We will be taking trains while in France. We will probably be using the train four times to reach various cities. Is it better to buy a rail pass or simply to buy tickets as we go?
Depending upon the specific cities, it is better to purchase tickets 4 months in advance for best prices.
Point-to-point tickets will almost certainly be cheaper. If you tell us what trips you plan to take, someone here can tell you whether you might save money by buying one or more of the tickets earlier rather than later.
And when your trip is planned for !
Rick has a handy little map in his guidebook to help you decide whether a pass makes sense. You can also check with the Man in Seat 61. You also have decisions to make about what class, what type of train, etc.
Passes are a hassle in France. You still need reservations after buying a pass, and they are not always easy to get, plus they cost 10€ each, which adds up. You are unlikely to be better off with a pass!
Rick's map tends to overstate the cost of point-to-point tickets.
The problem with many of these ticket vs. pass evaluations is that they are generally based upon unrealistically high ticket prices, usually those of eurail.com. If you can consult www.sncf-connect.com/, without being redirected to eurail.com, you will find very inexpensive tickets, particularly when purchased up to 4 months in advance.
Another hidden cost of passes is the reservation fee required to travel on TGVs. Along additional cost is the very limited availability of seats for pass holders, particularly during busy summer travel periods.
There may be somewhere rail passes might be useful. France is just not one of those places.
We bought Eurail global passes for 15 days in 2 months for our trip that starts June 8. We definitely saved money versus the 3 month advance purchase fares I found on SNCF and the Trainline websites. However, most of our trips are long distance. We used the general framework of $40 a day each to decide whether to use a pass or buy single tickets. For our day trip to Giverny, we bought single tickets ($54 for all three r/t) but used the pass for Paris to Avignon (advance purchase 1st class was listed at $421 for the three of us). We are also taking Eurostar to London for $38 w/ pass in 1st class. That was 1/3 of the best advance purchase fare I could find. So, I guess it depends on your itinerary and how you want to travel.
used the pass for Paris to Avignon (advance purchase 1st class was listed at $421 for the three of us)
If you purchase in advance, up to 4 months, first class for 3 from Paris, Gare de Lyon to Avignon is 240€ (which is the price for 16 June).
Thanks, I tried finding fares like that with no luck. Do they get cheaper as dates get closer? Prices for our dates 120 days out were over $400 for non-flex tickets?
The best rail pass is the Global 15 days/two months , non-consecutive, obviously. Still, even better if you qualify as a senior.
Take a couple of night train rides without the extra expense (or luxury) of getting a sleeper or couchette, paying only the night train seat reservation, and you've paid for the Pass and use it on the ICE and TGV.
Very true depending on one's itinerary, length of trip, and the way one travels.
Rob, you are quoting prices in USD: where were you looking for tickets? Some outlets do not show the discounted tickets.
The website provided by Tocard is the one to use. This is the English-language page: https://www.sncf-connect.com/en-en/
If you're seeing prices in dollars, you are probably about to pay too much money. It's a combination of four things:
- It's possible not all departures and ticket types will be listed.
- The third-party may be marking up the prices.
- The third-party may be adding a service charge. (Most do.)
- The third-party is probably not using the-interbank exchange rate, so you may be paying several percent more just for the convenience of seeing the fare in dollars rather than typing "Covert 76.50 eur to usd" into a search engine.
I used both SNCF and Bahn for the continent, and GWR for UK. I compared them with Rail Europe, which was much higher. I ended up buying my short journey tickets on SNCF and GWR directly.
We bought the Eurail Global Pass for the long distance travel since we are in Europe for 42 days and will be taking quite a few long distance trains. Even with the reservation fees in France, the pass saves us money and we get to travel at the times we want. Our rail passes are fully refundable up until the day of travel and seat reservations were 70% refundable. It works for us but I know rail passes are not for everyone. I have used them in Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and the U.K. in the past and always found the flexibility of the pass worth any price difference.
When the Global Senior Pass became valid on the EuroStar, that gave me still more incentive to buy the Pass, not that I needed any such incentive in the first place prior to its validity on the EuroStar as it fits into my travel style and itinerary. For a 42 day trip going to more than a few countries, I definitely would use the Pass, especially for urban centers that are night train hubs. When you purchase the Pass on-line, the price in Euro can be set too.
We had no problems (July 2018) reserving seats on TGV as late as 15 mins before departure. Our earliest was 1 hour before.
The idea of booking tickets 4 months in advance would not gel well with our style of travel. We prefer a pencilled in itinerary and make choices as we go.
The pass allowed us this freedom. Yep, we book accommodation as we go too. Often the night or morning before but sometimes on arrival.
Our French railpass, 2 people 6 days travel in the month was around AUD600 (400ishUS). That worked out at 10 Aussie bucks per day for the month per person = to a coffee and a sandwich. 50 bucks per person per day of travel. Yep you do get stung for a reservation fee on TGV (4 of our 6 trips) but really the cost of our train travel was less than what we spend per month on travel at home.
Thanks, I tried finding fares like that with no luck. Do they get cheaper as dates get closer?
Rob - Ticket prices only increase as any given travel date approaches. That is why it is important to purchase tickets early.
In years past, I also did the reserve as you go approach to train tickets, hotel stays, and even restaurants. This strategy might still work for early spring/late fall travel, but travel has really rebound. For summer months, (other than the August low season in Paris), it will be beneficial to arrange for transportation and hotels as early as possible. You'll pay less, and have a better choice of accommodations.