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How to buy train tickets and rail passes in Europe

Questions answered for European train tickets

More information for European train tickets inc supplements and reservations explained. ThereByTrain.com tells how to save money and time when finding the right ticket for you.

European train tickets can be a complicated topic, so there is A LOT of (maybe too much?) information below.
But we know the rules of online publishing and have tried to keep the information to a minimum (yes really).
Some of the information below is therefore fairly general, but we hope still useful.
It's also 99.9(ish)% accurate, but we're beginning to wonder if its ever possible for anyone to be 100% correct on the subject of European train tickets.
If we've made an error, please use the 'contact us' email in the footer of the site and we'll correct the information - and credit you.

1: What is a supplement?

A supplement is a surcharge that has to be paid by all passengers when using many of the prestige DAY trains in Europe including the majority of those that travel on high speed lines and cross borders.

All supplements also include a seat reservation on the train, reservations are therefore compulsory on all trains on which suplemennts are payable.
For this reason some travel sites and ticket desks don't use the term supplement and only refer to reservation fees.
If ticket booking office staff don't understand a request, or query about supplements, ask them about the reservation fee instead.

Passengers buying individual tickets for travel on these trains will have the supplement automatically added to their ticket price at the point of purchase.

Supplements and rail pass users

However, holders of rail passes will often need to pay these supplements as an additional cost depending on the terms and conditions of the particular rail passes.
The supplement always includes the price of any compulsory seat reservation.

Click this link to see details of Supplements prices for rail pass users and a snapshot of the types of train in Europe on which they have to be paid.
We've also suggested the most convenient alternatives for avoiding the charges.

Supplemenmts should always be paid prior to boarding the tarin, as paying on the train is usally not on option, and is best avoided.
In the worst case scenarios, if you haven't paid the supplement, you can be fined, or charged for a separate new ticket at the most expensive rate.

Supplements are paid for travelling on a specific type of train and not for a journey, so have a fixed price.
Therefore they can give good value in both comfort and time saving for long journeys but can seem expensive for shorter trips.
However for shorter journeys, alternative trains for which supplements aren’t necessary, are usually available.

2: How I can check in advance whether I have to pay a supplement?

Supplements only have to be paid on specific types of train in Europe

They are; Alaris, Alleo, Alvia, Arco, Artesia, Avant, AV (Italy) (AVE Spain), Arco, Berlin-Warsaw Express, EC trains to/from Hungary, Italy, Poland and Slovakia only, Eurostar Italia, Eurostar City, IC trains in Croatia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Norway (2nd class pass holders only), Poland and Slovakia and IC trains between Oslo-Stockholm, ICE Sprinter services (no supplement charged on other ICE trains), Pendolino (Finland), Lyria, Super City, Talgo, Talgo 200, Teoz, TGV, TLK and X2000 trains.

Further information on train types is available on the therebytrain.com Trains pages

3: How can I avoid paying supplements?

Despite the long list above, the overwhelming majority of trains in Europe don't require a supplement. Rail pass holders don't have to pay supplements on any train(s) in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany (except for easily avoided ICE-S trains), The Netherlands (except for easily avoided 'Fyra' trains), Switzerland and Great Britain.

Supplements are not charged on local and comparatively slow services and they are not required on internal express (IC) services in many countries including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Switzerland and the UK.

Holders of Eurail and Inter-Rail passes do not have to pay supplements when travelling on ICE trains in Germany or when travelling on the majority of international EC trains, the EC tarins to/from Italy are one of the exceptions to this rule!

For some high speed lines there are slower parallel routes on which trains that don’t require supplements operate, examples include; Florence to Rome and Paris to Lyon.

For border crossing routes on which trains that charge supplements operate, it is usually possible to use local trains that run between towns on either side of the frontier, but travellers taking this option will usually have to change trains again to reach their final destination.
Non rail pass users will usually have to purchase separate tickets when changing trains.

Try to consider the costs of a supplement, in comparison to the time and convenience you’ll be saving, before opting for an alternative train service.

4: Do I have to reserve seats?

Seats Mmust to be reserved in advance when travelling on certain types of long distance trains in Europe, particularly in France, Hungary, Italy and Spain You can make reservations in France, Italy and Spain for high speed long distance trains up to a few minutes before boarding using special machines at the station.

Reservations are also compulsory on many International Trains, particularly on routes to/from Italy and Hungary and on other cross border express trains in Eastern Europe.

Reservations are compulsory on the majority of high speed trains (ICE trains are an exception), even for journeys by such trains that aren't on high speed lines.
However, tickets for journeys by such trains include the reservation.
The supplements that rail pass users have to pay to travel on trains with a compulsry reservation, includes the seat reservation fee.

Do consider that long distance express trains on which you do NOT have to reserve seats may not have sufficient seats available to all passengers particularly in the summer, in skiing areas during the winter and on international express services.
On therebytrain.com we have striven to recommend when seats should be reserved.

When travelling internally in countries that operate frequent services, seat reservations aren’t necessary and may not in fact be available; this applies to Belgium, The Netherlands and Switzerland (reservations are available but not generally necessary in Switzerland).

When booking individual tickets for trains on which reservations are compulsory at the station or by telephone, the booking clerk will assign specific seats. Make any specific requests such as a wish to face forward in the direction of travel, to the booking clerk.
When booking tickets online or at ticket machines, the purchaser will usually be prompted to book seats according to specific requirements such as facing forward, window or aisle.

5: Do I need to purchase tickets in advance of the day I want to travel?

Tickets do not HAVE to be purchased before the day on which you wish to travel for any DAY train service in Europe.
The rare occasions on which you may be told that there no more seats available on a particular DAY train are most likely to occur either side of the Christmas/New Year holidays, in France on the first and last Saturdays during August and on summer Sunday afternoons/evenings - particularly in Italy, Spain and the UK.

