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Which app do you use for French train tickets and schedules, and why?

I see that SNCF has two official apps on the iPhone,
one called OUI SNCF and one called SNCF Assistant --
both have mostly English display options but the latter is half again as big, file-size-wise, as the former.

Have any of you compared them already --- if so, can you save the rest of us the trouble and let us know your conclusions?

If you've been using one or the other, what's your short review of their benefits over going through the SNCF website or using a kiosk at the station?

As I write this question, I'm recalling how my plans to buy several tickets ahead of time at the SNCF store right by the main plaza (Bellecour, iirc?) in Lyon were thwarted when that store was closed-until-further-notice without google maps being aware of it, thus requiring me to make a detour to the desk at the other main train terminal, where the wait was also half again as long. ha.

Posted by
3628 posts

Oui SNCF is the most useful one, because SNCF Assistant only lets you buy regional train tickets in selected regions - including some tickets that Oui won't sell (!!!), but since regional train tickets are easy to buy from a machine on the day of travel there is no need to bother.

And I find the Oui app easier to use than the website. I travel a lot for work: buying a ticket in the app takes me 1 minute vs several on the website.

Posted by
7444 posts

I wasn’t even aware that you could buy tickets through SNCF Assistant. I thought it was just for checking whether a particular train was running on time, experiencing delays, etc.

Posted by
3628 posts

Kim, living in Paris, this ability is a very useful feature in one case: when you have a valid "Navigo" subscription for the Ile de France region but want to take a regional train further afield, to Chartres for instance, then the SNCF Assistant app will let you buy a ticket from the last station in which your subscription is valid (in the case of Chartres: Rambouillet), whereas otherwise you would have to purchase a ticket in Paris from Paris to Chartres (because you need to stamp those paper tickets). It does not work as well the other way around, because then you have no way to validate your Navigo and can get fined.

Irrelevant to 99.9% of travellers!

Posted by
68 posts

I have the OuiSNCF app on my Android phone and easily booked three trips in November/December.

Now, as my OCD is ramping up I thought I'd print my tickets as a back up. The website will never load my trips using the reference # and last name, it just kicks back to that screen again.

All three of my trips are reflected on my phone but when I hit the button "My e-ticket" or try to use "Display my e-ticket" from within the Journey link the QR code doesn't come up, it's just a white screen. This is really freaking me out!

Are there app issues that I can fix or should I print when I get to my first station?

Thanks in advance!!!!!

Posted by
3628 posts

You still have the reference # in an email somewhere, right? Then it will take 2 minutes to print the ticket at a self-service kiosk at the station. The kiosks are everywhere on the main concourses.
Can't help about app issues.

Posted by
10984 posts

Even if you try to print your tickets from the SNCF website, you can't. I've been trying.

Posted by
68 posts

My email for my Dijon to Lyon trip says that it CANNOT be printed at a kiosk. Anyhoo.... I used a different browser (Edge rather than Chrome) on my laptop and got it to work. I saved and printed all three tickets. The app on my phone just doesn't work.

Posted by
3 posts

Hey @Christine - I had similar issues with both the OUI and the SNCF website. The mobile apps were a little better.

I'm leaving on Saturday for Paris - Bordeaux - Amboise and was also very concerned since I wasn't able to make a small change to my schedule/itinerary. I wound up emailing them that I wanted to cancel all my Oui tickets and I re-purchased them via Trainline.

I found Trainline to be a much more user friendly website that gave me real-time feedback and information. In addition, the Trainline mobile app was great. Highly recommend Trainline and will only use them for future Western continental Europe tickets.

Bon voyage!
Deb

Posted by
69 posts

I agree with Deb--Trainline is the way to go. I've used it for years (when it was called Capitaine) and have never had an issue buying tickets or getting refunds. In fact during the 2020 pandemic I had to cancel my train tickets (Spain) and had no problems whatsoever.

That said, the man in Seat61 guided me to the Comboios de Portugalwebsite for tickets for train travel in Portugal. Apparently one must use this site, others are not valid. That was also a breeze.
When buying train travel in Europe, I always start with the Man in Seat 61 because his site is up-to-date and will give you the skinny on everything you need to know. Then I buy the tickets from Trainline.

Hope that is helpful.

Posted by
2417 posts

According to that guy in seat 61 ...

Buy at www.raileurope.com (formerly Loco2.com). Two young British entrepreneurs wanted to make train tickets easier to buy and started Loco2, although it was acquired by SNCF in 2018 and was rebranded raileurope.com in November 2019. It links directly to SNCF's ticketing system to sell the same tickets as SNCF at the same prices, same lack of any added booking fee or mark-up, same print-your-own or show-on-smartphone tickets. You can pay in €, £ or $. It can also sell forfait Bambin tickets to give your infant under 4 their own reserved seat. Anyone of any nationality can buy tickets at www.raileurope.com and print them out or collect them from any main French station. They ask you to print tickets in A4 size, but if you're American printing tickets on Letter size paper is absolutely fine. However, from September 2019 they charge a small booking fee.

