I will need to travel by train Amsterdam-Paris, then Paris-Toulon, then Brussels-Vlissingen (NL), then Vlissingen-Amsterdam. I'm wondering if buying in advance from Rail Europe is a bargain compared to just buying tickets on site at the time of travel.
In no way is buying from RailEurope a bargain.
RailEurope starts with the price you would pay at a counter in Europe and then adds their own profit, $10-$15 per ticket in Germany. They might also add shipping.
Rail Europe includes only some of the most expensive trains between the desired stations. There are often less expensive options that they do not show.
RailEurope does not offer the deeply discounted tickets, PREMS in France, Dauer-Spezial in Germany, that you can get online from the national rail companies.
Get tickets in Europe unless by buying them online from the national rail companies you can get special prices.
For Amsterdam to Paris you have to use the Thalys high-speed train. You get the best prices by booking direct at the http://www.thalys.com website(tell the site you live in Holland and will be picking up your tickets in Holland). If you book early enough you can get fares for as little 25 euros. For Brussels-Vlissingen and Vlissingen-Amsterdam, you simply purchase your tickets at the station on the day of your journey, no advance reservation needed.....Rail Europe will overcharge you.
Depending upon the departure time, the standard 2nd class fare for Paris-Toulon ranges from €89 to €110. If you book well in advance (up to three months for regular TGVs and longer for iDTGVs) at www.tgv-europe.com, you can get a fare as low as €19. To keep the site in English and to avoid being bumped to the Rail Europe site, choose Great Britain as both your country of residence and the country in which you will retrieve your ticket. Don't worry. You will be given the option of either printing the ticket yourself or picking it up at any SNCF station in France.
The website www.tgv-europe.com seems to be broken, at least for me. Every time I input cities and dates, it goes off to retrieve info and never resolves. I've tried it in both English and French, and listed my home country as Great Britain, Belgium and France. Very frustrating.
What date(s) are you entering? Because new timetables will go into effect throughout Europe on 13 December, far in advance dates may not be loaded on the tgv-europe site yet.
We fly in one week, and our train journeys are here and there; we are also flying some. Probably too close for discounts.
Here's how I ended up doing things.
Our first day, next Monday, requires us to go from Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport to Paris.
(1) We will take local Dutch service Schiphol to Antwerp Belgium, paying on the spot for 2nd class seats after rush hour is over (lower fare).
(2) We will then take local Belgian service 2nd class from Antwerp to Lille-Flanders
(FYI: there are two stations in Lille, France; Lille-Flanders and Lille-Europe. They are 400 meters apart.)
(3) We then will take French TGV service from Lille-Flanders to Paris. This last part is the only one that requires advanced reservations.
This morning I compared www.voyages-sncf.com (in French) with RailEurope. For the price of 2nd class using RailEurope, I got 1st class tickets directly from SNCF, checking their "Prems" site for last-minute deals. I used the Babelfish service to translate a couple of phrases, and paid with a credit card. Our tickets will be available from a machine at the Lille station. Because it is strike season in France, and because stuff happens, I paid an extra 6 euros for reusable/refundable tickets.
Thanks, everybody for the advice. This is a great website.