Hi. We will be traveling in France this summer. We have 5 days in Paris, then south to the Valence area (south of Lyon) for 2 weeks. We will have a car but may also take train trips to Arles, Marseille, and/or Nice. Then, train back to Paris and over to Caen for 3 days (but open to the idea of going south, west, and then north - but it doesn't look practical). Then train to Paris to fly home. It looks a flexi-saver pass is best for a family of three traveling together, as long as we are sure to make reservations for the TGV between Paris and Lyon or Valence. Does this seem correct?
Joyce, your bet best is to compare the prices on sncf.com and tgv-europe.com. (Be sure to say that you're from Czech Republic or Antartic so that the site won't take you to raileurope.com or raileurope.co.uk.....which offers fewer train times and charges more for the same trains.) My favorite for figuring out schedules and connections though is http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/de but fares are only available if your trip begins or ends in Germany. I compare prices if I were to purchase for the same day of the week within the current week (as though I were buying at the station right before boarding) and in 90 days to see if pre-purchasing online is worth it. Many times it is! I would be amazed if any type of railpass would be worth it partly because of the mandatory reservations that must be added to the price of the Pass.
Hope this helps!
Even with the mandatory seat reservation fee for TGVs, a pass might save you money over the price of full fare tickets. However, you have to do the math. Advantage of a pass: flexibility on travel dates. Disadvantage of a pass: SNCF limits the number of seats it allocates to railpass holders on TGVs. If you wait until the last minute to buy seat reservations, those seats may be gone and you'll either have to pay full fare or buy seat reservations on a different train. If you can commit in advance to specific departure dates and times, then booking discount fare tickets (when offered) certainly will cost less than a pass. For example, depending upon the departure time (off-peak or peak hours), the standard 2nd class fare for a Paris-Valence TGV ranges from €85 to €108. A Prem's fare can be as low as €25. Seat reservations are not required on Intercites trains from Paris to Caen so a pass would be good on any of them with no extra fee, but a Prem's fare can be as low as €15. The standard 2nd class fare is €34.80. Discount fare tickets are for specific departure dates and times and are non-exchangeable and non-refundable. There is open seating on regional trains and a pass would be good on any of them. Just hop on like you would on a city bus. The 2nd class fare on a direct regional train from Valence to Arles is €25.80. There are no discount fares on regional trains.