Some people find booking on SNCF to be difficult.  Below is a step by step guide originally created by Paris forum member Morgan_B that should assist travelers in their arrangements: 

There are 5 sections to this guide:

1. Quick Booking Guide.

This guide will give you the basics on how to book without having to read this entire page in detail.  Handy for those that are comfortable with computers and the internet. 

2. Step by Step Booking.

This guide goes into great detail covering every step you need to take and each field that must be completed during the booking.  Handy for those that are having trouble booking or those that are not skilled in browsing the web.  This guide goes hand in hand with the order page  guide in section 3.  When you see the word “NOTE” , that’s a heads up to an important tip or a place where it is easy to make a mistake while booking.

3. Order Page.

The order page can be a bit tricky so please find included tips on how to get printable fares etc.

4. Question and Answer.

A quick guide to some commonly asked questions.    

5. SNCF Fares Explained

Whats a Prem?  Whats the cheapest fare?  Can I get a discount?  Can I change my ticket?  Find answers to those and many more questions here.  NOTE: This is written with people in mind that reside in countries that the SNCF does not mail directly to.      

       

SECTION 1: Quick Booking Guide

Home Page

1. Go to http://voyages-sncf.com       

2. Click Train at the top.

3. Look for the French flag on the upper right

4. Click the word "France"

5. Click United Kingdom (GBP)

6. The page will refresh in English

 

Search Results Page

1.  Locate the train you wish to travel on and select your seat type by clicking options. 

2.  Select your fare, favoring PREM fares as they are printable at home.

3.  Repeat for return trip.

Confirmation Page

1. Check the details of your trip.

2.  Decline Insurance as it will keep you from being able to print your tickets. 

Order Page

1.  Select to Print your tickets if available, otherwise select to pick them up at the station.  Do not have them mailed.

2.  Complete form and proceed to payment options. 

 

SECTION 2: Step by step booking instructions:                            

1. Go to http://voyages-sncf.com       

2. Click Train at the top.

3. Look for this part of the URL : LANG=FR

4.  Change it to look like this: LANG=UK

5.  Hit refresh. You may have to refresh a couple of times. 

6. In the "leaving from" enter your departure city             

7. In the "going to" box  enter your destination             

8. Check the direct route only box if you know that direct service is offered             

9. Select single or return             

10. Enter outward and return date             

11. Enter departure time. If you want to see all the times for the day enter an early hour like 5 am then you can page through all of the times through out the day. This is a good idea if you are seeking out a cheap fare and will travel at any time. Otherwise put in the earliest time you are willing to travel.             

12. Select class and leave reservation as yes             

13. Enter who is traveling. NOTE: You may put a senior and it will offer PREMS as well as senior fares. However, if you put a child it will only offer a child fare for them and you wont be able to print at all so it is best to enter child as an adult, perform a search and look at prices. Then you can enter adults and child and see which is cheaper.             

14. Enter reduced fare card info if you have one which is unlikely for a tourist as they are designed for residents.             

15. Select FRANCE as the country where you will collect your tickets. Do NOT select the US as you will be redirected to the RailEurope website.             

16. Click submit.             

17. You will be presented with your outward journey where you may select the outbound fares. Fares with the yellow background are the cheapest, a blue background is the mid price and grey is most expensive and tends to be flexible. Green background tends to be a class upgrade suggestion.             

18. If you do not like the times you may click "see the following trains" to go to the next page of trains.              

19. Click on Options to select seating options for the train that you have chosen. If its an iDTGV click on ambience.              

20. Once you find the fare / time you want select "choose this outward journey" located next to the chosen time/ fare.             

21. You will be presented with return journey fares/ times. Repeat steps 17-19.              

22. Once you find the fare / time you want select "choose this return journey" located next to the chosen time/ fare.              

23. You may or may not be offered cancellation insurance. Make your selection.

NOTE: You may not print tickets at home if you choose cancellation insurance.    

 

SECTION 3: ORDER PAGE                            

1. Possible options given to you:                            

Confirm your order by paying online and choose to:                            

Print your ticket yourself to save time                            

Receive your ticket free by post                            

Collect your ticket from an automatic ticket machine (except for business cards and the "Frequent Traveller and Flat Rate" season tickets) or from station ticket office or Boutiques (in France only).                            

OR                            

Choose a single option to be confirmed later:              

You must pay and collect your ticket before the XX/XX/20XX at XXhXX sur Voyages-Sncf.com or from an automatic ticket machine (except for trade cards and "Frequent Journey and Season Ticket" rail cards) of from station ticket offices and Boutiques (in France only).              

NOTE: The automatic ticket machines ONLY work with French credit cards. With a foreign credit card you must go to the counter to obtain your tickets.              

