Sunday, March 23, 2014

Train Don't Plane in Europe

Our train tickets from Paris to Colmar, France--see arrow on map.
David and I bought our tickets last Monday, three months in advance so we got the cheapest fares, on the easy-to-use site, Capitaine  We paid €60 for two one-way tickets from Paris to Colmar, a little town in the Alsace region about 460 kilometers (285 miles) from The City of Light.  If we'd taken a plane, it would have taken three times as long and cost more than twice as much.
It also would have been far more inconvenient.  We would have taken the train or a taxi to the airport an hour in advance, boarded the plane for the flight to Strasbourg (Air France doesn't fly to Colmar.), taken a train or taxi to the train station in Strasbourg, and caught another train for the 47-mile leg to Colmar.

Phew.  It makes me tired just thinking about what would surely have been an all-day ordeal.

And I shudder to think how much money we would have wasted.  The flight on Air France costs $165.20 and transport to the Roissy Airport and the train ride from Strasbourg to Colmar adds another $27 or so dollars.  That means we could have spent $192.20 instead of $83 (€60)!

I'm reminded yet again that it's cheaper and easier in Europe, where railroad tracks are the freeways and runways of Europe, to train, not plane

I reported recently on the ease of registering with Capitaine Train (See this link.), and now I can tell you how simple it is to buy tickets.  You enter your departure and arrival cities, choose one-way or round-trip, and you get this easy to understand page in return.
Note that this price, six days after we bought our tickets, has increased a bit.  Remember to buy your tickets three months in advance to get the cheapest rates.

You can even choose your seating and whether to be upstairs or down.  With more expensive tickets, you can also indicate whether you'd like to be sitting in the same direction the train is moving. (Since there is a four-seats-around-a-central-table configuration, some people see only where they've been instead of where they're going.)

After you've highlighted your train time/price and chosen your seating preference, you're taken to a standard credit card screen to enter your personal information.  Next, a 3D security process insures your safety by requiring you to answer a few questions about your credit card issuer.   

If you've never heard of this process before, it's defined by Check Point as " redefines security as a 3-dimensional business process that combines policies, people and enforcement for stronger protection across all layers of security—including network, data and endpoints.... With 3D Security, organizations can now implement a blueprint for security that goes beyond technology to ensure the integrity of all information security."

Since I'm in favor of ensuring the integrity of my information, particularly my credit card, I didn't mind following the prompt for confirming my identity.

In two hours, we were printing our tickets!  Capitaine Train says it may take up to eight hours, but we waited only two.

This means that we won't have to wait in a line at the Paris train station, hoping for an English-speaking clerk, to buy tickets, or  have our tickets validated by inserting them in the yellow machine before we board the high-speed  train.  (An attendant will ask to see our tickets once we're underway.|
With tickets purchased from the train station, validation is required before boarding.  The ticket is inserted in the machine, just like punching a time card, and the date and time are added.
Capitaine Train has made this process so easy and inexpensive that I can't imagine wanting to buy train tickets any other way; the two other ticketing options have serious limitations.  Rail Europe USA offers only regular prices, as far as I know, not the sales which result in half-price fares, and the SNCF site has no English translation.    That's why I'm so grateful for this site.  David and I will be riding the rails in style having invested the least amount of time and money possible.   This is definitely the tightwad way to go!

Practicalities -
Remember that you need to be at the train station twenty to thirty minutes before your train's departure, but the listing for the gate probably won't be announced until fifteen minutes before.
Voiture on your ticket indicates your  rail car number.  Place indicates your seat number.

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