However, overnight trains are an exception.
They can sell out days in advance, even weeks in advance on the most popular routes, particularly around holidays and in the summer months.
In particular, book as far in advance as possible for night trains to/from Germany, Italy and Spain.

Substantial cost savings can be made when purchasing tickets in advance of travel on the majority of long distance DAY trains within Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Sweden AND on certain NIGHT TRAIBS.

Limited number of discounted tickets can be available for international trains, particularly to/from Germany, Hungary and Austria, The Netherlands and in Eastern Europe AND on specific types of international train services inclduing Alleo, Eurostar, FYRA, TGVFI, Lyria, Railjet and Thalys services.

Supplements and reservations also don’t HAVE to paid for in advance of the day of travel on the majority of European trains, but on certain types of high speed train, rail pass users should reserve ahead of the travel date..

Limited numbers of supplements are available to Eurail pass users on *TGV trains; and to both Eurail and InterRail passs users on other trains including Alleo (AEO) and Lyria (TGVL) trains, as well as all high speed trains in Spain.
That supplements link has details of all trains on which this restriction applies, as well as alternatives when these supplements aren't available, of if you want to avoid them!

* = Inter Rail users can save money if they purchase TGV supplements in France in advance

6: How do I buy tickets before I arrive at my first destination?

Check the Tickets pages (above) on ThereByTrain for each country for information on how you can purchase tickets online for both domestic journeys within each country and internationally.
We've included the links to the sites that can sell you a ticket and also explain how to use them.

7: How much will a ticket cost? NEW

One fine day we hope that you will be able to enter your start and end points for your journey on ThereByTrain and we'll give you an idea of the costs of your journey.
Until then we have a produced a Ticket price GUIDE that gives a snap-shot of typical one way prices for popular journeys.

The majority of European countries have a national railway company, Austria (OBB); Belgium (SNCB); Czech Republic (CD); Denmark (DSB); France (SNCF); Germany (D-Bahn); Hungary (MAV); Norway (NSB); Poland (PKP); Spain (RENFE); Sweden (SJ) and Switzerland (SBB) etc.

These companies operate websites on which tickets can be booked online - you'll find the links to the majority of them on the ThereByTrain 'Tickets' home page.

The sites operated by the state rail operators will give you the prices when you're planning a journey, you don't have to complete a purchase to see the prices.

Pricing longer, multi-country journeys involving more than one train is more complicated, but services such as Loco2 and InternationalRail can help with this.

However, often this ticket price issue can be a simple question with a frustratingly complicated answer.
You'll see that for many journeys on our price guide, there is more than one price listed.
We've also included different types of train for some journeys.

This is because on many routes limited numbers of 'discounted' tickets are available on some/all trains.
On other routes more than one type of train is available and tickets for the faster trains are more expensive.
Virtually all trains that use high speed lines have as supplement/'premium fare' factored into the ticket price.

8: Why can’t I find/buy tickets online for my journey? NEW

Journeys that don't have tickets, that can be booked online on sites, operated by the national rail operators (see above question) OFTEN include international journeys that require a change of train such as Frankfurt - Milan; Amsterdam - Zurich; Basel - Marseilles; and Paris - Prague

An exception to the above is when travelling by train from France and booking on the SNCF website.

Tickets for international journeys by direct train such as Berlin - Prague/Praha and Munich/Munchen - Verona can nearly always be found when booking online.
Check the sites of the national rail operators in which you will be starting/finishing your journey.

Compare prices between booking in one transaction or by multiple transactions

If you're considering an international train journey, that reuires a change of train, there are sites that specialise in such tickets such as Loco2 and InternationalRail.

However, it can be a good idea to try and price the ticket for each individual train on a multi-train journey yourself.
You might be able to find a good deal, or a particularly cheap discounted ticket for one part of the journey, which can make it worthwhile to book separate tickets for each train that you need to take.

However, if you're going to take the path of booking separate tickets for each part of the journey yourself, our advice is to leave plenty of time between connections.
It can be less stressful (for multiple reasons) to take a later train than the advertised/suggested best or fastest connections.

Try not to be too fixated in getting from A to B by train in the fastest possible time, particularly if you're on a holiday.
One of the best aspects of European train travel is an opportunity to spend some time in a city where you'll be changing trains.
Unlikely to ever be passing through the likes of Milan, Cologne, Munich, Prague, Vienna again?
Book the second journey on a later train and see something of the city.

If you're confused Loco2 and International Rail will do their best to help you.

Journeys within the countries that aren’t available on some sites

Journeys that can't often be booked on the websites, (managed by the national rail companies - RENFE, Trenitalia etc) are on routes on which the trains are managed by other private operators.

Examples include many routes to/from Milan (these are operated by a company called Le Nord) and local/regional trains to/from the biggest cities in Spain and the 'Italo' high speed trains in Italy.
For this reason tickets many airport services such as the 'Malpensa Express' in Milan/Milano can also only be booked on their dedicated websites.

The Airport Trains section on ThereByTrain has more information including the links to the ticket booking sites for these ‘privately operated' airport trains.

9: Are high speed trains more expensive? NEW

The usual answer to this question is yes, but as so often in the labyrinth of European railway tickets, it's sometimes not that simple.
At least some trains on virtually all high speed train routes in Europe will have some discounted tickets made available.

These tickets can be limited in number and they're generally made available online up to three months ahead.
If you can find a particularly good deal, travel by high speed train can be a fantastic bargain.
For example it is theoretically possible to travel from Milan/Milano to Rome/Roma on an amazing Frecciarossa FR high speed train for only €29!

Very occasionally a discounted ticket for a high speed journey may still be available, when discounts have sold out for slower alternative trains

If travel on a budget is a prime consideration, don't dismiss high speed trains from your travel plans, it's always worth having a look online to see what fares are available - you just might have a pleasant surprise!