NOTE: When printing tickets, enter your birth date as Day/Month/Year              

NOTE: Only certain options are available based on the fare you select or the MIX of fares you have selected. Only PREMS fares for your entire order = Printable              

PREMS plus any other fare but iDTGV or Last Minute Half Price = MAIL ONLY which is not an option so you need to go back and look for PREMS only              

iDTGV = always printable, even when mixed with other fares. You should NEVER select to have tickets mailed if you live in the USA. This is a huge risk and could create massive problems if you do not get them                            

2. Select Print ticket if available. If not available, select to collect your tickets. If you only want to make a reservation without paying then you can select to place an option that will expire if not paid for by date given. NOTE: You MUST take the reservation ID along with the Credit Card used at the time of booking to the ticket window to retrieve your tickets. If your credit card expires before time of travel I suggest you use a different card. You will NOT be given your tickets without the card and reservation number.                            

3. Enter your surname, first name and E-mail address NOTE: This has nothing to do with the name on printed tickets. This is merely info on the person placing the order.                            

4. Leave address info BLANK.              

5. Check the box to accept the Conditions of Sale              

6. Press confirm              

7. You will be taken to a page to enter credit card info etc.                          

SECTION 4: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS              

Question: Why would I want to go through all this trouble when I can just use Rail Europe?                            

Answer: Rail Europe does an excellent job providing train tickets to those in the US. They offer a service and their prices reflect that. There is nothing wrong with booking with them. However if you want to save money and don't mind doing it yourself, booking with the SNCF is much cheaper.                            

Question: Why is this darn SNCF site so hard to use!?                            

Answer: It is designed for people that are in the list of countries on the main page. The site simply takes the options and fares you have chosen and offers the available delivery methods. As having tickets mailed to the US is not an option, those in the US are forced to play with the booking a bit until they make the right choices allowing them to print or pickup tickets.                            

Question: Boy this is way too much trouble! Why can't I just call and book over the phone?!                            

Answer: You can book any fare over the phone with the exception of the iDTGV fares which are internet only. Here are the (untested) numbers:                            

33 8 92 35 35 35 (French)              

33 8 92 35 35 37 (Italian)              

33 8 92 35 35 38 (Spanish)              

33 8 92 35 35 39 (English)                            

Question: I followed everything you said and it still is only offering a mail only option! What am I doing wrong?                            

Answer: I have heard of this a couple of times and am not sure what is causing it. You can also book via the http://www.thalys.com website. Look for “EN” at the top left for English, leave country as France and then click on “more criteria”. From that point forward the instructions for the sncf website should work as the sites are identical.                            

Question: Okay I've booked my tickets and now I am trying to print but I can't put the birth dates into the form, what am I doing wrong?!             

Answer: Are you on a Macintosh? You may have problems printing via Safari. Try Firefox ( http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/ )                            

Question: It says I have to print on A4 paper. What is that?                            

Answer: A4 paper is European letter paper. Just use standard US letter paper. The dimensions are not the same but close enough.

Question: Can I book tickets on the SNCF site and pick them up in country other than France?

Answer: You MUST pick up your tickets in France. If your travel originates in another country, it is best to book your tickets on that countries national train website.

Question: I am trying to book a train ticket from the Paris airport CDG. Is that possible?

Answer: Yes, just use Roissy for the name of the CDG station.

Question: Some cities have two stations, which one should I choose?

Answer:  Avignon, Aix en Provence and Tours have both downtown and TGV stations. The TGV station is located outside of the city center but provide shuttle service into downtown. It is best to book the TGV station if you want less changes and the shortest train trip. The TGV stations are called: Avignon TGV Aix en Provence TGV St Pierre des Corps (Tours) I am sure there are others as well but these are the most common for tourists.

Question: I want to return to CDG airport the morning of my international flight. What happens if my train is late and I miss my flight? Will they rebook me?

Answer: Airlines are under no obligation to rebook you free of charge if you miss your flight due to a late train. They may take pity on you but that is fully up to the person at the counter and something I would not count on. Did you know you can book your train ticket and your airline ticket all together? Many airlines (Delta, Air France, AA etc) code share with the SNCF so for example if you are traveling on AA from Dallas Ft Worth to Lyon France, you can buy your ticket all the way to Lyon from AA which would include your air portion from Dallas to Paris and your rail from CDG Airport to Lyon. When you book your tickets together, if the train is late, then the airline will rebook you free of charge from what I understand. The service in France is called TGV Air (internationally, called Rail Fly); Here are a few of the main “airport” (IATA) codes for train stations in France or connectable in France. Just use this as your destination when booking tickets online:

