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CAN YOU SKI ON THE CHEAP AT HALF-TERM?

If you’re trying to book you’ll struggle to find a bargain.  Flight prices are soaring. PlanetSKI readers give their advice.

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If you’re tied to the school holidays you may well have already booked your family trip.

But what if you’ve only just decided to head to the hills?

What can you expect to pay?

A lot depends on how convenient you want your travel to be but it’s fair to say it is unlikely to be a low-cost holiday.

February half-term is the most popular time to the hit the slopes in Europe.

And with the large majority of the UK’s school pupils off at the same time, the demand for ski holidays – whether package trips or independently arranged – pushes up prices.

We looked at the costs in 2019:

The situation in 2020 doesn’t look great, especially if you go for some of the notoriously pricey routes.

“London Gatwick to Innsbruck with Easyjet 15th to 22nd February is now £1,508 per person, including one item of hold luggage! What a bargain,” one of our readers complained.

Easyjet at Innsbruck Airport, Austria

Easyjet at Innsbruck

Fraser Wilkin, Managing Director of Snow-Wise, has been putting together tailor-made ski holidays to the Alps for more than 20 years.

He remains convinced that prices are continuing to increase disproportionately on the key holiday dates.

What’s more, he says, it’s becoming more difficult to find ways to avoid the highest prices by travelling to less obvious airports.

“Airlines have now become wise to just about all ‘back-door’ routes,” he told PlanetSKI.

“Munich, Milan and Basel remain slightly cheaper options but it’s all relative, and it’s easy to lose perspective.

“However, due to the crazy prices on mainstream routes, for example Gatwick to Geneva and, of course, the infamously expensive Gatwick to Innsbruck,  these ‘alternative routes’, which are typically upwards of £600 now seem like a bargain!”

We carried out our own research on the morning of Monday 13th January.

We looked at a small selection of flights on different routes, travelling out on either Saturday 15th or Sunday 16th February and returning a week later.

FLYING TO GENEVA

The cheapest we could find travelling from any London airport was on Easyjet from Luton on Saturday 15th on evening flights.

The return price for one adult with one 23kg hold bag was just over £537.

It is a little more expensive from Stansted – coming in at just over £571, with the outbound flight at an unsociable hour, requiring a 4am check-in.

Cheaper than any of the London flights are the evening flights from and to Manchester, at less than £445.

These flights get you to Geneva at 10pm on Saturday night.

That’s not necessarily going to be ideal if you have a young family in tow and a 3 or 4 hour transfer to resort.

If you want to travel at family-friendly hours such as lunchtime or mid-afternoon, the return flight from Manchester with one hold bag is £760pp.

Easyjet at Geneva Airport

Geneva Airport

FLYING TO INNSBRUCK

Saturday to Saturday flights on Easyjet  from London Gatwick are a whopping £1,509pp with a hold bag.

Reduce the cost by travelling Sunday to Sunday instead (£848).

British Airways has Saturday to Saturday London Heathrow to Innsbruck flights for £910 (also including a 23kg bag), or Sunday to Sunday from Gatwick for £707.

The cheapest way to fly direct to Innsbruck appears to be travelling on Easyjet from Luton on the Saturday (just over £600).

You can do it cheaper still via Austrian Airlines as long as you don’t mind going via Vienna, and putting up with the consequently longer journey time.

A return flight from Heathrow to Innsbruck (Sunday to Sunday) with one 23kg hold bag is £482.91.

But it’ll take you five hours from take-off to final touchdown.

Austrian Airlines at Innsbruck airport

Austrian Airlines at Innsbruck

GOING BY TRAIN

Many resorts in France, Austria and Italy are accessible by train.

You could cut your costs and your carbon footprint at the same time.

Expect the journey to be longer and, in some cases, involve several changes (not to mention potential disruption if the French strikes are still going on).

We found the prices below on the Trainline website.

London to Innsbruck (for many resorts in the Austrian Tirol) – £352pp if you travel out from London St Pancras on Saturday morning and back overnight on Friday/Saturday, leaving Innsbruck at 2044hrs.

There are three changes on the way out and two on the way back.  Worth it for what is possibly the cheapest way to get to Innsbruck at half-term?

London to Oulx (for Sestriere and nearby resorts in Italy) – £568pp travelling from London St Pancras via Paris, departing at 0922hrs on Saturday 15th, arriving 2033hrs.

Our friends at Snowcarbon tell us it costs around €40 Euros for a taxi from Oulx station to Sestriere.

The return journey leaves Oulx at 1628hrs and picks up the overnight Eurostar in France, getting back to St Pancras at 0705hrs on Sunday.

London to Moutiers (for Les3Vallees and other French resorts) – £464pp leaving London St Pancras on Saturday 15th at 1224hrs.  However, there is no availability to return the following Saturday.  Departure on Sunday 23rd at 1250hrs, arriving back in London at 2200hrs.

The journey involves two changes outbound and inbound.

Train in the Alps

Travelling to the slopes by train

PACKAGE HOLIDAY

Is it more cost effective to forget independent travel and go for a package?

We looked at the website of UK’s biggest ski tour operator, Crystal Ski, to find out what’s available.

There are plenty of half-term holidays, including some big discounts.

As long as you don’t want to fly from any of the London airports, that is.

The only half-term holidays we were able to find with London flights are in Lapland.

If Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh or Glasgow airports are accessible to you, it’s good news.

All the prices below include flights and transfers.

7 nights’ bed and breakfast in chalet-style accommodation in Söll, Austria from Saturday 15th for £729pp, flying from Manchester to Salzburg.

The accommodation is said to be a minute from the ski bus and you can enjoy to the vast SkiWelt ski area.

Haus Pirchmoos, Söll, Austria

Crystal’s Haus Pirchmoos in Söll

There’s a self-catering studio apartment in Pas de la Casa, Andorra, with Sunday flights from Edinburgh to Toulouse for £739pp.

Or half-board in a hotel in Samoëns in the Grand Massif ski area of France for £949, flying from Edinburgh to Geneva (Saturday to Saturday).

NORTH AMERICA 

Flights across the Atlantic are generally more competitive than they are to the Alps during February.

Skyscanner found us a London Heathrow return flight to Denver, Colorado, on Saturday 15th for £509 (baggage extra).  The return flight has one stop in Phoenix and arrives at 0940hrs on Sunday 23rd.

Of course, you would have to deal with a 10-hour flight, jet lag and expensive lift passes.

But, then again, the snow in North America at the moment is spectacularly good, as our editor, James Cove, is finding out.

He’s currently in Utah.

Jame Cove in Utah

James Cove in Utah

Last winter James was living in Innsbruck in Austria.

In the busy half-term week he skied in resorts with lower costs and little-known ones offering uncrowded slopes too.

He skied Axamer Lizum, Muttereralm, Patscherkofel and Nordkette.

READERS’ ADVICE

We asked you for your experiences and advice on skiing at half-term.

Go to our post on the PlanetSKI Facebook page  if you want to add yours.

Damien Crabman told us it was not a good time to go skiing.

“Busy and expensive.  I used to work out in St Anton for a cheapish UK chalet company.

“For a family of 4 with hire and lessons and flights, you’re looking at about £10,000+ during half term.”

Odile Churchward-Gogniat says:

“The only way to make it relatively ‘affordable’ is to book early – or last minute and be prepared not to go.

“We pay 3x a much and more to rent a place when UK grandkids come for half-term, but that it is the way it is.”

We’ve had a lot of suggestions for keeping the cost down.

They include going to Norway, the Pyrenees, travelling to Italy by coach, booking everything a year in advance, or going in the Easter holidays instead of half-term.

Fly to smaller airports…

One reader suggests flying to Basel airport in Switzerland, which is cheaper, smaller and less busy than Geneva.

“10 min free bus to the train station and the world is your oyster for Switzerland using a train transfer pass,” says Sacha Zog Zvegintozov.

“Same price from any airport to any resort.  Many Swiss resorts have a train station….from different UK airports it cost us less than £500 for 4 including bags and ski carriage but booked very early.”

Drive…

Driving down the mountain from La Plagne, France

Driving in the Alps

Several say driving is by far the cheapest way to get to the Alps for a family at half-term.

“We always drive,” says Joanne Congdon.

“We travel from the UK to Switzerland twice a year and driving and using the Eurotunnel has always been so much cheaper than flying.

“We get door to door in 16 hours and it costs us £500 to £600 for fuel and the tunnel both ways.

“And we take as much as we wish.”

Daniel Robinson agrees, saying it costs him around £400 to drive from half way up the UK, inclusive of fuel, tolls and Channel crossing.

“Driving costs about the same as normal flights for two or three people,” he says.

“Therefore if there’s more than two of you, it makes sense to drive.

“But with flights costing £1,500pp? You could each afford to hire a luxury car and drive there separately.”

Book early or take a day off school….

An ex-teacher suggests planning your trip well in advance or take a day off school to travel on Friday.

“Try to book flights as soon as they are released,”  says Trista Thompson.

“BA release theirs 49 weeks ahead of travel.  School or local authority should release term days a year in advance.

“As soon as booked flights, hunt down privately owned accommodation and book car hire.

“Other option is to fly Friday to Friday.. often much cheaper. And if you get late flight home you gain an additional day on the slopes.”

Ski at Easter …

Euan Smith lives in York in the north of England and says he can’t face the long drive.

Instead he  saves money and avoids the February crowds by taking the family holiday later in the season.

“I reckon we save between £2k and £3k for our family of 4 by going at Easter and avoiding half term.

“Plus, I get to squeeze a long weekend in with friends earlier in the season with the saving.”

Don’t go to the Alps….

Bryn Williams says his family always to Andorra in the Pyrenees at half-term.

“Booked last week, return flights from Manchester, transfers, hotel & breakfast, mountain pass with lunch vouchers £804 each.”

Grandvalira, Andorra

Andorra, Pyrenees

Vanessa Fisher told us of a good deal going to the French Pyrenees.
She found a half-term fllight from London Gatwick to Toulouse for just under £332 return and a one bedroom apartment (sleeping up to 4 people) in Ax-les-Thermes in the French Pyrenees for €1,113.

Use your brain….

Bob Weeks says this is a ‘stupid article really’ as anyone with an ounce of brains knows that if you want cheap(ish) flights in the school holidays, but especially at February half-term, you have to book as soon as they are released.

“If you haven’t got an ounce of brain, then sorry, you just have to accept it.”

Fair enough!

 

 

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