France Tickets & Rail Passes

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CLAIMING REFUNDS DUE TO TRAIN CANCELLATION:

If you have booked a ticket on Oui.SNCF and your train has subsequently been cancelled you can apply for a refund.

This is the page on the Oui.SNCF website in which you can find the info relating to refunds and commence your claim.

INTRODUCTION:

Welcome to ShowMeTheJourney's GUIDE to booking train tickets for journeys within and from/to France

What we have set out to provide is some context for the tickets and journey options you SHOULD encounter when making a booking either online or at the station.

We have striven to ensure that the advice we present is as accurate as possible, but a guide such as this cannot cover every combination of journey options.

Click the questions to jump to the info you need.

Or grab a coffee and scroll through the entire page - 10-15 mins reading will ultimately save you time, money and stress!

BOOKING and COLLECTING TICKETS AT THE STATION:

Will tickets cost the same price if I buy them at the station in France?

Does it matter which train I travel by if I've bought tickets at a French train station?

How do I collect a ticket at a station when I have made an online booking?

Do I need to stamp my ticket before boarding the train?

BOOKING TICKETS ONLINE FOR TRAIN JOURNEYS WITHIN FRANCE:


What are the key things I need to know about booking French train tickets online?

Will I save money on French train tickets if I book in advance online?

What do I need to look out for if I want to travel at the cheapest price possible on French train journeys?

Can I save money by taking the TER trains?

Can I save money by booking idTGV tickets?

What if I want the option of being able to change my travel plans when booking French train tickets?

What if I'm booking tickets for a French train journey which involves a change of train?

What about seat reservations on French trains?


What about child tickets on French trains?

BOOKING TICKETS ONLINE FOR TRAIN JOURNEYS TO and FROM FRANCE:


What if I want to buy tickets for international train journeys from and to France?

USING RAIL PASSES ON TRAINS WITHIN and TO and FROM FRANCE:


What do I need to know about using Euaril and InterRail Passes in France?

And yes there's a lot of text, but hopefully not too much - we wish booking French tickets wasn't quite as complicated as it can seem.

BOOKING and COLLECTING TICKETS AT THE STATION:

If you're not used to buying French train tickets at stations then this info will help you buy the optium ticket and avoid confusion!

Will tickets cost the same price if I buy them at the station in France?

The simple answer is yes IF you will be making a local train journey anywhere in France or making any journey by regional TER trains.

These TER trains can cover long distances such as Lyon ↔ Marseille and Nice ↔ Marseille.

However, if you will be making a journey by express trains = any of the TGV (inOui) services and the Intercités trains, you can big savings if you book online in advance.

Back to the list of questions

Does it matter which train I travel by if I've bought tickets at a French train station?

Yes - you need to be aware of which train services your ticket will be valid for - and then only travel by that type of train service and no other.

When travelling by train between destinations in France there can be, but not always, a choice of 

(1) TER trains - Regional trains and the local trains outside of Paris

(2)  TGV (inOui) trains - express trains

(3) Either one of the two types of Intercités express  train services

(i) Those on which seats have to be reserved (included when booking) 

These are the Intercités trains which operate on these routes:

(a) Paris (Austerliz)  – Limoges – Brive la Galliarde – Toulouse
(b) Bordeaux – Toulouse – Narbonne – Nimes – Montpellier – Marseille
(c) Paris (Bercy) – Nevers – Vichy – Clermont Ferrand

(ii) Those on which reservations are optional - the Intercités trains on all other routes.

Why this matters:

This choice matters when booking tickets at a station.

If you have booked a ticket that is valid for a journey by TER train, you cannot then use it to travel on a TGV or on the type of Intercités train service on which reservations are compulsory.

Similarly if you book a ticket for either type of the Intercités services, you cannot then use it to travel on a TGV train.

In other words - you cannot just hop on the next train to your destination, you have to travel by the type of train service that your ticket is valid for.

These rules apply even if you will be travelling comparatively short distances.

Back to the list of questions.

How do I collect a ticket at a station when I have made an online booking?

The email/message you will have received confirming your ticket booking will contain a PNR number.

You will need this PNR number and NOT the booking reference number in order to collect your tickets PLUS the credit/debit card you used when making the booking.

You can then choose between the following ticket collection options:

Collecting your ticket in advance of your travel date:

(i) If you want to pick up your ticket before your travel date, then you can only collect it from the ticket booking desks -  the 'Billetterie'.

