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Train Ticket Guides Using Rail Passes in and to/from France

Using Rail Passes in and to/from France

How to use Eurail and InterRail passes on French train journeys and on international trains to and from France

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Welcome to our guide to using InterRail and Eurail Passes which are valid for train travel in France
Having used rail passes to travel more than 1500 of kilometres around France by train in the past two years, we've anticipated the questions you are most likely to have - we hope.

So either use the menu to jump straight to the info you need, or spend 10 mins (ish) reading all of our insights.
They should save you save you time, money and confusion!
Using Eurail and InterRail passes in France

Reservations for journeys within France:

The 'rules' for how rail passes can be used and booked on the international trains FROM/TO FRANCE can be different, hence the info dedicated to international trains on the Content menu.

Four things worth knowing:

Being aware of these three things can be a big stress savers

(1) The availability of rail pass reservations can still be limited at times of high travel demand.
There is a limited number of seats set aside for rail pass users on TGV, Eurostar and Thalys services, so it's not unknown for rail pass reservations to completely sell out months in advance, on popular trains.
This particularly applies when travelling direct to resort locations on Fridays to Sunday and around national holidays.

If you can't find a reservation on the direct TGV train, check to see if you can find a reservation to a city along the route, from where you can continue a journey by the TER trains, which don't require a reservation.
If reservations are sold out on trains to the the Cote D'Azur, check if you book to Marseille, or if you can't book direct to Biarritz, you'll probably be able to book to Bordeaux.

(2) If you will be making multiple TGV journeys then 1st class passes better value for money than 2nd class passes.
Paying a €10 reservation fee for a long TGV journey in Premiére class is a good deal; if you can find it online.

(3) However the InterCités trains on the routes which have compulsory reservations are now best avoided, if alternative train services available
Why pay a fee of up to €20 to travel in 2nd class on what can be comparatively shabby trains for journeys such as Marseille to Montpellier, when taking a TER train for the same journey, won’t cost anything extra at all.

(4) Users of InterRail and Eurail passes used to be able to hop on any TER service but that is sadly no longer the case, as this still the situation on only some TER services.

On routes between Paris and both Normandy and the Hauts-de-France region the TER trains now have a mandatory reservation fee of €1.50, which is only available from station ticket counters.
So this reservation fee is now charged when travelling by TER train from Paris to the likes of Amiens, Bayeux, Boulogne, Caen, Cherbourg, Rouen and Le Havre.

As of July 1st 2022,two regions of France have declared that Eurail and InterRail passes will no longer be valid at all on TER trains for journeys wholly within these regions, if the rail passes have been purchased after July 1st.
Though it seems as though Eurail and InterRail may be trying to resolve this.

The two regions are

Affected routes, for travel in either direction, include:
Nimes -Montpellier - Beziers - Narbonne - Perpignan - Cerbere; for connections over the Spanish border
Toulouse - Carcassonne - Narbonne - Perpignan - Cerbere
Marseille - Toulon - St Raphael - Cannes - Antibes - Nice
Grasse - Cannes - Antibes - Nice - Monte-Carlo - Menton - Ventimille / Ventigmlia, which is currently the only train service which crosses the Franco / Italian border on the Mediterranean coast.

Therefore a the current time, the only means of avoiding having to buy separate tickets on the Marseille → Nice and Nimes → Perpignan routes, for future purchases of rail pass users, is to pay the reservation fees and travel by the TGV trains.

Mandatory reservations and their cost:

Reservations prior to boarding are compulsory on all journeys by TGV InOui trains - irrespective of the length of journey or whether the route between the stations is on a high speed line.
However, rail passes CANNOT be used for journeys by the alternative, low cost, more basic TGV service, the Ouigo trains (more info about this is available below).

Reservations are also compulsory on these three routes/journeys by Intercités trains:
(1) Bordeaux - Toulouse - Montpellier - Marseille
(2) Paris Austerlitz – Limoges – Brive – Toulouse
(3) Paris Bercy – Nevers – Vichy – Clemont Ferrand

If you have a valid Eurail or InterRail pass, the reservation fees for the TGV trains and these Intercités services start at €10; irrespective of whether you have a 2nd class or 1st class pass.
So 1st class passes can be better value IF you will be making multiple long distance journeys.
However, the fee rises to €20 if the €10 reservations are sold out; and then up to €30 if the €20 fee sells out; and these €20-30 fees can seemingly be the only fee ever made available on the most popular trains.
Seat reservations can usually be booked up to 4 months ahead of the travel date.

On routes between Paris and both Normandy and the Hauts-de-France region the TER trains now have a mandatory reservation fee of €1.50, which is only available from station ticket counters.
So this reservation fee is now charged when travelling by TER train from Paris to the likes of Amiens, Bayeux, Boulogne, Caen, Cherbourg, Rouen and Le Havre.

