the booking algorithms can't cope with the task that users ask them to do. This video shows you how this happens and how you can find these 'hidden journeys'.

These blog articles will tell you more, too:

Rail-booking websites give wildly different results

Cats, cucumbers and rail-booking algorithms 

Don't let rail-booking websites screw up your travel plans.

How to find hidden train journeys to ski resorts online

Rail-inclusive ski packages

Photo: Daniel Elkan

Many ski tour operators offer ski holidays with flights included. However, very few offer rail-inclusive ski packages. Why is this? 

Some years ago, several ski tour operators sold packages that included the direct Eurostar Ski Train. In winter 2023–24, Eurostar replaced their direct ski train with Eurostar Snow, an indirect service via Lille. 

The following ski tour operators and ski-travel agents can organise rail-inclusive packages with this train option:

  • Inghams
  • Peak Retreats
  • Travelski
  • Snowfinders
  • Ski Solutions
  • Skiline

Most ski tour operators want to offer rail-inclusive ski holidays. Unfortunately, many train companies (even Eurostar, when marketing its Ski Train), haven’t been proactive in working with ski tour operators. Despite the many excellent journeys offered by Eurostar + TGV via Paris, there are few packages available. 

At SnowCarbon, we’ve campaigned for years to get rail and tour operators to work together so that skiers can easily book rail-inclusive ski packages. Unfortunately, train operators are big beasts and difficult to persuade. It will take time and, most likely, top-down or political intervention.

To help you find both packages and accommodation alongside independent rail options, we've created a  ski-by-train holidays section. There, you can view potential ski holidays by train that include accommodation, transfers and an estimated price for rail travel. The rail travel element may need to be booked independently of the accommodation, but SnowCarbon can help advise.

Contact details for train companies

Eurostar's reservation centre can not only book the Eurostar Ski Train for you.  They can also book indirect Eurostar + TGV journeys to quite a few French destinations. It can take around 10 - 15 minutes to get through someimes, so do it when you are sitting comfortably.

Phone: 03432 186 186
Mon-Fri 8am - 7pm;   Sat-Sun 9am - 5pm.
Booking fee: £10 per booking (not per person)

SNCF does have a customer service phone number: +33 1 84 94 3635
The line is open everyday, from 8am to 8pm French time.
Its contact-SNCF-by-telephone page also gives an indication of the quickest times to get through.

Deutsche Bahn
The German rail operator can book any journey to European destinations and has expertise as a booking agent.
Phone +44 8718 80 80 66 (costs depend on provider)
Mon-Fri: 09:00 to 20:00 (GMT), Sat-Sun: 09:00 to 13:00 (GMT)

How to book Eurostar Snow for winter 2024-25

Eurostar SnowEurostar Snow

Eurostar Snow isn't yet confirmed or on sale for winter 2024-25.

Once it is, information and tickets are normally available on the Eurostar website:

You can also book Eurostar Snow, in some cases, as part of a rail-inclusive ski package. As mentioned, last winter these tour operators and travel agents offered it:

  • Inghams
  • Peak Retreats
  • Travelski
  • Snowfinders
  • Ski Solutions
  • Skiline

As soon as we hear more, we'll update this section and send information out on Snowcarbon's newsletter.

Booking Eurostar + TGV journeys

Dog on TGVDog on TGVPhoto: Daniel Elkan

Travelling to Paris by Eurostar and then to the Alps on a TGV train gives you a wide range of possible ski destinations.

Tickets for Eurostar trains go on sale 330 days in advance. Tickets for TGVs and other French trains go on sale approximately 60 to 120 days in advance. 

Although you can book the Eurostar in advance, the table below shows the optimal dates for booking combined Eurostar + TGV journeys.

In general, the earlier you book, the lower the fares.

Independent rail travel by Eurostar + TGV
Travel period Tickets go on sale*
09 Dec 2024 - 09 Jan 2025 4 October 2024
10 Jan - 09 Feb 2025 90 days ahead**
10 Feb - 24 March 2025 14 November 2024
25 March 2025 onwards 23 January 2025

*predicted dates, not yet confirmed by SNCF

**for some dates, SNCF has fixed booking windows and for others, they simply say '90-days ahead'.

Booking Eurostar + Intercités de Nuit journeys

Intercités de Nuits are French sleeper trains from Paris to the French Alps, the Pyrenees, and Andorra. You can learn more about these journeys in our  Guide to Eurostar + Intercities de Nuit. Booking periods are similar for journeys with Eurostar + TGV.

However, from personal experience and research, and from enquiries from skiers looking for tickets, SNCF doesn’t always put its Intercités de Nuit tickets on sale in a regular manner, much to the frustration of those trying to book. We are trying to talk to SNCF about why this is, because running trains is the hard bit, and selling tickets on those trains should be the easy bit. And if it isn't, at least an explanation is due.

You can also book a taxi transfer between Paris-Nord and Paris-Austerlitz stations, to connect more easily between the Eurostar and the Intercités de Nuit train.

Booking Eurostar + NightJet journeys

NightJet to AustriaNightJet to Austria

One excellent way to reach the Austrian Alps is to combine a Eurostar with a NightJet sleeper train.

The main options are:

London > Brussels > Cologne > Innbsruck 
(Eurostar, then ICE train, then NightJet)

London > Brussels > Salzburg
(Eurostar, then NightJet)

London > Paris Est > Salzburg
(Eurostar, then NightJet) 

Eurostar trains can be booked up to 330 days in advance, ICE trains about 90 days in advance, while NightJet trains go on sale in September for the winter season.

This is one of the journeys that we’d usually recommend using a rail-booking agent for.

If you do try to book it online yourself, be particularly wary of using Rail Europe and Trainline websites, which in our experience seem to struggle finding journeys with the NightJet.

Instead try the Eurostar website and the OBB website in English (you'll need to book the Eurostar and the NightJet separately, in this case). OBB is the national rail operator of Austria, which runs NightJet trains.

Like more help and advice?

Snowcarbon Founder, DanielSnowcarbon Founder, DanielPhoto: Sarah Searson

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 writer, organiser of ski holidays and travelling to more than 50 ski resorts by train.

Daniel knows lots of great independent accommodation and ski tour operators 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’re always happy to recommend you great resorts, fantastic accommodation, and ways to travel by train.

We look forward to helping you!