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How to save money travelling by train in France

Travelling by train is one of the best ways to see France, as well as being better for the planet than flying or driving. However, train tickets don't always come cheap - here is a current list of the railcards and offers that can cut the cost.

How to save money travelling by train in France
(Photo by 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.

READ ALSO Millions of train tickets go on sale in France for Christmas holidays

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 (€379 for anyone lucky enough to work for a company that is part of SNCF’s Contrat Pro plan). 

Holders can enjoy fixed, destination-based fares for business travel in France and beyond, with a card that 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 30 percent off for you and an accompanying adult plus 60 percent off for accompanying children with SNCF’S Avantage fare.

Max Senior

Regular rail travellers aged 60 and over, who use TGV, InOui or Intercite trains at least twice a month can take advantage of this €79-per-month railcard that covers the cost of all standard-class travel outside peak hours from Monday to Friday.

The card is valid for all routes in France and to Luxembourg and Freiburg im Breisgau. You can use the card to book tickets from 30 days before departure right up to the last minute.

READ ALSO Yes, train travel from France across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Avantage Senior

Those aged 60 and over who travel by rail less regularly can buy a €49 Avantage Senior card that offers 30 percent discounts on first and standard-class travel on TGV INOUI, Intercités or TER trains for a year.

It also offers a 60 percent discount on tickets for up to three accompanying children aged between 4 and 11.

Standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France, no matter when they are booked – at €39 for a journey of less than 90 minutes, €59 for a journey of between 90 minutes and three hours, and €79 for journeys over three hours.

Max Jeune

A similar offer to the Max Senior deal is available for regular rail users aged between 16 and 27 who use TGV, InOui or Intercite trains at least twice a month. This key difference is that this €79-per-month railcard covers the cost of all standard-class travel outside peak hours seven days a week.

The card is valid for all routes in France and to Luxembourg and Freiburg im Breisgau. You can use the card to book tickets from 30 days before departure right up to the last minute.

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Avantage Jeune

Those aged 12 to 27 who travel by rail less regularly can buy a €49 Avantage Jeune card that offers 30 percent discounts on first and standard-class travel on TGV INOUI, Intercités or TER trains for a year.

Standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France, no matter when they are booked – at €39 for a journey of less than 90 minutes, €59 for a journey of between 90 minutes and three hours, and €79 for journeys over three hours.

Max Actif and Max Actif+

The Mon Forfait Annuel Télétravail pass is basically a season ticket, but for people who don’t travel every day. It’s ideal for part-time or remote workers, but can be used by anyone who has semi-regular train trips. 

Anyone who travels between two and three times a week on the same route can buy a Max Actif pass and travel 250 or times on the same line all year, weekdays only. The Max Actif + is basically the same, but for people who travel four to five times a week, and gives 450 journeys with no weekday limit.

Prices vary depending on the route you travel – full details are here

Weekly or monthly rail cards

Speaking of season tickets, you can also buy first or standard class rail cards that last a month or a week that allow unlimited daily travel, and tickets for €1.50 or less (via SNCF Connect or Trainline) for single or national routes.

Avantage Adult

For anyone aged between 27 and 59, a €49 Avantage Adulte card offers 30 percent discounts on first and standard-class travel on TGV INOUI, Intercités or TER trains for a year.

It also offers a 60 percent discount on tickets for up to three accompanying children aged between 4 and 11.

Standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France, no matter when they are booked – at €39 for a journey of less than 90 minutes, €59 for a journey of between 90 minutes and three hours, and €79 for journeys over three hours.

For more information on railcards available in France, click here

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TRAVEL NEWS

French teachers blame Brexit as schools cut trips to UK

The number of French pupils crossing the Channel on school trips - even daytrips - to the UK has plummeted post-Brexit, with teachers blaming the additional cost and paperwork involved.

French teachers blame Brexit as schools cut trips to UK

“I wanted to, but I gave up. It’s dead,” middle school teacher Murielle Bourré told local paper La Voix du Nord.

Schools in northern France used to do regular day-trips to the UK, since it’s just a short ferry-trip away, as well as longer visits, but many teachers say they have stopped this since Brexit.

School trip organisers in northern France have noticed a large drop-off in the number of school trips to the UK. “Before Covid, we used to organise about 40 trips a year. This year, it will be about 10,” said Edward Hisbergues, a school trip organiser from Maubeuge in the Nord département.

According to Hisbergues, Ireland is now the more straightforward option because it is an EU Member State, although trips there are more expensive.

Since October 1st, 2021, any European citizen wanting to visit the UK has needed to hold a passport when previously a national ID card was sufficient. 

Since the ID card can be used for travel anywhere within the EU, many French people don’t have passports, meaning that parents need to apply for a passport for their children in order for them to go on a school trip.

For French children aged up to 14, a passport costs €17. For children aged between 15 and 17, it costs €42. An adult passport costs €86. It is often enough for hard-pressed parents to think again, especially for day trips to cities in the south-east of England, such as London, Canterbury, or Brighton.

Meanwhile, children at French schools who hold non-EU passports require a tourist visa, at a further cost of £100 – it also requires a trip to the British Embassy in Paris.

One possible solution – a collective passport, allowing groups of French children to travel to the UK on one document – has reportedly been discussed in government, but plans have not yet seen the light of day.

Pre-Brexit, around 10,000 school trips a year came from France, representing a direct annual input into the UK economy of £100m, according to travel companies.

Detailed post-Brexit figures are not yet available – since travel was heavily restricted by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 – but anecdotal evidence from trip organisers suggests that the number has fallen. 

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