France Train Tickets: How to book tickets on the SNCF website (in French!)

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The SNCF station at Charles de Gaulle airport.
The SNCF station at Charles de Gaulle airport.

By Liz Webber–

As Cheapos know, it’s almost always less expensive to buy train tickets directly through the website of a country’s national rail service rather than through RailEurope’s English-language site or overseas agents, especially for France’s TGV system. Fares can also be cheaper booking online than buying the tickets in person at the station.

However, booking a ticket in another language can be intimidating. France’s SNCF website is fairly easy to navigate, but if your French doesn’t extend much beyond “Parlez-vous anglais?” use this cheat sheet to book day trips from Paris or crisscross the country!

Step 1: Choose where and when you’re going

The SNCF homepage. Be strong!

The SNCF homepage. Be strong!

On the SNCF homepage, there is a box on the left-hand side for quickly booking trains. First, enter the “départ” (where you’re “departing” from) and “arrivée” (where you’ll be “arriving”).

Next choose your departure date in the box next to “Aller le” (“going the…”) and return date in the box next to “Retour le” (“returning the…”). If it’s a one-way journey (“aller-simple”) leave the return date blank. Note that the dates follow the European format of DD/MM/YYYY.

Also choose your desired departure time for both directions (“à partir de” means “starting from”). Remember that these times will be written in standard 24-hour format.

Specify how many people will be traveling using the drop-down menu next to “Adultes” (adults), and select either first or second class.

For direct trains only (without transfers), click the box marked “trajets directs.” Then hit the orange “Rechercher” (“search”) button to begin searching for tickets.

Note: Under the search box, you’ll notice a tempting array of little flags. If you’re already feeling a bit nervous, you’ll understandably be drawn to the English flag. Sure, clicking it will change the language to English–but it will also send all results through RailEurope, a helpful agency for foreign tourist that usually adds a substantial mark-up to ticket prices.

Step 2: Select your tickets

Now a page will open with options for the first half of your journey. Prices can vary greatly depending on the travel time and the day of the week, and only reflect half the cost of the total journey for a round-trip ticket (“aller-retour”). However, when booking for more than one person at a time the price reflects the total cost for all tickets.

Choose a train on the results page.

The box at the top shows all the options at a glance, from which you can then scroll down to select the one that best fits your specifications. Tickets are color-coded by price range, whereby orange designates the cheapest fares, blue more moderate fares, and gray the most expensive.

When you check one of the circles to choose a ticket, a so-small-you-might-miss-it box pops up underneath all the options for that departure time that says “Choisir Ma Place” (“Choose My Seat”). From the drop-down menu, specify if you’d like to sit “à côté de” (next to) a particular seat, or simply give a preference for “fenêtre” (window) or “couloir” (aisle). Pretty much all trains in France have assigned seats, so be sure to keep that in mind when you go to board.

Note: If you’ve selected an “iDTGV” train, you will be permitted to choose your “ambiance.” “iDzap” is a train friendly to portable electronics, DVDs, cellphones, etc., while “iDzen” restricts electronics, cellphones, and anything that makes noise.

Be careful of tickets marked only “non échangeable” (non-exchangeable) or “non remboursable” (non-refundable), though most fares cannot be exchanged or refunded “après départ” (after departure). Certain tickets must be paid for online and printed at home – if so the fine print will read “Paiement en ligne. Billet à imprimer vous-même” (“Online payment. Print your own ticket.”)

confirm your trainOnce you have figured out what time you want to leave and have chosen your seat, click the orange box directly underneath marked “Valider cet aller” (“Validate this part of the trip”). Make sure you hit the right one!

You’ll then go through the same process again for the return journey. Again, remember that the price is for one way of the journey.

Step 3: Payment

On the following page, confirm that all parts of your journey are correct then click “Valider votre réservation” (“Validate your reservation”) to proceed.

Next come three questions before the actual payment.

IMPORTANT: Since the majority of SNCF ticket machines do not accept American credit cards, be sure to click “Gare ou boutique” (“Rail station or boutique”) for question 1 in order to pick up your tickets from a ticket window at the station. Also note that if you’re booking an iDTGV (as pictured), you will only be given the option of printing your own ticket.

Enter your payment detailsQuestion 2 requires the input of a “civilité” (“title”), “nom” (“LAST name”), “prénom” (“FIRST name”) and e-mail address for confirmation purposes.

Under question 3, check the box to indicate that you agree with the SNCF terms and conditions. Then click “Valider votre commande” (“Validate your order”).

Finally, it’s time to enter your credit card information. Note: The card you use to book must be presented to pick up your tickets, so be sure to use the card that you’ll be taking with you on your trip.

After entering all your data, hit the “valider” button one last time to complete the transaction. A screen should pop up with your confirmation code, which will also be sent in an email along with your itinerary. Print either for your records and to bring with you when you collect your tickets.

Step 4: Picking up your tickets

Now comes the easy part! Simply head to your departure station with your credit card and booking number to get your tickets. Many SNCF agents even speak English and so can help you make any changes to your reservation and get you to where you’re supposed to be.

Departure tracks are usually announced 20-30 minutes before the train is scheduled to leave, so be sure to leave enough time to pick up your tickets and figure out where you need to go. And don’t forget to stamp your ticket in the machine by the track before getting on the train!

