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Best ferry fares – How to get the best or cheapest cross channel fares to France from Day-tripper.net, the web magazine for cross channel shoppers and holiday makers
Fares are historically low nowadays. Twelve years ago a daytrip cost £64 and a summer crossing would set you back £400 to £600. With fares this summer costing just £39 each way and daytrips to be had for £19 (sometimes less) there are plenty of reasons to enjoy a day or shortbreak across the channel.
Additionally inflation in the U.K. has been much higher than on the continent. Whilst taxes on sprits and tobacco have increased in France, they have gone up very considerably more in the U.K. The increasingly better exchange rate makes most things much better value in France and Belgium.
With budget airlines charging a lot of money for baggage, remember that when crossing the channel all this is included in your fare. With new taxes (Air Passenger Duty) at excessive levels, the ferry companies and Eurotunnel offer exceptional value.
All in all, the opportunity to travel cheaply and save whilst stocking up remains as strong as it was in 1999.
We do surveys to find out how to get the best deal when crossing the channel. The results are in many ways alarming. Nowadays with fluid pricing and strong competition, it is often difficult to know where to start.
What to watch out for. These days there are some incredibly good deals available. However the cross channel companies do not pay people like us commission on them. A good example is this offer in January 2012 from PO Ferries. £19 plus six bottles of wine. However when you visit compare and voucher code sites, they don't mention them. For example, this "deal" is from aferry.
It pays to find the time to shop around – for the best fares, be flexible.
Top tips for finding good value fares; Avoid busy times on the autoroute, it's not just public holidays that affect the amount of traffic on the roads. Check out Bison Fute for traffic information.
Bank holidays – Peak times start on the Friday and fares are very expensive for the return on Monday.
Half term holidays – The Friday and Saturday at the start of a half term break are expensive, as are the Saturday and Sunday at the end of the break.
Cross channel fares rise or attract supplement from mid July until the end of the school holidays (beginning of September).
There are now many options to choose from when selecting a fare. Mostly fare structures have been simplified over the last few years which we welcome. In general, look out for the off peak fares. Years ago afternoon and evening fares were usually the cheapest available, but with fares now so low buying a ticket is much more straightforward – there is just one ticket generally to buy whether it be an all day ticket or for an afternoon shop.
Try and travel during the week if you want to save most, as Friday and weekend fares are generally more. For last minute bookings try PO Ferries or DFDS Ferries (Dunkirk). Eurotunnel's fare structure, whilst much improved on previous years is less flexible. Book direct with the companies and you get an internet booking discount, which you will not do on sites saying things like "cheapest fares".
Book via this site with PO Ferries, DFDS Ferries and get the internet booking discount often not available with agents.
We have carried out a number of surveys to find out exactly what the cross channel operators are doing. We structured the surveys to catch companies out – i.e. to see if they offered us the best value fare, rather than the first one that came up. The purpose of the surveys is to establish general principles on how to get the best fares.
Our first survey was conducted over the internet (surveyed x June 2008). We asked for a cheap 5 day ticket leaving at about 10.45am on the xth June, returning at around 3.30pm on the x June – just over 5 days.
Companies which appear high on search engines did not, contrary to their slogans, do very well. Our advice remains the same – be wary of cheap slogans.
When we did our last survey, fluid pricing was playing havoc with fares and causing huge problems for clubs and agents. The internet may have given consumers more choice but it has also allowed companies to deal direct with their customers avoiding agents. A good agent usually has the ability and knack to point you in the right direction, and highlight which companies have the best current deals. After all, if you are dealing with Company X, it is not going to tell you of Company Y's special fares, is it? This is why the main operators all offer extra discounts for internet bookings – they want you to finish the deal before you look elsewhere. Remember too, that internet enquiries will often only respond to your given times and not suggest cheaper alternatives (the travel agents sites being the exception).
– take nothing for granted and never assume that just because you have paid a membership fee, that you will automatically get the best deal.
– always shop around. Don't be pressurised into accepting the first fare you are offered. We found it irritating that we had to provide a whole range of information (even car registration) before getting a quote, even though we had said to begin with that we were just wanted a price.
– if you want the best deal, spend some time on the net trying out different combinations.
– Expore the cross channel companies web site. Many now have a link to a calendar showing when the cheapest fares are available.
– when you phone (we suggest you do as well) say you are looking for the cheapest fare and be flexible.
– make a note of any promotion codes. Companies like Eurotunnel do not always publicise offers which are still valid.
– if booking a 5 day fare (often advertised as 120 hour) make sure you book for just under 120 hours. In our experience 120 hours exactly triggers off a higher (standard) fare.
– Avoid extra charges by turning up on time. Generally if you are up to two hours late they will charge you extra.
– On longer crossings, consider booking your meals beforehand online. It is often considerably cheaper.
– Make sure you are now being railroaded into a purchase that is not the cheapest or you may not need. Say no to automatic travel insurance, premium cabins, and sleeper seats. There may be a standard option available.
Comment; Cheap slogans or web names do not mean cheap prices. We are firmly of the opinion that Consumer law needs tightening up when it comes to the internet. After all, when the existing Consumer Laws were enacted, the internet hardly existed. Even within some company web sites, cheap slogans do not necessarily mean the best deal. For example, try looking for a daytrip on sites with "cheap" in their name or publicity. Then check direct with the cross channel companies themselves.
A good internet site in our opinion is one which respects the freedom of the surfer to choose without hindrance or obligation. Having to provide a name and registration number is a definite no-no. Having to be pro-active is unhelpful (clicking the Terms and Conditions box on the Eurotunnel site for example). A site which obliges you to re-input information every time you go back or try another option, or cannot work out automatically that you will return via Calais when this is the only option available, is inefficient.
