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How to buy train tickets and rail passes in Europe

Buying Tickets for trains in Spain

How to buy tickets for train travel in Spain and to/from Spain inc how to save money on Spanish train tickets, making reservations and paying supplements.

The overwhelming majority of rail routes in Spain (including all the links between the major cities) are operated by RENFE.
Tickets for express RENFE trains within Spain can be booked online

HERE

For versions of the site in languages other than Spanish click the ‘welcome’ word in your respective language below the RENFE logo.

Booking tickets for travel on trains in Spain can seem complicated, hence the info below, but this page will tell you how to :

  • use the RENFE booking site
  • SAVE MONEY when booking online
  • book tickets for trains from/to Spain
  • how to buy and use rail passes for multiple journey tips in Spain
  • how to save money with a rail pass

General Info For Booking Spanish Rail Tickets Online

General Information

Only long distance express trains can be booked online

If you book in advance you can save money if you book online - see DISCOUNTED TICKETS below

Tickets are available to be booked online FROM 62 days ahead of the travel date.

When making bookings on the site for rail journeys between two destinations in Spain the prices listed include the supplement and compulsory reservation charges that apply to all long distance Spanish trains.
When making a booking, the site offers you a facility to print your ticket, this then becomes your rail ticket, you do not have to change it for another ticket - make sure you allow pop ups on your PC.

When using the site Turista is the equivalent of 2nd class and Preferente is the equivalent of 1st class.

The trains between two destinations will be listed separately and each will be uniquely priced.

Before using the site it's a good idea to have a look at ThereByTrain.com's guide to Spanish trains here.
Some tickets may seem cheaper than others, but this may because they are for a different type of train that will be slower and will therefore be offered at a lower price.

You can book online for journeys by these types of train AVE; (Alvia) ALV; (Altaria (ALT); Alaris (ALS); Euromed (EM); Avant (AV); Arco (ARC) and Talgo (TLG).

When you book any ticket online it is train specific, the departure time and seat number will be printed on the ticket.
You are then committed to this particular train AND seat.
However, if you miss the train due to a fault of RENFE ie. you were delayed on a connecting train operated by RENFE, you will be issued with a new ticket at no additional cost.

However, in usual circumstances, specific separate conditions apply to discounted tickets (see below).

It can be worthwhile to book in advance online for popular routes, in particular the AV (Avant) trains between Madrid and Toledo can sell out days ahead during the summer.

Discounted tickets - Promo and Promo+

It is definitely worth the effort of making an online booking when discounted tickets are available, but only IF you are fairly certain about your travel plans.

Discounted tickets are made available for long distance daytime travel by Alaris, Alvia, Arco, AVE, Euromed and Talgo trains, but they are usually not available on every train on a route.

PROMO tickets are the cheapest tickets, but they cannot be swapped for another train or refunded, if you change your plans you won't get your money back!

Promo tickets are particularly something of a gamble if you'll be connecting into an RENFE train from a train NOT operated by RENFE - such as the TGVs from Paris to Figueres (and Barcelona).
If the TGV is delayed so you miss the RENFE train, and if you're holding 'Promo' tickets, then you'll have to purchase another ticket - and full price 'Flexible' tickets will be almost certainly be your only option in these circumstances.

You're also not given the option to choose a seat when booking a 'Promo' ticket, so you;re unlikely to be sat by a window.
You don't have the option of swapping to another available seat once you're on the train. - when the train conductor checks your ticket, you need to be sat in your specific seat and no other!

Promo + tickets are (slightly) more expensive than 'Promo' tickets, but they have more flexible terms and conditions, and for peace of mind, they can be worth paying the higher price!.

If you decide you want to change the timings of your journey you can pay an admin fee of 20% of the price you have paid for the ticket.
Though if Promo/Promo + tickets are no longer available for the new journey that you now wish to take, you will have to ALSO pay the price difference - ie. the difference in price between a Promo + and a Flexible ticket.

