Time it right and sail away with a bargain
Nick Trend compares ferry prices to the Continent and discovers that many are cheaper than ever – as long as you can avoid the most popular periods
Ihave been comparing ferry fares out of the UK for many years, and I still hesitate to make definitive statements about what is happening to prices. The problem is that, like airfares, they have become an almost entirely movable feast – it’s impossible to know how many spaces are sold at what price. However, broadly speaking, if you can avoid the peak times of Fridays and weekends in high season, you can still take your car across the Channel for less than you would have paid a few years ago.
Take Brittany Ferries’ PortsmouthCaen route, for example. In 2012, the lowest fare for a car plus two was
£298; last year it was £238, and this year you can get a return for £170. Lowest fares to Calais and Dunkirk are a little higher than in 2012, but DFDS has frozen its rate at last year’s level (£78) as has Eurotunnel (£158). Compared with last year, DFDS has also slashed £42 off its cheapest return to Dieppe. If you are canny, there is good value to be had. And it isn’t just about France. Brittany Ferries’
24-hour services to Spain also offer better value (see panel).
Fares listed below are the lowest return for a car plus stated number of passengers. They may not be available on all dates, but are a guide to the relative cost of fares on that route. We also give the maximum number of sailings in each direction at peak times. If you want an overview of fares on any one route, price comparison websites such as directferries.co.uk and aferry.co.uk are worth checking. Fares on longer routes with few departures can be high on peak dates, but you can find a reasonable fare on a short crossing if you are prepared to travel at relatively unsociable hours.
NATIONAL FERRY FORTNIGHT APRIL 14-28
For more details of Britain’s network of ferry connections around the coast, see discoverferries.com.
THE SHORT CROSSINGS
The crossings to Calais and Dunkirk remain the cheapest ways to get to the Continent for most British motorists living in south-east England. Since Calais links directly into the motorway network, you can also get to all the other French north coast ports except Roscoff more quickly by using this route. The driving time from Calais to St Malo, for example, is about five hours, but the Portsmouth to St Malo ferry takes eight. Allow 90 minutes for the short crossing and you will get there an hour quicker via Calais. The Dover routes also offer more frequent departures from four operators.
Condor Ferries (condorferries.co.uk) no longer provides a connection between the UK and France – you have to change in the Channel Islands.
This means that Brittany Ferries (0330 159 7000; brittanyferries.com) – a consistent winner of the Best Ferry Operator category in the Telegraph Travel awards – now has an effective monopoly on direct services on the longer crossings to France listed below. Nevertheless, some of the company’s cheapest fares have dropped year on year – from £238 return to £170; overnight cabins are also lower – from £55 to £43.
CROSSING PATHS Brittany Ferries vessels head in and out of Portsmouth