Why does France’s SNCF hate European tourists from German speaking lands?

Here in Austria and in Germany and in Switzerland, we have a great system of interlocking rail cards. For €99/year in Austria, anyone can buy a Vorteilscard and travel at 50% off within Austria and 25% off to Germany, Switzerland and Italy. In Germany, Switzerland and Italy, they have similar offers. For instance, Swiss railroads CFF has a half price card valid for one to three years with one year at 165 CHF and 3 years at 400 CHF.

A great way to encourage rail travel and tourism. I don’t holiday much but what holidays I have taken in the last three years have been in Austria or Switzerland. I do however have some very close friends in Paris and did study in France. I would like to travel and holiday there more frequently.

It is very expensive to get to France via railroad.

Here’s what Zurich – Paris Gare de Lyon costs with and without reductions for return fare:

  • 244 CHF no reductions
  • 280 CHF Swiss Demi Tarif card
  • 188 CHF with SNCF Fréquence Plus

Okay, the reduction isn’t that great with Fréquence Plus but it’s something. Already more palatable. Unfortunately, Fréquence Plus starts at €655/year for second class. First class would be €844/year.

I would be more than happy to pay €100 annually to benefit from more affordable rail tickets but not those kinds of rates.

I would be delighted if my OEBB (Austrian railways) international discount of 25% extended to France. In either case, I would come to France regularly (at least two if not five times/year). Most trips would include Paris and one of Bordeaux, Montpellier or St Tropez. I would leave quite a lot of disposable income behind on hotels and restaurants (no these would not be gourmand expeditions but theatre and concerts and art galleries are not expensive in France, so while I would visit them, it wouldn’t net much money for France). I expect there are very many Swiss and German tourists who feel the same way and would like to be able to cross the Rhine.

France’s attitude appears to be we have enough tourists already, especially German speaking ones. We’ve suffered through two world wars with you, you didn’t pay the reparations we wanted for the first one and if you want to enter our country, you’ll pay those reparations now or allez vous faire foutre les boches.

I guess the French will get their wish this time. I hope this post helps others who are trying to make sense of SNCF Fréquence Plus for visitors to France.

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7 Responses to Why does France’s SNCF hate European tourists from German speaking lands?

  1. torp

    Reduction cards from a country are not automatically valid in a other just because it pleases you. There must be an agreement between the two companies.
    I could write the mirror thing and ask why the reduction cards of SNCf are not valid in Swiss, Germany or Austria unless there’s an agreement on it.
    I won’t. And you know why ? Because it would be stupid.
    And pretending that this is because WW1 and 2 would be more than that.

  2. Hi Torp,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    The German speaking countries can cooperate. Why can’t the French? Not to speak of the damn English (Europe’s worst citizens).

  3. torp

    You’re talking of an agreement between three countries and you ask why a fourth one is not in it ?
    And you start thinking that it’s the SNCF fault ?
    But, you know, Alec, there are some deals that work and others that don’t… maybe SNCF estimated it was not a good thing for her, maybe the other network didn’t ask the SNCf, maybe it was to developp trafic on a certain axis and not another, maybe… maybe….

    And you ask why the train is so expensive in France ?
    That’s called the “law of the market”, Alec. The more people ask for train, the higher the price. And a lot of people are asking for it in France, and not only german speaking ones.
    And, unlike other network in Europe, French government asked the french company to make money and refund it’s debt, while in Germany, it’s the government who erased it totally in 1994 (35 billions euros + they got 30 billions more from Europe for the reabsorption of former east germany network and workers).
    When your govt refund your 35 billion debt, and gets you a 30 billions bonus, you breathe better, and it’s easier to be a good accountant and to offer lower prices…

  4. Hi Torp,

    Asking for the national rail system to pay its full debts sounds like a great way to destroy that system. When you raise tarifs, you diminish traffic. People still move but in cars, who travel on subsidised roads and who destroy the environment.