Something else to consider is that virtually all tickets for a high speed train guarantee a seat on the train, the reservation fee is included in the price.
On non-high speed trains, reservations that guarantee a seat, are often not included in the ticket price, so if you want to reserve a seat you need to factor in this additional cost.

10: Why are some tickets for the same journey cheaper than others? NEW

There are two main reasons why you'll often see different prices for the same journey available online; (1) some 'types of train' may be cheaper than others and (2) a range of discounted tickets can be available for a journey, or even on an individual train.

The different types of train on each route

The types of train in Europe can have a big effect on ticket prices, you generally pay a more expensive price for the faster type of train when more than one type of train operate between two destinations.

For example, if you want to travel between Milan/Milano and Rome/Roma by train you can choose between travelling on a high speed 'Frecciarossa' FR train, or on a more conventional IC express train.
The FR train is more than two hours faster so it is more expensive.

Something else to consider is that virtually all tickets for any high speed European train, guarantee a seat on the train, the reservation fee is included in the price.
On non-high speed trains, reservations that guarantee a seat, are often not included.

If you don't pay the extra couple of euros to make a reservation on a train on which it's optional, you can board the train and find that no seats are available.
It's why some summer express trains in Europe can be as crowded as trains on the New York subway or the London Underground.
If you've not made a reservation, all those Eurail and InterRail users are just as entitled as you to sit in a seat on the train.

Discounted Tickets

Discounted tickets confuse many travellers, they still trip ThereByTrain up now and again, but something to be aware of is that you don't have to travel by a slower alternative train to save money!.
Sticking with the above example of the 'Frecciarossa' (FR), if you can find one of the discounted tickets you'll be on the same Frecciarossa (FR) train, sitting in the same sort of seat and travelling at the same speed as somebody who has paid the full price to travel on the exact same journey as you.
It's why discounted tickets can be a good deal!

And yes there are a couple of exceptions to that somewhat sweeping statement, it's not a golden rule, particularly in 1st class.
The most expensive 1st class tickets can come with special privileges such as access to station lounges, a meal, free wi-fi and other benefits that can be denied to those who have purchased discounted 1st class tickets.

In 2nd/standard class the travel experience in each train of the same type, ie. all 'Frecciagento' or TGV trains, is no different no matter how much you have paid for your ticket.

The big difference in the tickets is in the small print, those pesky Terms & Conditions on that tick box that you checked without bothering to read it.
Never book a discounted ticket without knowing what you're signing up to - see two questions below to find out why

And yes that was quite a lot of text for such a simple question, but as you can now hopefully appreciate, discounted tickets is a complicated topic.
We wish it wasn't, just as much as you do!

11: Why can’t I find the cheapest prices that I’ve seen advertised? NEW

On a list of the most frustrating aspects of European train travel, this is a contender for the No.1 spot.

Here's the simplest explanation we can muster as to why this happens, yes we did say simple despite ALL those words below.

We're going to stick with using a journey by Frecciarossa (FR) trains between Milano/Milan and Roma/Rome as an example (Trenitalia, we're not picking on you, arguably the best travel bargains in all of Europe can be found on Italian long distance trains).

  • The standard non-discounted price for a one way 2nd class ticket on this journey is, at the time of writing, €89

  • Trenitalia would like to fill all its 2nd class seats on these trains with tickets sold at this price, we would too if we were in its position.

  • However, it wants to operate at least an hourly service all day long, it has airlines to compete with and everyone wants to travel at a time that suits them.

  • It is not going to sell every 2nd class seat on every train at €89, so rather than leave some seats empty, it offers some seats at a discounted price.

  • Like many other train operators it places it tickets on sale three months ahead of the travel date, so for example tickets for travel on May 1st become available to be booked online at 00:01 on February 1st.

  • At some time before 00:01 on February 1st Trenitalian has decided how many discounted tickets that it will make available on all the Frecciarossa trains between Milan and Rome on May 1st.

  • The most popular trains will have less or no discounted tickets, it can be confident that lots of passengers will pay the €89 for the convenience to travel on these trains.

  • It also offers its discounted tickets at different prices, not much point in selling a ticket for €29 if someone will be willing to pay twice this price.

So what happens is something like this:

  • The 09:00 Frecciarossa (FR) train from Milano (Central) to Roma (Termini) is likely to be a popular train, it is non-stop to Roma and you can get there in time to have lunch in the 'Eternal City' etc.
    Therefore most of the tickets for this train may be priced at €89, and perhaps only a very few €29 tickets will be made available.
    By contrast, the 14:15 Frecciarossa train is likely to be less popular, not so many people will want to hang around in Milan until the middle of the afternoon before heading to Rome/Roma.
    Many more seats may therefore be made available on this train at the cheapest price of €29.

  • At 00:01 every night all the tickets for all the Frecciarossa trains on a date three months ahead become available to buy online on the Trenitalia website.

  • Eight hours later the €29 tickets on the 09:00 train are probably sold out, but €29 tickets for the 14:15 train are more likely to still be available.

  • Eight days later the 14:15 train may be the only train departing on that date on which the €29 tickets are still available, but you might find a ticket on the 09:00 train priced at €49.
    Not too bothered about time what time of day you want to travel? You can still travel to Rome/Roma for €29.

  • Eight weeks later all the €29 tickets on the 14:15 train and every other train that day are sold out, no more tickets at the price of €29 will be made available on any trains.
    The €49 tickets may still be available on the 14:15 train and some of the other trains too.

  • Eight hours before you want to take the train all the €49 tickets on any train are likely to have sold out, all the 2nd class tickets that are still available are €89.

