For some skiers the convenience and security of booking all their holiday components in one place – with a tour operator – is a major draw.
“I could give more than a dozen reasons why it is better to book your ski holiday with a tour operator rather than try to do it yourself,” says Marion Telsnig, spokesperson for Crystal Ski. "For example, we have experts on hand in-resort if anything goes wrong; we offer financial security - we will always bring you home if there is a disruption; and our customers get a holiday information pack with local info and tips from in-resort reps, downloadable piste and resort maps, snow reports, webcams, and more."
But the savvy, organised skier can often make big savings on tour operator packages. OnTheSnow has put together some top tips on how to make a DIY ski holiday cost less than the package tour operator equivalent.
The three key parts of your ski holiday typically provided by the tour operator are your flights, transfers and accommodation. Of course tour operators can and do provide much more – insurance, ski rentals, tickets, ski school bookings, bulk buying discounts as well as sometimes a Rep to take care of you – but the flight, transfer and accommodation remain what you are really buying the package for.
Here are some tips to help you create your DIY ski holiday:
The complex pricing structures from no-frills airlines, which sometimes see skiers facing bills 10 times the initial ‘flight ticket’ price by the time they reach the payment stage, has slowed the growth in independent ski travel. But bargains are still to be had if you’re careful. Most of the traditional airlines like BA and Swiss won’t charge to carry a suitcase (Swiss won’t charge for your skis either) and the ticket price can be little more, sometimes lower, than the no-frills airline cost before all their add ons.
The usual rules of ski travel apply: book as early as you can and travel outside school holiday periods (and preferably when you’ll also avoid the weekend crush in Salzburg or Geneva making travel far more pleasant).
The transfer from airport to resort is an often-forgotten element of the package which is a big money-spinner on the ground. It costs several hundred pounds for a transfer from Geneva to many resorts in the French Alps for example – not so bad for a family of four or more where the cost is divided up, but if you’re not careful a small fortune for a sole traveller or a couple. Many resorts do operate their own transfer coach services, sometimes subsidised so the cost is only a few Euros each way, but that’s an important thing to check before you book your flight and accommodation. Such ski travel information should be available on the resort’s website. There are also dedicated transfer companies like Mountain Drop Offs or AlpLine among many others.
The cost of accommodation varies tremendously and when you throw in board too, the costs can fluctuate even more than transport. Assuming you can secure low-cost flights that are really low cost, accommodation costs are likely to make up 50-70 percent of your total holiday cost. Most properties can now provide an automated quotation and booking service so you can compare a package cost with that of booking direct – but it does take some work. Unless the deal you’re offered is spectacularly good it may be worth dropping the hotel a quick email to ask if they can offer you a better rate for a direct booking with advance payment.
Top tips to keeping costs down
1. It’s always cheapest to book early.
2. It’s almost always cheapest to travel mid-week and low season.
3. Ski resorts and tour operators often have special deals and incentives – check tour operator and resort tourist office websites for these to see if any work for you rather than just going straight to the general resort page and booking through that.
4. You can often get a better deal on lift passes, ski rentals and ski school by either booking all together as a package or booking and paying in advance over the internet. Some resorts offer discounts on lift pass costs if you buy and pay for them in the autumn before you travel.
5. Keep an eye on exchange rates – you can often but elements of your holiday (eg lift pass) online in advance when the value of the pound looks high, you’ll then feel extra smug when you arrive in resort and people are paying more than you for the same lift pass.
6. If travelling independently you are prepared to travel early in the morning or late at night your flight costs are likely to be lower – but that may mean you will need to use more expensive taxis to reach the resort/airport if you arrive before/after public transport connections are operating.
7. If booking a tour operator package don’t assume the add-ons offered, like lift passes, will be cheaper if booked through them. Before adding them to your package check they’re not cheaper to buy direct.
The overall rule is to keep an open mind. Don’t always assume that doing it yourself is going to be cheaper and when you do book yourself, make sure you can trust that all the elements you put together will be as described. For example it’s often better to book accommodation through a resort’s website than direct with the property.
And to really get the best deals, you need to be flexible in your ski travel plans and prepared to put the hours in researching all the options.
Next article: Snooze your way to the slopes by ski train