After working a season in Les Deux Alpes as a chalet host, Jack Austin had a thought. Rather than lugging your bags, boots and skis to the Alps, why not get someone else to do it for you? The thought has now become a company: BagSOLO – which offers a door-to-door service for your clobber. It’s picked up from your home, delivered to your chalet, apartment or hotel – and, suddenly, your journey to and from the mountains isn’t so sweaty or stressful.
What’s more, not having to bother with baggage makes DIY travel a more attractive proposition. If you’re considering organising your own trip, without the help of a tour operator, Jack has some top tips to share.
For many skiers, the convenience and security of booking all the components of a holiday through a tour operator is a big attraction. But well-organised skiers can sometimes make significant savings by arranging the trip themselves, as well as tailoring their holiday more closely to their needs.
How? Simple, by breaking the package holiday down to its three essentials: accommodation, flights and transfers. Of course, tour operators also offer other services – including insurance, equipment rental, lift passes, ski school and childcare. But it’s these three items that are the bedrock on which most holidays are built: and it’s where the most flexibility lies.
For example, is a whole week off work not feasible this winter? Then plan a short break instead. And do you really need to wake up next to the lift each morning? If not, you can always stay in a hotel down the valley, and save yourself a packet on accommodation. You don’t even have to fly if you don’t want to. Driving can be cheaper. Travelling by train is a whole lot more relaxing.
Here are the key points to consider if you’re going DIY.
Booking your own flights
Find out which airports are nearest to your chosen ski resort, then find the flights. The prices offered by the no-frills airlines can often be higher than the national airlines – especially once you’ve added all the extras such as speedy boarding, bags, and reserved seats next to your friends and/or family. National airlines like BA or SWISS can sometimes work out cheaper. If food and drinks are not included, it makes sense to pop into one of the airport shops and stock up on both before boarding.
I also find that with airlines it’s not always what-you-see is what-you-get: there are all sorts of hidden costs that get added on once you start making the booking, so beware! But there can still be bargains, if you book early – even as early as the winter before you want to ski (that way, you’ll often get next year’s holiday at this season’s prices), avoid school holidays and avoid weekends by travelling midweek. And instead of going direct to an airline’s website, visit sites (or download the apps) like Skyscanner, Kayak and Hopper. Send your bags ahead for convenience.
Travelling By Train, Car or Ferry
Don’t forget the other travel choices, such as the Snowtrain for resorts in the 3 Valleys and Paradiski. The other (cheaper) option is self-drive/ferry or Eurotunnel.
If you are fitting your family of four or five into a car check whether there is space to take all your skis as well as your bags and see our feature for tips on driving to the Alps.
A private taxi transfer from Geneva to resorts in the Alps may not sound too bad if you’re in a group or travelling as a family, but the price can be shocking if you’re alone or travelling as a couple. So check out the local bus timetables online – there may be one going to and from your resort at a time to suit you – for a fraction of the taxi price.
Similarly, it could be cheaper and more convenient to transfer by train from the airport to your resort – this is particularly popular with skiers going to Swiss resorts like Zermatt, Saas Fee, St Moritz, Wengen, Davos and Klosters. Verbier, for example, has a regular post bus running to and from the railway station at Le Chable. Austrian resorts such as Kitzbuhel, St Anton, Zell and See and Mayrhofen all have railway stations.
In France, Chamonix, St Gervais and Les Houches have stations and it is easy to reach myriad resorts from the rail hubs at Bourg-St-Maurice, Moutiers, Sallanches and Annecy. In Italy Oulx, Brunico and Calalzo di Cadore are all railway halts for ski resorts. In Austria the main ones are Innsbruck for the Tirol, and Salzburg for the Salzburgerland resorts.
You can also get some good deals for car hire. Alternatively, companies like Snowdrone, Europe Transfer, Alpybus, and Ski-Lifts offer shared van transfers at reasonable prices.