Until you read the above you didn't know why you couldn't find the €29 ticket.
You know the price is €29, all the advertisements you have seen anywhere have said 'Milan to Rome by train from €29'
There’s a good chance, you're frustrated because you can't find a €29 ticket, you might even post something on a travel forum about 'what a con this is!?!', other people will agree with you. Lots of people want to complain about train ticket prices, in Britain it's a national obsession.

But the train companies copied this idea from the airlines, all the seats on virtually any flight worldwide are sold like this, but the airlines don't tend to make it as clear as the train operators that those cheapest tickets are now sold out.
In fact knowing whether you've paid the best possible price for a plane ticket is virtually impossible, but not so many complaints?

12: Is there some sort of 'catch' to the cheapest discounted tickets? NEW

Erm, usually the answer is yes.

Terms & Conditions = very boring, but they can matter A LOT when buying train tickets online, particularly for 'ordinary joes' that don't sell tickets for a living.

Sweeping statement alert, but virtually all of the very cheapest discounted tickets for European train travel are non- exchangeable and non-refundable.
When you buy them it is highly likely that they will be for a specific train, ie the 09:00 FR train from Milano to Roma - and only that train and no other.
All discounted tickets on French, Italian and Spanish high speed trains that can be booked online, are amongst those that are train specific.

If, for example you've bought a 'Super Economy' ticket for the 09:00 'Frecciarossa train from Milano to Roma, (or its equivalent throughout Europe) and decide that you don't want to go by the 09:00 train because you've fallen in love with/or in Milan, or you have to cancel your travel plans due to work commitments etc, you won't get your money back.

Need to now leave Milan at 11:00 because, for example, you need to see a doctor at 09:00, you'll have to buy another ticket for the 11:00 train.
If only €89 tickets are available for the 11:00 train then that is the price you pay, and you won't get a €29 discount, that €29 is gone.
Missed the 09:00 train because the Milan Metro train broke down, or the tram didn't turn up on time? You will probably need to buy another ticket.

This isn't a Trenitalia issue (we're very fond of you Trenitalia), it's the usual practice for the most heavily discounted/cheapest tickets across Europe, particularly for high speed trains.
See, it's worth checking out those terms and conditions and don't ignore terms like 'not flexible', because you're not sure what they mean.

Try not to consider the cheapest possible price as the only factor to take into account when buying a ticket.
Those slightly more expensive, but still discounted tickets, can be a good idea.
Often you can pay a fee to exchange these tickets for another train, much cheaper than buying a brand new ticket if you miss the train because of any other reason than a late running connection from another train (see the question below for more info about this particular scenario).
You might even get some of your money back if you cancel your plans altogether.

Our train tickets pages for each country on ThereByTRain.com have a lot of information on these different types of discounted because it can make a big difference.

One further piece of advice - grabbing super cheap discounted tickets for multiple train journeys on a 'holiday' can lead to more stress than your day job.
Panicking about whether you're going to make it to the station in time, every couple of days, isn't relaxing.
You'll soon find yourself arriving at stations hours before your train leaves, and hanging around in stations is never going to be a holiday highlight, even for train fans like us.

However, more often than not, there is one big exception to all of this - see the question below.

13: I'm using more than one train for my international journey, so have separate tickets for each, will this be a problem? NEW

First up a big thanks to Mark at Seat61.com for pointing the information below out to us, his site has more detailed information about train tickets than the basics we've covered, so it's definitely worth a look!

So, you're going to set out on an international train journey, that involves a change of trains. You've got multiple tickets for the journey, one for each train, that you've either booked separately online or the travel agent has sent you.
In the digital age, having one ticket that covers multiple trains operated by different companies for specific journeys, is quite rare - rail passes are of course the exception.

The ticket for the second, (3rd), (4th) train that you will be taking is a train specific ticket because it is a train that has a compulsory reservation.
Before you boarded the first train you wanted the whole journey to be covered, rushing around stations to book tickets between trains is not a good idea.

However, you didn't pay the full price for the train ticket on the train that had to be reserved, you managed to find it a discount, or your travel agent did, or the good people at Loco2 and InternationalRail wanted to give you the best possible price.

This ticket you now have for this particular later journey on your trip, has non-refundable or non-exchangeable printed on it, implying that you mustn't miss this train.

But what if your first, (2nd), (3rd) train is delayed - which is is not that rare in Europe - and you're too late for the connection into a specific train that you're booked on to?

Well as the Man In Seat 61 points out HERE this is something of an awkward 'grey area'. You might have to buy another ticket for the final/next train journey, but then again you might not
Speak to the conductor on the train that is late, they should be able to give a note of explanation
Go to an enquiry office and explain the situation, don't head to the ticket office and buy another ticket until you're sure you have to.
This is all to do with the CIV that Seat61.com explains in depth.
The CIV was intended to guarantee that you won't have to pay again if you were using one ticket for multiple journeys, but in the age of separate tickets it's become more complicated - hence the 'grey area'.
Though you can be in a better position to make a case for not paying again, if you booked all the tickets for the journey in one transaction.

The Railteam Alliance

The better news is that this shouldn't be a problem when you're travelling on trains between countries in the 'Railteam Alliance, and if you are making connections at a hub station - where lots of people change trains -
The countries in Railteam are Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland - plus Eurostar.

So if you're travelling between two of these countries and a delayed train means you miss your onward connection, at a range of stations; including Basel, Brussels/Bruxelles (Mid), Cologne/Koln hbf, Lille and Zurich, you almost certainly won't have to buy another ticket to complete your journey.
Though go to the enquiry desk or ticket office to check what you need to do, you'll probably be issued with another ticket.
Don't just get on a later train, with the ticket that was valid on the train that you have now missed, due to the delay.

But only ask for another ticket, if the train is/was late and not you - because you missed your first train of the journey due to not hearing the alarm clock or your taxi got lost.
You need to have been on all the prior trains that you were booked on, you can't mix and match trains on the journey because you wanted to have a spontaneous look around Cologne cathedral etc.