If you cancel the journey completely, you will be refunded 70% of the purchase price.

If you miss your train due to a delayed train NOT operated by RENFE - such as the TGV from Paris to Figueres - you will be charged only 20% of the price of the new ticket that you will require.

The benefits of full price 'Fleixble' ('billets Flexible') tickets

If you arrive at the station ahead of when your train is due to depart and tickets are available for an earlier train you can swap your ticket for the earlier train at no additional cost.

This freedom of flexibility does not apply to Promo tickets and Promo + ticket holders have to pay 20% of the price they paid for a ticket to swap for another train.
If you book Billete Flexible tickets tickets you can also claim a refund of 95% the full ticket price if you do not want to go ahead with the journey at all..

Billete Flexible tickets offer the greatest peace of mind when connecting into Spanish trains from trains that are not operated by RENFE.
If the international train to Spain is delayed, then the tickets can transferred to a later train at NO additional cost.
However, 'Billete Flexible; tickets are more expensive than 'Promo +' tickets

A step by step guide to booking tickets on the RENFE website

Use the official RENFE ticketing booking site HERE

If you're using the site for the first time and are booking tickets from outside Spain have your PASSPORT to hand, you'll need it to complete the booking.

1 - First of all select the site in the language that you wish to use, the English language version is HERE
However, not all pages on the site are translated into Spanish, but don't let that stop you.

2 - Then search for your journey - for single journeys only select 'outward'.
The stations are on a drop down menu, for the majority of journeys from Barcelona select 'Barcelona-Sants'.
For Madrid, select 'Madrid - Puerta De Atocha' for journeys by AVE train on the routes to/from Alicante; Barcelona; Cordoba; Malaga; Seville; Valencia and Zaragoza.
Select 'Madrid-Chamartin' for ALV trains to/from Bilbao; Burgos; Ferrol; Gijon; Leon; Irun; Santander; Santiago de Compostela and Vallaolid.

3 - Select a date from then calendar, then click 'Comprar' to search for the available tickets.
There doesn't seem to be a facility for choosing a time of travel, only a date, so the search results will show ALL trains and their respective tickets on the day on which you wish to travel.

4 - 99% of people who aren't travel agents and/or Spanish will find the search results page bewildering, but what RENFE are trying to do is provide every possible combination for each journey.
Don't give up it's not as complicated as it first appears.

5 - The tickets are grouped into two, three or four columns depending on the journey:

  • TURISTA - the equivalent of 2nd or 'standard class
  • TURISTA PLUS (not available on all trains) - travel in the same seat as Turista ticket holders, but with extra benefits.
    We've searched long and hard on the RENFE website to try and discover what these extra benefits are, but the page on the website is rather vague.
  • PREFERENTE - The equivalent of 1st class, but complimentary meals are served at seats on the majority of express day trains.
  • CLUB - available only on AVE trains on the Barcelona - Madrid route in either direction, to be honest we're not sure how it differs from 'Preferente' - sorry we can't be of more help.

6 - The tickets that are still available to be purchased online are grouped for each train* on the route in their respective columns.
* = cheaper (much slower) trains may be available - the site will tell you if such alternatives are available. If they are, they canot bebooked online.

Each type of ticket has a symbol associated with it, but only available tickets are shown.
If you don't see a particular type of ticket, it will either have sold out, or not been available on that specific train at all.
The search results page is in Spanish, but with the help of Google Translate, we managed to glean their meanings.

  • M = Mesa You must be travelling in a group of 2-4 people to use these tickets. The price shown is the price per person if four people are travelling together - when you select the ticket by clicking the button, the prices for groups of 2 or 3 people will become visible.
    You will receive a 50% refund of the ticket price if you cancel the trip

  • P = Promo Discounted tickets at the cheapest possible rate, but they can't be exchanged for another train and no refunds are available if you cancel the trip.

  • P+ = Promo Plus Discounted tickets, more expensive than Promo tickets, but they have greater flexibility.
    Pay a mimimum of 20% of the ticket price if you want to swap the ticket for another train and get 70% of your money back if you cancel the trip.