Buy at www.thetrainline.com. Three young French entrepreneurs thought they could sell SNCF tickets better than SNCF themselves - and I think they were right. Original called Capitainetrain.com, it's been acquired by the UK's Trainline.com and is now www.thetrainline.com. Like raileurope.com it connects to SNCF's ticketing system to sell exactly the same tickets at the same prices as SNCF, but also now charges a booking fee. Like Raileurope.com it's easier to use than en.oui.sncf. Anyone of any nationality can buy tickets at www.thetrainline.com and print them out or collect them from any main French station. Just like en.oui.sncf (and unlike the Rail Europes) Thetrainline.com can book forfait Bambin tickets to give your infant under 4 their own reserved seat and even Espace Privatif (sole or dual occupancy of a couchette compartment on a French overnight train. It also offers a full range of seating options including (on routes where it's possible to specify) forward-facing seats.

Posted by
10984 posts

As most have stated, buy direct from oui.sncf, the company that runs the trains.

Why buy from a third party?

And Rail Europe is the absolute worst website to buy from.

Posted by
3628 posts

@phred, my recollection is that raileurope sometimes fails to show the cheapest discounted tickets, and that trainline now also charges a small booking fee, alas... Not huge in the context of a trip to Europe, so still worth it for some people, but I cannot recommend it as blindly as I used to

Posted by
2417 posts

Unfortunately I tried using Trainline last week while I was in Paris to buy tickets to Strasbourg. The app let me go through the entire process and then when I got to the end, would not accept payment. Not from PayPal, not from a credit card, not from any credit card. Could not complete the transaction. However they had given me all the information I needed so I went to the train station and purchased the tickets there myself. So I don't know what the problem was, Trainline was no help. Perhaps it was because I was on a tablet? Perhaps because I was accessing through a US server, perhaps because I was on a European server? I'll never know.

Posted by
18240 posts

I wasn't going to chime in on this thread, because it started as a question about French train tickets, and I never buy online tickets for travel (and rarely travel) outside of Germany), but some people have since turned it into a endorsement for Trainline for purchasing tickets anywhere in "western continental Europe", so I must post my disagreement. At least in Germany, Trainline is NOT the best way to get tickets.

I find the German Rail, Bahn, website to be straightforward and easy to use, and, with the link I provided, it's in English. I've used them five times in the last 13 years for six advance purchase tickets without problem. On one of those times, in 2017, I had to cancel at the last minute. I got a refund, less the penalty for cancelling, and used the balance against my reorder 6 months later.

But the main issue, as mentioned by Frank, is why go to a third party, and pay an additional fee, when you can easily get the tickets directly from the rail company? I looked up the cost of two advance purchase tickets, one for a trip I did that way 4 years ago, and one for a city to city trip commonly used. Trainline was 8.4% and 8.5% more expensive than the Bahn on those two trips.

I also looked up a ticket, using a regional pass, that I used on the same 2017 trip. I just bought the ticket on a bus the day of travel; those passes, if purchased in advance, like you do on Trainline, are non-refundable. Plus, the pass sold by Trainline was 8½% more than the pass I purchased on the day of travel.

Posted by
1841 posts

Your input, Lee, just like Frank II and the other long-time posters, is always appreciated.

I wonder if the go-to-the-source and avoid the middleman advice also applies to Rick's link to the RailEurope store here on the RSE website? I bet we all agree that the advice he lists is valuable in itself, no?

Posted by
20849 posts

In addition to the fees you're very likely to be assessed if you buy train tickets from a third-party seller, you must also be alert to the currency in which the tickets are priced. It's important that the tickets be priced in the currency of the country in question. If you are looking at prices in your home currency, you are probably not getting a good exchange rate.

Posted by
10984 posts

At one point, a few years ago, RS was the largest seller of Eurail passes in the USA. That was done in partnership with RailEurope. You can still buy train tickets directly from this site but it is done via RailEurope. I would be very surprised if some type of commission isn't involved.

The Man in Seat 61 gets a commission everytime you buy tickets from Trainline and use the links he provides.

Both of these sites offer valuable advice. It doesn't mean everything they say has to be accepted as the word of a higher power. It's just advice. And sometines it's not the best advice. ( I don't begrudge either site from promoting third party sites as both are in business to make money.)

There are many posters here who know what they are talking about. (And others who post thinking they know everything because they have been somewhere once.)

If one poster says don't do something, you could question it. If numerous people here say don't do something, there's a reason.

