Good discounts await groups who wish to travel by ferry, trains or by air. Sue Parslow takes a look at some of the services and offers that are available

A number of transport companies are now offering improved customer service so that you can talk to a member of staff and have that same person help you organise your trip.

Virgin Trains are geared up for groups

Virgin Trains are geared up for groups

Whichever your preferred mode of transport, aim to book well in advance to ensure you get the service you want and the best deal. If possible, travel on weekdays, quieter times of the day or even overnight. Avoid peak times such as during school holidays.

TRAINS – UK TRAIN TRAVEL

There are 28 different train-operating companies in the UK. Most welcome larger groups and will offer a discount for groups of 10 or more and some offer ‘group save’ tickets for smaller groups of travellers. When planning your trips, it is best to start by enquiring with your local train operating company.

Be prepared to call a dedicated head office number or enquire via a website rather than arrange your travel at a station or via a call centre.

Chiltern Railways

Chiltern Railways operate services between London and Birmingham, and carry passengers through Shakespeare’s England, stopping at Aylesbury Vale Parkway, High Wycombe, Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon, Banbury, Leamington Spa and Solihull. They also operate services to London Paddington, Oxford and Kidderminster.

A number of different discounts apply to groups of 10 or more people travelling together. A specialist team will advise on the best value ticket for your group and help make travel arrangements. Tickets must be booked at least seven days in advance.

Contact the group travel office on 01494 420117 or email tenormore@chilternrailways.co.uk for more information.

CrossCountry

Covering around 1,400-miles and calling at over 100 stations from Aberdeen to Penzance, CrossCountry Trains is the most extensive rail network in the UK.

Operating services in Scotland, the North and Midlands of England, and the South and South West of England and Wales, CrossCountry Trains connect many of the UK’s most popular destinations.  It operates airport train services for passengers catching flights to and from Birmingham International Airport, London Stansted, Manchester Airport and Southampton Airport.

CrossCountry will advise the group travel organiser on the discounts available, though these may be restricted to certain trains and lines. There’s a group booking form on their website www.crosscountrytrains.co.uk or call 0371 2442388 to speak to a group advisor.

Virgin Trains

Virgin Trains offer fast connections throughout the UK, with frequent services to major destinations including Birmingham, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and the Lake District.

They are actively promoting group travel, offering savings of 20% for 10 or more people — and they ensure you can all sit together. You can usually book up to 24 weeks before you go.

Virgin Trains also offer the option for a group or company to hire an entire carriage, promising red carpet treatment — perfect for a special event.

For more information, small groups and 10-plus group deals, visit www.virgintrains.co.uk/tickets-offers/group-travel or call 03331 030 909.


BOATS

Wightlink Isle of Wight Ferries

Wightlink vessel bound for the Isle of Wight

Wightlink vessel bound for the Isle of Wight

Wightlink operates nine ferries on three routes. Group discounts are only available direct from Wightlink for groups of 10 or more foot passengers travelling from £12.80 per person. Groups of cars of 15 or more can also benefit from discounted rates on certain sailings to and from the island. All passengers must travel together on both the Outbound and Inbound routes.  Coaches can travel on two ferry routes – Portsmouth to Fishbourne and Lymington to Yarmouth. For more information call 0333 999 7333 or visit www.wightlink.co.uk.

Mersey Ferries

Until December 2016, the Mersey Ferry ‘Snowdrop’ is a Dazzle Ferry covered in colourful geometric designs created by Sir Peter Blake (artist best known for co-creating the sleeve design for The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). On board are exhibition panels that explain more about Dazzle Ships and the role they played in the country’s wartime history.

The Dazzle Ferry

The Dazzle Ferry

Departing hourly, the 50-minute river experience sails from Liverpool Pier Head, calling at Seacombe and Woodside, Wirral. There are group rates for parties of 20 or more, coach driver or group leader are admitted free of charge and there’s free coach parking at Woodside Terminal. For more information visit www.merseyferries.co.uk.