Finding The Best Accommodation
Accommodation makes up the biggest proportion of your total holiday cost. Once you’ve worked out the travel costs then visit the local tourist office website, or that of hotels or apartments where you can get an instant quote – meaning you’ll be able to look at it next to a tour operator package. Check out sites such as Airbnb and TripAdvisor for booking accommodation.
Remember, especially during low season, hotels can be open to negotiation on price. The cheapest times to ski are normally early season (pre-Christmas), January, and late season from mid-March onwards. Consider a lesser-known resort, as the mainstream ones have high prices – especially during peak season. Also see our feature on the different types of ski accommodation available. If you’re self-catering and the weather’s good you can always pack a picnic for lunchtime, thus saving on mountain restaurants costs.
Ten Useful Tips
1. Book early – this includes buying your lift pass online.
2. Travel during low season and try to avoid weekend flights if you can.
3. Find the special deals. Resorts and hotels sometimes have offers such as lift passes included in the accommodation price.
4. This is just for those in the UK: buy as much as you can online and, for the foreseeable future, in your own currency rather than in euros in the resort.
5. Awkward flight times are usually cheaper. You could consider staying the night at one of the airport hotels, such as Bloc inside Gatwick’s South Terminal where it takes all of five minutes from bed to check-in desk. There’s also Yotel in Heathrow Terminal 4 and at Gatwick. The night at an airport hotel plus a crack-of-dawn flight may actually end up costing less than flying later in the day.
6. Look at the lift pass prices online, which may be cheaper than buying them in the resort. It’s certainly more convenient than queuing at the resort’s ticket kiosk.
7. Don’t forget the extras: lift pass, insurance, equipment hire, ski tuition, and childcare.
8. Consider sending your luggage – or at least some of it – ahead of you.
9. Why not stay in a hotel outside the main ski resort area to save money – they often have their own transport to and from the slopes, or you might rent a car that also provides the chance to visit other ski resorts in the area.
10. If you have deep pockets then fly business class. When you book with a mainstream tour operator you normally get the bog standard charter flight, but if you’re booking independently you can treat yourself. For example, SWISS and BA fly between London and Geneva and the business class fare gets you entrance into the airport lounge, which has got to be the best way to kick off your holiday. But you can also get yourself a lounge access card – several companies like Priority Pass sell them from around £62 per year plus £15 per visit.
The general rule is to keep an open mind. It’s now always going to be cheaper going it alone, but if you get it right then it’s certainly a lot more flexible…
Have Your Say
Have you ever booked a holiday solo? If so, do you have any stories or tips? We’d love to hear them, so feel free to share them in the comments box below.
December 16, 2016David Dempsey
Thats all great advice! Having done this countless times over the past 20 years I can thoroughly recommend being independent. My tip is that to find the available flights TO a particular airport go to the airports site and you can find out from there who flies where, and the sites also usually list the transfer facilites ie which trains and coach companies go where.
December 16, 2016david snell
We’ve done several independent trips and many more package ski trips. The main benefit I think of organising your own trip is being able to stay in places that the package trips do not offer. The main benefit of packages is peace of mind. For example we were in France when the Ash cloud struck and had we not been on a package would have found it very difficult to get home.
With regard to costs though on balance package trips are cheaper in low season and organising your own trip is generally cheaper in high season only. I don’t understand the comment re booking business class flights at all though as short haul business class doesn’t offer any real benefits and is much more expensive.
November 6, 2017Judith Dalley
Hi there, I m planning on coming from New Zealand to ski France this year. Is there a French season pass that covers all the resorts in Port de Soleil? And is this the best area to get good snow cover in feb/March? I love your website so much useful info, thanks. Judith
February 10, 2018David Dempsey
Having just come back from the Dolomites, where I had a great time, but also I had an accident and ended up visiting the local hospital in Cavalese. My main recommendation after returning is …ALWAYS TAKE YOUR EUROPEAN HEALTH CARD…they did not want to know about insurance ..I had concussion ( I was wearing a helmet) and had great treatment.