Read my June 2008 articles published by Transitions abroad:
Budget Transportation in France.
Flight Search Engines
Finding the right flight at the right price can be incredibly complicated. There is a large number of airlines, you may in some cases choose to travel from any of several airports, the centralised booking systems don't include certain low-cost flights, the same flight on the same date with the same airline may be sold at very different prices depending on which site you buy it from. Sometimes, it's cheapest to buy directly from the airline, sometimes it's not.
A few 'intelligent' sites search hundreds of sites for you and are able to show some of the best connections and prices without your having to spend hours in front of the screen. But don't use them uncritically. None of them tell you if there is a direct and cheap low-cost flight later in the season. Skyscanner is the most flexible in that aspect, allowing you to locate cheap flights for a whole calender month.
A little alternative research in advance is a good idea: identify the airports closest to your destination, then go to the airport web sites and check out their destination map. You can find the links to all the French airport web sites here. That way, you will have a better idea of the options available. You can then continue to the sites below to search for prices. Not all the sites give you the lowest prices.
A final word of warning: I made a small test of the flight search site cheapoair, asking it to find a flight from Birmingham, UK, to Avignon, France. There is a direct Flybe flight twice a week in the season. The result was unsatisfactory. Instead of listing the direct Flybe flight first, it listed an indirect KLM flight via Amsterdam that arrived at Marseilles, not Avignon, as I had asked for. The distance between the two airports is 70 kms/44 miles. In small letters, it told me that it was another airport in the same region. The KLM flight was €2 cheaper, but when you add 2 x €140 for a taxi from Marseilles, it isn't cheaper any more. The travelling time is much longer, there is a risk of the flight connection in Amsterdam not to work in case of delay on the first leg, there is a risk of delayed luggage in Amsterdam, and it is still not what the traveller asked for. Either this is the result of poor programming or it is a deliberate attempt to favour lobbying airlines against the traveller's interests.
Be very careful before you pay. Double check every detail, as you cannot trust that some sites won't change your search criteria. I have not noticed any such problems with the three sites listed below.
Search a very large number of airlines, including low-cost carriers, for the cheapest
fare. Independent site, free to use. Allows search without specific date, search
on all airports in a specific country, and map-based search.
Banned airlines: The European Commission's list of blacklisted airlines that do not comply with safety regulations.
Delay, Cancellation, Overbooking
Greenclaim. This site helps you find out if you are entitled to compensation under EU Regulations.
Flyingwithkids: Advice about flying with children.
Airtravel.about.com. Some airlines propose special bereavement or compassionate fares in case of a family funeral or visit to a terminally ill relative. This article explains what to do.
Streetwise-France's list of French airport websites. Includes links to Google Maps.
Interactive map showing which airlines fly where from the city you click on.
The intention with the following list is to show the airlines flying from France. Just a few years ago, it would have made sense to divide it in low-cost airlines and others. However, the distinction between low-cost and not low-cost is becoming increasingly blurred.
To get an idea which flights are available, the simplest is often to look up the airport's website and check out their list of destinations and companies flying there.
Paris - Taxi Alternatives
A number of transport companies in Paris offer alternatives to taxis in Paris, city notoriously short of taxis. Waiting time may be just a few minutes, and the price is not much higher than a taxi. These companies use modern technology such a geolocation and iPhone apps to make their services efficient. They are duly licenced for transport. Don't confuse them with pirate taxis.
General Price Compare Sites
Note: There is a large number of general price compare sites on the Internet, but they should not be used as if they were objective. There have been several issues with these sites. The Ministry of Finance and Economy's consumer and fraud unit and the consumer association UFC have investigated how independent such sites are from the companies presented. 11 out of 12 sites were reminded about the regulations in force, since they were not respecting them. Five sites incorrectly made the consumers believe that their selections of retailers were exclusive. One privileged their trading partner that were paying for a better presentation. In 2011, the Appeal Court in Grenoble confirmed the shady nature of one such site. The judgement concluded that the site in question should be considered equivalent to a commercial. There may not be any real-time price updates. The periods during which promotions are valid may not be mentioned. The sites may be useful, but it is advised not to depend exclusively on them.
General Travel Portals & Booking Sites, Charter
If you are booking plane travel with connecting flights, be sure to focus on the connecting time. Travel agents sometimes issue tickets with impossible connecting times, as it was described in the consumer magazine Que Choisir number 499, January 2012. Their article described a booking with Go Voyages with a connecting time of 1 hour 30 minutes in London Heathrow even if the long haul flight to Brazil required travellers to check in at least 2 hours 30 minutes in advance. As usual in France, it's always the client's fault and Go Voyages refused to compensate the travellers. Justice will decide.
Hotels, Resorts, Holiday Lettings
Because of the vast choice of hotels and other types of accommodation, it has been decided to include only sponsored ads and countrywide hotel chains of known reputation that have a large number of hotels. We refer you to the yellow pages at Pagesjaunes and 118 218 / Le Numéro for the region you want to stay in if you want more choice. The Open Directory is also a good place to look. We do, however include plain links to resorts that offer facilities in addition to being simply a hotel. To help you fill in the French department numbers and region names, you can consult our maps.
The countrywide Accor Group provides a consistent quality in comfort levels ranging from discount, basic comfort to luxury and focus on customer service - something you cannot take for granted in France. Whatever comfort you choose, you can expect the hotel to be clean.