DFDS Seaways

Named the World’s Leading Ferry Operator four years running, DFDS Seaways has a wide choice of ferry routes into northern Europe, covering France, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia, Lithuania, and Poland.

The company also offers short breaks, such as a three-night trip to the Keukenhof Gardens in Holland. Renowned for their beauty and open between March 24 and May 16, 2016, groups can enjoy a free guided tour and/or cruise along a canal for an unusual view of the gardens.

DFDS Seaways offer onboard dining and entertainment, including live music. There are ensuite cabins, with the option to upgrade to more luxurious accommodation. For more information visit the website www.dfdsseaways.co.uk/group-ferry-travel.

Shannon Ferries

Shannon Ferries link Kerry with County Clare in Ireland. The service operates two roll-on, roll-off ferries 364 days a year taking travellers and their vehicles on a 20-minute journey across the Shannon estuary linking the tourist destinations of Clare and Kerry. Discounts are offered for coach and minibuses when tickets are purchased online. Visit the website www.shannonferries.com for more information and to book.

Stena Line

Stena Line operates services to Ireland, Holland and France. Groups can take advantage of competitive group fares and meal discounts. Offering day trips and hotel stays, Stena Line also offer the flexibility to arrive at one port and leave from another, which is ideal for touring holidays.

A three-night break in Holland starts from £35 per person return travelling either as a foot passenger or on a coach for a weekend in February 2016. Group travel requires a minimum of 20 passengers. The usual price is £90 per person for a return crossing, including an overnight cabin.

A coach and groups team will help with enquiries, bookings and brochures. Call on 08445 764764 or email group.travel@stenaline.com. For more information visit www.stenaline.co.uk.

Condor Ferries

A fleet of ships connect the UK to France, Guernsey and Jersey. The fast ferries are perfect for exploring the islands or simply spending a day on a beach.

Condor Ferries offer up to 20% discount on all services for 10 or more people on foot. A discount of up to 10% applies on car rallies of 10 or more vehicles travelling on the same sailings. The level of discount depends on the time and date of travel and when the reservation is made.

Day Trip To Guernsey

If you are organising a break in Dorset, it’s worth knowing that Condor Ferries offer a day trip from Poole to Guernsey.

The sailing offers views of the Jurassic Coast as well as Guernsey and the surrounding areas, plus onboard duty free shopping and the chance to explore the town of St Peter Port with up to six hours ashore.

For more details on what’s on offer, see the website www.condorferries.co.uk or call the groups department on 01305 761555.

P&O Ferries

Irish Ferries have won awards

Irish Ferries have won awards

With a fleet of 20 ships, P&O Ferries boasts the biggest choice of routes, the most frequent tourist service to the Continent and across the Irish Sea.

The company operates services to Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Ireland and group travel organisers can pick and mix routes for greater flexibility when planning tours. All routes offer access to the Continent’s motorways.

Each ship has quiet lounges, lively bars, duty-paid shopping, a commission-free bureau de change and a choice of coffee shops and restaurants.

For coach drivers, there is a dedicated restaurant offering meals at subsidised prices and an exclusive rest area, as well as facilities for washing/showering and watching TV.

There are special deals on a variety of pre-booked meals, including an à la carte option. Ideal for onward coach journeys, pre-packed meals can also be arranged.

P&O Ferries has a dedicated team to advise on all coach and group services and can help operators to put together an itinerary if required.

Email groups@POferries.com (Short Sea and North Sea routes) or irishseagroups@POferries.com (Irish Sea routes). For more information visit www.poferries.com/en/groups.

Northlink Ferries

Northlink Ferries offer sailings to the Scottish Islands from Aberdeen and Scrabster (near Thurso) and welcome groups with a comprehensive range of services. Sailings can be combined in a package with a combination of land arrangements. Both coaches and smaller groups and vehicles are catered for and meet and greet sessions can be organised.

‘Afternoon Tea With The Old Man’ is available on the Scrabster to Stomness sailings on the ship Hamnavoe. Groups can enjoy a cream tea while taking in views of Orkney’s famous Old Man of Hoy and Britain’s highest vertical cliffs. For more information visit www.northlinkferries.co.uk.

