How-to: Booking French Trains (RailEurope vs SNCF)
Why you don’t want to book trains using RailEurope.com
Pros: RailEurope.com is a good resource for researching entire rail network in Europe and is the only place to book a multiday rail pass that covers numerous countries and service providers
Cons: If just booking a simple roundtrip or one-way ticket, it can cost 20-40% more than going direct to the train website
When planning our France trip, we needed to book about 3 train tickets to get us from CDG-Bordeaux, Bordeaux-Nantes and then Nantes-Paris. So, when trying to research the best way to book, we checked out all the venues, starting with RailEurope.com.
We were looking at taking the 11h05 train from Bordeaux to Nantes on March 10th– RailEurope is quoting $70.
Ok, let’s buy it:
Ok, still looking good, coming in at $70.
Ok…now the price has jumped to $72 with no explanation about where the extra $2 came from.
Continuing on to book, I select “issue e-tickets” and see in the fine print that Rail Europe is slipping in a $7.95 booking fee.
Ok, well maybe I’ll just have them mailed:
That’s even worse at $18 for fast shipping. So, now the total has jumped by almost 10% to $79.95:
Booking French train company SNCF direct on Voyages-SNCF.com
Pros: You can see discounted and promo fares
Cons: If you click “English” on Voyages-SNCF.com, it forwards you to RailEurope! Discounted fares might be more restrictive
Head to Voyages-SNCF.com, when prompted select “Other Countries (EUR)” to display in English and ticket collection country as “France” to show you the best prices. If you select either USA or UK as your country, the website will forward you to RailEurope.com! For the exact same train, we’re getting quotes of 37.30 eur (≈ $48.50 US), which is a discounted rate not even available on RailEurope. Now, the discounted rate comes with a more strict exchange policy, so, for the purposes of comparing apples to apples, we’ll use the 49.70 eur rate (≈ $64.70 US) which has identical exchange policies to the Rail Europe ticket.
On to the next screen to book it. I selected “e-ticket” and then proceed to payment. The grand total comes out to 49.70 eur (≈ $64.70 US), no hidden fees or surprises.
This equals a discount of $79.95 – $64.70 = $15.25 saved, nearly 20% off by using Voyages-SNCF.com. And, you’re booking directly with the company, skipping the middleman so, in theory, any changes or refunds should be much easier. If you take into account that the ticket I actually booked was the 37.30 eur ($48.50 US) rate, then the savings were more like $79.95 – $48.50 = $31.45 off, a savings of almost 40%.
BOTTOM LINE: The more sites you check, the better for shopping train and airline tickets, but, in this case, it nearly always pays to shop directly with the issuing authority.