Solved! All Those Problems with SNCF Websites — and How to Get Around Them

Given the frequent errors and lack of usability of the SNCF's ticketing websites, we're assuming this their main server. As captured by David Hellmann.
The main server for the error-ridden websites, as captured by David Hellmann.

If you are blocked by error messages on or, you’re not alone. The websites have lots of redirects and undergo constant updates that can render them in some cases nearly unusable.

Fortunately, there are easy solutions as well: options for buying French train tickets from private portals. You can get the same tickets at exactly the same prices without the hassle of the SNCF’s — how shall we put this? — highly “varied” levels of website usability and customer service.

Don’t get us wrong, we still use the official site in some cases, and especially use it for initial searches for cheap tickets within France for its “flexible dates” feature to decide on what date to travel on for the best prices.

But ultimately when it’s time to book we usually switch over to a private platform to buy at the same price without the website errors and redirects.

Solutions for SNCF websites

We’ve found that the easiest-to-use train ticketing portal for France (and mainland Europe) is Trainline — and its pricing follows the dynamic rates offered by the SNCF itself, with no markup if you’re in mainland Europe. It offers the smoothest experience of any European train booking portal, good customer support, and the smartest routing.

That said, those outside of mainland Europe may save a few dollars, pounds, or whatever by booking on Loco2, which doesn’t have booking fees for anyone, anywhere. It is also quite user-friendly. However, unlike Trainline, it doesn’t offer the complete range of French train tickets including the low-cost Ouigo routes.

The French national train company’s websites have so many errors that they can be difficult to impossible to use. Sometimes — more than half of the time, in our experience — works great, but the website errors are so aggravating when they do happen that we no longer bother trying. Trainline or Loco2 are the best way to avoid these issues.

Search Trainline  Search Loco2

Update History of This Article

This article was published on March 22, 2018. It underwent a major rewrite on September 19, 2018. It was updated concerning Trainline fees on April 22, 2019.

The Frequent Complaints About the SNCF Websites for Buying Train Tickets

Any recent Twitter search or review of travel forums and blogs shows vast swaths of the French and foreign train-travelling public griping about the site errors that prevent them from getting information and the tickets that they want.

Even French people themselves have lots of trouble with the site and complain about it constantly, which is why we think our main pick above is now a better option even for them.

I myself have frequently traveled on French trains over the past decade, and just as frequently been appalled by the problems with the SNCF websites and apps.

Credit card problems with SNCF

Latin American, USA, Australian, Canadian and other international credit cards are often rejected by SNCF sites; see that article for more on those issues. And even Trainline has been obligated by Ouigo to reject certain countries’ cards for its tickets.

In some cases (especially USA, as one commenter pointed out) it can help to contact your card issue and authorize the purchase if you have a non-European card and are purchasing on Trainline, Loco2, or SNCF sites. This does not fix the Ouigo issue however.

Geographical Redirects on to More Expensive Websites sells tickets to foreigners, but also tends to redirect these users based on their IP locations to the much more expensive and less complete websites run by the SNCF for other countries, especially Rail Europe. And while these are better translated and generally accept non-French payment options, the problem is that these SNCF-affiliated websites tack on huge fees and have fewer routes. Add to that, the SNCF’s Eurostar site was caught vastly overcharging senior citizens and young people for tickets.

In this screenshot, a pop-up gives an American visitor the “opportunity” to purchase tickets from the more expensive Rail Europe.

You can refuse the redirects like the screenshot shown above. And if necessary use the language menu at the top right to choose France or another language.

If you don’t speak French, choose “Europe (other countries)”. This will keep you on the regular site with the same prices, but the user experience will be (mostly) in English. Definitely don’t choose “Russia” or “Rest of the World” as these can lead to much higher fares.

Note however that if you’re outside of France and you do manage to purchase your tickets through, they cannot be mailed to you outside of France. You must do an E-ticketing option.

Overall, rather than all of this, we think you’re much better off with the private ticketing option mentioned at the top, Trainline, for the same prices, E-tickets, and no re-directs to other sites.

Handling the Error Messages on

There are error messages that pop up in French (no matter that you’re using the site in English), like “L’accès au service de réservation de billets de train est actuellement indisponible.” (“The access to train ticketing reservations is currently unavailable.”) Usually any trips that you have saved are then lost and you have to start over.

Google Translate offers browser extensions that can help you with reading untranslated portions of the site, and sometimes its machine translations can even be more comprehensible than the English version for fare rules and such.

