Honestly: there is no mayor advantage to purchase tickets of French Railways SNCF online... BUT
Let's find out if this is true - or not...
We are going on NORWEGIAN GEM in November 2009. The ship will call Cannes and we need tickets from Grasse to Nice. We love comfort and want to sit 1st class.
Of course I do not purchase tickets with the European Rail Ticket Agency in the United States (raileurope) or with German Railways who is able to sell such tickets but on full-fare-base.
I want to use the domestic bargains etc.
Let's visit http://www.voyages-sncf.com - the website for travelling with SNCF.
Unfortunately this website is only in French available.
There is a English website available which is called http://www.tgv-europe.com but with some strange functions. So I prefer to buy in French with a ticket release in France.
Step 1: Click on "Réservez un billet de train"
Step 2: Scroll down and insert
Départ: Place of Origin
Arrivée: Place of Destination
Voyage allez: Outward journey
Aller le: Going on (Date in DD/MM/YYYY-Format)
à partir de: after (Hour: 24h-format)
Voyage retour: Return journey
Type de voyage: Journey type
Aller simple: Single ride
Aller-Retour: Return ride
Type de Train: Train category
Tous les trains: all trains
Trajet direct: direct line
Trajet via: line via (insert the place you like to have an additional stop)
Step 3: Scroll down and insert
Nombre des passagers: number of passengers
Voyageur 1: passenger 1
Age du passager: Aae of passenger
The rest of the box you can ignore beside you are French residents and you are entitled to buy discounted tickets as you have some discount passes...
Scroll down and continue with next passenger etc.
Step 4: Scroll down and insert
Votre confort: class of travel
2e class: 2nd class
1e class: 1st class
Sélectionez le pays de réception ou de retrait des billets:
Choose "FRANCE"!!! Otherwise the system will redirect you to other pages like raileurope or tgv-europe again...
The next box ("Je suis flexible...") is only important if you are doing maybe a pre-cruise in Paris and need to go to Barcelona to get your ship and you do not fixed to one single connection. Then you tick the box.
Step 5: Your options are available! Click on the departure time you are interested in.
(By mistake it's September 21 instead of November 21 but we changed it...)
Départ à: departure time
A partir de: cheapest ticket
Durée: transit time
Voyagez avec: type of train (TER = local trains / TGV = high-speed trains)
We clicked on 10.34 hrs as we want to use this train.
Step 6: We choosed 2 passengers in 1st class in TER-train 81177 leaving 10.34 hrs in Grasse and arrives 11.43 hrs in Nice Ville (Nice City Station).
Each of us pays 12.90 EUR. Changeable and refundable against fee (2.50 EUR).
Click the price.
Click on "Choisir ma place" (Select my seat) - but here you get the answer that there is no seat reservation in this train available.
Click on "Valider cette aller" to confirm this outward journey.
Step 7: Just the warning that there is no seat reservation available.
Click on "Valider cette réservation" to confirm this booking.
Step 8: Scroll down and select mode of ticket collection:
Borne Libre Service: You just insert your card you paid with in a ticket machine (available on major train stations) and you take out the tickets. BUT no American Express and in some cases no international credit cards.
Envoi gratuit par courrier: mailing - if you like to have it delivered to your hotel if you have a pre-cruise in France but need four days.
Gare ou boutique: just show your credit card and your booking reference and collect it at the ticket counter.
Honestly spoken: sometimes you are under time pressure and you do not want to have a fight with a ticket machine to find the right fare etc. I think it's more comfortable to prepare everything home and just show your credit card and booking confirmation then explaining what you want and you miss your train...
But maybe for a shore excursion trip it's less interesting then for travels to a port as you can buy the bargains you might on get on raileurope.
I requested with French Railways SNCF if E-Tickets will be available. They responded within two hours: not for this journey. But it should be very smooth to collect the ticket.
Step 9: Scroll down and insert:
Nom: last name
Prénom: first name
Confirmez votr e-mail: confirm your e-mail-address
Format de réception: type of e-mail-format
Clicke the box starting "En cochant..." to confirm their terms.
Step 10: is self-explaining.
Code de securité: security code on the back side of your credit card.
Click on "Validez votre paiement" to confirm your payment.
Step 11: Your final confirmation
Référence du dossier: booking record number
Nom associé: related name
Step 12: Check your e-mail for the booking confirmation.
We will let you know in November 2009 how it worked and how 1st class in regional trains was.