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TRAVEL NEWS

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.

READ ALSO UPDATED: The best websites for cross-Europe train travel

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

READ ALSO Tourists and locals: Paris Metro tickets, passes and apps explained

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For members

STRIKES

UK border strikes threaten Christmas travel chaos to and from France

Planned industrial action by British border force staff is threatening to disrupt Christmas travel plans for people going between France and the UK - with a warning of 10-hour waits at airports. It comes on top of planned strikes on the Eurostar.

UK border strikes threaten Christmas travel chaos to and from France

Travellers arriving at the UK’s biggest airports over the Christmas period could face severe delays and even risk having their flights cancelled as a result of strike action by British border force staff.

A senior UK Border Force official told the i newspaper that “travellers can expect long queues at the airports affected by the strikes. We’re looking at similar waits as when we had all the Covid protocol issues in summer 2021 when queues of 10 to 12 hours were not unusual.”

“Passengers should also expect flight cancellations due to staff shortages,” they added, “so should keep in touch with their airlines before travel.”

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has voted for strike action over pay and conditions from December 23rd until the end of the year, with the exception of December 27th, that will affect all major UK airports.

Those with travel between France and the UK planned already have to contend with possible disruption on the Eurostar, where UK-based security staff have threatened walkouts in their own pay dispute.

There are also several days of strikes planned on UK railways, and a provisional strike notice filed by French rail unions for the Christmas and New Year weekends. 

READ ALSO What you need to know about Christmas travel between France and the UK

British media outlets estimate that as many as two million passengers have booked to fly in and out the UK over the Christmas period on at least 10,000 flights scheduled to arrive at the affected airports.

Where are the walkouts?

Around 1,000 Border Force staff are set to walk out from all of the UK’s busiest airports, including Heathrow (Terminals 2,3,4 and 5), Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, and also the port of Newhaven.

The strikes will fundamentally affect passport checks for arrivals into Britain, as 75 percent of passport control staff are PCS union members.

Christmas is already one of the busiest travel times of the year, and walkouts from border staff are likely to cause severe delays and cancellations. Some British media outlets are even reporting that passengers could be left to wait on their planes on the runway, something that would then have a knock-on effect on other incoming flights.

Though passports aren’t usually checked on outbound flights, arriving aircraft often turn around and set off on their next outbound journey within an hour or two. If queues for arrivals become so bad that passengers are kept on the runway, outbound flights will be delayed and departures could be cancelled.

A Home Office spokesperson said in a statement that “passengers should be prepared for potential disruption.”

Various affected airports have made preemptive statements expecting major delays and cancellations.

“We expect it will be necessary for airlines to cancel some services on the days impacted by strike action to ensure the number of arriving passengers aligns with lower UK Border Force resources,” a spokesman from Manchester airport said in a statement. “Arriving passengers should also be prepared for much longer immigration queues on strike days, owing to reduced Border Force staffing levels.”

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “The Home Office advises that immigration and customs checks may take longer during peak times on strike days… Passengers are advised to check their flight status with their airline before travelling.” they added.

The British Transport Minister, Baroness Vere, has said that “the government does have mitigations in place,” which is thought to include army personnel and volunteers filling in for the striking staff.

What if I have flights booked?

As the strike action has just been announced, normal cancellation rules still apply (for now) so don’t cancel your flight just yet. If your flight is cancelled by the airline, however, as is expected for many carriers in the coming weeks, your regular rights will apply, including the possibility of being flown via another route, even on another airline if necessary, and hotels should be provided if you are kept overnight.

However, it is worth noting that as Christmas is a peak travel period anyway, finding extra seats as flights are cancelled may be difficult.

READ ALSO: What are your rights in France if a flight is delayed or cancelled?

It remains to be seen if, when, and how many flights will be cancelled. Cancellations are expected by all major airports, who have advised that passengers check the status of their flights before travelling.

For those who are set on travelling, expect severe delays at passport control, and keep an eye on the status of your flight in the coming weeks. 

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