We’re big fans of the French TGV rail system. These sleek trains zip throughout the country, transporting passengers comfortably at speeds up to 200 mph. The trains are such a success that short flights between most cities in France don’t make sense — the TGV is faster, and much less of a hassle.
Tickets, however, can be kind of expensive — if you simply show up at the train station and purchase one on the spot for that day. But happily, they can also be a complete steal, and cheaper, in fact, than low-cost flights!
For instance, consider these TGV rates, taken from the website of the SNCF, the French National Railway:
For travel today: A 2nd Class refundable ticket booked today (on their site) for travel today (January 3, 2008) from Paris to Marseille costs €96.
For travel tomorrow: Most of the fares remain the same for travel tomorrow, at €96. However, the TGV offers cheaper Internet-only discount rates on its iDTGV lines (TGV trains outfitted with specially-themed cars for different atmospheres, including a “zen” quiet car!). On the iDTGV line, we found one €69 rate, for a 2nd Class, non-refundable ticket.
For travel next week: Rates start falling, however, when you book a week in advance. For the same Paris to Marseille route, we saw many of the same €96 rates (it is, after all, a Friday), but found more of the cheapies, including several €44.90 tickets, both in 1st and 2nd class (non-refundable)!
For travel next month: If you book even further out, say one month in advance, and travel on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, you could find even cheaper fares. For the same route on February 12, we found €19 2nd class seats, and €24 seats in 1st class!
Please note that these rates were taken from the official website of the SNCF. We found these rates by clicking on the French flag to remain inside the French portion of the site. When you click the US flag, you’re taken to the RailEurope.com website, which is, of course, in English.
We appreciate the service that RailEurope provides and partner with them on Eurail passes in our rail pass guide. The prices quoted, however, on their website for the same trips mentioned above are more expensive than the prices you’ll find on the SNCF site, even after you consider exchange rates.
For example, the cheapest fare we found for the Paris-Marseille route next week was $153 2nd Class, $212 1st Class. Rates for next month are much cheaper, mostly $80, although we found some seats for $41 in 2nd class. We couldn’t find 1st class cheaper than $124.
Some tips for booking a cheap TGV ticket
1) Try booking directly through the SNCF on their website in French. At least give it a shot — you probably won’t have any trouble navigating the site.
2) Book as far in advance as possible.
3) Travel on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, and be flexible with your hours.
4) Consider trying out one of the new iDTGV trains. They’re just as fast, and they’re kind of fun.
5) Do plenty of searches and look at all the times available. You will probably find a wide range of ticket prices.
We hope these thoughts are helpful. Please send us your thoughts, tips, and advice for traveling cheaply by train!