If you will be planning a rail pass itinerary that includes travelling in France, what's good to know, is that on most long distance rail routes in France, you won't have a choice of alternative direct train services, on which you can avoid these reservation fees.
This is particularly the case when travelling to and from Paris so it can be tricky to avoid having to pay rail pass reservation fees when travelling long distances, unless you are prepared to make connections AND travel on slower trains.

Booking the reservations:

When booking Eurail or InterRail passes you can opt to use a mobile pass or a paper pass.

Regardless of whether you opt for a mobile or paper pass, you can book reservations online by using the Eurail reservation service or the InterRail reservation service though you will be charged a booking fee of €2 per reservation, per person.

However, SMTJ's recommendation, for the time being, is to opt for the paper version of the pass when travelling in France.
For these two reasons:

  1. The €2 fee can be avoided* if you opt to use the paper versions of valid Eurail or InterRail passes by booking reservations with B-Europe for journeys by TGV trains within France; B-Europe is the international online booking service provided by Belgium's national rail company.
    *= Though B-Europe will only offer 'mobile' tickets as a reservation booking option and it imposes a €4 surcharge for booking a mobile reservation
    Using B-Europe isn't an option if you opt for a mobile pass; and yes if you then use a paper pass to book with B-Europe, you'll have a 'mobile' reservation.

Though on B-Europe reservations cannot be booked for the Intercités routes which also have mandatory reservations.
Also for end-to-end journey options which involve taking two TGV trains, the fee will need to be paid per train.

  1. SMTJ has been made aware of instances when reservations are not available on the InterRail/Eurail reservation services, but can be booked on B-Europe.

Before committing to a pass it's worth confirming whether the limited numbers of rail pass reservations are still available for the trains you want to take, and these can be looked up on B-Europe prior to booking your Eurail or InterRail pass.
Avoid a scenario in which you:

  • Check the availability on B-Europe
  • Book a mobile version of the pass
  • Can't then find the reservations on the InterRail/Eurail service
  • But also can't now book them with B-Europe.

Booking on B-Europe

B-Europe is pretty much straightforward to use, except for the one quirky feature illustrated below.
Booking TGV reservations for Eurail and InterRail with BEurope
This may be to do with SMTJ's settings on the PC, but we had to enter the county of residency manually, B-Europe initially pre-populated it, but it wouldn't stick.

The ability to book reservations rail pass reservations with no booking fees isn't available on SNCF Connect, the new ticketing service launched by the French national rail operator; and the RailEurope websites have also removed the InterRail/Eurail reservation service.

Summer 2022

It's becoming evident that trains on some routes with mandatory reservations are selling out earlier than usual, particularly on popular routes to summer holiday destinations between now and the end of August.
Many French people are clearly choosing to staycation and to travel to resort towns by train

Because many trains are already fully booked by ticket purchasers this is inevitably impacting on the availability of the reservations available to Euraal and InterRail pass users.
This situation is outside the control of Eurail and Interrail, it doesn't set timetables or ticket / reservation allocations.

The situation is particularly acute on Saturdays on departures before 15:00, so avoid that day if possible or plan routes so that you can travel later in the day.

On the high speed routes between Bruxelles, Lille, Paris and coastal destinations, if you have to travel on a Saturday be open to the possibility of alternatives to taking direct trains.
Check if reservations are available on TGV trains to the likes of Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille or Montpellier and then continue a journey by TER trains, on which advance bookings aren't available to non rail-pass users.

Booking in France

If you wait until you're at the station in France, the SNCF Travel Boutiques will sell reservations for advance travel and the ticket counters will sell reservations for that day.
Rail pass reservations are also available for journeys within France from the newer type of white ticket machines.
Though inevitably if you wait until you are in France to book, you're more likely to find that the €10 reservations have sold out and will be asked to pay the €20 fee.

So paying €10 + €2 on the Eurail and InterRail reservation services, could be a money saver, as well as giving peace of mind.

Train services which don't require reservations:

You can use a rail pass on most but not all TER train service at no additional charge; the most modern TER trains can be comparatively comfortable compared to 2nd class on TGV trains.

Provence-Alps-Cote D'Azur and [Occitanie](https://www.sncf-reseau.com/fr/carte/occitanie/carte-reseau-ferre-occitanie-3bold text) which are the two regions on the Mediterranean coastline of France, have now introduced new rules which state that Eurail and InterRail passes purchased after July 1st 2022, can no longer be used on the TER trains which operate within the two regions, as well as those which travel over the boundary between them.

