Planning to take the high-speed train in France anytime soon? Take a moment to understand which trains are available for your journey, and book those tickets as early as possible in order to snag the best deal.
The importance of booking in advance was underscored to us yesterday when we received an email from the SNCF, France’s national railway, announcing that Spring 2014 tickets for its low-cost iDTGV service will go on sale on December 10, 2013.
Enticingly low ticket prices were dangled before our Cheapo eyes… €19 for high-speed journeys from Paris to destinations in northwest and southern France. It’s like Ryanair prices, sans the misery (oh, and with two pieces of free luggage).
But wait, it gets cheaper! If you’re searching for trains from the Paris region to southern destinations, France’s super cheapo Ouigo train service might work for you (and get you there for as low as €10!).
So we thought it would be helpful to offer a round-up of advice for booking tickets on the country’s high-speed rail services.
The three month rule
But first, a quick reminder: You’ll have to wait until Tuesday, December 10 to search for spring travel (March 28 – June 12, 2014) on the TGV and iDTGV. Most French trains, as is the case throughout Europe, sell tickets up to three months in advance (what we call the “three month rule”).
However, Ouigo service is able to be reserved up to seven months in advance.
The normal TGV service covers many more destinations than its low-cost partners—more than 230 in France and other European countries. Tickets are more flexible (in terms of exchanges and modifications), and tickets can be purchased online, in train stations, and SNCF stores throughout the country.
As is the case with the other services, book in advance for the best deals. Also, US visitors may be asked whether they’d like to be redirected to Rail Europe or “continue on Voyages-sncf.com.” We’d recommend continuing on Voyages-sncf.com.
• To check rates for the normal TGV service, visit Voyages-sncf.com.
The iDTGV service, on the other hand, serves mostly northwest and southern French destinations (see map, above). Tickets for the iDTGV are often much cheaper than regular TGV trains, but can only be purchased online.
Furthermore, they’re often non-refundable and tricky to change. If you want to change a date or take a later train, you can’t head into a station and exchange your ticket. (Trust us, we’ve tried.) You can make changes, but take note: You’ll be charged €12 for the modification plus any difference in the price of the ticket. (Read all of the conditions here.)
Another key difference between the services is in the packaging and marketing. The iDTGV aims for a younger and tech-savvy crowd, and offers two “ambiances” onboard to choose from when buying your ticket. You can choose between “iDZAP” (train cars for gadget lovers and mobile yackers), and “iDZEN” (for those who desperately try to avoid the former). It’s a nice touch.
When purchasing your ticket, you’re also able to tack on food discounts (saving, for example, 50 cents on a meal), or rent headphones or gaming systems.
• To check rates for the low-cost iDTGV service, visit iDTGV.
Finally, the Ouigo service offers an ultra low-cost option, with tickets starting at €10 for trips from Marne la Vallée (about 45 minutes from Paris-Chatelet by RER A) to a limited number of southern destinations, including Lyon, Avignon, Aix en Provence, Marseille and Montpellier (see the complete list of destinations).
Tickets on Ouigo are shockingly cheap, starting at €10 for adults and €5 for children. (Yes, you read that right.) Unsurprisingly, there are some important notes about Ouigo tickets:
• Trains don’t depart from Paris, but rather from nearby Marne la Vallée, home to Disneyland Paris.
• Unlike with the normal TGV and iDTGV, you cannot choose your seat in advance, although you are guaranteed a seat.
• You are allowed one piece of luggage and a carry-on bag. You can book an additional bag for €5 in advance (or pay €10 when you board).
• Tickets are nonrefundable, however you can make changes (and pay the difference, plus a surcharge if you call the customer service number for help).
• Unlike the other services, you can book your seats up to 7 months in advance. Read more terms and conditions on the Ouigo website (in French).
To check rates for the ultra-low cost Ouigo service, visit Ouigo.com.
Whichever service you end up riding, try to book as early as possible. Happy travels!