Here are some more error messages in English we got recently during a survey of prices of European rail carriers: error message: Oops! A technical error occurred. Please try again or choose another train. error message: “Oops! A technical error occurred.” This error forced us to input all of our trip info over again. error message: Some of your requests cannot be satisfied.
“Some of your requests for seats cannot be satisfied.” Without explanation, was often unable to actually sell the tickets that show up in searches that cross a border, and you only find this out once you’ve put the ticket in your basket. error message: "Your request cannot be completed. Please renew shortly. For more information, our advisors are available. Thank you for your understanding."
“Your request cannot be completed. Please renew shortly.” We frequently had error messages like these when searching for complex and international trips from There was no problem buying these same trips (and for cheaper prices) from the private platforms we tried.

There are many other error messages, often containing no explanations, or infuriatingly vague or useless instructions.

SNCF is infamous for not providing any useful response to such customer inquiries via their website support. The only option when these things happen is generally to try back later, or, as we said up top, the private booking sites that offer the same rates.

Some of my Own Horror Stories with SNCF Booking

I speak fluent French so the language oddities of the SNCF’s sites haven’t been a problem. But I still have had plenty of issues.

I once ended up with a ticket purchased from the SNCF website that said that it had to be withdrawn from a ticket machine in a station. But when I went, the ticket machine produced an error and was unable to print my ticket and said to see station staff. The staff was also unable to produce my ticket and said that I would have to come to the station in Nantes at 6am the next morning to speak to a manager. The manager was not to be found the next morning, and so I was issued a ticket at the counter for the non-existant train car. It was a valid ticket so I was still allowed to board the train, but this caused quite a bit of confusion for the ticket inspectors, who photographed my ticket and sent it in to the station.

On a separate incident, I was once promised at a train station that a full refund for a mistaken credit card charge from the SNCF site would be mailed to me. Instead, however, I received coupons for future train trips. I was unable to use most of them before they expired, and the so the SNCF still owes me about €160. Dearest SNCF, if you’re reading this website and you don’t like it, how about refunding me some cash? And taking care of your countless other customer complaints on Twitter and other sites?

Conclusion: Our Favorite Alternative to the Error-Ridden SNCF websites

The view crossing from Italy into France on a fast train, as I write for this site

I’ve been personally much happier since I switched to Trainline, which isn’t perfect but avoids all of the problems above, and has relatively great customer service. Their main issue is the 3% or so booking fee they now add on for those outside mainland Europe. If this applies to you, try Loco2 instead, unless you’re going on a budget train route (Ouigo). (And see also our general tips for cheap French train tickets.)

We’ve also found Trainline to be the overall best bet for buying not just French but most Western European train tickets. The German rail company website isn’t so bad, but most of the European rail operators websites are even worse than those of the SNCF. Their translations are universally terrible.

Once you board a French train, though, and get a croissant and café in the bar car, all the hassle seems worth it as the beautiful countryside slips past your window.


  1. Avatar
    Conrad Benefield
    August 23, 2019

    After SNCF rejected my online payment three times due to a technical problem, they cancelled the whole order and sent me a friendly email to confirm this and say “hope to see you again soon”. A quick Google search found your page and minutes later my tickets are booked on Loco2. Thanks so much.

  2. Avatar
    July 30, 2019

    We had issues with booking on SNCF and found later that it was due to verified by visa. I guess SNCF (as well as loco2 and trainline) notify verified by visa (and some other program for MasterCard if that’s what you use) when a purchase is processing on their page and if visa determines this type of purchase is out of the ordinary for you the transaction will not go through and you’ll get an error message. To resolve this, contact verified by visa and report the issue and they will clear the website for use with your card. After the phone call with verified by visa I had no issues booking the tickets.

    • Mose Hayward
      July 30, 2019

      That’s a good suggestion, I’ve added it above as something for folks to try if they’re in the USA. Thanks.

  3. Avatar
    June 4, 2019

    Thank you for this! After 5 days of constant error messages for all return trips from Germany to France.. I gave up and booked a flight instead. It still bugs me and I just found your advice.
    I checked trainline and my trip can actually be booked there.
    SNCF are useless – they gave me the number of their telephone booking service, where the trip costs twice of what I’d pay online. Again – great advice.

    • Mose Hayward
      July 30, 2019

      It’s nice to hear from people like you, it makes doing this site worthwhile for me. Glad it helped.

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