The countrywide Louvre Hotels Group, formerly Groupe Envergure, provides a choice of discount and basic comfort hotels and one luxury hotel chain. We do not have much experience with them, except for their Première Classe discount hotels, which are perfect if you just need to sleep and are happy with plastic interior. They have family-friendly rooms with two double beds. The ones I have tried have been spotlessly clean.
For annual rentals, see my list of sites with ads for property in France.
Main country-wide sites with good search facilities and choice
Gites de France.
Bilingual site in French and English. Rural accommodation. This is main site.
Gites de France inspects the properties before allowing them.
Sites with simplistic search facilities, little choice or regional only
A3inet. In French.
Active Holiday / Vacation
UCPA. Sports activities.
Cruise Critic. Cruise community and booking.
Compare several cruise companies.
Ferry & Tunnel Links
Booking, Information, Compare sites
Dover to Calais. Find
the cheapest way to cross the Channel. Also train and plane info.
This Telegraph article has a good overview of cross-Channel ferries.
DFDS Seaways. Dover-Calais,
Dover-Dunkirk ferries. The Dover-Calais route started in 2012 after the
liquidation of Seafrance.
Paris Public Transport
RATP. Public transport in the Paris region. Official site.
Coach and bus travel in France
Eurolines. Low-cost coach lines.
For decades, public transport in France has been monopolised for the benefit of the public rail company SNCF. Competition by coach travel has been strictly forbidden. Very slowly, European Internal Market rules are now paving the way for coach travel. It is a sector likely to evolve in the following years.
Still, what ordinary public transport is concerned in France, only communes, départements (counties), and regions are allowed to run bus lines, and only within their own territories. Neither the Avignon commune nor the Vaucluse département is entitled to start a line to Marseilles airport for example, because the airport and most of the itinerary is in the Bouches du Rhône département. It would have to be organised by the region. The region doesn't seem to care, so there is no bus line from Avignon to Marseilles airport. It is illegal for a private company to start a bus line unless it is the result of a call for tender decided by an authority.
Without producing a list of 200 local authorities, here is a simple way of locating timetables:
- For city travel locate the tourist office web site for the city.
For inter-city travel:
You cannot take it for granted that the département will inform you about regional lines in their département or that the region will inform you of the départements' lines. Each authority is sitting in its own corner and planning its own lines without coordination of timetables and tickets, just like in a Soviet plan economy. Tickets are not interchangeable between different transport systems.
Rail, Trains in France
Before boarding a French train, you must composter your ticket. It doesn't mean that you must leave it a couple of years in a heap of leaves in the garden but that you must stamp it in one of the yellow or red machines at the entry to the platform. This does not apply to tickets you've printed yourself, such as the cheap PREM's promotions, where you must present an ID with the ticket.
The cheapest tickets are only available on the Internet and go under the names PREM's and iDTGV. You can occasionally find first class PREM's tickets to the same price as second class, or even cheaper. Be sure to understand the restrictions for the cheap tickets.
In-train catering is not good, so bring your own food if you want to eat on board. Don't use the self-service coffee and snacks machines that are not always maintained and that might keep your money without giving you anything and without any warning sign to tell you they are out of order (en panne, hors service, or just HS). Go to the bar instead if you want hot drinks. Also consider bringing your own toilet paper, just like in the former eastern Europe, as experience shows that there is often none available. TGV toilets often don't work properly, so you may need patience walking up and down the train before finding one toilet that works and is clean. Hence the Belgian joke about French toilets: "Why is it that in Belgium, you can say 'one toilet' but that in France, you have to say 'the toilets'? Answer: because in France you need several toilets to be sure to find one that's clean.
It is worth knowing that there is a TGV train station at the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport's terminal 2 that makes it feasible to change between plane and train. This station is located on the main north-south line between Lille and Lyon. The EuroDisney TGV station in Marne-la-Vallée is on the same line, a few minutes from the airport. There is also a TGV station in Lyons Saint Exupery Airport, but almost no TGV stop there, so the station mostly serves decorative purposes.
Deutsche Bahn - DB (German Rail) train bookings. Was recommended in the French consumer magazine Que Choisir September 2010 for working better than SNCF's own site, even for travel in France. German rail is able to find local French train connections that French rail's own system doesn't show but just tells you there are no connections. Choice of several languages.
SNCF. Official French national rail site. Booking facility only in French and with quirks, being unable to show a number of local trains connections that German rail's system will tell you about.
Eurostar. High-speed trains passing the Channel Tunnel.
Thalys. International high-speed trains serving mainly Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne.
Rail Europe USA. Rail
Europe is North America's official distributor of Eurail pass and Europe Rail as
well as the France Rail Pass, BritRail Pass, Swiss Rail Pass, Eurostar Tickets,
Trenitalia Tickets, SNCF Tickets and DeutscheBahn Tickets. The US site is
designed to service customers from the United States, Mexico, The Caribbean and
Central American countries.
Train Delays and Compensation
European Regulation 1371/2007 (Articles 15-18) stipulates that the following compensation is due in case of a train delay of one hour or more. The traveller can choose between travel vouchers and cash refund.
In case of a delay, the traveller should contact the ticket desk on arrival and request the required form.
If a cash refund is desired, a bank account number and account name must be provided (in France, a sheet detailing the bank account number is known as a RIB). The full IBAN and RIB should be provided.
The compensation of the ticket price shall not be reduced by financial transaction costs such as fees, telephone costs or stamps.
Compensation requests should be posted to one of these addresses:
Centre régularité SNCF
Service relations clients SNCF
30-59 minutes: Compensation of 25% in the form of a travel voucher
valid six months. This compensation is not a legal requirement but SNCF's own
General information on train delays on EU's website.
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