Try to eliminate much of this potential stress by leaving more time than you think you need between trains.
It can be tempting to make the end to end journey in the fastest possible time, but ThereByTrain's advice is to allow a minimum of 45 mins-1hr to make a connection into a train that you've had to reserve.
Try to allow 1-2 hours if you're connecting into the only train of the day/night.

14: Is there anything in particular I need to consider, if I'm using two or more trains for an an international journey.

A long question with a comparatively simple answer.

If you're considering an international journey that involves any changes of train, then it's often possible to book the journey in one transaction, for example using a specialist service such as loco2; International Rail; Eurostar, SNCF, Trainseurope etc.

It makes very good sense to use one of these agents, if you're not confident about where you'll need to change trains, or don't know which different types of train are the best combination for your journey.

However, if you are confident about the different trains/tickets that will apply to the journey, then before booking the complete journey in one transaction, try to work out the price of each indivdual journey.
On all the ticket booking services to the left, you'll be able to see prices before you're committed to a booking, (though remember that not all prices will be in euros).

You can then compare this total price that you've calculated for yourself, against the price your quoted for booking the complete journey in one transaction.

Often the total price when booking each journey seperately will be cheaper, those most heavilly discounted tickets that you've found online may not be available to the specialist agents, or they come with terms and conditions attached, which the specialist agent may not think appopriate for your journey.

You then have a choice of; either paying a higher price for the convenience and peace of mind of booking the journey in one transacton, or booking each journey seperately.
Although consider that if you're making savings by booking the most heavilly discounted tickets you can find online, you need to be certain that you're selecting trains that will enable you to make the connectons etc.
If you can't complete the journey because YOU have confused the arrival/departure times of your connections, you'll have to book additional tickets at the full, non-discounted price.

15: Why are some international train journeys so expensive? NEW

Some high speed international trains including the 'Lyria' trains between France and Switzerland, ICE trains and the Thalys trains have advanced discounted tickets available.

In contrast certain journeys by EC trains, the main type of international train in Europe that that don't operate on the high speed lines, seemingly only have a set price.

Germany and Austria offer limited numbers of discounted 'Europa Spezial' tickets on international EC trains, but other countries, including Italy Switzerland apparently do not offer this facility.

It's why it's often a good idea to compare prices for international journeys on the train ticket websites of the countries in which you'll be starting and finishing your journey.

It's also why it can be a good idea to shop around and look for alternatives, particularly when booking in advance.
For example if you're planning to travel from Brussels/Bruxelles to Zurich by train, booking the cheapest discounted tickets on the Thalys from Bruxelles to Paris and the Lyria from Paris to Zurich can be a cheaper option than buying a ticket for the direct EC train between Bruxelles and Zurich.

16: Will a rail pass save you money?

As Eurail and InterRail passes are priced differently we’ve produced separate guides for this, click
HERE for Eurail

HERE for InterRail

17: Are there any other advantages to using a rail pass?- NEW

As an alternative to using a rail pass you've managed to find some discounted tickets for the longer train journeys that you'll be making.
You've then looked at a map and decided to hop between some countries on local trains because there aren't any direct express trains, or you could only find expensive tickets online for the express trains.

However, crossing borders by local train can be trickier than it seems.
An example is travelling from Verona to Munich/Munchen; the direct EC train can be expensive, but if you don't have a rail pass.
You then have to:

  • Buy a ticket in Verona for the local (REG) train to Brennero.
  • At Brennero station you then need to buy a ticket for the local train to Innsbruck.
  • At Innsbruck station you then need to buy another ticket for the train to Munich/Munchen.

With a rail pass in your hand you can just jump on to any of these local trains.

Other popular international routes where this benefit of a rail pass can save a lot of faffing around, in comparison to having to buy separate tickets for local/alternative trains - when trying to avoid the more expensive direct trains - include:

  • Milan - Chiasso - Bellinzona - Lucerne/Basel/Zurich
  • Milan - Domodossola - Brig - Geneva/Basel
  • Marseilles - Nice - Ventimglia - Genoa
  • Barcelona - Port Bou - Cerbere - Perpignan/Narbonne/Montpellier/Toulouse/Avignon
  • Brussels - Luxembourg - Strasbourg - Basel
  • Paris - Amiens - Lille - Antwerp/Brugge
  • Brussels - Liege - Aachen - Cologne

More often than not in Europe you can only buy tickets online or at the station for trains within and to/from a country.
The very largest stations with international travel desks are usually an exception, but in some countries including Belgium and The Netherlands, you will be charged booking fees.

If you're travelling through a major German station, it will have an international travel desk that will sell you a ticket for virtually any express train in Europe and you won't be charged a fee.

18: Can I get on any train in Europe if I have a rail pass?

DAY TRAINS

For Eurail/InterRail pass users, the answer is yes for virtually all DAY trains, but there are notable exceptions namely:

  • trains operated by certain private operators (particularly common for local and regional trains in Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden), but rail pass users will usually be able to take alternative trains between destinations.
  • Certain (but not ALL) Swiss Mountain Railways, the majority of these spectacular routes allow rail pass users to travel at either no additional charge, or at a substantial discount.
  • Eurostar trains, though rail pass users can access specific discounted Eurostar tickets
  • Certain types of train on which reservations are COMPULSORY including Alleo and TGVFI trains have limited numbers of reservations available to rail pass users. (more info below)

Before boarding the majority of high speed trains and certain international trains, Inter Rail users need to pay a supplement - details of which types of train that applies to are available HERE.

You will need to pay for these supplements prior to boarding the train.
Pleading ignorance and attempting to pay any additional charges if you’re challenged by the train conductor/guard once on the train is very rarely an option.

