If you are blocked by error messages on the SNCF Connect or on Ouigo.com, you’re not alone. The websites and apps have lots of redirects and undergo constant updates that can render them in some cases nearly unusable. In particular, the transition to the new SNCF Connect website has been very rough and disabled a number of features.
Fortunately, there are easy solutions as well: options for buying French train tickets from separate booking websites. You can get the same tickets at the same prices without the hassle of the SNCF’s — how shall we put this? — highly “varied” levels of website usability and customer service.
The private portals are also a good way to get cheaper train tickets in France because they often come up with smarter routing options than the SNCF’s own websites. And ultimately due to the website errors and redirects this is for many of us the only option.
Solutions for the SNCF Connect website errors
Another decent alternative is RailEurope (formerly Loco2), which is also quite user-friendly and error-free. However, it doesn’t offer the complete range of French train tickets including the low-cost Ouigo routes, and the booking fee tends to work out just a bit higher.
There are other solutions that sometimes work for SNCF Connect app and website errors. If your ticket purchase is not urgent, you can clear your browser cache and try back later. You can use a VPN that allows you to pretend that you’re in France. And finally, if you are already in France, you can go to an SNCF office or train station to purchase tickets the old fashioned way, with lines and cash.
This article is continuously fact-checked and updated by savvy, sweaty, human travel writers
The Frequent Complaints About the SNCF Websites and App 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.
For example, a problem I had:
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. When the changeover happened from the old dysfunctional OUI.sncf to the new and even more dysfunctional SNCF Connect in its current form, the French press recounted the lack of usability and constant promises of improvements.
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 as they have gone through their various versions.
Credit card problems with SNCF Connect
Latin American, USA, Australian, Canadian and other international credit cards are often rejected by SNCF sites; see that article for more on those issues.
As of May 2023, in my own test of the site to purchase some tickets, I got an error message using a Wise bank card from the USA on SNCF Connect; the message blamed the card for not being “set up for online purchases”. The bank card worked fine minutes later on Trainline and I was able to complete the purchase of SNCF tickets that way.
The New SNCF Connect App Doesn’t Work
As reported here in Le Monde, since the introduction of the new SNCF Connect app and website, the errors have simply multiplied. If you can’t get these to work in English, don’t feel bad, the French social media and press are full of complaints about not being able to get the new versions to work either. Reportedly Trainline has seen a 50% boost in its French users in the immediate aftermath of the change.
Geographical Redirects on SNCF Connect to More Expensive Websites
Previously the SNCF’s ticket portal directed some users based on their IP locations to the much more expensive and less complete websites run by the SNCF for other countries. At last check it no longer seems to do this; one less thing to worry about. (If you do notice such an issue please let us know in the comments.) Also the SNCF’s Eurostar site was caught vastly overcharging senior citizens and young people for tickets.
Handling the Error Messages on SNCF Connect
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 SNCF’s supposedly human-translated English version.
Here are some more error messages in English we got during our annual survey of prices of European rail booking options:
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.
The Price Calendar that Disappeared from SNCF Connect
A previous version of the SNCF website used to have a price calendar (“calendrier des prix”) that would show you the best days to travel on to get the best price. It was an extremely useful feature.
It has been disabled in the current version of SNCF Connect, which is arguably the worst thing among many with the redesign that was done. The SNCF has been promising to bring the pricing calendar back for years, and has not done so.
Fortunately, Trainline has since added this feature for any search of SNCF tickets. Search for your route for specific dates, and then click on the drop-down on the top right side for “Other days from…”. You’ll see pricing options for a few days before and after your initial search.
This can also give you a good idea of which days of the week tend to be cheapest for your route.
Using SNCF Connect in English and Other Languages If You Don’t Speak French
The language options are not at the top right of the SNCF Connect as you would find on any normal website.
Otherwise, to choose your language, scroll down to the bottom and then back up partway through the various black footers. If you’re on the French page, just above the social media icons, you’ll see something like this:
Under “Choix du pays” (“Country choice”) there is a dropdown that says “langue” (“language”).
For English, chose “Europe (other countries)”. Even if you’re not in Europe, the website will work, though you may get credit card errors when you go to pay. And these and any other errors are likely to be in French, no matter the language you’ve chosen.
If you are using the English version of SNCF Connect and it switches over to French suddenly, it’s likely because you requested a page that does not exist in English, and so switching back to English is unlikely to do any good. You can in that case use the Google Translate extension in your browser.
You can also use the dozen or so languages over at Trainline, which works great and has flawless English.
Or you can use the Google Translate extension on your browser with the SNCF site.
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-existent 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
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 couple-of-euros booking fee they now add on to most tickets. (But see also our general tips for cheap French train tickets.)
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.