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TGV woes, hope someone knows the answer to this.

Hello experienced travelers,
My son will be leaving for France in about a week and, after doing research on train tickets, I found the perfect train to get him to his first destination, Lourdes. Then his debit card didn't work on the TGV site. And, again and again, it didn't work. So I cleared the cookies, started over in a different browser, and still, it doesn't work. Also, I am ordering in French and his bank knows he is going to travel to europe soon. I'm wondering if the problem might be that he needs to retrieve his ticket at the kiosk at the airport in Paris, and we're using an American debit card, which is unlikely to work in said kiosk (according to all the 'homework' I've been doing lately). If this is the case, can I just check 'mail the tickets' and then have him collect the ticket at the airport anyway by going to an actual person who will print it out? There is not enough time for them to get the ticket to him before he leaves, and this is not a ticket that we can print out at home (more's the pity). I don't see why he should have to wait until he arrives to buy the ticket and then pay much more for same day travel. Also, the Rail Europe site offers only 1 choice of trains going to Lourdes on the day in question and the time it leaves, arrives, and even the amount of time for the transfer are all unacceptable. It's bad all the way around. The TGV site offers several choices. I know several people have had trouble on the TGV site and am hoping someone will have some advice on what to do with this situation. Many thanks.

Posted by
14 posts

My research on this problem tells me that 1) tickets bought on the TGV site by American travelers will not be mailed to a US address because it is preferred that Americans buy through Rail Europe, thereby paying higher prices in general and incurring extra handling fees 2) all tickets can be picked up at a kiosk manned by a human being ticket agent if one has the reservation number and the credit card or debit card used to purchase the ticket. That's why I was trying to go ahead and get him a ticket now, since the price will be lower than buying on the day of the trip. I prefer not to buy through Rail Europe because regardless of their extra costs, they offer only one choice of trains for our specific travel needs. My son's plane arrives on March 15 at 6:50 AM at Charles de Gaulle airport and he needs to travel to Lourdes upon arrival. The only choice Rail Europe is showing is a train that leaves at 4:36 in the afternoon, arrives in Lourdes 11:30ish PM, and leaves him only 10 minutes to change trains.
On the TGV site the 9:12 train has Prem's first class ticket available for 86 euros and arrives at Lourdes in the middle of the afternoon. That's a much better choice for someone who has just traveled across the world and is on his own for the first time. I think Lee had a very good point that waiting until he gets there may be the best bet, even though it will likely cost more for the ticket. The unpredictable nature of air travel may leave him little room to make a scheduled train so it's probably best for him to pay more and buy the ticket when he gets there. He will have cash to pay for the ticket. I will check out the blue marble travel site. Thanks! He bought his ticket through STA Travel and they have been helpful, but point us to the Rail Europe site for train tickets.

Posted by
31319 posts

Melissa, To begin with, could you clarify that you're using a Debit Card and not a Credit Card? That may be part of the problem? Regarding use of a Credit Card at the automated ticket Kiosks at Paris / CDG, your information is correct - you WILL require a "chip & PIN" credit card to use the Kiosks. I believe they also take Euro coins, but I'm not sure if there's a maximum limit for using cash? I'm not sure how you're going to resolve this situation, but hopefully one of the others will have the information you need. Good luck!

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you for the quick reply. Yes, it is a debit card, but it is a Visa debit card, so it should be accepted anywhere they take Visa.

Posted by
2040 posts

Personally I wouldn't use a debit card because it seems too risky to me. Even though the bank knows your son will be in France in about a week, doesn't mean that the bank won't block a transaction this week. I would call the bank to approve a transaction for the next couple of days in France and then try it. Last year we were able to pick up our TGV tickets at a SNCF boutique which was nice because there wasn't a line. We were traveling the day after arriving in Paris. Good luck!