Rail pass users who haven’t paid the required supplements or reservation fees prior to boarding are often treated in a similar manner to travellers who have tried to avoid paying for tickets at all.
This can seem harsh and it fuels many of the negative comments about using rail passes that can be found online, but many train conductors and guards understandably enforce the terms and conditions of using Eurail/InterRail passes.

Trains That Have Limited Numbers Of Seats Available for Eurail/InterRail Users

When trying to make reservations/pay supplements for a train with a compulsory reservation at a station, you MAY be informed at the time of booking the supplement that no more reservations are available to rail pass holders.

This is due to the fact that quotas of reservations avaialable to rail pass users are restricted on some, BUT NOT all trains that require compulsory reservations.
Therefore when that quota has been booked by other pass users, you may be informed that you will not be able to travel by that train on payment of the supplement only.

Information regarding these quotas appears to be (deliberately) vague, the terms and conditions are not imposed by Eurail/InterRail, but ThereByTrain.com's understanding is that the quotas do not apply to specific departures but are applied to periods of time.
Meaning that you may not be able to take an alternative departure later that day by the same train type/service on which compulsory reservations apply.

If no reservations are available to pass users when you attempt to pay for a supplement and you want/need to travel by a specific/departure or type of train, you will have two options:
(1) Buy a completely separate ticket for that type of train, or
(2) Follow an inevitably slower, more awkward schedule to reach your destination on trains that don't have compulsory reservations (feasible alternative routes may not always be an option).

Types of Train on which these 'quotas' apply include:

  • ALL Spanish trains that have compulsory reservations including ALS ALV and AVE trains
  • the Alleo (AEO) trains between France and Germany - see alternative options below
  • Lyria (TGVL) trains between France and Switzerland
  • TGV trains (on the most popular routes within France), this apply for Eurail passes only InterRail pass users can pay more expensive supplements when the cheaper supplements have sold out.
  • the TGVFI* trains between France and Italy - see alternative routes below

It may also apply to Thalys trains, but Thalys train supplements are the equivalent of the cheapest discounted advance Thalys fares.

*= The 'supplements' currently charged on the TGVFI trains between France and Italy are more expensive than the cheapest advance discounted fares.
You're therefore unlikely to save any money by using a rail pass for these trains.
If you leave it until the last minute when discounted fares have sold out, you may be denied the opportunity to pay for the supplement.
Our advice is to either avoid these trains completely - we show you how below, OR add the train between Paris-Italy to the start/finish of your Eurail/InterRail adventure and purchase a completely separate tickets for these trains.

As this something of a 'grey area' in which Eurail/InterRail pass holders can find themselves 'unexpectedly' having to pay extra fees, ThereBytrain.com's advice is:

  • Try not to let a compulsory reservation stop you from visiting a destination, or taking a particular route - we've outlined the alternatives below.
  • IF a compulsory reservation/supplement IS required and you want to pay it, do so at the earliest opportunity - using the advice on the question below
  • If you want to book all hotels/accommodation in advance of setting off on your rail pass journey, pay the supplement and be 100% sure that you can arrive in your destination on that date, BEFORE you book a hotel etc.
  • If you don't want to pay supplements/make reservations in advance of commencing your rail pass trip, try not to leave it to the last minute/day of departure on trains that have compulsory reservations - book onward travel on arrival at a destination, or when passing through a station that has an international reservation desk.

Alternatives for Lyria Trains

If you discover that no supplements are available for a Lyria train between Paris and Basel/Zurich its more likely that you will be able to travel on a TGV train between Paris and Strasbourg.
Local/regional trains operate between Strasbourg and Basel (and there are frequent trains between Basel and Zurich).
You will need to pay a supplement on the TGV trains on the route between Paris and Strasbourg.

If you discover that no supplements are available for a Lyria train between Paris and Geneva/Lausanne its more likely that you will be able to travel on a TGV train between Paris and Lyon.
Local/regional trains operate between Lyon and Geneva (and there are frequent trains between Geneva and Lausanne).
You will need to pay a supplement on the TGV trains on the route between Paris and Lyon.

If you're having problems obtaining supplements for the TGV trains, or want to skip the bother, it is possible to travel from Paris to Basel/Zurich on trains that don't require any supplements/reservations.
However, the most convenient schedule (by far) is only possible on Mon-Fri by taking the:
(1) 13:12 train from Paris (Est) to Belfort
(2) 17:33 train from Belfort to Mulhouse (Ville)
(3) 18:16 train from Mulhouse Ville (SNCF) - walk through Basel station to the Basel (SBB) station
(4) 18:47 train fron Basel (SNCF) to Zurich (hb) arrive at 21:43

In the opposite direction the most convenient schedule (by far) is also only possible on Mon-Fri by taking the:
(1) 10:00 (I.C.E) train from Zurich (hb) to Basel (SBB) - walk through the station to the Basel SNCF terminal
(2) 11:21 from Basel (SNCF) to Mulhouse (Ville) - train destination is Strasbourg
(3) 12:23 from Mulhouse (Ville) to Belfort (Ville)
(4) 13:12 Belfort (Ville) to Paris (Gare De L'Est) - arrive 17:16

More information is available for rail travel between France and Switzerland here

Alternatives for ALLEO Trains

If supplements are sold out for the Alleo trains between Paris and Germany, you can probably take a TGV train in either direction between Paris and Strasbourg.
There are frequent local trains across the border between Strasbourg and Offenburg in Germany.
However, there are infrequent direct trains between Offenburg and Frankfurt, its likely that will have to make yet another connection at Mannheim.

There are (virtually) no direct trains between Offenburg and Stuttgart, you will have to make another connection in Karlsruhe.

If you're travelling between Paris and Frankfurt another option is to take a train between Paris and Brussels (the TGVR trains to/from Aeroport CDG are cheaper than the Thalys trains to/from Gare Du Nord) AND the ICE train (on which no supplements have to be arranged in advance) between Brussels and Frankfurt.

