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Purchasing TGV Tickets Online

Kevin Widrow

Types of Tickets

SNCF sells various types of tickets for the TGV. The list below will (hopefully) help you unravel the mysteries thereof:

"NORMAL" Tickets

These are the standard full-fare tickets. Prices will vary depending on whether or not you are traveling at peak times. These tickets can be purchased at any train station in France or online. If purchased online, you must pick them up at the train station (by showing the credit card you used to make the purchase) or you can have them delivered to an address in France or many other countries (with the exception of North and South America, Australia, NZ and Asia). These tickets are fully refundable and the times and dates can be changed, so this is the way to go if you are unsure about your exact travel plans.

PREM Tickets

These are discounted fares (as much as 75%). They are available either online or at the train station 14 to 90 days before your travel date. The discount can change wildly from day to day or even hour to hour. The best deals are usually found by buying PREMs as far in advance (90 days) as possible. You may have to check back frequently to find the best deals, or be willing to travel at less convenient times. But the savings can be considerable. I've seen one-way tickets from Paris to Avignon, for example, as cheap as 20 euro, vs. a Normal ticket price of 80 euro.

Note that PREM fares are non-refundable and cannot be changed. If purchased online, you can print the tickets out on your computer or opt to have them delivered to your home (see above).

iDTGV Tickets

Available only recently, these tickets can only be purchased online and are heavily discounted, often more than PREMs. They can be purchased up to four months before your date of travel. You must print them out on your computer and they are not reimbursable and cannot be changed.

You have a choice amongst two types of train compartments: iDzen and iDzap. Zen is a compartment where noise is to be kept to a minimum (no cell phones, screaming kids, etc.). Zap is for those searching anti-Zen. There are also special services (such as DVD rentals) on offer.

Special Fares

There are all sorts of annual cards which offer discounts to Seniors, people traveling with kids, people under 25, etc. Ask about them at the train station; you may end up with a good deal.

There are also Last Minute Deals (Offres Derniere Minute) which have rules similar to PREMS and are available only via the SNCF website starting Tuesdays for travel the following week.

Ordering TGV Tickets Online

SNCF (the French National Rail Company) has its own website where you can check schedules and order tickets and even print tickets out on your computer. It can be a quirky site, but with a bit of patience and perhaps a glass or two of red wine, you can make it work for you.

The first thing to note is that SNCF has decided that for certain countries (the US, Canada, Australia, Japan) tickets must be purchased through Rail Europe. This is clearly one way to do it. The advantage of going directly through the SNCF site, however, is that often they have very good deals and discounted fares which are not available elsewhere. So before ordering through Rail Europe, check the SNCF site to comparison shop.

Here are a few pieces of advice to help you navigate through the SNCF site:

  • The SNCF website: http://www.voyages-sncf.com/leisure/fr/launch/home/
  • If you don't speak French, at the bottom of the home page there is a series of small flags which you can click to get the site into various languages.
  • After entering in some preliminary details, you will be asked the infamous question: Quel est le pays de reception ou de retait des billets ? (Country in which the tickets are to be delivered or collected?) North and South America, Australia, NZ and Asia are not listed as choices because SNCF has an arrangement with Rail Europe to act as its agent overseas. Choose France as your country, even if you live in the US, for example.
  • You will be given a list of possible trains sorted by departure times and for each train, a list of available fares. Take care when choosing your train to note the length of the voyage and if there are any transfers. Sometimes the same route can list direct and non-direct trips.
  • Bare in mind the differences in types of tickets (see above). For example, if the discount offered by a PREM or iDTGV is not significant. You are better off paying a bit extra for a Normal fare that is fully refundable.
  • SNCF now offers a trip insurance add-on (for 2 euro per ticket). This covers you in cases of sickness, death in the family, terrorist attack, and other unpleasant stuff. I don't bother with this, but it is a personal choice. And it seems if you choose the insurance, then you cannot print the tickets out online.
  • If and when you make it all the way through the process, make sure to print out the page with your Dossier number on it. This will be critical if you have any problems printing out the ticket, as you will have to use it in any further correspondence. Also, in printing out your ticket, make sure you print one ticket per page only.

Now pat yourself on the back and have a glass of wine!!

Kevin Widrow and his wife Elizabeth run the B&B Mas Perreal in the Luberon, near the village of St. Saturnin les Apt. www.masperreal.com

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