If a station has a separate advance ticket booking desk or a separate 'Grandes Lignes' ticket desk, then you will need to use these desks to collect your ticket.

Collecting your ticket on your travel date:

(ii) You can also use the ticket desks to collect your ticket immediately before boarding your train - though if you want to do this at a large station, our advice is to be at the station a minimum of 45 mins before your train is departing.

(iii) Or you can collect your tickets from an SNCF 'Grande Lignes' ticket machine - more info on how to do this is available on our using French train stations GUIDE.

Back to the list of questions.

Do I need to stamp my ticket before boarding the train?

Ticket stamping machines are positioned at the entrances to the voies/platforms/tracks that a train will be departing from AND/OR in the station buildings, particularly on the concourse.

If you will be using a ticket that you have purchased at a ticket desk, or have purchased/collected from a ticket machine, then you need to validate your tickets by stamping it in one of these machines.

You obviously need to do this before boarding, but it can be easy to forget to do so, particularly if you are in a hurry.

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BOOKING TICKETS ONLINE FOR TRAIN JOURNEYS WITHIN FRANCE:

What are the key things I need to know about booking French train tickets online?

(1) One thing you need to know above all else is French national rail operator SNCF's ticket booking service has recently changed from Voyages -SNCF to Oui.SNCF.

It's more than a name change and new colours - hence our guide on how to book tickets on Oui-SNCF that you can find HERE.

(2) SNCF operates virtually every train in France, but it does not have a monopoly on ticket sales through its booking site, Oui.SNCF.

Loco2 and Trainline Europe are alternative sites that partner with Oui.SNCF and they can particularly good options if you’re not in France when trying to book tickets online.

(3) Oui.SNCF offers country specific websites depending on where you will be logging on to make a booking - a legacy of when SNCF sold tickets in Europe using the Rail Europe branding.

However, these international versions of Oui.SNCF can lack some functionality of the French site – and pricing discrepancies can occur.

Unsurprisingly, the French version of the site is French language only, so try to persevere (using Google Translate) with the French site to check prices and book tickets.

(4) French train tickets are train service specific, meaning  that you have to travel by the type of train service you specified when making a booking online or at the station.

You cannot use a ticket booked for a TER train on an IC service that has a compulsory reservation, or a TGV train service - nor can you use a  ticket booked for an IC service on a TGV service.

Back to the list of questions.

Will I save money on French train tickets if I book in advance online?

If you want to travel by the express trains, particularly the TGV (inOui) and longer distance Intercités (IC) trains, then there are usually big savings to be made if you book in advance.

Express trains can be cheaper than TGV trains:

On routes that TER trains share with IC and TGV trains, limited numbers of discounted tickets will usually be placed on sale for the IC and TGV (inOui) trains.

However, tickets are NOT discounted for journeys by TER trains, so when the discounted tickets on the IC and TGVs are still available, they can be a cheaper alternative to TER trains.

So if you are booking ahead, you won't always save by taking the TER trains.

Also on the shorter routes taken by the Intercités trains, you might only save a few euros if you book in advance, compared to the price you would pay last minute at the station.

Take the Ouigo trains:

On some routes Ouigo trains can be the cheapest option of all - though be aware that journeys by Ouigo trains don't usually offer an exact like-for-like comparison with journeys by standard inOui TGV trains.

Back to the list of questions.

What do I need to look out for if I want to travel at the cheapest price possible on French train journeys?

(1)
 The booking window:

Tickets for TGV (inOui), Intercités (IC) and TER trains can be booked online from 3 months ahead of the travel date - USUALLY*

*OUI.SNCF IS CURRENTLY RUNNING A WINTER PROMOTION AND IS SELLING TICKETS FOR JOURNEYS BY InOUI TGV TRAINS & ON INTERNATIONAL EXPRESS TRAINS FOR TRAVEL UNTIL MARCH 12TH.

This ticket booking window can be shorter than 3 months ahead if you won't be travelling on one of the main, popular routes.

Also if you want to travel after the second weekend in December, and will be SEARCHING for tickets in mid- September - late October, then it's likely not all trains will be available.
They won't be placed on sale until the new timetable is confirmed.

If you can't find a particular train service, then it may have been taken off sale due to works on the line.

(2) The cheapest tickets:

(1) The most heavily discounted tickets are the 'Non-Exchangeable' tickets - which are also known as ‘Prems’ tickets.

Limited numbers of these are place on sale for MOST TGV (inOui) and longer distance journeys by Intercités (IC) train - but they must be booked at least 10 days ahead of your travel date.

