Saving money on train travel in France

Buy tickets before you board

Purchase all tickets—or, if you're using a railpass, any necessary seat reservations (usually $10 to $80)—before boarding the train. You can usually buy any of this from the conductor once on board, but you'll pay a stiff penalty, often of 50% to 100%.

If you're buying your tickets as you go, any required seat reservations will be included in the ticket cost. If, however, you're using some form of railpass, you will still need to purchase a reservation for any train marked with an "R" on the schedule (most stations display big schedule posters).

Always travel second class

I almost forgot to include this tip because it seems so obvious.

Some cars on a train are first class (with seats that are ever-so-slightly wider and cushier), some are second class.

All cars in that train will get to the destination at the same time. Why pay 40% to 70% more for a bit more seat padding?

Unfortunately, many adult railpasses are only offered in a first class version (though you can get youth passes in second class).

Luckily, a first class ticket entitles you to sit anywhere on the train, so if you're taking an overnight run you can still use your first class ticket for the ride but book a couchette bunk in second class (much cheaper than a first class sleeping berth)—though the conductor will probably look at you funny.

Pocket your railpass on short trips

If you're using a railpass, calculate quickly how much per day it's costing you.

Then, every time you go to get on a train, pop over to the automated ticket machine (or, if lacking, up to a ticket agent) and check out the price for the trip you're about to take.

If it costs less than a day's use of the railpass—and you plan to travel more days than the pass is going to cover—just buy the ticket and save the railpass day for a long-haul, more expensive trip where you're really going to need it.

Discounts for youths and seniors

The only standard discount on French trains is for kids under 12, who generally ride for 30% to 50% off.

Otherwise, if you want a discount, you're going to have to buy an annual discount card for €30 to €66. As the savings can be substantial—anywhere from 25% to 60% off full fares—this can actually make sense if you'll be staying in France long enough and taking enough train rides in-country (though also look into railpasses).

  • Adults: The Carte Escapades costs €66 per year and gets you 40% to 50% off advance purchase tickets in 1st class, 25% off last-minute tickets. (www.escapades-sncf.com)
  • Under 26: The Carte 12–25 costs €50 per year and gets you 60% off TGV and Intercité trains and 25% off all other trains and last-minute TGV purchases. (www.12-25-sncf.com)
  • Over 60: The Carte Senior costs €30 per year and gets you 40%–50% off in first class for advance bookings, up to 25% off for last-minute tickets. (www.senior-sncf.com)

All this means means you have to figure out all the trains you expect to take, visit RailEurope.com to find ticket prices, then do (ugh) math to ballpark whether the a dicount card would cost less than the collective discount it would get you on the total amount of money you expect to spend on rail travel, and hence would be worth your while.

If it is, you can buy such cards from the ticket agents at most major rail stations.

 

 

 



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The high-speed Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel gets you from London to Paris or to Brussels in just 2:40
The high-speed trip on the Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel is a 45-minute non-event in darkness—but, hey, you sure do get to Paris in no time. Still, I kinda miss watching the white cliffs of Dover recede into the distance whilst chugging across the English Channel aboard a slow ferry (though I don't miss the ten hours it took to get to Paris that way).