  • F = Flexible More expensive, but can swapped to another train at no extra costs and 95% of the cost of the ticket will be refunded if you cancel the trip.

7 - Once you have selected the ticket you wish to purchase, then the online payment path is little different to standard online booking - though if you're booking a Promo or Promo + ticket double check every stage of the booking process; dates and times etc.

If you have chosen a Promo ticket you will be reminded of the restrictions of the tickets and will be informed of the cost of upgrading to 'Promo' + or 'Flexible' tickets.

A quirk of the RENFE system is that once you have completed the payment part of the process, a message will flash up with words to the effect that it hasn't been possible to process your order.
However, after a few seconds of panic a registration form appears.

You will need to register to complete your purchase and this includes entering your passport details if you are booking from outside Spain..
You will politely be informed that if you'd registered with RENFE first, then you wouldn't have had to do this.
However, there is little point in registering first if you will be booking from outside Spain.
The RENFE customer registration form does not have the passport field on it!

8 - Once you have finished the registration process, the confirmation page SHOULD appear.
If it doesn't then click on the web booking assistant.

The confirmation page will have the booking reference number.
RENFE will not send the ticket to you, it is now your responsibility to print off the ticket and present it on the train.
You have two options; (1) print from your home PC or (2) enter the booking reference number into a ticket machine at the station - to do this you will need to have with you the card that you used to book the ticket..

9 - When making subsequent bookings you can log in to the site from HERE

Discounts for people over 60 years old

A 'Tarjeta Dorada'(Gold Card) can be purchased at Spanish stations (it is not available online) and is available to non-Spanish residents, though you will need to take your passport with you to the station as proof of your age.
It costs only €5 and offers fantastic value as it enables users to obtain a 40% discount on the standard rail ticket price on Mon-Thurs and a 25% ticket on Friday-Sunday on virtually any train in Spain (so it can be a good idea to purchase it at the RENFE ticket office at the airport).
It's possible to purchase the card and immediately purchase your travel tickets.
If you already hold a 'Tarjete Dorada' you can use it to obtain the discounted prices on the RENFE site, the discounted prices will be shown on the booking screen when you enter your card number details.

International Rail Tickets From Spain

The only day time trains operated by RENFE to France go to the border towns of Hendaye and Port Bou and there are no long distance day time trains between Spain and Portugal.

Tickets for the overnight trains between Madrid or Irun and Lisbon are available on the RENFE site, but the ticket booking pages for these journeys default to the Spanish language.

Tickets for the Elipsos overnight trainsto France are available here

Tickets for the TGV trains to/from Figueras are available here

InterRail - Spain

InterRail have one country passes available for travel solely within Spain. The passes are valid only on trains operated by the state rail company RENFE, but as RENFE provides the principle rail links between virtually all towns and cities this isn't a problem.

InterRail 'One country' passes can be booked online here

Inter Rail One Country Pass Prices For Spain

Pass Type 3 Days 4 Days 6 Days 8 Days
Adult 1st class €294/£246 €333/£279 €434/£364 €504/£423
Adult 2nd class €187/£157 €212/£178 €276/£231 €321/£269
Youth 2nd class €127/£106 €149/£125 €181/£152 €212/£178
Child 1st class €147/£123 €167/£140 €217/£182 €252/£211
Child 2nd class €94/£78 €106/£89 €138/£115 €161/£135

InterRail 'Global' (multi-country passes can also be used in Spain)

Eurail Pass - Spain

Eurail One Country passes for Spain have different pricing criteria to Eurail multi-country passes.
Youth and Saver passes are not available for one country passes for Spain, instead the terms and conditions specific to one country passes for Spain are that adults= people aged 12 and over while child tickets are valid for children aged 11 or younger (there is no free rail travel for under 5s).