Posted by
2876 posts

Once you buy your son's ticket online - which you should be able to do easily - your son can retrieve it at the electronic kiosks at the station in France. I'm not sure, but I suspect that the problem you're having is because you're using a debit card. It's true that the electronic ticket kiosks in France require chip-and-pin cards to purchase tickets, but if his ticket is already purchased, he can print it out at the kiosk without needing a credit card. All he has to do is enter his ticket's "confirmation code" at the kiosk. The code is also called the "PNR" number. It's actually not a number, but rather a 6-letter code, just like an airline ticket confirmation code, and it'll be printed on the confirmation when you purchase the ticket. The kiosks have simple touch-screen instructions which he can choose to see in English. If he has any trouble using the kiosk, all he has to do is go to a manned ticket window. His reservation will be "in the system" and they'll print his ticket for him. Be sure he brings his purchase confirmation with him.

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks. I'm not sure why a debit card would make any difference since it's basically a Visa attached to his account. We will call the bank on Monday morning and be sure that they have not blocked the transaction. Thank you for the information about the kiosk. That will help, but I have not been able to purchase the ticket on line as of yet. When I go to purchase, the two choices I get for delivery are to have them mail it, or to pick it up at the station. I am marking 'pick it up at the station' since I live in the U.S. I suppose I could mark it to be mailed and then put in my U.S. address (which I know they will not use), then have him pick it up at the kiosk but this seemed risky somehow.

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks. I'm not sure why a debit card would make any difference since it's basically a Visa attached to his account. We will call the bank on Monday morning and be sure that they have not blocked the transaction. Thank you for the information about the kiosk. That will help, but I have not been able to purchase the ticket on line as of yet. When I go to purchase, the two choices I get for delivery are to have them mail it, or to pick it up at the station. I am marking 'pick it up at the station' since I live in the U.S. I suppose I could mark it to be mailed and then put in my U.S. address (which I know they will not use), then have him pick it up at the kiosk but this seemed risky somehow.

Posted by
18056 posts

I don't think it's a good idea to book a discount ticket timed to his arrival in Paris because transatlantic flights can be delayed for hours. If he's not on that specific train he'll loose the ticket and have to buy another at full fare.

Posted by
14 posts

That is a good point. Do they not then try to have him put on the next train if the flight is delayed? I notice that you can buy ticket insurance to cover delays.

Posted by
2876 posts

"I suppose I could mark it to be mailed and then put in my U.S. address (which I know they will not use), then have him pick it up at the kiosk but this seemed risky somehow." I wouldn't do this. How do you know they won't mail it to your US address? And since he's leaving in only a week, what if they do mail it and he doesn't receive it in time? You're also assuming that if you mark it to be mailed, he could still retrieve it at the kiosk. I'm not sure that that's correct.

Posted by
6898 posts

Melissa, the Visa debit card works differently than your normal Visa credit card. With your Visa credit card, you are borrowing from the issuer of the card. With the Visa debit card, you are transacting an electronic check directly from your checking account. The Visa feature on your debit card can be limited to the same daily limit as your ATM features. Also, when you use your credit card to buy a train ticket on the French train system and choose to pick it up at the train station in France, I believe that you are supposed to use the same credit card in the kiosk to identfy yourself to the system. I suppose that you could work this out with an agent, however.

Posted by
2876 posts

"Also, when you use your credit card to buy a train ticket on the French train system and choose to pick it up at the train station in France, I believe that you are supposed to use the same credit card in the kiosk to identfy yourself to the system." Not if you're using an American magnetic-stripe credit card. The kiosks simply can't "read" any magnetic stripe card. That's why the kiosks allow you to retrieve your ticket by typing in the confirmation code.

Posted by
16 posts

If you want some excellent local help, bluemarbletravel.com will give you great help & advice. Rick recommends them for bike tours; I'm renting an apartment from them for my 8 days in Paris - over their office! For a reasonable fee, they will find discount tickets, help with delays, be a friend on the ground, etc. Lesley & Nicolas have been really great helping me book. They're also very experienced working with students/young people. I figured fate led me to them when I found out their names; I'm Leslye & I'm traveling with my 15 yo son Nikolas!

