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Half Term Trains - Do They Play The Airline Pricing Game?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hi,
Having signed up a load of friends for a half term ski trip in 2020 I'm not looking at options to keep the price of transport down.

First off I've put the driving option out there but nobody was keen, so with that option off the table I've been looking at the train. I'm not talking the direct Eurostar to Bourge, or the sleeper from Paris, just the normal daytime Eurostar London to Gare du Nord/TGV from Gare du Lyon to Lyon. Does anyone know if Eurostar or SNCF (in case English and French half term dates coincide) pre-ramp the ticket prices for half term?

Thanks
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Eurostar pricing is definitely demand-based, like an airline. The direct Eurostar to Bourg St Maurice will also start at a higher price in the peak weeks. The TGV in my experience does increase price with demand, but the increase seems less than Eurostar or airlines might, and I don't think I've seen them increasing the base price when the tickets go on sale just because it's a UK holiday week. In all cases the cheapest tickets will go to those that book first. To complicate things there are also cheaper tickets for the same routes but with different terms and conditions available through things like ouigo. French regional trains (not TGV) are I think fixed price.

Useful websites to get more information than you could possible need are https://seat61.com and https://snowcarbon.co.uk
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Coach?
You will not have the same variety of ski resorts to choose but it will save you some cash. Obviously the starting point in England might be an issue plus your group might also include some coach refusniks. It's all pros and cons.
Organising a large group is hard work and whatever you do not everybody will be happy. However you can tell the moaners that they can organise the next trip!
but I bet the won't...
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Use incognito browser mode when checking Eurostar prices, or clear recent history afterwards. I was booking tickets recently and the quoted price had mysteriously risen by £30pp each way between 1st and 2nd viewings. I cleared cookies and tried again and hey presto the £30 price rises miraculously disappeared. Shysters.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
hudds7 wrote:
Coach?


My friends don't like the idea of spending 9hrs in their own cars with their young children. Reasonably sure the coach would go down like a lead balloon Smile

Technically all my friends could afford to book last minute BA flights but most are first/second timers and the cheaper I can make it for them the better chance of them coming back next year.
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@Mjit, have you looked at the BA Flightpass. You can do 6 people at a time in those which brings the per flight cost down. Worthwhile for BA flights even if you through away the second flight when you are talking about half term
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Yes, I can imagine that proposing coach travel would be met with much mirth and merriment from your group, parents in particular. Shocked
Trains have a novelty factor for the kids but suspect it might wear off fast too. Parents will probably want to get to their destination as quickly as practicable, which is flying.
My suggestion is to determine which airport you want to go from and the resort you want to go to then book flights the day your chosen airline launches their new prices. Granted they will not be cheap (since its half term after all) but flights will only get more expensive as it gets closer to departure date. (Also browse flights in private on the internet otherwise the bandits will put the prices up the next time you visit their website!)
If you all travel together you might also save some money at the other end with a shared private transfer.
Finally a train will mean you will probably end up in France which is not the cheapest place to go. There are some minor French resorts which are less expensive but you would probably still get better value for the group in Italy. Nice affordable mountain food, scenery etc. It will probably help you "sell" the trip in Year 2 as well. Very Happy
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
How many friends? I _think_ that if you have a group of 10+ you can book with Eurostar group bookings... and they start selling tickets sooner than the general release. It's years since I've done it but I think it's about a week early. I'd advise getting in touch with Eurostar and finding out the current process, and arranging to be booking over the phone the day the group bookings open, before the prices start rising.

Daytime direct train travel to the Tarentaise is a lovely way to go.
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You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
Quote:

There are some minor French resorts which are less expensive

Perhaps more accurate to say that there are a handful of major French resorts (the ones most British skiers have heard of) which are expensive, the rest less so. Though none will be cheap during French school holidays. For groups which are self-catering the differences in food and drink costs are really not that great if you choose your accommodation wisely and don't have to feed a family on the mountain at lunchtime. Lift pass costs are much the same across the main Alpine destinations. For families travelling at half term driving, with full cars and a judicious choice of key ingredients for meals throughout the week, will be the cheapest option by some margin.
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Ski the Net with snowHeads
Re French trains, pricing is actually fixed I think. It's just that the French winter holiday trains all go on sale at the same time in early November, and tend to get snapped up very quickly (i.e. the cheapest tickets go within minutes if not seconds). If you're happy to get up early doors (I think they go on sale at 6 am French time) the day they go on sale, you should be able to get cheap tickets. Last time I did this I got returns from Paris to Bourg for 60 euros per person. Prems, so non-refundable or exchangeable, mind, but very good value nonetheless.