More information is available for rail travel between France and Germany here

Alternatives for the TGV France-Italy TGVFI Trains

ThereByTrain recommends that Eurail/InterRail pass users should avoid using the TGVFI trains if possible, the supplements are now more expensive than the cheapest discounted rate tickets per journey.
The 2nd class 'supplement' for a journey between Paris and Milan in either direction is now €55, while for 1st class pass holders it is now €75!
These are the most expensive rail pass supplements for any day train in Europe and once you have factored in the daily rate for using your pass, you're highly unlikely to be making any savings by taking the TGVFI trains.
These charges haven't been imposed by Eurail/InterRail and Eurail/InterRail, they've been set by the new operator of this rail service.

If the supplement only tickets are no longer available or you don't want to pay these high supplement costs for the TGVFI train between Paris and Turin/Milan (in either direction) you will have no alternative to travelling a completely different route than that taken by the TGVFI trains.

The good news is that the alternative routes happen to be some of the most spectacular in Europe. So there's no need to cancel your rail travel plans between France and Italy because you (rightfully) resent paying these additional charges to travel by the TGVFI (or Thello overnight) trains.
We tell you all you need to know about the alternative routes HERE
Follow our suggestions for using your Eurail/InterRail pass on the Swiss Tourist Railways and you definitely won't have any regrets about avoiding the TGVFI trains!

If you intended to travel between Turin and Paris the alternative connections are so awkward we'd honestly consider an alternative destination - this is one trip we'd definitely arrange/reserve before arrival in either Turin or Paris!

NIGHT TRAINS

Rail pass holders cannot board overnight trains in Europe and travel in sleeping cabins, couchettes and (when available - reclining seats) without paying reservation fees.
When ordinary/daytime seats are available, reservation fees MAY also be charged, but are less likely to be payable in Eastern Europe.
see the therebytrain.com overnight trains guide for more information.

AIRPORT TRAINS

Rail passes are also not valid on these special airport express trains - Arlanda Express (Stockholm), CAT (Vienna/Wien), Flytoget (Oslo) and Malpensa Express (Milan/Milano), only 1st class passes are valid on The Leonardo Airport Express in Rome/Roma

19: How do I pay for supplements/reservations/sleeper trains etc. if I have a rail pass?

A general rule is that the majority (but not all) online train ticket booking services in Europe will NOT allow Inter Rail pass holders to ONLY buy supplements and reservation fees.
Another general rule is that it IS possible to book reservations/buy supplements at stations, but in certain countries terms and conditions can apply (see below)

Before leaving home

If you wish to book reservations/pay supplements before embarking on the first journey of your itinerary you have the following options:

1: - Call or visit in person a travel agent, ideally one that specializes in rail travel/train tickets and pay any required booking fees for their services.

2: - Go in person to an international travel desk at a station in your home - call/check in advance of making a visit to check that they will be able to make the reservation that you require.

3: - For train travel within and to/from Germany, within Italy and within Sweden only, you CAN make reservations/pay for supplements ONLINE - see links below

Germany by phone: For train travel within and to/from Germany you can call the D-Bahn Reservation Service
Call +49 1805996633 (Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Central European Time), you'll hear a German menu, select extension 9 for an English menu, then 1 for train information and booking.
Germany online (day trains): For DAY trains within and To/From Germany online - click here and select 'seat reservation only' when following the booking process.
Germany online (night trains): Germany To book reservation fees online - click here and when following the booking path, select the 'Book only, extra charge' link and on the page that you'll be taken to, enter the type of rail pass you have when you see 'pass offer'.

Trains within Italy online: Supplements for the AV, ES and FB trains within Italy can be booked online (does not include TGVFI trains, Allegro (ALG) and Thello (TLO) overnight trains or the EC trains between Italy and Austria/Germany/Switzerland)
Click here and when following the booking ticket steps; ignore the ticket prices and when you reach the 'fares and preferences' page, click the 'More Fare' drop down box, select 'Global Pass' and follow the steps from there.

Trains within Sweden online: online - click here and when following the booking path, look for the 'traveller' section, when you've reached it select the 'customer card' information box and match the options to your rail pass.

At MAJOR stations in Europe

You can leave paying for supplements etc until you have embarked on a trip - though at popular travel times try to avoid doing so for the following types of train in particular:

  • Alleo - high speed trains between France and Germany
  • Lyria - high speed trains between Paris and Switzerland
  • TGVFI - high speed trains between France and Italy
  • TGV trains within France
  • ICN - overnight trains within Italy

More information is available on the 'Can I Get On Any Train' section above.

If you intend to travel on DAY trains on which a supplement is required, or on night trains during the summer months and want to be 100% certain that you'll be able to board any of these trains (despite alternative trains/routes often being available) our advice is to use a specialist rail travel and arrange ALL your supplements/reservations before embarking on your trip.

The trains that can be booked at the travel desks at stations and the terms that apply vary across Europe.
Certain countries charge booking fees while others don't and restrictions regarding what trains can/can't be reserved can apply, so in particular note the following:

Stations in Belgium: - At Belgian stations it is only possible to book reservations for trains to/from Belgium and booking fees apply. (trains within Belgium cannot be reserved).

Stations in Germany: D-Bahn reservation desks/offices are fantastic for removing much of the hassle of a rail pass trip. You can buy supplements and pay for reservations on virtually ANY day or night train in Europe , including trains that don't travel within or from/to Germany and you won't be charged any booking fees.
Our advice is, if your trip takes you to a German station that has a reservation desk, make full use of it!

Stations in Great Britain: - It is only possible to book reservations for train travel within Britain, the specialist Trainseurope desks at St Pancras and Cambridge stations are an exception.

