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

How to book independent travel and rail-ski packages to the Alps


Introduction

ski travel by train to Alps

Train journeys to the Alps are fantastic, the experience far more enjoyable, social and sustainable than flying or driving. Quality time with friends and family, space and scenery.  

But how best to book your journey? Train companies don’t make booking as simple as it should be. Rail-booking websites can be confusing. Sometimes, even if they make a search seem simple, they don't show you the most convenient options (see film below). Systems for booking trains online aren't really designed in a traveller-centric way. Flights are easy to book; trains, more difficult. It shouldn't be that way.

However, Snowcarbon is here to help. We don't book journeys for you, but we can share knowledgeable advice based on years of experience and updated research. Snowcarbon doesn't make any commission from recommending any options for booking rail travel. We prefer it that way.

Some journeys are fine to book online; others are better booked with a rail-booking agent. Either way, this guide will help inform you of the best choices, leaving you to be excited about the journey ahead.


Booking rail travel online vs with a booking agent

ski travel by train to Alps

If you want to book train travel independently, you can book it yourself online, or you can ask an expert rail-booking agent to do it for you. Here are some thoughts on the pros and cons of each: 

Advantages of booking rail-travel online
It’s immediate, 24/7. If journeys are open for booking, then you could have things done and dusted within minutes. Job done. 
You are in control of the process (albeit with less sophisticated tools).
In some cases, you might save money versus booking with a rail agent (but it’s not a big saving).

Disadvantages of booking online

  • Some journeys - or journey options - can't be successfully booked online because the algorithms aren’t displaying them. Journey schedules that should be bookable sometimes appear as 'unavailable'. You can find out more about this in our recent blog article, Don't let rail-booking websites screw up your travel plans.
  • Even though rail-booking websites make things seem simple initially, the process can sometimes feel confusing or frustrating.
  • There is little flexibility to tailor-make your journey. Want a journey that goes out via Paris, but back via Lille? Or more time to change station? Or to break your journey with a stopover? These can be difficult to book online. Rail-booking websites are blunt tools that may not be suitable for the journey that you ideally want.
  • If there are 10 or more people in your party, you can’t book online in one booking. To get group discounts and maximise the chance of being sat altogether, you'll need to book through a rail-booking agency.

Advantages of using a rail-booking agent

  • Expertise, experience and more sophisticated booking tools. 
  • They may find journey options that are simply not possible to find or book easily online. 
  • You benefit from human, rather than computer algorithm, search intelligence. Rail-booking agents are able to put together an itinerary of any trains you want and book it in the most convenient and financially advantageous way possible.
  • Different trains can be booked together as one journey, which in terms of consumer protection, offers you advantages. 
  • You may be offered journeys that weren't showing online: It's not uncommon that for some journeys, when you do a search for times and tickets online, you get a null result, or only see a fraction of the trains that are actually possible. By contrast, agents are far better able to see what's available and offer this to you.
  • Rail-booking agents can often hold quotes for a short period - which can help when getting agreement from other members of your ski party.

Disadvantages of using a rail-booking agent
They aren’t open 24/7 and you might have to wait a short time for a response.
Refunds in the case of delayed or cancelled trains may not be immediate (because the agent has to apply for you, instead of you contacting the train company directly). 


How to find hidden train journeys online

The idea that rail-booking websites hide some of the best journeys between the UK and the Alps might sound mad. But it happens all the time. They don't do this on purpose. It's just that the booking algorithms can't cope with the task that they are being asked to do. This video shows you how this happens - and how you can find these hidden journeys.

You might find it very useful to have a look at our recent blog article, Don't let rail-booking websites screw up your travel plans.


Booking rail travel with a rail-booking agent

ski travel by train to Alps

Rail-booking agents offer a really fantastic service, and yet many travellers are unaware of their existence. These agencies are able to book virtually any trains for you, enabling you to book trains and journeys that you might not have been able to do online. These small companies don't have big marketing budgets and are not actively promoted by train companies, so you may not have heard of them.

Rail-booking agents charge a small fee, which they add on to the cost of the tickets. This is usually about £15 per traveller or about 10% of the cost of the travel. The fact that they can save you money overall or enable you to book trains that you couldn't have done as easily otherwise, means this can be well worth it.

