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these infallible techniques to travel cheaper

Along with accommodation, transport is often the most expensive part of a trip to France. Our tips for traveling by train without breaking the bank.

To cross France, the train is the most ecological means of transport, often the fastest, but sometimes also the most expensive. During busy periods (holidays, school holidays, etc.), the price of a TGV ticket is sometimes beyond belief. Beyond common sense practices, common with air transport (traveling during off-peak periods, anticipating reservations, etc.), here are our seven tips for traveling by train without breaking the bank.

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Capped prices with the Avantage card

Tired of spending €300 for a Paris-Marseille round trip? Holders of the SNCF Avantage card, in addition to benefiting from a 30% reduction on their tickets, have since June 2021 benefited from capped prices on second class journeys on the TGV inOui. It is the guarantee of never paying more than 39 € for less than 1h30 of journey, 59 € between 1h30 and 3 hours and 79 € beyond 3 hours, whatever the day of departure and the time of booking . A particularly welcome advantage in times of high affluence, especially during major holiday departures. This card, valid for one year and available in three profiles (Youth, Adult and Senior), is sold for €49 (or €25 during Black Friday, at the end of November).

Book when sales open

To benefit from call prices (those promised by advertisements), only one solution: anticipate. Better, reserve the day of the opening of the sales. Several times a year, SNCF opens trains for reservation for the coming months. For the holiday season, for example, sales generally start in October. Subscribing to the newsletter of the railway companies (SNCF, Eurostar, Thalys, etc.) is a good way to be kept informed. This principle of “first come, first served” considerably increases your chances of finding a ticket at the lowest price, such as a Ouigo trip at 10 €, a Paris-Brussels at 35 € or a Paris-London at 44 €.

Travel more slowly: by TER or Ouigo Classic train

Launched in April 2022, the classic Ouigo Trains connect Paris to Lyon and Nantes twice as slow as the TGV. Eric PIERMONT / AFP

If the price of TGV tickets fluctuates according to several criteria (occupancy rate, day of departure, etc.), this is not the case with the TER. Whether you book several weeks or a few minutes before departure, the price (based on the distance travelled) remains the same. Convenient if you leave at the last minute or during a busy period. In addition, TER tickets are generally usable on the day and not on a specific train. A downside: no reservation is mandatory, the seat is not guaranteed.

On some axes, regional trains offer a slower but sometimes cheaper alternative to TGVs. From Paris, you can reach Lille (in 2h10), Le Mans (2h15), Dijon (3 hours), Lyon (5 hours) and Strasbourg (5 hours) without change. Regional discount cards allow you to use these TER trains with discounts of up to 60%. And in addition, some companions can benefit from the same advantages.

For your getaways, some regions offer packages including travel by TER and an activity. For example, Hauts-de-France offers a Baie de Somme pack for €27 (or €11 for children under 12), including a round trip by TER (including from Paris) and a ticket valid for two days in the historic trains of the Baie de Somme. The Centre-Val-de-Loire region offers a Château de Chambord package including the train, shuttle and entry to the estate (€45 from Paris).

Another solution on the Paris-Lyon and Paris-Nantes axes: take the classic Ouigo Train, launched in April. These trains, which reuse old Corail cars, use conventional lines where the speed is limited to 160 km/h. The journey is therefore twice as long as by TGV: allow four hours for Paris-Nantes or five hours for Paris-Lyon. Established between €10 and €30 depending on the day and the distance, the prices are fixed regardless of when the reservation is made, so that all passengers on the same train pay the same price, even at the last minute.

For young people and seniors: unlimited travel with the Max offer

Offered since 2017 to young people aged 16 to 27 inclusive, the Max offer has been available to over 60s since April. For €79 per month, this subscription subject to a minimum commitment of three months allows unlimited travel on board TGV inOui and Intercités with compulsory reservation. Suffice to say that it can be profitable from the first trip. But you have to be flexible, as the offer is only valid from Monday to Friday, outside peak periods. In addition, the number of seats allocated to Max subscribers is limited per train.

Another offer for young people: thanks to the Pass Jeunes TER de France, set up in the summer of 2020, travelers aged 12 to 25 inclusive can use all TER trains in France unlimited for €29 per month in July and august.

Play on ticket flexibility

Are you hesitating between several travel dates? One solution is to book several tickets on different dates, even if it means canceling them later to keep only one. This practice of trip stacking (literally “travel stacking”) took off at the height of the Covid-19 crisis thanks to flexible cancellation policies put in place by tourism players, including SNCF. Travelers who have purchased a TGV inOui or Intercités ticket can in fact be reimbursed free of charge or with proof up to three days before departure, regardless of the fare chosen. At Eurostar, tickets can be exchanged free of charge up to D-7. At Thalys, those acquired before June 27, 2022 can be exchanged until the time of departure. Something to reassure the most undecided.

In Europe, book on foreign sites

The SNCF Connect site offers quite a few international journeys apart from the trains that the company operates itself. The best if you plan to travel to/from abroad is to book directly with foreign companies (Deutsche Bahn, Renfe, SNCB, CFF…). On the Deutsche Bahn website, it is possible to find journeys between Paris and any German city from around sixty euros. To take the Paris-Vienna night train, use the official Nightjet website, where the offer and the various fares are better detailed. Another solution for your international journeys: go through booking platforms like Trainline or Omio, which have the advantage of comparing the offers of hundreds of public or private railway (and also coach) companies all over Europe.

Use the price calendar

Visualize at a glance the best fares for an entire month and the cheapest date on which to travel: this will soon be possible again thanks to the price calendar. Offered on the old Oui.SNCF site, it has disappeared from SNCF Connect to the chagrin of users who are demanding its return. This feature (currently only available on the Ouigo and Eurostar sites) should reappear”by summer“, promises the company.

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