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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.

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 the €20 fee can seemingly be the only fee available on the most popular trains.
Seat reservations can usually be booked up to 3 months ahead of the travel date.

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:

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, this €2 fee can now be avoided if you have valid Eurail or InterRail passes by booking reservations for journeys by TGV trains within France on B-Europe, the international online booking service provided by Belgium's national rail company.
Though on B-Europe reservations cannot be booked for the Intercités routes which also have mandatory reservations.
Also for journey options which involves two TGV trains, the fee will need to be paid per train.

It's 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 with no booking fees on the OuiSNCF (French national railways) and RailEurope websites has been removed, though hopefully it's only a temporary measure, in response to the pandemic.

Four things worth knowing:

Being aware of these four hings can be a big stress savers

(1) Whether you can book a reservation online can be hit and miss.
In particular check the price of the reservation you will be shown on Oui.SNCF or Rail Europe for each specific departure
If it's NOT €10 or €20, then what's being offered for sale ISN'T a rail pass reservation.

(2) The availability of rail pass reservations can still be limited.
Something to be aware of when planning itineraries and checking the availability of rail pass reservations on Oui.SNCF, is that the price of rail pass reservations can be listed, even though they are NOT actually available.
You can subsequently click on the ‘confirm and pay’ (or equivalent purchase buttons) and be told that the reservation you have seen listed is in fact sold out.

In these scenarios Oui.SNCF will usually offer alternative journeys, which have different departure/arrival times and can be slower.
This particularly matters if you will booking reservations and then connecting into another train, which also requires compulsory reservation - a Eurostar, Thalys, AVE etc.

So book your TGV reservation FIRST; particularly before you book any accommodation for the night at destinations, which are dependent on taking a particular train.
Don’t assume that because you have seen the price listed, that you can come back and book the reservation later.

(3) For holders of 1st class passes, the changes make 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.

(4) However the InterCités trains on the routes that DO have compulsory reservations are now best avoided, when 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.

Train services which don't require reservations:

You can use a rail pass on any TER train service at no additional charge; the most modern TER trains can be comparatively comfortable compared to 2nd class on TGV trains.

You also don't have to reserve on the InterCités trains that operate to/from Paris Nord, Paris Est and Paris St Lazare.
And some other routes Intercités routes that don't travel from/to Paris including Nantes <> Bordeaux.

Two 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

Rail passes CAN now also be used on Thello night trains.

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

Booking the international reservations:

Oui.SNCF no longer seemingly sells rail pass reservations for international trains from and to France online; EXCEPT for the TGV France-Italy services.

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 on 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.

Eurostar train reservations can also be booked with Eurostar.

Or by 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 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 Oui.SNCF or by the RENFE (Spanish Railways booking service), so the booking options for rail pass users on these trains are:
Book at a station in France at a 'SNCF boutique'
OR
You can also book reservations online by using the Eurail reservation service or the InterRail reservation service - 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 will be travelling through Germany prior to arriving in France, you can book reservations for these trains at the Reisezentrum travel desks at the major stations.

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 either of these trains, look up the ticket prices for journeys by these trains on Oui.SNCF - particularly if you want to book the reservations online with Eurail or InterRail
It's highly likely that you will save money if you book tickets instead.

When looking up the reservation fees for a journey between Paris and Basel on Oui.SNCF, you will probably see journey options which involve paying a €10 fee for taking a TGV from Paris to Mulhouse or Strasbourg and then connecting for a TER train on to 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:

Rail pass reservations for these trains can be booked on the Oui.SNCF website.
But 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.

At weekends there are also alternatives available to paying the fees on the TGV France - Italy trains when travelling to Milan and Torino/Turin from Lyon and 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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