TER services are now available on many routes which operate to/from Paris Nord, Paris Est and Paris St Lazare, but a €1.50 mandatory reservation is required on the TER trains between Paris and both Normandy and the Hauts-de-France, the most northerly region in France; and these reservation can only be booked at station ticket counters or advance booking desks.

So users of Eurail and InteRail passes can hop on and off the overwhelming majority of TER trains.

Reservation fees also aren't required on some Intercités routes which don't travel from/to Paris including Nantes <> Bordeaux.

Two other services on which passes can't be used:

(1) Rail passes can't be used on the RER trains in Paris.

(2) InterRail and Eurail passes ALSO cannot be used on Ouigo trains - the low cost, but more basic TGV trains.
This didn't use to be of concern to rail pass users, as Ouigio trains were confined to alternative stations on the edges of cities, so if you wanted to take a TGV train, it always made sense to pay the reservation fee to travel by the TGV InOui services.

Having to take public transport at both ends of a journey AND booking a ticket on a Ouigo train is more expensive than paying for a rail pass reservation fee on a regular TGV InOui train.
However, SNCF has now reorganised its Ouigo services, so that they share some like-for-like routes with the TGV InOui services - as a result many Ouigo trains now arrive at and depart from city centre stations.

Ouigo services now share these routes with TGV InOui services (with more to follow):

  • Paris Gare De Lyon - Lyon St Exupery (Lyon Airport) - Aix-en-Provence TGV - Toulon - St Raphael - Cannes - Antibes - Nice
  • Paris Gare De Lyon - Lyon St Exupery (Lyon Airport) - Avignon TGV - Marseille
  • Lille - Aepoort CDG - Marne la Vallée - Lyon St Exupery (Lyon Airport) - Avignon TGV - Aix-en-Provence TGV - Marseille
  • Paris Est - Lorraine TGV (for Nancy)- Strasbourg
  • Paris Est - Metz and Strasbourg and Nancy
  • Paris Montparnasse - Poitiers - Bordeaux - Toulouse
  • Paris Montparnasse - Nantes and Rennes
  • Paris gare de Lyon - Montpellier via Nimes

If you will be using a 2nd class rail pass to travel in France, this re-organisation of the Ouigo services means that they can be a viable alternative to paying the reservation fee on the TGV InOui services; particularly if you will be taking one of these routes AND using the type of pass restricted to a set number of travel days.

Ticket prices on this Ouigo routes can be as low as €16, so IF you can only find a €20 reservation fee available for a regular TGV InOui train, AND the €16 price is still available for a Ouigo train, not only will you save money, you can also save a day of use on your pass.
OR if the €10 reservation is available for a TGV InOui train, you may still conclude that paying €16 to travel on a Ouigo train is good value for money.
You can use that day your pass is valid for on other more expensive travel days.

If you will be travelling with a 1st class pass, avoid the Ouigio trains.
Paying a €10 or €20 reservation fee to travel in Premiere class on a long journey by TGV France (InOui) train, is better value for money than buying a Ouigo ticket instead.

Reservations for international journeys:

The services with mandatory reservations:

High speed train services provide the majority of the international train services to/from France – including ALL international daytime trains to/from Paris
For rail pass users, the reservation fees for these trains are comparatively expensive - the fees for using TGV trains solely within France are now cheaper.

Example reservation fees:

Eurostar:
Paris – London = €38 1st; €30 2nd

DB-SNCF:
Paris – Frankfurt = €30 1st; €13 2nd

Thalys:

A major recent change is that the rail pass reservation fees on the Thalys trains are now the same price, whether you will be using First or Second class passes.
Though users of Second Class passes will have to travel in Standard Class on the Thalys trains.

In contrast First Class pass users will be offered a choice of seating, depending on availability at the time of booking.
If Premium Class is still available then that will be offered, if reservations are sold out in Premium Class you will be offered Comfort Class (1st class), but if Comfort Class is sold out and Standard Class reservations are still available, you will only be offered seats in Standard Class.

The new fees (in either direction) are:
Paris <> Bruxelles/Antwerp/Liege = €25
Paris<> Aachen/Koln/Dusseldorf/Essen = €30
Paris <> Rotterdam/Schiphol/Amsterdam= €30

Lyria:
Paris – Basel/Geneve/Zurich = €52* 1st; €25 2nd
Marseille/Nice – Geneve = €23 1st; €16 2nd

RENFE - SNCF:
Paris – Barcelona = €48 1st; €34 2nd
Marseille – Madrid = €48* 1st; €34 2nd
Lyon – Barcelona = €26 1st; €19 2nd

*includes complimentary light meal

TGV Bruxelles - France:
Marseille – Brussels = €30 1st; €20 2nd

TGV France/Italy
Paris – Turin/Milan = €45 1st; €31 2nd

The options for avoiding the reservation fees on the most popular routes are shown on this alternative journey guide .