Posted by
18240 posts

I wonder if the go-to-the-source and avoid the middleman advice also applies to
Rick's link to the RailEurope store here on the RSE website?

Avi, you can stop wondering; it does. RailEurope shares most of the major disadvantages with TrainLine. I would only use either of them if I couldn't use the Bahn's online services.

There are cases where you can't use the online services of a national rail company. For instance, at least for German Rail, and I suspect others as well, in general, you can't get online tickets for extended travel outside the country. For instance, you could take a direct (no changes) train from Frankfurt to Paris, but you could not get a ticket online for a connection requiring a change of trains in Brussels or Metz, Note: you could buy that ticket at a ticket counter in Germany, but not online from the Bahn.

On the other hand, DB has some agreement with Swiss Rail, and you could buy a ticket online from the Bahn for travel from Munich to, say, Interlaken, with one or more stop in Switzerland.

For those cases where you want to buy an online ticket for a trip with multiple stops in different countries, use of an agency like RailEurope or TrainLine could be warranted.

Posted by
18240 posts

Why do we Americans have such an obsession with pre-purchasing rail tickets for Europe? Perhaps it is because so much of our own travel in the US is by air, and airplanes are small enough that they usually sell out in advance, so for air travel, pre-purchase is a necessity. We tend to apply that paradigm to rail travel in Europe, where advance purchase is not a necessity.

In 20 years of German travel, over 150 days, probably close to 200 train boardings, I have only encountered an SRO (or close to SRO) train on 5 occasions. Three were holidays or special events, one was rush hour. Four of the trains were regional trains, for which no reservations would have been possible. The probability of finding a seat depends only on when you board the train, not when you buy your ticket. Unless you want a reserved seat on a long distance train, advance purchase is of no benefit.

I do not feel that advance purchasing tickets for train travel in Europe is necessary or even preferable in most cases.

So, in twenty years, I have only advance purchased five tickets, four times to take advantage of a big discount. The fifth time was when I wanted to be able to catch a specific train if my flight arrived a little early. I thought stopping to buy a ticket might make me miss the train. Turns out my flight was on time, and I missed the train anyway and had to wait almost two hours for the next one.

Posted by
10984 posts

I am currrently in Europe....not Germany...but my experience is with France and the UK.

On a few of my French trains, they were sold out. On all but one of the trains I'm taking in the UK, all are sold out.

I'm glad I bought tickets in advance. It guaranteed me a seat. And I didn't feel like standing for hours at a time.

And....by doing so, I saved money.

Posted by
18240 posts

I haven't been to Germany since COVID, so I don't know how it might have affected the "fill" of trains there. If people are travelling by train now to avoid close quarters on planes, the trains there might be more filled. I've had Brits tell me their rail system is pretty anemic, so maybe the pandemic has overwhelmed it.

I'm glad I bought tickets in advance. It guaranteed me a seat. And I
didn't feel like standing for hours at a time.

And....by doing so, I saved money.

Saving money would be my primary reason for advance purchase, and having a reserved seat is sometimes good too. But most of my travel tends to be shorter trips on regional trains, where advance purchase savings are not available and seats are not reservable. Without either of those two reasons, advance purchases are just not justified.

Of the five advance purchase tickets I've acquired, the first two, "Dauer Spezial" tickets, were in 2008, when reserved seats came automatically with advance purchase. But those were long trips; I would have bought reserved seats if they were optional. With the third trip, the only reservable train was the first 25 minutes of an 8½ hour trip. I didn't bother nor did I need reserved seats. The next one was for an hour on two separate reservable trains out of 2½ hours. I passed on seat reservations and ended up not needing them. But for the last trip, the one reservable train on the connection was for 3 hours, from Bingen to Ulm. I probably didn't need reserved seats, but for the small cost, it was reassuring. I bought the advance purchase tickets for the cost savings.

As I said above, too many Americans get tickets in advance just because that's what we do for flying over here, and they don't realize most of the time it's not necessary in Europe.

Posted by
2417 posts

I think we need to make a distinction here. I believe the rule of thumb is, local trains never "sell out" they will let you stand if you wish.

The type of longer-distance trains that a tourist would use like a TGV can in fact sell out because you need a seat reservation, especially since there are only a certain number of seats available for people with passes. And if you can't catch that train, since you were planning to go some distance, you can be in a jam.

Posted by
1841 posts

Indeed -- the fast train from Atocha station in Madrid to Toledo transforms Toledo not only into an easy day-trip possibility for tourists but also a bedroom community for upper-middle-class Madrileños looking for a better housing deal, and that means that the train sells out almost every day in the high season and tourists who try to get tickets by just walking up to the counter upstairs last-minute are often disappointed.