What we would like to see – legislation obliging companies to deal with agents or distributors. Smaller companies often give a better service than the main operators and in our experience serve the interests of the consumer better. Too often we were offered a standard price – we had to ask to get the best fare. Agents tend to be more helpful. A world where we have to deal direct with the main operators only and not via agents will not serve the interests of competition or the consumer.
Dover to Calais. Survey conducted x June 2008. 5 day return and Standard fares.
Criteria – Departing x at around 10.45am, returning x around 15.30pm. 5 day coming back x in the morning around 10.00am. We said we were looking for the cheapest fare.
6 days (Standard).
Winner – x
Criteria – we asked for a fare going out at around 5.00am on the 20th, returning at around 5.00am on the 25th April.
It's always possible to find a very good value fare – if you are prepared to travel at unusual times. However with good planning you can travel and book straight into a hotel the other side, waking up refreshed for your journey.
TIP; To get the best fares book out of standard hours. For example leave on a Thursday and return Monday or Tuesday, if going away for a weekend. If you can leave a few days before the start of school holidays (preferably the week before).
Eurotunnel – travel between 10.00pm and 6.00am
P and O Ferries – travel after 7.45pm or before 12.30pm outward. return after 9.00pm or before 12.30pm.
We only contacted companies that offered stand alone fares (i.e. not tied in with a hotel stay).
Eurotunnel. Tel: 08705 353 535.
Overall score – x/10.
DFDS (to Dunkirk).
It is easy to make mistakes via the internet, although if you know what you want and the price you should get, this is by far the easiest way of doing things. It often pays to query the price first offered – we did with P and O Ferries recently and were offered a lower fare for exactly the same times.
In general, Eurotunnel offers fares for cars with an unlimited number of passengers (up to 9), and the ferry companies up to 5.
Prices on off peak sailings are lowered enough to tempt customers to sail at quieter times. However Joe Public is generally unaware if his fare should be £50 or £300 – travel agents and clubs rely on this ignorance. Hence our advice to shop around.
Punters can be further confused due to "fluid pricing". This is where companies seek to fine tune the effects of yield management and direct customers to less busy sailings. However this can also mean prices increasing on busy sailings.
Whilst overall Day-tripper.net prefers old fashioned (straight forward) pricing systems, it is only fair to point out that fluid pricing can mean some very good fares being offered.
All the ferry and rail companies now offer season tickets for regular travellers. Although you need to pay upfront, the savings compared with normal fares are huge. Times of travel can be restrictive, Eurotunnel for example allow outbound journeys only between 4.00pm and 6.00am (overnight), and on the inbound leg you must travel between midnight and 2.00pm.
Now a regular event (the first was held in 2007), Britain's annual National Ferry Fortnight takes place in MArch in 2012. Supported by all ferry line members of www.discoverferries.co.uk, this two week showcase was created to heighten consumer and media awareness of Britain's extensive ferry services of over 50 routes. National Ferry Fortnight urges ferry operators and passengers alike to “seas the opportunity” to both promote and experience the ease, value and versatility of ferry travel. There are many offer well worth taking up, and this opportunity is effectively the last major promotion before the summer peak period.
Continuous investment in modern, versatile fleets has seen more people travelling by ferry, with some 35 million passengers, eight million cars and over 140,000 coaches carried in 2010.
Central to the National Ferry Fortnight campaign is a series of promotional offers on ferry routes which are announced nearer the date and promoted on the www.discoverferries.com website. The National Ferry Fortnight logo is featured on many ferry members' own advertising and website campaigns, with a press and PR push led by the PSA and individual ferry operators, highlighting the sheer variety of ferry routes. Ferry passengers are encouraged to blog and twitter their family and friends when crossing the seas.
“Britain's ferry services offer a reliable, value for money and flexible way to travel” said PSA director, Bill Gibbons, “National Ferry Fortnight offers a real showcase for our industry to highlight the huge infrastructure and ship investment that has been committed to providing a relaxed and versatile way – particularly for families in their cars – to travel to and from our island shores.
Watch out for details of special National Ferry Fortnight offers released nearer the date on www.discoverferries.com
Boat passengers will have more rights as of 2012, thanks to a regulation approved by the European Parliament on Tuesday. The new rules provide for assistance and compensation in cases of delays, as well as free assistance to disabled passengers. The EP is pushing for similar rights for bus and coach passengers but this has still to be negotiated with the Member States.
Delays or cancellations of boat trips
Under the new rules, when a regular passenger boat or ferry service is cancelled or over 90 minutes late in departing, the passengers will have the right to be rerouted (in order to reach the destination earlier) or to receive back the ticket cost and not to travel (or else to return to the initial port of departure at the company's cost). This will not apply in the case of weather delays or other conditions outside the operator's control. Passengers must also be given snacks or meals, wherever possible.
In addition, regardless of whether they choose to travel or not, the passengers will be entitled to compensation of 25% of the ticket price for:
– journeys scheduled to last up to 4 hours which are delayed at arrival for at least an hour;
– journeys scheduled to last 4 to 8 hours which are delayed at arrival for at least two hours; – journeys scheduled to last 8 to 24 hours which are delayed at arrival for at least three hours;
– journeys scheduled to last over 24 hours which are delayed at arrival for at least six hours.
If the delay is over double these minimum times, passengers will be entitled to compensation of half the ticket price.
The compensation will have to be paid in money if the passenger demands it. Additionally, if because of the delay passengers have to stay overnight before completing their journey, the operator will have to pay for their hotel expenses up to 80 euro per night (for not more than 3 nights).