COMPARATIVE – Privatizing the compartment of a sleeper train can be more economical than taking the plane if you are leaving with your children or a small group of friends. Our comparison of four trips in France and Europe.

As the summer holidays approach, those who have not yet planned anything may ask themselves the question: is it better to take the train or the plane to cross France or Europe? From an environmental point of view, we will categorically answer by train because of its low carbon impact. On the price side, one would be tempted to turn immediately to the plane. And yet, the rail is not necessarily more expensive than the air, especially if you go with your children or in a small group and if you prefer night trains. This is the conclusion of a study carried out by the British consumer association Which?. “Our research found that single travelers and couples would have to pay significantly more to choose the train over the plane. But the good news is that there are savings for families and large groups who can share train compartments.What qualify the reputation of high cost that sticks to the image of rail transport.

Our price comparison

To verify this observation, we in turn carried out a comparison (see methodology at the end of the article) prices between the plane and night trains, the only ones with private compartments. It covers national (Paris-Nice and Paris-Toulouse) and European (Paris-Vienna and Paris-Berlin via Brussels) routes for a family of 4 consisting of 2 adults and 2 children under 12 years old with a departure at the beginning of the summer holidays.

Route Return train price without/with reduction Return flight prices
Paris-Nice €735 / €538 €844.92
Paris-Toulouse €582 / €424 €753.92
Paris-Vienna €864.8 / n/a 778 €
Paris-Berlin 1054 € / n/a 1011 €

Result: the gap between the two modes of transport, which is very small, widens even more in favor of the train if you have the SNCF Advantage card and if you include the night’s accommodation saved. “Flights can seem much cheaper as long as you don’t factor in the cost of luggage and an extra nightrecalls Which?. These additional costs can indeed weigh down the budget. At easyJet, only a small bag to put on your feet is included in the basic fare. To carry a suitcase in the cabin, the option for each passenger can inflate the bill by nearly 25%. And if you leave even more loaded, let’s not talk about the extra cost of checked baggage…

The duration of the door-to-door journey, necessarily longer by train than by plane, can be turned into an advantage if you wish to make an itinerant trip. Each connection thus becomes an opportunity to discover a new destination within the same stay. It all depends on the time you have and the experience you are looking for: arriving as soon as possible or making the trip a journey in itself.

Families and groups who want more privacy can privatize a sleeper compartment, for an additional fee (€45 at the SNCF). Another advantage: train companies generally offer more flexible exchange and cancellation conditions than airlines. Luggage, on the other hand, is systematically included in the ticket. Their number, weight and dimensions are rarely checked with the same rigor as at the airport.

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Interrail free for children under 12

In Europe, using Interrail can be very advantageous for traveling trips. This rail pass is even more so if you are traveling with your children, since it is free for those aged between 4 and 11 inclusive (up to a limit of two per adult). Children under 4, on the other hand, simply do not need to order a pass. On the other hand, children must still pay the compulsory supplements to take certain trains, including night trains (between €3 and €30).

So many advantages that convinced Nassira, mother of three children, to prefer the train to the plane to connect France and Morocco in the middle of summer. In publication Widely commented on Twitter, this journalist recounts her roaming to the Cherifian kingdom. The round trip between Paris and Morocco cost him €547 for two adults and three children (€335 for two Interrail passes + €212 for booking fees). By comparison, according to our simulations, a Paris-Marrakech round trip for five people costs at least €1,200 in July and August 2023.

Generous discounts for children

Apart from night trains and their sleeper compartments, traveling by TGV can also be advantageous thanks to the preferential rates set up for children. In all SNCF trains, those aged 4 to 12 benefit from a 50% reduction on the leisure fare, with the exception of Ouigo where they benefit from a single fare of €8, regardless of the departure date. and the distance traveled. At Thalys, they benefit from a single price of €15 in Standard class to all destinations.

On the airline side, the discounts are generally less generous. At Ryanair, easyJet or Transavia, there are no specific fares for children (except for children under 2 who travel free). At Air France, children aged 2 to 11 benefit from a reduction of up to 20% on short-haul flights and up to 33% on medium and long-haul flights. Those under the age of two travel on their knees and pay 10% of the price paid by their parents.


Simulations carried out on the 16th May for a one-way trip on July 7 and a return trip on July 14, 2023 for 2 adults and 2 children aged 4 to 11 inclusive. The prices indicated correspond to the lowest prices found on these dates. They are likely to change according to the departure dates.

Train: the price corresponds to a privatized sleeper compartment. For night Intercités, it includes the “Private Space” option (€45 per trip). The reduction card corresponds to the SNCF Avantage Adulte card. The Paris-Berlin journey is divided into two parts: Paris-Brussels by Thalys, then Brussels-Berlin on board the new night train European Sleeper.

Plane: economy class fare, includes the transport of one piece of cabin baggage per passenger (it is extra with easyJet). Paris-Nice and Paris-Toulouse with easyJet, Paris-Vienna with Transavia, Paris-Berlin with Air France.