Posted by
4365 posts

This is a double post; I tried to answer on your other thread, but didn't have the info you've given here. It appears that your son isn't an experienced European traveler; in that case - although it pains me greatly to do so - he should just purchase his ticket once he arrives at CDG. He'll need to take the RER train to RER/metro station "Denfert Rochereau", and transfer to metro line 4 Dir: Porte de Clignancourt. In a few stops he'll arrive at Gare Montparnasse; this is where the trains to Lourdes depart. PLEASE look at the website "Paris By Train.com"! He should look at the photos of CDG Airport, and how to get to the train station. It will tell him how to find the "Grand Lignes" ticket counter where he'll buy his ticket. Also, how to take the RER train into Paris...(RER B Dir: Robinson-St Remy les Chevreuse)...The ticket counter may split the trip up into RER and SNCF ticket from Paris Montparnasse to Lourdes; if so (I doubt it), it's 8,70 Euro for the RER ticket b/n CDG and Gare Montparnasse... There are trains leaving at 11:50, but I don't know if he can make those (he still has to get from CDG to the Gare - ~45 mins travel time, plus waiting for the train departure time - plus I don't know if he has luggage to collect, if his plane will be late, if the lines at the airport will be long, how long the line for train tickets will be - perhaps as hour, etc.). The next train departs at 14:40, and it's the only direct train of the day that I see - for several reasons, that's the one I'd recommend. It's 95,50 Euro full-fare, and 5h34m long; he'll arrive at 20:14. He'll have time to grab some lunch, and some dinner to take onto the train.

Posted by
4365 posts

You could purchase this one - IF you hurry - for 72,00 Euro, 2nd class. What I think you're seeing is that you cannot purchase tickets for KIOSK pick-up; you can purchase e-tickets just fine. He MUST show the credit card used for purchasing the e-ticket, along with the e-ticket print-out, when retrieving the actual tickets at the train station ticket counter at CDG airport. Do NOT select the option to mail to your house. Hope this helps! Look at the Paris By Train website AND the Paris Airports websites! He should look at (and print?) the maps of CDG...The Paris Airports website: http://www.aeroportsdeparis.fr/ADP/en-GB/Passagers/home/

Posted by
4365 posts

Actually... I just tried to purchase an e-ticket on the train I suggested; tgv-europe.com will actually let me purchase an e-ticket, as opposed to an e-ticket number that you still have to take to a ticket window and exchange for an actual train ticket (aka 'retrieval in a French station'). This way, he could purchase the ticket now, and not have to do a thing but get on the train at Gare Montparnasse. He WILL have to stand in line at CDG and purchase an RER ticket to Gare M...(or, if the change machine works at CDG and he has some Euro already, he can purchase the RER ticekts from the kiosk at CDG - they will accept Euro coins; remember, his fare would be 8,70 Euro) - see ParisByTrain.com. I looked at the earlier trains - they get there the same time as his later (14:40) train does! One of them is in fact the same train into Lourdes, but leaves Paris several hours earlier...yuck. So I'd feel very comfortable suggesting that you go ahead and buy direct train tickets at 14:40 as an e-ticket: As of RIGHT NOW: the cheapest 2nd class tkt is 72,00; the cheapest 1st class is 97,00; full-fare 2nd is 95,50; and full-fare 1st is 146,00. Don't forget - he MUST bring the credit card used to purchase the train ticket, AND choose 'Great Britain' as "Your Country" on tgv-europe.com! Good luck!

