How do I get from Paris to Innsbruck?
August 7, 2009 7:54 AM   Subscribe

How do I get from Paris to Innsbruck?

Traveling to France and Austria later this month. We need to get from Paris to Innsbruck on a Thursday. My traveling companion and I are having trouble finding airfare that even approaches "reasonably priced" ($1100 one-way, $450 round-trip). She has made this trip before and didn't pay those kinds of fares, but the dollar *is* in the toilet.

So we're looking at rail. We're kind of having trouble finding a definitive answer on whether we need to book this now or if we can get a ticket on our day of travel. Some MeFites must be familiar with European rail travel, hopefully specifically from Paris to Innsbruck. Any specific advice you can offer? Thanks.
posted by iguanapolitico to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've taken an overnight train from Innsbruck to Paris and I booked in person at the Innsbruck station no more than a day in advance. (It may well have been the morning of) Whether August is so much busier than April (when I traveled) that it requires weeks of advanced notice I couldn't say, but this was my experience.
posted by Adam_S at 8:03 AM on August 7, 2009

Just hints, but maybe they help: Innsbruck probably is a rather small airport, so flying to a city nearby, maybe Munich (Germany) might be cheaper. The 9h driving-distance is rather far, so I'd guess that traveeling by train is also expensive. Maybe car-sharing is an option? Or you could check whether there are buses? Sometimes they're only 50 EUR for rather far distances.

As for comparing fares, Opodo has some of the best flight deals. Then again you might want to check which carriers are flying from Innsbruck or Munich (based on information on those airport websites). As for rail, the french SNCF, German Bahn or Austrian ÖBB should give you a quote.

Since it's in the middle of the week, check rental cars as well, maybe they have a good deal. In my experience Hertz often is cheapest, but I don't know whether they're in France.
posted by oxit at 8:10 AM on August 7, 2009

You may need to take two low-cost flights on two separate airlines. This will be on separate tickets, so allow yourself enough time to transfer. However, this shouldn't be a huge problem, as these flights are all inside the Schengen zone, so there will be no immigration/passport control - it's just like a domestic flight in the US. (Note that you'll need your passport to act as an ID document as a non-European.)

Skyscanner, a great site for European airfares, is showing $180-$220 for a one-way flight on Air Berlin, via Vienna, on the 27th. The 20th and the 13th have similar fares with slightly more complex itineraries. Here's a bar graph which shows you all fares each day of the month in case you're more flexible.

Be aware that you are allowed a bit less hand and cabin luggage, by weight, than you may be at home in the States. Check the airlines' individual websites for info.
posted by mdonley at 8:33 AM on August 7, 2009

I generally find the German DB rail site to be the most useful when researching international European train trips. It doesn't always show every single train, particularly if you're not starting or ending in Germany, but the website is easy to use and seems to have more data than other places. The French SNCF site should be your first choice for buying these tickets, but the website is terrible. The Swiss SBB site is pretty good.

The German site shows several options for that trip, about 9 hours, with TGV and ICE most of the way. The fastest route is Paris -> Zurich -> Innsbruck, there's also options via Mannheim. The SBB site shows more or less the same itineraries. If it were me I'd go via Zurich because Swiss trains are awesome.

The general rule for buying in advance is you need to for the high speed trains. TGV is by reservation only, ICE often is too. "In advance" can be as little as a few hours, although you run the risk of it being sold out. If it were me I'd probably wait until I was in France, then go to one of the SNCF offices at a big train station and find an agent who speaks English to help me book my ticket (there are many, they have little flags in the window). I'd do this as long as I could buy the ticket at least half a week before the trip.

There's a whole second set of complicated constraints if you want to buy the cheapest ticket. Sometimes you get that by buying here in the US, taking advantage of deals for foreign travellers. Sometimes you get that in France, buying some last minute discount fare. I finally gave up doing this; saving 20% on the ticket price wasn't worth the headache.

Be aware that the French train ticket machines don't take American credit cards; you have to talk to a person to buy your tickets or get one you bought in advance.
posted by Nelson at 8:36 AM on August 7, 2009


You could fly from Paris to Vienna on SkyEurope for less than $100 each on all the remaining Thursdays of the month, then get a train, which ÖBB, Austria's train system, puts at about €60/$86 (from Vienna Airport to Innsbruck) and is about four hours long. You book and print out your tickets at home using their Online-Ticket page.