This year, trains from 8 January to 10 March went on sale on 6 November. Set up an alert to remind you on the sncf website. Train times are usually available earlier, so you can at least plan a bit in advance.
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hudds7 wrote:
... Finally a train will mean you will probably end up in France which is not the cheapest place to go. There are some minor French resorts which are less expensive but you would probably still get better value for the group in Italy. Nice affordable mountain food, scenery etc. ...
You can get direct TGVs from Paris to Italy, e.g. a Milan train that stops at Bardonecchia, Oulx-Sestriere, Turin.

Whether train is "better" than plane may depend on where you are starting from: if close to London train can be quite efficient; from elsewhere in the country it is less attractive.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
pam w wrote:
Quote:

There are some minor French resorts which are less expensive

Perhaps more accurate to say that there are a handful of major French resorts (the ones most British skiers have heard of) which are expensive, the rest less so. Though none will be cheap during French school holidays. For groups which are self-catering the differences in food and drink costs are really not that great if you choose your accommodation wisely and don't have to feed a family on the mountain at lunchtime. Lift pass costs are much the same across the main Alpine destinations. For families travelling at half term driving, with full cars and a judicious choice of key ingredients for meals throughout the week, will be the cheapest option by some margin.

The OP is looking for cost effective travel options for a large group that don't involve driving due to "kids in car" concerns hence interest in trains.
Agree that avoiding expensive French mountain restaurants and resort bars might save money however it's hard work constantly telling kids they cannot have a 5€ glass of soda or a 10€ small plate of chips. Yes Cortina and Madonna can be expensive too but by and large Italy is better value than France in my experience.
Finally if somebody skis all day, then has to go shopping to cook supper for husband/wife plus hungry tired kids then it can rapidly become a not-much-fun holiday. Self catering works really well for some families but I'm assuming the OPs group would want to go out a bit for food and après rather than tin hatting it out in a self-catering complex. Hence the suggestion of flying to Italy and then being able to comfortably afford HB accommodation and lunchtime meals on the mountain.
Don't get me wrong, France can be a great place for a ski holiday but from the OP's perspective I reckon this group might have a better overall holiday experience in Italy rather than France. Very Happy
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
Quote:

I reckon this group might have a better overall holiday experience in Italy rather than France

I think that's true of almost any group at half term! I had an apartment in France but made myself scarce for the 4 French holiday weeks.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
If the major concern is parents travelling with children then the train has huge advantages over flying. The freedom to move about, swap seats with others in the group, go to the cafe, play games at a decent table, a view to enjoy, power sockets and short transfers at the other end are just a few of the reasons why I wouldn't consider any other method of transport if I'm with my kids. If it takes an hour or two longer I'm quite happy with that if it involves less time in airports, though I appreciate for others the "get there as soon as possible, no matter how uncomfortable" is preferable.

If you're trying to convince parents with children then the direct train to Moutiers etc. is probably the easiest (although also the most expensive).

Taking a late Friday afternoon train to Paris, staying at a hotel at Gare de Lyon overnight, and then an early TGV the next day means (i) cheaper train tickets as you're not going at peak times; (ii) a less stressful journey as you're not doing it all in one go or worrying about making connections if there's a delay; and (iii) you arrive in resort around lunchtime so can have a much more relaxed day sorting out ski hire etc rather than getting there in the evening when it's already time for the kids to go to bed.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Resort is already picked/accomodation booked (Oz en Oisans) - and this is probably as much about me having completed my 3 weeks for the 18/19 season and not wanting to accept it's over so starting on 19/20 as them expressing concern about prices or anything Smile

Indirect flights are also looking like a possible option. Of the airlines that have released their flights so far the cheapest, reasonably times flights London-Geneva are £858. Swap planes in Paris and you can do it for £327 and still have reasonable arrival times/not too early a return departure from the resort.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
There are pros and cons of each means of travel (I will leave out the suggestion from the clerk at the post office when we were getting our international driving permits who suggested cycling!)