Posted by
14 posts

Eileen, thank you for all of your time! We do have a map of the CDG airport, which will be very helpful, I know. You are correct, he is not an experienced traveler yet. That's why we're trying to make as many arrangements on this end as possible for the beginning leg of his trip. He will be able to get 'his feet on the ground' after he reaches his first destination, http://www.tyncoed-gites-pyrenees.com/. He will be working for these people for a couple of weeks in exchange for room and board. I am a little confused now in terms of his travel to Lourdes. Based on your research, you are recommending a train that does not leave from the airport. On the TGV site, I found tickets directly from the airport. Are you recommending this because of the time schedule? We had seen the trains out of the Montparnasse station but thought it would be more convenient for him to leave from the airport if possible. Regarding the credit card issue, my son is 18 and does not have a credit card. Since he would have to present the actual card he used for purchase, that leaves him with his Visa debit card only, and cash, of course. Fortunately this is his second trip to France so at least he has been there before. The last time was a school trip, however, so he was with a group. I don't know why there is a double thread for this.

Posted by
8700 posts

Melissa, I think you are misreading the timetables. According to www.voyages-sncf.com, if your son takes the 09:12 TGV from CDG, he will go CDG-Bordeaux-Pau-Lourdes and not arrive in Lourdes until 18:09. (There are long connection times in both Bordeaux and Pau.) If he goes into Paris and departs from Gare Montparnasse, he can take a direct TGV to Lourdes departing at 10:10 and arriving at 15:51. If his flight arrives on time, he MIGHT be able to catch the 10:10 train. He should allow up to one hour to clear immigration/passport control at CDG and one hour to get from CDG to Montparnasse-Bienvenue on the RER and metro. If he has to stand in line at a window at Montparnasse to retrieve his ticket, that will give him even less time to make the connection. If his plane is late, he certainly will NOT be able to catch the 10:10 train in Paris. In that case he might as well start out on the 09:12 TGV from CDG. If he misses the 10:10 train at Montparnasse, he'll have to take the 11:50 TGV to Bayonne and connect to a regional train which arrives in Lourdes at 19:05, an hour later than if he goes CDG-Bordeaux-Pau-Lourdes.

Posted by
14 posts

We have the debit card issue fixed. There were two problems: first, the bank had not yet registered that he would be traveling, even though he did report it to someone at our local branch. (the entire bank is local so this should have worked)
Second, when we tried to buy the ticket I input the card number using spaces between the groups of numbers, just as they appear on the card. Reading deeply into the FAQ on the train website, I saw that they want the number put in with no spaces and that if you make a mistake entering your number, they put a block on your card for 24 hours due to worries about fraud. So it's all working out anyway because had I bought that ticket from CDG I would be worried he wouldn't make the train and would be out that money. I'll post how it all turns out. Thanks everyone for the interest and help.

Posted by
4365 posts

Melissa, sorry for the late reply; I'm aware there's a time crunch. I suggested the 14:40 train, because I really doubted he wanted to hang around the airport for 7 hours...;-)...Besides, that train trip (from CDG) takes 7+ hours; the one I suggested has NO train changes, and only takes 5 hours 35 minutes - in other words, he would already be halfway to Lourdes by the time the train from CDG even leaves the airport. If he takes his time getting to Gare Montparnasse and takes the later train that I suggested, he's still arriving at Lourdes at 20:14. That definitely beats midnight! As far as him needing the credit card, that's ONLY for "Retrieval in a French station"; if you choose "e-ticket", he only needs to be "prepared" to show proof of identity (his passport). And if he loses his train ticket, he can print off another one - he'll need the e-confirmation number given at the time of purchase in order to print off another ticket. One more option: he could purchase the "Loisirs" fare for the 14:40 train for (right now) 73,00 Euro; if he got to the train station early and could make the 10:10 train, he could exchange his ticket for a (probably) full-fare ticket costing 95,50 Euro (meaning, pay the difference b/n 73,00 and 95,50), PLUS pay an extra 10,00 Euro for a change fee. You'd just be out the 10,00 if he could, and wanted to, take the earlier train. Chances are, though, that he'll be on the 14:40 train - assuming his airplane is on time, he still has to get off the plane, go through passport control, go to the baggage carousel (maybe?), find his way to the train station and purchase his RER ticket, get to Gare Montparnasse - all by 10:10. I just don't see that happening. And NOT because he's inexperienced!

