The Eurail pass might be a little more technologically advanced since the 1975 version (above) but reserving train tickets in France may still seem daunting based on lack of information on the internet and supply-based pricing on the SNCF and TGV. But follow these basic rules and you’ll be fine.
1. Check Availability IN ADVANCE at www.raileurope.com. On the home page, click on “Book a Reservation for your Pass.” Leaving time as “anytime” will give you all the trains for that itinerary that day and list whether there are spaces still available for rail pass riders. There are only a certain number of seats for rail pass users on each train and prices increase quickly as supply decreases. This limits your options drastically as travel dates get closer, unlike the Italian rail where prices are fixed.
2. DO NOT reserve online unless you don’t have time to make the reservation in person at a train station or SNCF boutique in France because the reservation fee is usually only about 3 euros in person, versus $11 US online (for domestic travel within France, higher fees if heading out). SNCF boutique stores are all over France, which means you don’t have to battle the masses at the station to do anything regarding booking. They do run strange hours though. (Yes, even though you paid for a rail pass, many trains have reservation fees. Some are open seating though and then there is no reservation needed.)
3. If you must book online, you will receive a confirmation code which you can input into an SNCF ticket machine to retrieve, which are available at the SNCF boutiques 24 hours a day, as well as the train station. Only use your last name when requested to enter your name.
4. Don’t forget to get your rail pass validated at the train station before getting on board. Don’t write in the date used on your pass unless the conductor asks you to–if not, you get an extra day of travel!
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