When returning from Les Arcs in early Feb this year. My wife and me drove - it was completely event free and took less than 15 hours.
My nepthew took the plane. The flight was cancelled, Easyjet put him up in a hotel in Geneva then flew him to Stanstead instead of Bristol and put him in a coach to Bristol. It took 36 hours hour to door. Fortunately we took his skis and boots with us.
My son took the train. This involved changing trains in Chambery and stations in Paris and London. It took 14 hours door to door, and with the exception of crossing Paris and London was more comfortable than driving. Once again he was very glad we took his boots and skis.
When my son was young we tried flying, the snowtrain (overnight with couchettes from Calais) and driving. Without doubt the easiest was to drive and the worst flying.
After organising group trips for a number of years and having lots of hasle with people saying there wnated to fly from different airports, pulling out etc. I adopted the policy that everyone made their own travel arrangements. I would offer advice but not book anything.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@Mjit, as you're going to Oz-en-Oisans, think about a train from Paris to Grenoble. The local bus co (https://www.transisere.fr) do a remarkably cheap transfer - iirc, when we went to Les Deux Alpes in the summer it was of the order of €10 per person. Pretty sure they'll go to Oz too. It'll only be about an hour's trip.

We've used the train for a few trips - mostly sleepers to Briancon, but our L2A trip was in the daytime (we overnighted in the Ibis in Grenoble - a few hops on the tram from the station).

These prices were for two of us, son was an additional €29.50 each way.

Departure: Paris → Grenoble - Saturday, 12 August 2017 €76.00
14:41 Paris Gare de Lyon TGV 6919
17:45 Grenoble

Return: Grenoble → Paris - Saturday, 26 August 2017 €90.00
10:16 Grenoble TGV 6908
13:15 Paris Gare de Lyon

I've found that there can be bargains to be had on the day the trains go on sale, so sign up for alerts with loco2 or stick something in your diary to check for tickets daily about three months in advance of travel.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
For Oz-en-Oisans I reckon the train is definitely a decent option. As @kieranm says, when travelling with kids trains are much less stressful than planes, and Oz is quite a short transfer away from Grenoble: about 1h15 or so by bus, though for convenience might be worth getting quotes from taxi companies too. Transfer info here:
https://www.oz-en-oisans.com/en/resort-and-village/access-0

Grenoble is also much closer to Paris (time-wise) than Bourg, Moutiers, etc. Only three hours from Gare de Lyon by TGV. Input dates here:
https://en.oui.sncf/en/
and though they won't be on sale yet, you can set up an email alert.

I'll repeat my previous point though: for half-term train tickets it's really worth getting up at 5am UK time (well, actually a smidgeon before) the day they go on sale to get them asap. As I said, I got my tickets to Bourg at that time for about 60 euros return per person. When I checked again at 9am you were looking at over 150 euros per person at best (and that was with un-ideal travel times)! For a family that's quite a saving!

You could then go with @kieranm's suggestion of a late Friday Eurostar to Paris, crashing in a hotel near Gare de Lyon overnight. It would even be possible to take an early Eurostar on Saturday morning, and a TGV to Grenoble early afternoon, though that makes for quite a long day of travelling.

In general, arrival in Paris on Friday evening followed by leisurely train trip down to the mountains the next day is my favourite way of getting to the French Alps, though I'll admit I'm lucky that my parents live in Paris, so I can crash with them on Friday evening on the way...
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I have booked train tickets this season (not half term though). I booked each part of the journey the moment the tickets came out..so Eurostar to Paris one week, the return from Paris the week after then a while after that the outward journey from Paris to the alps on TGV (via ouisncf) then the return.

If you go on Snowcarbon they will say book the whole return ticket when the final fourth leg has come out but I didn't want to risk it. Booking the way we did meant that we could break the journey in Paris for an overnight stop on the outward journey. Booking the Eurostar and TGV separately we have been able to book second class on the Eurostar and First class on the TGV.

You do need to be really on the ball as to when the tickets are coming out. Eurostar advertised that tickets would be released at 12am but then they didn't come out till 12:30 as half an hour seems to be spent each day updating their system. There is also a risk when booking Eurostar before the TGV tickets come out that the SNCF will change their times...so best to book a lateish train back to London on the final Saturday to give yourself the maximum flexibility when the TGV fares come out.

I would say the definite drawback of the train is the stress of getting the tickets. However once booked it is a really enjoyable way to travel and my children have always loved it.

Resorts we have been to by train have included Puy St Vincent, La Clusaz, Valmorel, Les Arcs, La Plagne, Val Thorens, Montgenevre, La Rosiere and Les Saisies.
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