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Summer holidays: why you should book your train tickets as quickly as possible

The month of March marks the start of spring and.

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Summer holidays: why you should book your train tickets as quickly as possible

The month of March marks the start of spring and... the start of train ticket reservations for the summer holidays. On March 13, the opening day of reservations for the months of July and August, more than 1.5 million tickets had been sold on the SNCF website. These early reservations make it possible to anticipate the very high traffic on the main lines of the network, but also to benefit from the lowest possible prices. “If the customer wants low prices, he must anticipate his reservations well in advance,” continues to insist the director of the TGV Intercités offer within the SNCF, Alain Krakovich. The French seem to have understood the message. “Since reservations opened for this summer, traffic on our site has doubled compared to the same period last year,” indicates Victor Bertho, general manager of the Kombo ticket sales platform.

But are they good deals? Yes, even if the savings are less strong than expected. Anticipating your reservations several months in advance no longer allows you to escape the surge in SNCF train prices. Whether you choose to travel by TGV, Ouigo or Intercités, the average price of a trip to Bordeaux between July 1 and August 31, booked on March 21, is 67 euros, a price higher than 30% to that recorded by the platform at the same period last year. The surge is similar for journeys to Toulouse, barely less strong for those to Lille. Prices for “early bookings” for trains to Strasbourg (248%) or Marseille (128%) are even reaching unprecedented heights.

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TGV tickets have increased again for the year 2024, after having increased by 5% on average in 2023. This increase, applied since January 1, remains limited: it is not higher than inflation, assures the SNCF. It also does not concern Ouigo and Intercités, whose prices have been frozen for the current year. So where do the two or even three digit increases brandished by the comparator come from? The answer can be summed up in two words: “yield management”. This pricing technique used by SNCF causes prices to rise as reservations progress. The more a train fills up, the more expensive the tickets are.

But places are filling up more and more quickly. Six days after the opening of summer reservations, 26% of trains linking Paris to Lyon were already close to saturation (less than 100 seats remaining). The same goes for 22% of trains heading to Nantes. “This is the reason why we are seeing such increases in prices observed in March: early bookings have exploded in these destinations, which has caused prices to jump earlier than in the past,” explains Victor Bertho. And this time, it's not the fault of the Olympic Games: the prices currently offered by the SNCF are not higher during the competition weeks than the rest of the summer. For several destinations departing from Paris (Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg), tickets are even less expensive during the Games. “Contrary to what one might have believed, Parisians are not rushing to the SNCF site with the prospect of fleeing during the Olympics,” laughs Victor Bertho.

Given the crowds expected on the rail network this summer, those who wait are likely to remain at the platform. Especially since procrastination will not lower prices. In the coming months, “it will be even more expensive,” insists the general director of Kombo. The data collected by the comparator in 2023 shows that the price of the same Paris-Marseille ticket varies from one to two depending on whether it is booked in March or August. In the same way, a Paris-Strasbourg flight costs four times more in the middle of summer than at the start of spring. Only a few destinations, like Nantes, escape this logic. Parisians who plan to spend their holidays in Loire-Atlantique would, according to the dynamics observed last year, have every interest in doing so at the last minute, since the prices displayed for this connection are almost half as low. higher in August than in March.

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For most destinations, prices will therefore continue to rise, month by month, as the tourist season approaches. But they will not increase indefinitely. If the SNCF varies the prices of its journeys according to demand as airlines have always done, it remains subject to certain rules. On each line, certain journeys are subject to regulated pricing, valid for second class only, established in consultation with the State. The other journeys on the route fall under what the company calls the “normal fare”. According to a 2011 decree, the highest “normal” fare for a second class trip, which constitutes the full fare, “cannot be higher than 1.5 times the regulated fare”.

For a TGV Inoui Paris-Toulouse journey, the maximum price that a second class traveler is likely to pay is 173 euros, regardless of the date or time of their reservation. “If the price offered by SNCF seems too high, you should not hesitate to compare with other companies operating on the network, namely Renfe and Trenitalia, or look at other means of transport, sometimes less expensive on certain journeys,” breathes Victor Bertho. This could inspire more than one French person as summer approaches...

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