    I’d suggest the French should suck up their considerable guts and do something to make the SNCF the affordable travel choice of the French people again.

    As far as the foreigners go, don’t forget all those visitors spend a bundle of money in France, not just rail tickets.

    I’m curious about the bonuses top SNCF (I believe it’s a political appointment) have been taking while presiding over the ruin of the French rail system. The SNCF is still heads better than the fully privatised rail circus they have in England though where one has to book tickets three months in advance to be able to travel at reasonable prices and even then the tickets may not be accepted in the trains.

    Rail management in France and England in the last twenty years has been about taking what works and breaking it.

  5. torp

    Hi Alec, your first sentence resumes it all.
    By going more far in the division of the train system (infra on one side, exploit on the other, then exploit divided into tgv, rgionals, and great lines itself divided, into…) than what Europe asked for, and by not playing the game of refunding the debt and ask the company to do it herself, the french govt has nearly destroyed what was one of the greatest train network of europe.
    I’m also mad and sad about it.

    But facts proove that, even if they were “refunded” and reshaped into a commercial design the DB, for example, is not free of problems, and those ones are more hard and expensive to solve than the french ones.
    Have you heard about Eschedde (101 dead), Dorf (10 dead), or the unexplained breaking of a wheel in Bohn, 3 years ago? or the “winterchaos” 2 years ago ? Or the 3 months train drivers strike in 2011, as they were asking for a 30% (!!!) salary raise ? Or the fact that, upon 6 ICE made to ride fast line To Paris, 2 are broken, 2 have limitation in speed, and the (so ugly) SNCF lends 4 TGV to the DB for free so that she can honor it’s contract with it’s customer ? I bet they do not communicate that much about it, do they ?,…

    I don’t know if the Germans have considerable guts, but i know they would suck something anyway ;-)

    In France, a new law, that must be confirmed in february is reuniting the SNCF and RFF (the owner of the network) into a new company.
    Let’s hope that will mark a return to reason and solve some of the troubles you found.

  6. Hi Torp,

    Thanks for the additional details. I have many wonderful memories of riding on trains in France in the 90′s (especially Paris-Bordeaux) with great meetings and conversations.

    It would be fabulous if we could find a way to connect France to the German speaking rail system so I could travel more often to and in France. As a visitor, the SCNF discount system is impossible and the announced tarifs penal. I pay more between Basel and Paris than I do between Basel and Bratislava!

    PS. Despite issues with the rail lines, at least your president is raising the French flag proudly again by enjoying life and beautiful women. Hollande has made the Anglosaxon world look fairly ridiculous how we mix politics and personal life.

  7. torp

    I also think it would be a great think and that we would all be more happy if the europeans networks united their efforts and worked together, in complementarity, instead of fighting. The TGV Est goes from Paris to the french border, but we are still waiting for the DB to continue it in germany, (they promised to finish it by 2010, it’s still not started to build) same for the TGV rhin-rhone that stops at Mulhouse…

    In an other way, i agree with what you say and i’m upset that there is no (or very few) european reduction card suche as this one: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/EuroCity

    But i find it normal to find a reduction card close to your home, for your every day or every week trip, cheaper than the one you use in a foreign country 5 or 6 times a year. You would probably think the same about Germany if you were living in France…

    About our president, it’s sure that our reaction is totally different than the US one, most people here don’t care what the president does in his private life as long as it’s legal, and as long as he does the job right. I even think that some people consider the fact of being with different woman, as a sign of health and feels that the effects on his job can only be good ones, considering that a satisfied and non-frustrated man takes better decision. More amusingly, what’s the interest of becoming french president if you can’t f..k anyone you want ? ;-)

    It looks that US are a bit hypocrites about that, don’t forget it’s a country where you can buy a machine gun with your bottle of milk, but where kinder surprises are considered dangerous, where 90% of porn movies are made but when people call the police if a skirt is a bit to short.

    I think Germans are nearer to the French than from the Americans about that, nevertheless, I hope so.

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