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Well, it has finally happened. The SNCF, France’s national railway monopoly, is launching a new low-cost rail service christened “Ouigo” that will begin service on April 2, 2013. Ultra-cheap introductory tickets are now officially available through the Ouigo website.
At just €10 (ten, dix, diez, X – just to be clear, it’s not a typo!) for a ticket that would cost €60, €70, or even €80 on a normal TGV, well, yes, “oui” will go indeed!
How Ouigo works
The SNCF said there will be 62 different TGV (“train à grande vitesse,” or high speed trains) each week serving various destinations. Trains are the same as the standard TGVs and the stops are mostly familiar, running between the Paris region, Lyon, Montpellier, and Marseille, among other cities.
Ouigo will launch with service only to the southeast of France, which accounts for 35% of all TGV traffic in the nation. A successful run, however, could mean spin-offs to Bordeaux, Rennes, or Strasbourg in the future, if we’re lucky!
Oui-know that you’re ready to book a ticket now, but first be aware of some of the differences between Ouigo and standard TGV service. Here’s a quick overview:
1. Ouigo doesn’t stop in Paris.
The train actually departs and arrives from Marne-la-Vallée, right by Disneyland Paris. This is also a stop on the Eurostar line from London, in case any Brits were looking for a cheaper shot down to the south of France.
For Parisians, however, sure, it’s only a 30-40 minute RER ride from Paris, not to mention the Metro to get to the RER to get to the Ouigo train. Sounds like a hoot, right?
Center-city Parisians aren’t the main audience, however, and the SNCF is targeting suburbanites who would usually travel by car, offering the low-cost train as an alternative. But no one is writing off a direct train from Paris one day in the future…
2. Keep an eye out for extra charges.
Anyone who has ever taken Ryanair will understand the hidden costs of budget travel. While the Ouigo extra charges aren’t as extreme as the Irish airline, there are supplementary charges possible, like €2 for an electrical plug if you want to charge something. And if you’re not traveling light, extra baggage beyond the one suitcase and one handbag allowance will cost you €5 when reserving a ticket or €10 afterwards, so plan accordingly.
So far, trips to the bathrooms are free…
3. Act fast to book a €10 tickets.
Prices will go up after the first 400,000 seats are sold at €10. Then the next million or so tickets skyrocket, relatively, to €25. The prices continue to rise with demand.
Tickets can only be bought online, so don’t bother heading to a train station expecting inexpensive tickets. A color-coded calendar on the website will indicate when the most low-cost tickets are available (think pink!) and when cheap tickets are dwindling (white or, worse, blue).
4. Choose your tickets wisely.
Tickets are not reimbursable, but you can change the name on it or switch it for another date. If you are going to change a cheaper ticket for a more expensive one, you’ll have to pay the difference. If you’re getting a cheaper ticket, you won’t be reimbursed the extra that you paid. Such is low-cost.
5. Say goodbye to the café car.
If you’re interested in low-cost travel, you’re not expecting the Four Seasons. Ouigo is no exception. There’s no First Class aboard this train. Gone are the days of the dining car, so bring your own pastry and coffee if you’re an obsessive traveling eater. (Although, really, the ride is only 3 hours and 15 minutes from Ile-de-France to Marseille, so you’ll survive!)
No onboard café means more seats though, with each train holding about 20% more seating than standard high-speed TGV trains. Otherwise, the trains are perfectly comfortable.