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How to find cheap train tickets in France

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The Local ([email protected])
How to find cheap train tickets in France
(Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

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

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France's national rail operator - SNCF - raised ticket prices and the cost of certain railcards due to inflation in 2023, but there are still several ways to cut the cost of a train ticket in France.

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, here is a breakdown of the different options. Before buying one, consider waiting to do so when the card itself might be on sale - for instance, railcards are sometimes half-priced for Black Friday at the end of November. You can see the sales going on now by clicking HERE.

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. You might want to consider buying this sooner rather than later, as it is one of the railcards that is expected to increase in price in 2023.

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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 has rebranded its railcards under the Avantage umbrella, and even though prices were raised in 2023, they can still help you save money in the long-run.

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:

  • €49 or less for a short journey (under 90 minutes)
  • €69 or less for a medium-length journey (between 90 minutes and three hours)
  • €89 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.

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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.

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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. Ouigo occasionally runs flash sales, like the one celebrating Ouigo's 10-year anniversary which offered over 100,000 tickets priced at €10.

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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Comments (1)

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Anonymous 2022/11/18 17:59
Thanks to this article I have just renewed my annual carte avantage sénior for 25,40 instead of 49 euros ! Last year I managed to renew it for just 1 euro but I guess that was really exceptional. Thanks again ! Carol Schoen

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