Trying to make sense of SNCF train ticket fares is daunting. I’ll be the first to admit – I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg. All I can say is that -picking up your tickets over the internet is not ALWAYS your best fare.
Case in point. Recently, I tried booking round trip tickets from Bernay to Paris. The SNCF site didn’t accept the credit card so instead I went over to the Bernay station and picked up round trip tickets for 10 Euros less than what I would have paid on the internet. Not only that, but I can use the tickets whenever I want – there’s no reserved seats. The clerk told me I just need to go to the last wagon which has unreserved seats.
The first thing you need to know when reserving train tickets in France is that there is a ‘tariff’ or a rate for every imaginable situation. Your challenge is to find the situation that gets you the best rate – are you traveling on a weekend? You can get a better rate. Do you have a senior in your group or a young traveller? You can get a better rate. Do you have a large family? Are you a travelling ‘professional’?
After all was said and done, I’m not sure which category the unreserved seat in second class falls into. The SNCF site says you should reserve your tickets early to get the best rates whereas I walked into the train station the day before my departure.
So, what is the moral of this story? Walk into the station when no one else is in line and the clerk looks in a really good mood. You never know what kind of tariff he or she will find for you. I think you have a much better chance of getting a good rate at the station than you would at the SNCF commercial offices. The other option is to use the automated ticket machines in the train stations (if the line’s too long).
Then of course, if you already have your Eurail pass which you’ve bought long before you arrived in France, all you have to do is hop on the train – and enjoy the ride.