You could also fly from Paris to Munich, which is a bit cheaper than flying direct to Innsbruck on the Thursdays you want and which is much closer to Innsbruck than Vienna, and get the train from Munich Airport to Innsbruck; DB, Germany's train system, says the journey is €38/$55 and takes about two hours and a bit. If you use a credit or bank card, you can print out your tickets at home.
posted by mdonley at 8:51 AM on August 7, 2009

More on the train:

While the DB site is straightforward, the French rail site, Voyages-SNCF, is not, as they try to connect English speakers to a separate agency without special deals - but there's a great guide to the side here on Seat 61. Essentially, you want the site designed for French people. The guy on Seat 61 walks you through all the French screens if you don't speak it, but if you do speak French, it's easy.

The Paris-Zurich-Innsburck itinerary booked on Voyages-SNCF mentioned above leaves Paris-Est at 0827 and gets to Innsbruck at 1721. It's €155.40/$223 in second class with reserved seats on the 13th and the 20th but only €125.40/$180 on the 27th (though as a special deal, the fare isn't changeable/refundable). Door to door, it's a bit slower than the flight, but going on the 27th, it's a bit cheaper.

You can print out your tickets at French ticket machines, pick them up at any staffed station or an SNCF "store" with the card you used to book and your confirmation number, or have them sent to you for free in the mail if you've got a French address with five days' notice.

For me - the train seems like the best option, given that the travel time works out to be roughly the same and that you would have no need to get out to one of Paris' airports. However, if you're a fan of amazing landings, consider flying, as Innsbruck's airport is in an amazing location and the views are outstanding if it's clear.
posted by mdonley at 9:18 AM on August 7, 2009

mdonley above is right, but note that you need a French credit or bank card in order to use an SNCF ticket machine to buy or pick up tickets; if you don't have one, go to the ticket window or an SNCF store to pick up or buy your tickets (they can use a foreign credit card, the restriction is just for automated ticket machines).
posted by agent99 at 9:35 AM on August 7, 2009

A few last things -

• August 15th, the Assumption of Mary, is a holiday in France, Switzerland, and Austria, and this year it's a Saturday, which may mean that traveling on the Thursday before may be hectic, especially if Friday is a day people skip work.

• You've got 40 minutes to change trains in Zurich (from 1300 to 1340), which is plenty of time. The first train, TGV Lyria 09211, has very cool Christian LaCroix interiors, and has a bar car, so you'd be able to have something to eat en route. The second train, EC 160/161 "Maria Theresia", presumably has somewhere to eat as well, as it goes from Zurich all the way to Vienna, but I can't find any details online.

• I looked up the price of going tomorrow on Voyages-SNCF to give you an idea of last-minute prices, and found the same price as leaving the 13th, but it did have a little message saying essentially "hurry up - last seats available!", for whatever that's worth; I imagine that trains go out with some empty seats sometimes, but that you'd have to pay a full-fare first class ticket, about €250, if you rocked up on the day of. The SBB Swiss Railway page says they expect "high occupancy" for the train on the 13th, which may impact you if you have a lot of luggage to stow.

So as you'd be traveling before a holiday on a high-occupancy train, I'd book in advance, as it's easy enough to just pick up your tickets at the station when you depart or beforehand. You'd also be assured of getting seats on both trains - I can imagine a scenario where one of them is sold out and you're stuck in Paris or Zurich.
posted by mdonley at 9:53 AM on August 7, 2009

mdonley above is right, but note that you need a French credit or bank card in order to use an SNCF ticket machine to buy or pick up tickets; if you don't have one, go to the ticket window or an SNCF store to pick up or buy your tickets (they can use a foreign credit card, the restriction is just for automated ticket machines)

I used my British Visa card in the SNCF machine to both pick up and change a rail ticket, and it worked fine.
posted by idiomatika at 10:07 AM on August 7, 2009

American credit cards lack the microchip that SNCF demands to authenticate the card. Trust me, if you buy a ticket with an American card online you have to talk to a person to get the ticket. It's no big deal, but it can add 15 minutes at the train station. (PS: if you know of a way to get an American credit card with that chip, please MeMail me!)
posted by Nelson at 10:28 AM on August 7, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the advice! We're freaking out quite less now. I'll let you know what we end up doing.
posted by iguanapolitico at 1:48 PM on August 7, 2009

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