Both adult and child passes are available in 1st and 2nd class.
As a result 2nd class one country passes can be a good value option for over 26s, as other 'adult' Eurail passes that can be used in Spain are 1st class only. The fact that 2nd class passes are available also means that 'Youths' have a good value option for travel solely within Spain.

In common with other Eurail passes, one country passes for Spain can be booked online in both euros and Australian, Canadian and U.S dollars and one country passes for Spain are available for 3,4,5,6,7,8,9 or 10 days travel within a two month period (i.e. July 15th - September 14th)

Sample prices in U.S. dollars are as follows

Pass Type 3 Days 5 Days 8 Days 10 Days
Adult 1st class $303 $389 $525 $618
Adult 2nd class $244 $311 $420 $495
Child 1st class $154 $195 $264 $310
Child 2nd class $124 $157 $212 $249

Eurail one country passes for Spain can be booked online here

Eurail multi country 'Global', 'Select' and 'Regional' Passes are valid in Spain, regional passes can be used to combine rail travel in Spain with Portugal, France OR Italy (use ferries or flights to travel between Italy and Spain or pay for French rail tickets)

Though as Eurail 'Select' passes are no longer valid on French trains, seperate tickets will now be required to access Spain.

Using A Rail Pass in Spain

It isn't possible for rail pass holders to make the most of travel in Spain by train without paying supplements (compulsory reservation fees) as more often than not, the only direct train services between major towns and cities are provided by trains on which reservations are required.

Before purchasing a Eurail or InterRail pass for Spain use the information available on ThereBytrain.com to research when you have to pay suppTements, as you will need to factor these additional costs into your budget

Both Eurail and InterRail pass holders have to pay the following supplements on these types of train within Spain.

Train Type Code 1st class 2nd
class
Notes
Alaris ALS €23.50* €6.50
Altaria ALT €23.50* €6.50
Alvia ALV*** €23.50* €6.50
Arco ARC €10 €6.50
Avant AVA** €10 €10
AVE AVE €23.50* €10
Euromed EM €23.50* €6.50
Media Distancia MD €4 €4 Can be paid on the train at a higher rate
R-598 R598 €4 €4 Can be paid on the train at a higher rate
Talgo TLG €10 €6.50

*= meal served at seat to 1st class pass holders.

**= Rail passes offer poor value on AV trains and AV trains provide ALL the direct trains between Madrid and Toledo.

If you have a pass valid for a specific number of days travel try to purchase separate tickets for journeys by AV train (on the Marid - Toledo route tickets can sell out days in advance).

If you're using a consecutive number of days type you won't be saving money on AV trains, once you have factored in the daily cost of using the pass PLUS the supplements charged (there's a reason why the 2nd class supplement is particularly expensive for AV trains, RENFE want to discourage users of rail passes from these trains because they are so popular).

*** = Alvia (ALV) trains are used for the 'Enlace International' trains that travel between Barcelona and Figueras (Vilifant) in order provide connections to/from the TGV trains between Figueras and France.
These ALV trains are comparatively under used, so rail pass users should have little difficulty in obtaining supplements.
If you don't want to pay the supplement on the 'Enlace International' our advice is to avoid the TGV trains, it is a 20 min hike between Vilifant station and the station in the town centre which has trains to/from Barcelona that don't require supplements/reservations.

Limited numbers of seats WERE available to rail pass users on ALL Spanish trains on which reservation is compulsory, but the uptaed information on the Eurail and InterRail websites does not now specifically refer to Spanish trains.

You can pay for reservations at a station ticket desk or by phone through the RENFE Call Center on +34 902 320 320, the lines are always open.

Despite the need for so many supplements, rail passes can be good value in Spain, particularly if your trip includes travel on the high speed lines by AVE and ALV trains and you've missed out on the brief opportunities to purchase advance fares at a discount rate.

For example standard non-discounted 2nd class tickets on the high speed AVE trains between Barcelona and Spain cost approximately €90.
A three day InterRail pass costs €175.
A three city itinerary including (1) AVE train: Barcelona - Madrid; (2) ALV train: Madrid - Alicante and (3) EM train: Alicante -Barcelona using a 2nd class one country InterRail pass will have a total cost of €201.50 and result in a saving of approximately €20.

