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TRAIN TRAVEL

French rail ticket prices to be slashed in bid to win back passengers

French rail chiefs said on Friday that ticket prices for high-speed TGV trains would be slashed in a bid to win back disgruntled passengers turned off by weeks of strikes and disruption.

French rail ticket prices to be slashed in bid to win back passengers

There may be some light at the end of tunnel for rail passengers in France.

While the strike by French rail workers is set to continue until the end of June rail operator SNCF plans to launch an “operation to reconquer” customers affected by the weeks of rail strikes launched in protest over planned reforms.

SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy said on Friday that some three million tickets for the high-speed TGV trains that link major French cities will be sold for under €40.

“It seems totally normal to show some sympathy towards our clients in order to restore confidence. We will make some commercial gestures,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

“Between May 15th and August 31st we will offer 3 million TGV tickets for less than €40 to all destinations on all days,” he said. “The tickets will go on sale on May 15th with the idea that all available places during this period will be sold at half price.”

Discount cards for senior citizens and for young people will also be sold at a cheaper price.

Pepy also said that those rail passengers in the Paris region who hold season tickets will soon be reimbursed “at least 50 percent of the cost” for the months impacted by the strikes.

This week unions representing rail workers announced they will hold a company-wide vote next week on the government's contested overhaul for the heavily indebted group, aimed at proving that support for a long-running strike remains strong despite signs it is tapering off.

Laurent Brun, head of the rail branch at the hard-line CGT union, said late Wednesday that the weeklong consultation would kick off on Monday, when unions have vowed to step up their protest with a “day without trains”.

“It's important to stamp out this idea that 80 percent of rail workers support this reform,” Brun said at the CGT headquarters in Montreuil, just east of Paris, adding that many workers cannot strike for “financial reasons”.

Just 14.5 percent of SNCF workers took part in Wednesday's strike, the lowest level since the rolling action began in early April, though 53 percent of train drivers walked off the job.

The vote echoes a similar move last week by striking unions at Air France, in which the government holds a minority stake, which stunned many analysts by showing widespread support for a pay protest — and prompted the head of the airline's parent company Air France-KLM to quit.

But union leaders said the goal was not to push out SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy but to show that opposition to the rail overhaul, a key move in President Emmanuel Macron's wide-ranging reform drive, remains strong.

“The idea is not to have Pepy's head, it's to give workers a chance to express themselves” without going on strike, said Bruno Poncet of the SUD-Rail union.

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TOURISM

How to find cheap train tickets in France

Travelling by train is one of the best ways to see France - even with a mandatory mask on. Here - from railcards to sales - is how you can make it even better by cutting the cost of your ticket.

A blue high-speed Ouigo low-cost TGV train arriving at  de l'Est railway station in Paris, with the the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in the background
From cheap services to railcards, here's how to save money on train travel. Photo: Joel Saget / AFP

Railcards are the most common way to cut the cost of a ticket. In some cases, the card can even pay for itself in one journey. France’s rail operator SNCF has a range of cards available for everyone from impoverished students to regular business travellers with an expenses account to burn.

But if you’re not a regular traveller there are also a range of offers plus cheaper services to opt for.

Let’s start with the railcards.

Liberté card

This one’s really for business travellers, who use the TGV or Ouigo and Intercite trains regularly. And it comes with a price to match – €399 for a year. This guarantees cardholders 60 percent off SNCF’s Business Première fares when travelling standard class, and  45 percent off Business Première fares when travelling 1st class. Plus, there’s between 25 percent and 50 percent off TER fares in certain regions, and it’s valid for use in other European countries.

Forfait pass

Effectively a season ticket, this one’s for commuters who regularly use TGV INOUI or Intercité services to get to work. Prices vary based on how much you travel, and you can get annual, monthly or weekly passes. Click here for a calculation of how much you will have to pay.

Avantage Senior 60+ card

SNCF relatively recently rebranded its railcards under the Avantage umbrella. If you’re aged 60 or over and travel occasionally with TGV Inoui, Intercités or TER in France, you will save 30 percent on first and standard class travel, for an annual fee of €49. And there’s 60 percent off ticket prices for up to three accompanying children aged between four and 11.

In fact, standard fares are capped for all destinations in France, no matter when you book. And that’s on top of a 30 percent guaranteed discount on 1st- and standard-class train tickets. 

You’re guaranteed affordable fares, even at the last minute. They’re currently capped as follows:

  • €39 or less for a short journey (under 90 minutes)
  • €59 or less for a medium-length journey (between 90 minutes and three hours)
  • €79 or less for the longest journey (over three hours)

Plus, there are savings on food and drink prices on the train – as well as other perks that are worth looking into.

Avantage Adulte Card

If you’re aged 27-59 and take TGV Inoui, Intercités or TER trains often, it’s worth looking into the Avantage Adulte card – which has replaced the Avantage Weekend and Avantage Famille cards – because you’ll save 30 percent on first and standard class tickets for the annual €49 fee.

Discounts extend to accompanying adults, and there’s 60 percent off ticket prices for up to three accompanying children aged between four and 11.

As with the Senior card, standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France. And you get the onboard perks too, including 15 percent off food and drink from the trolley.

Avantage Jeune Card

For anyone aged 12 to 27, the Avantage Jeune card will save you 30 percent on TGV Inoui and Intercité services that require booking for the annual €49 fee.

Standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France. And you get the onboard perks too, including 15 percent off food and drink from the trolley.

Other ways to save money

If you’re not a regular travellers and don’t want a railcard, there are other ways to save money when travelling.

Ouigo trains

SNCF’s low-cost TGV service offers high-speed cut-price travel in and out of Paris to 17 French destinations. There are drawbacks though, the trains have fewer on-board services and some of them only go to stations close to a city, rather than the city-centre station – so it’s worth checking when you book exactly where you will end up.

Children under 12 years of age can travel for €5 all year long, or €8 to or from a station in Paris.

Railcards are valid on Ouigo trains, cutting ticket prices further.

Happy Hour

Be aware of last-minute ‘Happy Hour’ deals on available on select days for selected Intercité trains to a selection of destinations around France. You could save up to 50 percent on ticket prices. And, yes, railcards are valid.

Ticket sales

Watch out, too, for announcements of when tickets are available for sale. From November 3rd, for example, rail tickets are available up to March 27, 2022 – and up to July 2, 2022, for Inoui tickets.

Early booking may get you a good deal, and SNCF offers regular deals particularly around peak travel times such as summer and Christmas. Downloading the SNCF app will get you advance notification of sales.

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