Posted by
4365 posts

And yes, according to tgv-europe.com, there's only one train CDG-Lourdes - the 16:36. voyages-sncf.com shows a few more...but some aren't particularly helpful unless he can make a 9:12 train, the next direct from CDG actually goes to Lille, BACK TO PARIS, then ends up being the very train I suggested - the 14:40!!! Crazy!!! When he prints off his ticket, all he has to do is put it with his passport in his moneybelt, then put that with his luggage! If there's a barcode, don't fold the ticket so that the barcode gets creased... I've arrived in CDG bunches of times, and I've taken a train - direct and not - from there all but one of those times...I might consider the 10:10 train (from Gare Montparnasse), but all would have to go perfectly for that to work...the next best train is the 14:40; that's what I would plan for. Plus, now he has time for some lunch and he can grab something for his dinner on the train!

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you, again, for your kind research on this! We'll nail this down tomorrow morning when he is home from work. I've also considered having him fly to Toulouse from Orly, then take a shorter train from there. There is a flight from orly around 3:00 in the afternoon, giving him plenty of time to get his feet on the ground, lunch, etc, and still make it to Lourdes at a reasonable hour.
I'm always one to look at all the options, and that does get in the way of decision-making sometimes! The 14:40 train sounds like the best train option and the idea of having a ticket that is changeable is a good one. I'll let him make the choice from here and post when we've purchased the ticket. I know about the e-tickets, but when I tried to purchase the train ticket before, it was not an offered choice. It would be very nice to be able to do it that way. When I think of all the hours I've already put into this and all the help I've already received, I shudder to think of his 'flying by the seat of his pants' he's going to do when his actual planned activities are finished. I guess he will get the hang of it.

Posted by
4365 posts

Taking a 15:00 flight from Orly: By the time he arrives in Toulouse around 16:30 (according to the flights I found), he then has to deplane and all that goes with that (collect baggage? esp. if it's easyJet), then spend 20-45 minutes on the bus (THEIR time estimate) getting across town to the train station, then the first possible train I found that he could make leaves Toulouse at 19:36, arriving in Lourdes at 21:50...(nearly TWO HOURS after the 14:40 train from Gare Montparnasse!). IF the stars all align, he might make the 17:04 that arrives at 19:13. But that's not gonna happen. That's ALOT more hassle, and certainly no less expensive. The more moving parts, the more likely one of them will break down. Remember - he'll be doing this (probably) on NO SLEEP, too... Keep it simple: Ride one train from CDG to Paris (buy ticket at CDG); ride one metro train to Gare Montparnasse (covered on tkt from CDG); ride one NON-STOP train to Lourdes. Done. ***"I guess he will get the hang of it." He will ;-)

Posted by
14 posts

We purchased the ticket for the 2:40 train from Montparnasse. Thanks to everyone, and especially Eileen, for all of your help.
In light of the fact that you are correct, he will be doing this trip in a sleep deprived state, this will make MY sleep be less deprived, knowing the printed-out ticket is safely tucked into his money belt. After this, it's up to him! Many thanks, again.

Posted by
4365 posts

Yea! I'm glad you were able to print the ticket already. Let us know how he does next week...

Posted by
14 posts

Just wanted everyone to know that the trip was smooth as glass! He was able to carry on his bag, landed on time, made it through immigration and customs in a very short time, got to his train with no problem, and even had time for a short visit to the Eiffel tower before boarding the train to Lourdes. His hosts picked him up and he is now having a grand time in France and planning for the next leg of his trip.
Many thanks for all the help. I am encouraging him to create a facebook page only for his travels. If he actually follow through, I'll post the link.

Posted by
4365 posts

YEA! Having that extra time didn't go to waste - what a smart guy to make it to the Eiffel Tower on his own like that! He's a born traveler. I don't think you need to worry about him...;-)