TGV Lyria trains from Paris to Switzerland can now be booked four months in advance (photo © Yinglina / dreamstime.com)
So we all know that French TGV services can usually be booked up to three months prior to the date of travel. But then come the exceptions. For domestic travel during the peak summer period, SNCF extends the booking horizon to four months on most routes. That’s well established, and something we’ve come to expect each year.
Many travellers today are keen to book trips a long time in advance. And, if train travel is to compete with planes, then long booking horizons are essential. Eurostar has shown that it’s possible, with tickets on its core routes (London to Brussels and Paris) usually being released for sale six months in advance. Tickets for Eurostar’s popular new route from London to Marseille, which was launched in May this year, are now available for sale right through until the end of July 2016. That’s nine months in advance.
Extended booking horizons make sense. And they are becoming more common. Check out the small print and you’ll find a great swathe of trains from France to Germany or Switzerland which can be booked four months in advance year-round – so not just for the mid-summer period. Last year saw the introduction of a four-month advance booking horizon on a number of international routes from France, mainly those operating under the Lyria and Alleo brands. Evidently it was a success as four-month advance booking is back for 2016.
The precise routes on which the four-month rule is currently being applied for 2016 bookings are not quite the same as they were this year. There are currently four categories where it’s possible to book four months in advance (in every case bookings can be made in both directions).
The four-month rule applies to all journeys from Paris to destinations in Switzerland served by direct TGV Lyria trains. Bookings can also be made to destinations in Switzerland from intermediate stations in France served by those trains (eg. from Dijon to Lausanne or Mulhouse to Basel).
Passengers wanting to make a journey entirely within France on one of these trains still have to wait until three months in advance to book a ticket. So Paris to Basel or Zürich can be booked four months in advance, but a passenger wanting to use the same train to travel from Paris to Mulhouse can only book three months in advance.
The four-month horizon does not extend to other services which are routed via Dijon to Switzerland. So for travel from Dijon to Basel, you can book four months in advance if the train originates in Paris, but only three months in advance if the train comes from Marseille.
The four-month rule applies to all journeys from Paris to destinations in Germany served by direct TGV or ICE trains (except for Freiburg-im-Breisgau). Bookings can also be made four months in advance to destinations in Germany from intermediate stations in France served by those trains (eg. from Strasbourg to Munich).
Passengers intent on making a journey entirely within France on one of these trains still have to wait until three months in advance to book a ticket. So Paris to Karlsruhe can be booked four months in advance, but a passenger wanting to use the same train to travel from Paris to Strasbourg can only book three months in advance. In similar vein, you cannot book a domestic journey within Germany on these international trains more than three months in advance.
The four-month rule applies to many international journeys (but not all journeys on all dates) from France to Germany which rely on the once-daily train from Marseille to Frankfurt-am-Main (and back).
It also applies to all journeys to and from Geneva on TGV services which run direct from the south of France to Geneva. It does not apply to journeys on the Marseille to Basel train.
The last group of services where the booking horizon has been extended to four months are the fast TGV services from Paris to Turin and Milan. Again, the four-month rule applies only to international journeys (and even the short hop through the Fréjus Tunnel from Modane in France to Bardonecchia in Italy counts as an international journey). So, whether your journey starts in Paris, Lyon, Chambéry – or indeed any other French station served by an Italian-bound TGV – then, provided you are indeed travelling right through to Italy, you can book four months in advance.
You’ll need to cast around to find the best place to book these extended four-month horizon tickets. The UK-based ticketing agent Loco2 is a good place to start your search. The company’s easy-to-use online booking system will quickly pull up the journeys mentioned in this article.
But do cast around. And bear in mind that on routes from France to Germany it may be that the very cheapest fares are not available four months in advance. We have noticed many cases on France to Germany routes where a new batch of even lower fares is released three months prior to travel. That seems not to be the case on routes from France to Switzerland. There the very cheapest fares really are available four months prior to travel. And that applies equally to journeys to Italy. Indeed, the bargain basement fares to Turin and Milan often sell out quite quickly and, if you wait until just three months before travel to book, you may find that the cheapest tickets are long gone.