NOTE: This information is from 2015 and is almost certainly out-of-date.
France has not one but three high-speed train companies that share the same rails. There’s the traditional TGV which you can book about 3 months in advance, the low-cost iDTGV which you can book up to 6 months in advance (but only runs on certain routes), and Ouigo, which you can book up to 9 months in advance but which departs from outside Paris and runs only along a single route.
(There’s also TGVpop, where it takes a certain number of votes before the train is confirmed to run and can be reserved. Voting starts 2 weeks before the train would depart.)
UPDATE 2017-03-17: SNCF has announced that it will discontinue iDTGV as a separate brand with separate booking. See e.g. iDTGV brand to disappear. ENDUPDATE
iDTGV can be booked from its own website or app, which has the advantage of offering seat selection, or through voyages-sncf, which I gather doesn’t.
It has two types of “zone”, basically a quiet one (iDZEN) and a family/louder one (iDZAP). See http://www.idtgv.com/en/idservices/idzen-and-idzap It also has two classes, but in my experience it’s not worth getting 1st class on French trains.
It sort-of works for booking outside of France (including a good English interface). There are a number of issues though (and some outright bugs / website errors).
To make it work without a European credit card and French phone number:
- When creating an account or checking out, do not try to enter a cellphone number unless you have a French cellphone. The form only accepts French numbers (of form e.g. 06 xx xx xx xx). The cellphone number is optional, except…
- When going through the booking process, on the options page, do not select the iDCAB taxi option. It will make the entry of a cellphone number at checkout mandatory (this is a bug in the system).
- If you have a non-European credit card, your first checkout will almost certainly fail with “rejected”.
iDTGV support says « les cartes étrangères, non Européenne sont bloquées par défaut sur notre site par mesure de sécurité » which translates roughly as “non-European cards are blocked by default on our site as a security measure”.
However, having done the initial transaction and gotten your card rejected, you can email or contact form them and ask them to unblock it. Just send them the last four digits of your card, not your entire number. Thanks to Seat 61 for the info about credit cards.
If that doesn’t work, try also calling your credit card company to see if they have blocked the card on their end too. Sometimes transactions on European websites trigger North American credit card company blocks.
I had to both email iDTGV to get the card unblocked at the website end as well as phone my credit card company to get the card unblocked on the card end. I had the credit card support stay on the line while I ran the transaction through, a practice I highly recommend as it saves you calling back if it’s still not working.
Be aware that the iDTGV website will silently time-out if you’re idle for a while.
- In the Details of My Order section of Print My Tickets (the summary page), the links under “You Can Still” mostly don’t work (they just point to the summary page). Use the links under My Booking (upper left) instead.
- If you’re booking in English in the iDTGV app, check the dates very carefully. it looks to me like there is an off-by-one error (e.g. you have to enter January 1 in order to get January 2), probably due to the fact that the French calendar week starts on Monday and the US/Canadian/UK calendar starts on Sunday.
UPDATE 2016-04-11: It looks like iDTGV has joined a number of other apps in now only being available in the French iOS Apps Store, rather than being available e.g. in the Canadian store as it was previously. As the easiest way to display your tickets is in the iDTGV app, this makes it less convenient. If you have already downloaded the iDTGV app, it will continue to work. ENDUPDATE
iDCAB is a taxi-like service for travel to and from the train station. It’s available for quite a few of the major stations in France.
You can add iDCAB to your iDTGV booking (on the website) without any problems AFTER you’ve booked and paid for your main train trip. However (if you have a one-way ticket at least) it appears to only offer the option for a taxi on the departure end of the trip, not the arrival.
In the iDCAB interface you can enter an international number (e.g. +1 xxx xxx xxxx) although it’s anyone’s guess whether it actually gets recorded correctly in the system.
iDCAB is not currently available as an option in the iPhone app.
You can also book iDCAB as a stand-alone service at http://idcab.sncf.com/ (thanks to Jérémie Croyère, CTO of iDCAB for this info – @cpasbanal on Twitter).
On the SNCF site you’re supposed to be able to submit your train booking reference to get it to autoload your train stations, but I couldn’t get it to work with an iDTGV booking reference.
Unlike the interface at iDTGV, the SNCF interface won’t give you options for how early you want to arrive or estimate travel time to the station; you have to choose your pickup time yourself. It also won’t let you specify the number of passengers (however this doesn’t really matter as it’s a flat price regardless, up to max 4 passengers). The price on SNCF is also higher than on iDTGV. The SNCF interface will tell you what car service is picking you up though.
Note that iDTGV has tighter baggage restrictions than the TGV:
You can take 2 pieces of luggage for free (details below).
If you take more than two pieces of luggage, you will have to pay an extra charge of €35 per piece of luggage (on the iDTGV website in “My travel options”), within the limit of 2 extra pieces of luggage per person.
If you did not pay this extra charge when you booked, the payment will cost you €45 on board.
The free pieces of luggage per person cannot exceed:
– two pieces of hand luggage (suitcases, rucksacks, travel bags) per traveller; or
– one hand luggage and an object per traveller (a children’s pushchair, a wheelchair, a bicycle with its wheels removed and placed together in a special protective cover of 1.20 x 0.90m maximum, a surfboard placed in a protective cover of 1.20m x 0.90m maximum, a pair of skis, a monoski or a snowboard, a bag containing a ‘small-sized’ domestic animal; or
– a piece of hand luggage per traveller and a piece of luggage of 50cm x 50cm x 50cm ; or
– a piece of hand luggage per traveller and a musical instrument.
For more details, check out the full page at Seat 61: www.seat61.com/idtgv.htm