I know that this will go against the "wisdom" of the board, but today I booked two tickets from CDG to Avignon for late May. Rail Europe wanted $130 for the tickets. The TGV and the SNCF websits both wanted 190 Euros. Hmm........... (NOTE: had I been more flexible on times I could have gotten this trip MUCH cheaper. Apparently the late Sunday evening trains are popular :) )
"Apparently the late Sunday evening trains are popular" Apparently, because I checked two Sunday evenings in May, and RailEurope had nothing, nada. However, TGV offered 5 connections between $111 and $144 for one Sunday, and 5 at 45€ (less than $60) for the following Sunday. For the Wednesday in between, TGV offered 6 connections between $111 and $124; RE offered one connection at $148. The following Saturday, TGV offered 6 connections between $124 and $144; RE offered one connection at $177. Admittedly, the low fares I saw were for limited availability, advance purchase tickets, but these low fares are available. Perhaps you just picked a popular date, when the low fares were all gone. Still, I am surprised that the standard TGV fares were still more than the RailEurope fares. The Euro has gone up recently; perhaps RE's prices have yet to be adjusted to reflect the increases. Another thing to check, the standard TGV fares are the walk-up price and are fully flexible. RailEurope's tickets usually come with as similar restriction to the lowest fare, advance purchase tickets. So, the fares you saw were the anomaly. TGV is usually less than RailEurope, and I know from experience that German Rail is consistently less than RailEurope. But it is worth checking both.
Here's another example of what happens when you compare RailEurope fares with those of a European rail company: In May I traveled from Bad Schandau, just outside of Dresden, to Freising, next to the Munich airport. The trip started with an EC from Bad Schandau to Dresden. I paid 29€ (~$38) for an advance purchase ticket. Full fare from the Bahn website (also the walk-up price) is 92€ (about $120). RailEurope doesn't even sell a ticket from Bad Schandau to Freising, even though both stations come up on RailEurope's pull-down list. The best you can do is Dresden to Munich for $176 and then you would have to pay extra for Bad Schandau to Dresden (not available from RE) and Munich Hbf to Freising ($14 from RE). So, I actually paid $38. Had I bought the ticket at the station, it would have been $120. With RailEurope, it would have cost $190 ($176 + $14, $70 more than standard, $152 more than I paid), and I still would have had to buy the Bad Schandau to Dresden ticket in Germany.
cont'd Admittedly, RailEurope is more competitive on more visual routes. For the 9:53 ICE from Frankfurt airport to Munich Hbf, RailEurope only wants $154 for a ticket. A standard fare ticket (which has less restrictive return/exchange possibilities) is 98€ ($128) from the Bahn website. An advance purchase ticket for the same train can be obtained for a little as 29€ ($38). Refundability: RailEurope only refunds if the ticket is returned to them before travel and then less $34. Or, if you have the RailEurope ticket stamped "unused" at the FRA Fernbahnhof it is refundable less the $34 (more than the price of the Bahn discounted ticket you lost if you didn't use it). For the discounted Bahn ticket, up to the day before travel time you can get a refund less 15€ online; After the day before travel, the discounted Bahn ticket is non-refundable; The $128 standard fare Bahn ticket is fully refundable up to the day of travel, refundable less $15 after that.
There are three holiday weekends in May. Sunday evening is always a higher priced time to travel and on a holiday weekend, it will be sold out even faster. Glad you got the tickets you needed.
My point really was it pays to check every place. As was pointed out I probably could have gotten a cheaper fare on another date/time. I apparently picked some incredibly busy day for some reason plus I couldn't do AM (which was about MUCH MUCH cheaper, but the plane didn't land in time LOL!) The popular wisdom on here is that Rail Europe is ALWAYS higher and you should not even waste your time looking there, but..... checking EVERYPLACE is generally your best bet.. then book what works for you.
I don't know that anyone here has ever said that Rail Europe is ALWAYS higher and you should not even waste your time looking there. What people do say is that RailEurope is ALMOST ALWAYS more expensive (often a lot more expensive - see my post above) and you should never just purchase from RailEurope without checking the prices from the national railways. What is often said here is "don't use RailEurope for schedules". They show only a subset of the trains in Europe, only the ones for which they sell tickets, usually the most expensive ones (and fastest). There are a whole lot more trains (and less expensive ones) than those shown on RailEurope.