Booking the international reservations:

When booking Eurail or InterRail passes you can opt to use a mobile pass or a paper pass.

Regardless of whether you have opted for a mobile pass or a paper pass you can book the reservations online for any train service from France which has mandatory reservations with Eurail or InterRail; though you will be charged a €2 booking fee per reservation, per person.

For journeys by to and from France by Eurostar to the UK and Thalys trains AND now the TGV Bruxelles/France services, you can book rail pass reservations with B-Europe;
Thalys services can be booked up to 4 months ahead and Eurostar can be booked up to 6 months ahead, with the TGVs between Bruxelles and cities in France, other than Paris, typically bookable from 3 months in advance.

Using B-Europe's reservation service had only been an option for users of paper passes as pass numbers are required when making a booking, but mobile passes don't have them; they're printed on to the paper passes.
But new online services have been launched which enable mobile pass users to obtain the necessary pass numbers.
Eurail mobile pass purchasers can use this pass number generation service; InterRail pass purchasers can this pass number generation service.

Though B-Europe will only offer 'mobile' tickets as a reservation booking option and it imposes a €4 surcharge for booking a mobile reservation.
However, by taking a look at B-Europe you're increasing your options; if you find that reservations for your preferred train aren't available on the Eurail/Interrail reservation services, they may be available on the B-Europe website.

Or be open to the idea of making an indirect journey; it's possible to avoid paying any fees at all when travelling from Paris to Amsterdam or from Paris To Cologne/Koln.

On the DB-SNCF services:

When travelling between Paris and Frankfurt (Main), Stuttgart and Munchen/Munich.
Rail pass reservations for these trains are also no longer sold online by DB, so the booking options for rail pass users on these trains are:

  • Book at a station in France at a 'SNCF boutique', or
  • Book at the Reisezentrum travel desks in Germany, or
  • You can also book the reservations online with Eurail or InterRail; though you will be charged a €2 booking fee per reservation, per person.
    Bookings should open 4 months ahead of the travel date.

Or if you are happy to make slower journeys with more connections, you can avoid paying the fees, by taking these alternative journey options when travelling from Paris to Berlin, or from Paris to Hamburg, or from Paris to Munich.

On the RENFE-SNCF trains between France and Spain:

Rail pass reservations for these trains are not sold online by SNCF Connect or by the RENFE (Spanish Railways booking service), so the booking options for rail pass users on these trains are:

Though if you can find a €10 reservation fee on the necessary TGV trains, you can save money by making an indirect journey when travelling from travel from Paris to Barcelona.
There are also options for avoiding paying any fees travelling to Barcelona from Lyon and from Marseille.

On the Lyria train services:

Before committing to paying a rail pass reservation fee for these trains, look up the ticket prices for journeys by these trains on SNCF Connect; particularly if you want to book the reservations online with Eurail or InterRail
It's fairly likely that you will save money if you book tickets instead.

If you have opted to use a paper pass, when looking up the reservation fees for a journey between Paris and Basel on B-Europe, you will probably see journey options which involve paying a €10 fee for taking a TGV between Paris and Mulhouse or Strasbourg and then connecting for a TER train to or from Switzerland.

But it is possible to avoid paying fees at all if you follow these alternative journey options from Paris to Basel and Zurich and from Paris to Interlaken.

On the TGV France-Italy services:

These trains have particularly expensive rail pass reservation fees, they're more than twice as expensive than the reservation fee for a TGV journey within France!

So, if you are will be using a Eurail or InterRail pass and a journey between northern Italy and Paris is on your itinerary; check the price being charged for a point-2-point journey, before booking the reservation fee.
If your pass is limited to a set number of travel days, use your pass for another day of travel, such as a day trip from Paris.

Money saving tips:

You can now usually save money by taking a TGV train to/from a station near a border and then continuing/commencing a journey by international local/regional trains – on which rail pass fees don’t apply.
Cross – border routes on which fairly frequent local/regional trains operate include:

  • Lille – Gent – Antwerpen (Belgian IC trains, change of train may be required in Tournai)
  • Strasbourg – Offenburg
  • Strasbourg – Colmar – Mulhouse – Basel (TER trains)

Cross border routes with a less frequent local/regional train service include:

  • Lyon – Bellegarde – Geneve (TER trains)
  • Valence – Grenoble – Chambéry – Aix-les-Bains – Bellegarde – Geneve (TER trains)
  • Narbonne – Perpignan – Cerbere – Port Bou (connect for Barcelona) (TER trains)
Author

Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.

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