Also it’s worth checking the T&Cs when booking these tickets as they live up to their name.

They can only be used on the specific train departure you select when booking and they can’t then be exchanged OR refunded if you then subsequently change your travel plans -  OR if you miss the train you were booked on to due to circumstances outside of the control of SNCF.

(2) Though after the booking period booking period for 'Prems' tickets has closed, Oui.SNCF offers '#TGVpop' tickets on a (very) few select departures per day.

So it's worth checking HERE, to see if any last minute bargains are available on the route you will be taking.

(3) Special 'ECO' tickets are made available on some Intercités departures, they cost from only €15, but can only be booked on the French language version of the Oui.SNCF website.

(3) Choosing your travel time:

The most heavily discounted (cheapest) 'Prems' tickets inevitably sell out fastest on the most popular departures, so you can often save by taking alternative earlier/later departures..

When looking up journeys on Oui-SNCF the cheapest price available per travel date is clearly shown - find out more HERE.

(4) Choosing your travel date:

SNCF applies an airline style pricing policy to TGV (inOui) journeys and the longer distance Intercités journeys - meaning that prices can be more expensive at times of likely high demand.

So it CAN be worth avoiding:

(i) Travelling to/from Paris on the afternoon/evenings on Fridays and Sundays.

(ii)Travelling long distance on routes to/from the coast on summer weekends (Friday - Sunday) particularly in August.

(iii) Long distance trains in winter towards ski resorts after midday on Friday and back from the ski resorts on Sunday afternoons/evenings.

(iv) Summer journeys on Friday-Sunday on routes that have comparatively infrequent TGV and Intercités services.

However, working out which alternative dates have cheaper tickets available, is comparatively easy to do when booking on Oui.SNCF.

(5) Take the TER trains:

On many railway routes in France you can choose between travelling by TER train or a TGV (inOui) train or a TER or an Intercités  (IC train)

If you're NOT booking at least 10 days ahead, then it's highly likely that tickets for the TER trains will be cheaper than the TGV (inOui) and IC trains

If you will be looking last minute at the station, the TER trains will definitely be (much) cheaper.

However, note that if you book a ticket that's valid for a TER train service, then you CAN'T use it to travel on a TGV or the Intercités trains which have compulsory reservations.

(6) Take the Ouigo trains:

These trains are bargain priced high speed TGV trains - more info is available here.

Though be aware that journeys by Ouigo trains don't offer an exact like-for-like comparison with journeys by standard (inOui) TGV trains.

Back to the list of questions.

Can I save money by taking the TER trains?

On routes on which you have a choice between travelling by TER train or a TGV (inOui) train or a TER or an Intercités  (IC train), limited numbers of discounted tickets are almost always available on the TGV and IC trains.

These discounted tickets on the TGV and IC trains are usually cheaper than the TER trains because tickets for the journeys by TER train aren't discounted.

So if you're booking more than 10 days ahead it's likely that TER trains WON'T save you money - when the alternative express trains services are an option.

Although if instead, you will be looking last minute at the station, the TER trains will definitely be (much) cheaper.

However, on routes on which TER trains are the only option, there are no 'savings' to be made because tickets for TER trains aren't discounted.

Back to the list of questions.

Can I save money by booking idTGV tickets?

 idTGV tickets have been discontinued.

Back to the list of questions.

What if I want the option of being able to change my travel plans when booking French train tickets?

Three primary types of standard tickets are available for French train journeys;

(i) Non Exchangeable – also known as ‘Prems’ tickets.

DON'T book these if you want to have the flexibility of changing your travel plans - they live up to their name and can't be exchanged or refunded if YOU subsequently change your travel plans.

However, SNCF will allow these tickets to be refunded if IT subsequently has to cancel your train service, due to strike action etc.

As they are train specific when commencing a journey it is your responsibility to be at the station in time to board the departure you are booked on to.

You cannot swap these tickets to a later departure because a Metro train broke down or a taxi got stuck in a jam.

(ii) 'Exchangeable - Conditions Apply' also known as ‘Leisure’ tickets.

Again the clue is the name - you cannot refund these tickets if YOU subsequently change your travel plans, but SNCF will allow these tickets to be refunded if IT subsequently has to cancel your train service, due to strike action etc.

However, if you book this type of ticket you can USUALLY use them for alternative departure on your travel date if you pay a fee - to 'exchange' the tickets for another service.