How is it that rail booking agents can do so more than you can yourself online? It's because they've got more geeky, sophisticated booking systems and loads of knowledge and experience. The difference in booking systems is like the cockpit controls of an aeroplane compared to an automatic car. The reason that we are so enthusiastic about rail-booking agents is that we've seen time and time again how they can make it easy for skiers to book travel. 


List of rail booking agents

Here’s a list of four established rail booking agents, our top recommendation being The Travel Bureau. 

The Travel Bureau
Helping people book rail travel since 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)
Website: https://rail-travel.co.uk/
Email: rail@thetravelbureau.co.uk

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: ffestiniogtravel.com/rail-ticket-service


What about rail-inclusive ski packages?

ski travel by train to Alps

There are many ski tour operators that offer ski holidays with flights included. But there are very few that offer rail-inclusive ski packages. Why is this? 

Some years ago, a number of ski tour operators offered packages that included the direct Eurostar Ski Train. For the winter 2023-24, Eurostar isn't running a direct ski train, but has launched Eurostar Snow, an indirect service via Lille. 

The following companies can organise rail-inclusive packages with this train:

Inghams
Peak Retreats
Travelski
Ski Solutions
Skiline
Snowfinders

The fact is, ski tour operators do want to offer rail inclusive ski holidays. However, in general, train companies (even Eurostar, when it marketed its own Ski Train), have never been very proactive or helpful in working with ski tour operators. For the many excellent possible journeys by Eurostar + TGV via Paris, there are few actual packages availables. 

At Snowcarbon, we’ve been campaigning for years to get rail operators and tour operators to work better together, so that skiers can book rail-inclusive ski packages more easily. Train operators are big beasts and difficult to persuade. It will take time and, most likely, political intervention. 

However, one thing we’ve done is to create the a Holidays Section. There, you can view 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 help is at hand with that. 


Contact details for train companies

Eurostar
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
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)
Email: sales@bahn.co.uk
Website: bahn.co.uk


How to book the Travelski Express

The Travelski Express is essentially the Eurostar Ski Train, but privately chartered by a French tour operator, Travelski. Travelski is owned by Compagnie des Alps, which operates ski lifts in a number of big-name French resorts. A key difference between the Travelski Express and the Eurostar Ski Train is that you can only buy seats on the Travelski Express as part of a Travelski package of train, transfer, accommodation and 7-day ski pass. However, this limits the choice and type of accommodation.

Ways to book Travelski Express for winter 2023-24

  1. The most direct way to book the Travelski Express is directly on Travelski’s website. However, the website is not the easiest to use
  2. There are a couple of ski travel agents that can help you book Travelski Express journeys. These are Snowfinders and Skiline.
  3. You can also contact Snowcarbon for advice about Travelski Express, which resorts and where to stay

Travelski Express packages are expected to go on sale in June 2023, for the 2023-24 winter season.


Booking Eurostar + TGV journeys

introduction

Travelling to Paris by Eurostar and then to the Alps on a TGV train, gives you a wide range of ski destinations. Generally, Eurostar trains can be booked up to 330 days in advance (with some exceptions). TGV journeys go on sale around 90 days in advance (this varies, depending on the date). 

Rail-booking websites will try to show you the shortest journeys. But if you want more time to change in Paris, or to stopover in Paris, or to travel by a different route, such as via Lille, it’s better to use a rail-booking agent, who can offer more route options and tailor your journey. 

You can also book a taxi transfer between Paris-Nord and Paris-Lyon stations, to connect relatively seamlessly between the Eurostar and the TGV.


Booking Eurostar + Intercites de Nuit journeys

Intercites de Nuits are French sleeper trains from Paris to some regions of the French Alps, Pyrenees and Andorra. You can find out more about these journeys in our Guide to Eurostar + Intercities de Nuit. Booking periods are similar for journeys with Eurostar + TGV, although in our experience, SNCF doesn’t always put its Intercities de Nuit trains on sale in a predictable or timely manner, much to the frustration of those trying to book. 

You can also book a taxi transfer between Paris-Nord and Paris-Austerlitz stations, to connect relatively seamlessly between the Eurostar and the TGV.


Booking Eurostar + NightJet journeys

One excellent way to reach the Austrian Alps is to take Eurostar to Brussels, then switch to a German ICE train to speed you to Cologne, and from and then take a NightJet sleeper train. 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 definitely recommend using a rail-booking agent for, rather than trying to book it yourself online. In our experience, rail-booking websites struggle to cope with the booking of these journeys.


Like more help and advice?

Advice on booking lowest fares to the Alps

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.