QJZ Gare de Nantes, France

QXB Aix-en-Provence Railway Station, Aix en Provence , France

QXG Gare d'Angers (Saint Laud), France

XDB Lille-Europe Railway Station, Lille, France

XGB Gare Montparnasse, Paris, France

XHK Valence TGV Railway Station, Valence, France

XIZ Gare de Champagne-Ardenne TGV, Reims, France

XOP Poitiers Railway Station, Poitiers, France

XPG Gare du Nord, Paris, France

XPJ Montpellier Railway Station, Montpellier, France

XRF Marseille Railway Station, Marseille, France

XSH Tours Saint-Pierre-des-Corps railway station, Tours, France

XWG Gare de Strasbourg, France

XYD Lyon Part-Dieu Railway Station, Lyon, France

XZI Gare de Lorraine TGV, Metz–Nancy area, France

XZN Avignon, TGV Railway Station, Avignon, France

ZFJ Gare de Rennes, France

ZFQ Gare de Bordeaux Saint-Jean, Bordeaux, France

ZLN Le Mans railway station, France

ZYN Nîmes railway station, Nîmes, France

ZYR Brussels Midi Railway Station, Brussels, Belgium

SECTION 5: FARES EXPLAINED

NOTE: Some fares state that they can be delivered by post. You should NEVER select to have your tickets mailed to the USA. This option is intended only for people residing in France and could lead to your tickets being lost. If they are lost you have to buy new tickets and then apply in writing for a refund for the lost / unused tickets after travel has been completed.  If mailing is the only option you get even after following the step by step instructions then you may consider calling the SNCF English language line to book as they can mail to the proper address in the US.

PREMS: : Prems can be purchased from 3 months before travel until 8 days before travel. Note:  Advance and final booking times vary a bit.  If you look 3 months out and don't see the Prems, just check every day until they pop up.  If you look 8 days out and there are none it is because they have all sold out.  Prems are offered in 2nd class and often in 1st class.  Prems are among the cheapest fares available. To get the best prem fares book 3 months in advance. Prems are limited in number. If they are not offered when you do your search then they are either sold out or not offered between the chosen cities. PREM Tickets are non-exchangeable, non-refundable. Prem tickets are printable only if all legs of your journey and all passengers are traveling on Prem fares or iDTGV fares. If you blend fares you will only be given the option to get the tickets by mail. In that event you should either book legs separately or do your search again and only select PREMS. Prems MAY BE blended with iDTGV fares and remain printable. Blending with any other fare caused them to become mail ONLY. PREMS are available on one way and round trip travel. PREMS may be used by children, youth, adults and seniors. It is best to simply enter the number of travelers in the “adult” drop down to obtain PREM fares. Prems are not available on all routes.   Prems will not printable if you choose travel insurance.  Prems are usually not printable if they include travel outside of France.

 iDTGV: iDTGV fares are among the lowest fares the SNCF offers. They can be lower or higher than PREMS. iDTGV tickets are exchangeable before printing, and are non refundable. iDTGV are separate trains that can only be booked on the internet and tickets MUST be printed. iDTGV fares are the ONLY fares offered on iDTGV trains. You will not see PREMS or any other type of fare on this train. You will be given no other fare choice when booking an iDTGV train. iDTGV fares are highlighted in purple. iDTGV fares rise as seats are sold on the train. Be sure to look at first class fares as well. When many of the 2nd class seats have been sold, first class can actually be less expensive. iDTGV tickets may be purchased 6 months in advance, become dearer as the travel date approaches and often sell out first on popular routes. Please also note that the evening service from iDTGV is called iDNiGHT, a low cost night (but non TGV) service offering seats (not cabins) on overnight or late night routes.

• DISCOVERY STAY : Discovery stays are 25 percent off full fares. They require round trip travel and a Saturday night stay. They are exchangeable and refundable before departure. Non exchangeable and non refundable ticket after departure. Discovery Stay fares may NOT be printed. You should chose the option Collect your ticket from an automatic ticket machine (except for business cards and the "Frequent Traveller and Flat Rate" season tickets) or from station ticket office or Boutiques (in France only). NOTE: You MUST take your reservation number AND the credit card used at the time of booking to retrieve your tickets. You will NOT be given your tickets otherwise.

REGULAR FARE. : These are full fare tickets and are exchangeable and Refundable at any time. .They may not be printed. You should chose the option Collect your ticket from an automatic ticket machine (except for business cards and the "Frequent Traveller and Flat Rate" season tickets) or from station ticket office or Boutiques (in France only). NOTE: You MUST take your reservation number AND the credit card used at the time of booking to retrieve your tickets. You will NOT be given your tickets otherwise.

• DISCOVERY SENIOR : Refundable and exchangable before departure for no fee. Non-refundable after departure, but exchangeable for one hour after departure. Over 60 years. These fares may not be printed. They are usually MORE expensive than PREM fares and should only be chosen when prems are not available or if the customer needs greater flexibility.

DISCOVERY CHILD PLUS : Non exchangeable and non refundable ticket after departure. Travel with a child under 12, maximum of 5 passengers. This fare offers a discount not only to the child traveling but also to up to 5 adults traveling with the child. This fare is higher than PREM fares but lower than full fares. Should only be booked when PREMS are not available. This fare is NOT printable.

• FULL CHILD FARE : Exchangeable and Refundable.

LAST MINUTE OFFERS : Last minute offers are internet only tickets and are 50 percent off full fare. They are a good option for last minute travel bookings when prems or idtgv tickets are sold out. New offers are posted 12 am CET every Tuesday for travel through the following Tuesday. Ticket cannot be exchanged, or refunded. On-line payment. Tickets can be printed at home unless blended with a non-printable fare. In that event they can be picked up at the train station. You must take your reservation number and the credit card used at the time of booking to obtain your tickets.