So if you have booked these 'Leisure' tickets and your taxi does get stuck in a jam on the way to the station etc, then you won't have to buy new tickets - at a much more expensive price (see below)

This ability to 'Exchange'  also applies if you also have booked these tickets and then subsequenly want to change your time of departure..

A sliding scale of prices is also applied to these 'Leisure' tickets - so they're cheaper if you book ahead.

Note that when the 'Non Exchangeable' tickets have sold out, or been taken off sale, then these tickets become the cheapest option for journeys by TGV (inOui) train or Intercités  (IC) trains.

(iii) Most Flexible – These are the most expensive tickets, but they can be exchanged OR refunded free of charge if you subsequently change your travel plans.

When booking these tickets for journeys by TGV (inOui) train or Intercités trains, they are departure and seat specific.

Therefore if you want to take an alternative departure on your travel date, you can't just hop on any train - you will need to stop by a ticket desk and change your booking to an alternative departure.

If you will be booking last minute at the station for journeys by TGV (inOui) or IC/Intercités trains, then the price you will pay is the price charged for the Most Flexible tickets - as these tickets are NOT discounted.

Back to the list of questions.

What if I'm booking tickets for a French train journey which involves a change of train?

If you will be looking up a journey on Oui.SNCF make sure you un-tick the 'Direct Trains' box.

Also be aware that some of the connections between trains on multi-train end-to-end journeys can be tightly timed.

Despite this, the Oui.SNCF website does not give an option to extend connecting times between trains when looking up journeys. 

More info on how to check the connecting time between trains is available on our Oui.SNCF booking guide - which you can find HERE.

Connections between trains are NOT guaranteed, but tickets will be valid on the next alternative train to depart - even if you are travelling with 'Non-Exchangeable' tickets.

If you are connecting into a TGV or Intercités train, so have seats reserved on that train, you will need to stop by the ticket desk in order to have your reservations re-issued for a later departure.

Though at times when multiple train delays are occurring you can have your ticket 'validated' at an 'Accueil' information desk and show it to the conductor when boarding your next train - though if you do this seats WON'T be guaranteed.

Back to the list of questions.

What about seat reservations on French trains?

Reservations will automatically be included and specific seats assigned when booking tickets for journeys by standard TGV (inOui) trains.

If you book 2nd class tickets on Oui.SNCF you can choose seating preferences such as window or aisle, but if you're booking 1st class, you'll have the option to choose specific seats on a seating plan.

If TGV Atlantique and TGV Sud Est trains are being used for your selected departure, you can choose seats which face forwards, but this facility is not available on departures by TGV Duplex trains.

If you will be travelling by IC (Intercités) trains, then only on these routes reservations will automatically be included and specific seats assigned

On your ticket(s) 'voiture' = coach/carriage number, ‘Place Assise’ = the seat number.

However, reservations are optional when travelling on other IC train routes - including all IC trains from/to Paris Est, Paris Nord and Paris St. Lazare.

Reservations are not possible on TER trains, so you won’t guarantee a seat on a TER train by booking tickets online.

Back to the list of questions.

What about child tickets on French trains?

Children aged under 4 travel for free (but you need to travel with them on your lap) and children aged 4-11 pay half fare on all trains.

However, for journeys by 'InOui' TGV trains, the half fare rate is applied to the more expensive 'Leisure' tickets, even when cheaper adult 'Prems' tickets are still available for a journey.

The adult rate is charged for all travellers aged 12 and over.

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BOOKING TICKETS ONLINE FOR TRAIN JOURNEYS TO and FROM FRANCE:

What if I want to buy tickets for international train journeys from and to France?

Oui.SNCF, Loco2 and Trainline Europe all sell tickets for international train journeys from and to France - including many journeys that require changes of train outside of France.

Although it can be worth comparing prices with alternative ticket agents, as follows - the links to all of these ticket booking services can be found below.

To/from Belgium AND journeys by Eurostar and Thalys trains - check B-Europe,

To/from Germany - check DB Bahn

Check Eurostar prices on Eurostar.com

Oui.SNCF does not sell tickets for the Thello day or night trains from and to Italy.

Trenitalia does not sell tickets for the TGV France-Italy services.

Back to the list of questions.

USING RAIL PASSES ON TRAINS WITHIN and TO and FROM FRANCE:

What do I need to know about using Eurail and InterRail Passes in France?

You can find all you to know on our dedicated guide to using rail passes within France AND on trains from and to France, which is available HERE.

Back to the list of questions.


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