Irish Ferries

Irish Ferries won the award for being Best Cross-Sea Carrier in the National Coach Tourism Awards in 2015. It provides services between the UK and Ireland, and runs the only fast ferry on the Irish Sea.

There are special arrangements for groups travelling by coach, especially on the line’s flagship Ulysses. These include giving older and less mobile passengers support from trained staff, group meals and taking particular care of coach drivers.

Irish Ferries offer discounts for groups on ferry travel and accommodation in Ireland. Prices are from £16 per person one way, with deals for group and ad hoc coach travel. For those booking a number of groups travelling at different times, the discounts are even better. For more information call 08717 300 400 or visit www.irishferries.com.

Brittany Ferries

Award-winning Brittany Ferries have a modern fleet with French-style catering service on board. They operate sailings to France and Spain, with direct ferry travel and mini cruises on offer. There are discounted rates for groups and for coach and tour operators, with savings on fares as well as meals.

Look out for offers on mini two-night cruises. Visit the website www.brittany-ferries.co.uk/group-travel for more information.                

Caledonian MacBrayne

Calmac ferries link 22 Clyde and Hebridean islands with Scottish mainland ports.

The company has a dedicated travel trade department that will help you plan and book group tours or coach party excursions.

Both mini buses and coaches are catered for. There are a range of hospitality options for groups, with meals and refreshments provided throughout the day on selected routes allowing the group to eat together. Alternatively, food and drink vouchers give group members the flexibility to eat and drink what they want, where they want.

For more information, contact the Travel Trade department on 01475 650 355 or email traveltrade@calmac.co.uk. For more information visit www.calmac.co.uk/on-board/groups.


PLANES

Whether you fancy organizing a cultural European city break or a relaxing seaside holiday, it is possible to arrange for your group to travel together with discounted flights. All of the companies featured here each have a dedicated groups team.

Flight Centre

The team at Flight Centre Group Travel aims to tailor each booking to a group’s specific needs, while looking to save them money.

They have access to the widest choice of airfares on sale in the UK, together with discounted accommodation throughout the world, tours and travel extras including transfers, insurance and excursions.

The specialist groups team can be reached on 0800 587 0058. For more information visit www.flightcentre.co.uk/flights/group-travel.

British Airways

British Airways fly from airports around the UK to worldwide destinations and offer reduced rates for groups of 10 or more travelling in economy or four or more people travelling first class.

Flights are booked with a small deposit for each passenger and they’ll ensure to seat your group members together. For more information call 0344 493 0765. For more information visit www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/group-travel.

Jet2

Jet2 have a dedicated team that look after groups

Jet2 have a dedicated team that look after groups

Jet2Groups is keen to help group travel organisers arrange flights and holidays in Europe and the Canary Islands. The company can help with flight only or a package holiday and have a dedicated team to look after groups. Call 0800 4080 779 or visit www.jet2holidays.com/group-booking-enquiry.

Monarch

Monarch fly to 40 destinations

Monarch fly to 40 destinations

Monarch Airlines fly to 40 destinations from five airports and have a dedicated team to help organize trips for groups of 15 or more. One of the benefits their group booking scheme is the ability to change passenger names up to seven days prior to travel free of charge. Call the Groups Team on 0333 033 0111 or visit www.monarch.co.uk/groups.

Ryanair

Ryanair flies to 191 destinations

Ryanair flies to 191 destinations

Low cost airline Ryanair boasts 191 destinations and promises reduced fares for groups of 20 or more. They offer a four stage remote service with a form to be completed on the website. Ryanair will send you a quote via email that you may accept or decline — if you accept you’ll receive a call from Ryanair to confirm your booking and take your full payment. Ryanair also offers allocated seating and a second cabin bag free. Search for ‘groups’ on their website.

To book call 353 19451949 or email press@ryanair.com. For more information visit www.ryanair.com.

#Did You Know?

Brittany Ferries sell so much perfume that they are the third largest retailer of perfumes in France.