Purchasing French Train Tickets from the States
Our own John Giebler contacted SNCF (the French National rail system) to inquire about the best way to get train tickets in advance from the USA. Here’s what he found.
You may have noticed, when looking at the web site for the French national train system (SNCF.com), that you can have your tickets delivered to you in exotic places like Antarctica or Vanuatu, but not in the United States. I called SNCF to see how they recommended handling ticket delivery.
The SNCF suggests three ways of getting around the US delivery restrictions:
- My preferred method is to make the reservation on the internet, and pick up the ticket in France. To do this, reserve and pay for your ticket over the internet. At the end of the reservation, you will be given a 6-letter code, like "ABCDEF". Simply show up at any train station ticket window with this code and the same credit card you used for the reservation, and they’ll print and hand you the ticket.
- The SNCF agent I spoke with also suggested printing the ticket yourself. This is a relatively new service they provide, and I don’t think it works with all tickets. You’ll notice at this page you have the option ‘Print your ticket’. When this is available, you print the ticket from the Adobe Acrobat .pdf file. On the train, you simply show that printed ticket along with an ID. (Usually, a train ticket here is pretty flexible. If you miss one train, you can convert the ticket to a different train. But with the tickets you print, I believe they are non-refundable and non-exchangeable.)
- In the U.S., the SNCF works with Rail Europe. If you want to have your tickets ahead of time, please go to www.raileurope.com. From there you can purchase your ticket and have it mailed to you (at a slightly higher price than you’d get from SNCF directly).
Of these three possibilities, I prefer picking up the tickets in France (the first one) because it’s cheaper than going through Rail Europe, and more flexible than the printed tickets.