Multiple reservations/supplements for trains within (and to/from Spain only) - such as the three reservations required for the example trip above - can be booked and paid for in a single visit to a station booking office.
Due to the high percentage of trains that require reservations, Spain is not a country in which spontaneous rail travel is feasible, therefore the holding of a rail pass (plus some advance planning) can cut down the number of occasions in which rail travellers in Spain have to visit station booking offices.

Rail Passes And Travel To/From Spain

Holders of multi-country rail passes should consider that the only DIRECT trains between Madrid and both Lisbon and Paris, as well as the only DIRECT trains between Barcelona and Paris, Switzerland and Italy are overnight trains.

Eurail and InterRail pass holders have to pay the following reservation fees to travel on the overnight 'Lusitania' trains between Madrid and Lisbon

  • Grand class single berth sleeping cabin =€136
  • Grand class two berth sleeping cabin =€79.50
  • Cub class single berth sleeping cabin =€96
  • Club class two berth sleeping cabin =€51
  • Tourist class sleeping cabin =€30
  • 1st class standard seat =€10
  • 2nd class standard seat =€6.50

Notes for Lusitania trains:
Both 1st and 2nd class rail pass holders can travel in any class of sleeping accommodation on payment of the appropriate supplement
The sleeping cabins in Club Class and Grand Class are of a similar standard, they key difference is that Grand Class ticket holders/supplement payees can have a free dinner in the restaurant car

Eurail and InterRail pass holders have to pay the following (particularly expensive) reservation fees to travel on the overnight Elipsos trains between Madrid and Paris and between Barcelona and Paris, Switzerland and Italy

  • Grand class single berth sleeping cabin =€208-212
  • Grand class two berth sleeping cabin =€161-165
  • Cub class single berth sleeping cabin =€167
  • Club class two berth sleeping cabin =€112
  • Tourist class sleeping cabin =€72-73
  • reclining seat =€48-49

Notes for Elipsos trains:
Both 1st and 2nd class rail pass holders can travel in any class of accommodation on payment of the appropriate supplement
Club Class supplements are not available at times of high demand/summer months, when Club Class supplements are not available, pass holders who wish to travel in a single or double berth cabin must pay the Grand Class supplement
The sleeping cabins in Club Class and Grand Class are of a similar standard, they key difference is that Grand Class ticket holders/supplement payees can have a free dinner in the restaurant car

The overnight train between the Spanish border town of Irun (for connections from Paris) and Lisbon is a 'Trenhotel' service and pass holders who wish to travel in a sleeping cabin must pay the reservation fees.

Day train connections to/from Spain:
It is possible to travel in either direction between Paris and both Barcelona and Madrid during the day by train.
The multiple supplements that rail pass users have to pay on the combination of trains required for daytime journeys are (much) cheaper than the 'reservation fees' charged on the overnight trains.
Further information is available on the 'Trains From Spain' and Trains To Spain' buttons to the left.

It is possible for multi-country for rail pass holders to travel on the Mediterranean coast between France and Valencia without paying supplements - though virtually all the 'local' trains on either side of the border are 2nd class only.
When travelling FROM Spain these local trains also cross the border to the French town, Cerbere, from where (sporadic) connections are available on to Perpignan (and beyond).
Rail pass users can therefore avoid the supplements payable on both the combination of TGV and 'Enlace International' AV trains OR the TLG2000 trains by taking these local trains via the border towns Port Bou/Cerbere - though connections by local trains are much more convenient when travelling FROM Spain than TO Spain.
Further information on these supplement saving options is available on the 'Trains FROM Spain' and 'Trains TO Spain' buttons to the left.

Overnight Corail-Lunea trains, that are much cheaper than Elipsos trains, travel between Cerbere and Paris, Strasbourg and Luxembourg.