Paris-Nice, Lille-Marseille … These journeys are systematically cheaper by plane than by train

Rather train or plane? With less than a month away from the holidays, when ticket prices are skyrocketing, a surprising element is drawing attention. On certain destinations, at comparable times, the cost of an SNCF train ticket is equal to that of Air France, or even more expensive, for the same journey. Compared to those posted by low cost airlines, the difference is sometimes even dramatic.

Take the example of Paris-Nice, for a passenger without a reduction card and over 26 years of age. When booking three weeks in advance, for a departure on December 18 at one o’clock in the morning – 7.20 a.m. – Air France posts a one-way ticket at 72 euros. At the same time, the train ticket is 115 euros. On his return, on December 26, this passenger leaving Nice at 6:05 am will pay 103 euros with the airline. On the rail, he will spend 115 euros at the cock crow. Conclusion: by choosing the cheapest route, our traveler gets away with 175 euros round trip with Air France, against … 230 for the one with the SNCF! An advantage that has not yet taken into account the duration of the trip: 1 hour and 25 minutes on the plane side – not counting the security checks or the time to get to the airport – against a little less than 6 hours for the train. Clearly, the consumer has no financial interest in taking the land rather than the air, even though the public authorities wish to encourage greener transport. And yet, according to UFC-Que Choisir figures, the airline industry emits 70 times more greenhouse gases than the TGV. The recent climate law has also banned domestic flights when there is an alternative by train of less than 2:30. Which is rarely the case.

A bug in the matrix? Not really. Paris-Nice is no exception. By examining ten trips, we compared the prices of SNCF, Air France and low cost companies over the next two months. Our typical traveler is always the same: an adult between 26 and 59 years old, without loyalty card or discounts, who books three weeks in advance. While the cost of the train remains advantageous on many occasions, air passengers are a winner on a number of routes, such as Paris-Montpellier, Lille-Marseille or even Paris-Biarritz.

For a Paris-Montpellier, by choosing to leave on December 18 at 9:30 a.m., with the Air France subsidiary Transavia, the user will pay 69 euros for the outward journey, and 100 euros for the return trip, on December 26 at 9 p.m. The cost of a train trip will total around 202 euros. That is a difference of 33 euros in favor of the plane for a shorter trip – 1h20 against 3h20 for the rail. What convince … to take the air. A trip on the same dates from Paris to Biarritz will cost 233 euros by plane against 259 euros by train. With, again, the advantage of time: 1h25 of journey against 4 hours by TGV. Let’s move away from the capital, and take Lille-Marseille: for a one-way trip on December 18 in the middle of the afternoon and a return on the evening of 26, the SNCF user will pay 251 euros. That of Air France 211 euros. For a travel time – you understood it – shorter, as usual: 5 hours of journey by rail, against 1 hour 35 minutes by plane.

Christmas vacation itineraries are not the only ones to experience this phenomenon. Fancy a weekend in Marseille in the days to come? In the case of an early departure on Friday, December 10 in the morning, and a return in the afternoon of Sunday, Air France again has the advantage: 101 euros in total, against 138 euros at comparable times. at the SNCF. Same phenomenon for the people of Nantes who would like to go to Toulouse that weekend. A departure in the afternoon of Friday and a return Sunday evening costs 240 euros by train, provided you take the night line on Sunday evening – the previous time, with a connection, being twice as expensive . By plane, via Transavia, the return trip will cost 81 euros. It’s hard to imagine that a traveler will opt for the rail, unless he wants to spend his weekend in the train: the game of connections means that a trip between the two cities generally lasts between 6 and 7 hours, against 1 hour 10 minutes. passing through the airport. Paris-Montpellier can be … 2 times cheaper by plane than by train: the return ticket amounts to 81 euros at Transavia compared to 212 euros on the SNCF side.

These cheaper journeys with Air France often have one thing in common: the presence of a low-cost airline offer on the same route. The British EasyJet and the Irish Ryanair between Lille and Marseille, the Spanish Volotea between Nantes and Toulouse, or Vueling between Brest and Paris. On a Nantes-Toulouse, the weekend of December 3, EasyJet thus offers a round trip at 61 euros, while that of Air France is at 84 euros and that of the SNCF at 70. From Paris, to get to Nice the same weekend, EasyJet posted 69 euros, Air France, 124, and the SNCF, 94. The effect of these broken prices is not limited to these journeys. “The arrival of Ryanair or EasyJet means that historic companies, like Air France, have had to change their prices,” a source told us at a price comparison site. Even if the aircraft manufacturer denies being in competition with the SNCF – a “partner”, one indicates at Air France -, it still practices “attractive” prices on very specific lines, such as Paris-Montpellier … which is also a TGV line. “We want to remain the No. 1 company on the destinations where we believe we are attacked, says David Marey, Air France sales director. We are in one of the most open markets that we know. If the we must take the train into account, we must also include competitors such as EasyJet on certain domestic routes in our prices. ” To counter-attack against low-cost airlines, Air France turns to its low-cost subsidiary Transavia.

“We are aware of the competition between the different modes of transport. We have often been criticized for being too expensive, especially when making reservations near the departure date, admits a source at SNCF Réseau. But our system is designed to so as to offer low prices for those who plan ahead. ” The opening of sales is thus often awaited with firm footing by the regulars of the railroad. “On the first day of the online Christmas trips, we sold a million tickets,” says our informant. Soft prices for the farsighted, but not necessarily for others. “Hence our decision to launch a new Benefits card,” he continues. This reduction card, available at 49 euros per year, should allow SNCF users to benefit from capped prices, which do not exceed 79 euros for longer journeys.

In this price war, the SNCF leaves with a disadvantage: the cost and maintenance of its infrastructure. “As well as the cost of tolls, quite high fees which the railway company must pay”, notes Frédéric Marty, researcher in economics at the CNRS. This results in higher operating costs. “We strongly support rail, whose infrastructure costs are in essence much higher than for planes: the State is injecting 75 billion euros into the rail network over ten years,” said the ministry. Transport, where it is said to ensure that all measures are put in place “to prevent certain companies from adopting predatory attitudes in terms of tariff or social dumping”.

In what way? “We ensure that air transport assumes the environmental costs of its activity, it is explained. The companies must thus surrender carbon quotas: from 2022, they will have to carry out compulsory domestic compensation.” Compensation that Air France is already paying … without giving the train an advantage. Moreover, no specific taxation of kerosene is envisaged for the moment: it is a question of not penalizing the consumer who takes advantage of this situation.

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