Bonus tip: Reserve now, pay later

The SNCF website lets you reserve a ticket online without paying for it in advance or even giving a credit card. On the pre-payment page, instead of clicking “Gare ou boutique” under question 1 hit “Option.” The red text lets you know the date and time by which you need to confirm your reservation (usually 24 or 48 hours before departure), and you’ll receive an email with a booking code.

If you’re not sure what your schedule will be like or don’t want to give out your information online, reserve your seat then bring your confirmation number to the station before departure to pick up and pay for your tickets.

About the author

About the author: Liz Webber is a freelance journalist living and working in Paris. She has previously worked for the International Herald Tribune and Budget Travel.

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54 thoughts on “France Train Tickets: How to book tickets on the SNCF website (in French!)”

  1. Hi,

    this is a great post to tell non-French speakers how to make the best use of the French sncf website. I found this post during an online search for the problem me and i my partner are experiencing right now. I speak French though, so at least that was not an obstacle.

    We tried to purchase tickets for August and secure a Leisure prem price. It all worked fine until the payment moment ($121), when we got rejected. I tried once with my US credit card, and checked with my bank – they did not block it from their end and say the problem must be at sncf’s side. My partner tried six times with his US cc to no avail, his bank informed and authorising the purchase from their end as well.

    So while we were trying to figure out how to get our tickets instead, we notice that “SNCF INTERNET” has put holds on our accounts, $121 in my case and $726 in his! How is that even possible? Refusing the payment but still holding the money on our accounts?

    I tried the purchase on Tue May 28 and the hold is still intact today Fri May 31. My partner tried the purchases on Wed. We both send email complaints thru their website on Wed, until now no response.

    This is one of the most frustrating experiences i have ever made and i am curious as to when the credit holds will finally be lifted as we need our accounts for other bills, too, and we do not have tickets in hand either.

    Has anyone ever experienced SNCF credit holds after rejected purchases and if so, when were they finally lifted?

    Thanks for any info!
    jule

    Reply
  2. Hi,
    I wanted to go from belfort to strasbourg , so wentto station and the ticket vending machine was only i french.. which i dont understand
    i have taken help of the local french guy and he helped me to take 2 tickets, using my visa cerdit card

    In the ticket it was mention valid from 30 March to 29 th may… is this means i can travel in any of this date?

    I got two tickets,, but in both tickets it is mentioned Belfort to Strassbourg, i asked the french guy he said this is for return..
    I am little confused since on both the tickets it is only mentioned from BELFORT to STRASSBOURG… Can any one help me is it right that i can also use the another ticket for my return journey

    Last question how can i cancel the ticket if i dont want to travel?

    need help as all the SNCF website are in french.. which i cant understand
    Regards

    Reply
  3. The SNCF site seems to be working fine to me. Maybe you should try it with the computer of someone else who regularly books travel on line. If it works there, then something must be wrong (maybe the security settings?) with yours.

    George

    Reply
  4. Ana Marija,

    I don’t know if this applies in your case, but in the past I have sometimes had trouble when using a non-French credit card on the SNCF site. I also recall seeing a limit of something like two or three transactions per day with a non-French card. Maybe you could nicely ask your e-mail contact at SNCF under what circumstances non-French card may have problems – and post what you learn here.

    George

    Reply
    1. but the thing is that I can’t even get to that stage where I could pay for ticket. Even step one is different now on their page http://www.voyages-sncf.com/ – after you fill in the datails about your travel and click search (rechercher) it just doesn’t work, unavailable :'(

      Reply
  5. What’s happening with sncf.com page right now?? When you try to make a reservation and buy a ticket it says it’s currently unavailable and it’s unavailable all the time. I’ve contacted them and they directed me to http://www.tgv-europe.com site. This site is also unavailable for make reservation – at the end of “booking” proces it just gives you e-mail to contact some people (it depends on in which country you’re living).

    Now I have arranged over that e-mail contact pearson to find ticket which I want to buy, but price is increased for 10€ fee. And they want me to send them all my credit card details by e-mail, so they could charge it.

    This really seems stupid to me, I mean it’s not normal..

    Does anyone has some other option to propose? (The ticket should be Marseille-Lyon/Saint Etienne, so http://www.idtgv.com site won’t work..)

    Reply
  6. Thanks for blog. I found steps 3 and 4 very helpful in planning my trip. Er, I could resist in saying that the tempting English flag is actually the Welsh flag, to my mind. Yes since the Henry 8th and Elizabeth were mostly Welsh and this is the first time there was really any peace between our nations back in the 1500s, we can and should call it the Welsh flag. Also it will irritate the English no end, and might distract them from doing bad things elsewhere around the world.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: How To Get The Most Out Of European Rail Passes |

  8. Here’s another solution applicable in some cases:

    If you have a problem with the credit card with which you bought a ticket online (lost, unavailable, deactivated, expired), or can’t get to an SNCF station with a ticket office, if you call SNCF, humbly explain your problem (preferably in French) and give them your six-letter ticket reference, they may be willing to send your ticket by paper mail. But I was told the ticket could take up to 10 days to arrive.

    George

    Reply
  9. Another option: buy a new ticket either at the machine in Eu, if any, or on the bus – one or the other must be possible – then pick up your pre-paid ticket at Abbeville and either have it reimbursed (I believe you lose 10%) or use it another time (I believe TER tickets are valid 2 months).

    Hope this helps.

    George

    Reply

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