Stations in The Netherlands: - It is only possible to book reservations for trains to and from The Netherlands, trains within The Netherlands cannot be reserved.
You can also only make a maximum of two reservations and a €10 fee applies per reservation.

Therefore therebytrain.com's advice is to avoid making reservations at Dutch stations. In our experience reservations aren't generally necessary on the ICE and EC trains between Netherlands and Germany.

However, if you DO want to reserve you won't pay a fee at German stations, or will save 50% on the booking fee if you call the D-Bahn reservation service.

Particularly avoid paying supplements for FYRA and Thalys trains at Dutch stations.
In particular on Thalys trains, once you've added in the booking fee to the total cost, it is more likely that buying a separate Thalys ticket at a Dutch station will be cheaper than paying both this reservation fee AND the supplement.

Stations in Spain: - It is only possible to book reservations/pay for supplements for trains within and to/from Spain at Spanish stations.

Ticket machines at Italian stations

In Italy you can pay supplements/make reservations for trains within Italy operated by 'Trenitalia' including all 'Freccia' and IC trains using 'Trenitalia' branded ticket machines.
Follow the prompts/instructions on the screen and when it appears select the 'global pass' option.
No other ticket machines in Europe sell reservations only/supplements to pass holders.

General tips for paying for supplements/reservations at booking offices

Have the details of the trains on which you wish to make reservations/pay supplements for with you, either printed off or written clearly, so that you can show them to the booking clerk - not all booking clerks will have fluent English, but if you can show a pass and the details of the trains on which you wish to travel by, you can make yourself understood.

When speaking to a booking clerk you can (usually) make multiple reservations.
However, you don’t have to book every individual trip you’ll be taking in one visit to a ticket desk, you can be flexible and book other trips when you reach another station.

When you pay for a supplement on trains that require them, seats will automatically be assigned (reserved) for you.

IF a station has one, make use of a reservations/international desk and avoid using the main ticket booking windows if possible.

It can be a v. good idea to make reservations for onward travel on arrival at a destination before you head off in to the city.
If you don’t want to do this and want to make reservations/pay supplements on day of your departure, our advice is to be at the station a minimum of 45 mins before the departure of the train that you plan to take (and have a contingency plan available if you’re told that no reservations are available).

20: Is it worth paying the additional charge for first class seats?

This will always be a subjective decision, as the seats in standard/2nd class on long distance European trains would be considered adequately comfortable by the majority of passengers (particularly in comparison to economy class seats on airlines).

First class seats are wider offer more leg room and on many trains food and drink is served to your seat if you pay additional charges.
First class carriages also tend to be quieter, but don’t expect to have carriage to yourselves.

A less obvious benefit of 1st class is that on certain routes (indicated where appropriate on ThereByTrain) it is highly recommended to reserve second class seats, but this isn’t necessary when travelling 1st class, so travelling 1st class can allow for greater spontaneity.

Therefore on trains on which reservations aren’t compulsory, a 1st class ticket/pass will give you a better chance of ensuring that you’re sitting on the appropriate side of the train to make the most of the views when travelling through scenic areas.

21: Can I use a rail pass on overnight trains?

Rail passes including Eurail and InterRail do not allow access to reclining seats, couchette berths and beds in sleeping cabins.
Rail pass users have to pay the reservation fees to travel on virtually all overnight trains, but when special fares are not available (i.e. on Thello trains) pass holders have to pay the full cost of a bed in a sleeping cabin.

Rail pass holders can travel in ordinary seats (when available) on some overnight trains in eastern Europe at no extra charge.

On certain overnight trains rail pass holders are free to select which additional reservation they are prepared to pay, so 2nd class pass holders can travel in the highest class of sleeping accommodation if they’re prepared to pay the price.
Conversely 1st class pass holders can avoid the expense of travelling in luxury cabins and opt to pay for cheaper accommodation.
However, this facility is not available on City Night Line (CNL) trains, on these trains pass holders have to travel in the accommodation that matches the pass that they hold.

22: Do I have to book a sleeping bed/compartment when I travel on an overnight train?

If you want any sort of flat bed on an overnight train in Europe (including couchettes) you now have to reserve it in advance.
In theory bookings can made up the day of travel, but more popular overnight trains can sell out completely days in advance, and even weeks in advance in the summer months and around holidays.

Therefore ThereByTrain advises booking tickets/reservation fees for overnight trains at the earliest opportunity, bookings can normally be taken from up to 90 days before the travel date.

rail pass users can no longer scramble aboard in the hope of finding somewhere to sleep.

23: Do I have to use couchettes or sleeping cabins on overnight trains?

Certain overnight trains offer special reclining seats (similar to club class seats on airlines) to travellers who don’t want to opt for a flat bed for the night.
They have to be reserved in advance , incur a special price and pass holders have to pay the reservation fees to use them, but they’re cheaper than couchettes or sleeping cabins.

On other overnight trains, particularly in Eastern Europe, ordinary daytime coaches are often included in the overnight trains.
They are often charged at the daytime rate and usually pass holders don’t have to pay additional charges (reservations are now compulsory on all trains to/from Hungary), and when available they can offer the only means of overnight rail travel that doesn’t have to be reserved in advance.

24: Can I get off the train and stop somewhere before I reach my final destination?

The simplest answer is sometimes yes for rail pass users and usually no if you have a ticket for a journey between destination.

If your ticket/reservation is for a specific train (and that includes a rail pass supplement), it is only valid on that train and not for the route you are taking.
So for example if you’re travelling on an FA train from Venice to Rome in Italy that calls at Florence, and if you decide to leave the train in Florence, you will then have to purchase a new ticket/supplement that’s valid for a later train from Florence to Rome.

One of the great benefits of travelling by rail pass is that on routes on which relatively frequent trains operate that don’t have compulsory reservations, you can think ‘let’s get off here' and then catch another train later that day.

25: Do I have to check in for international journeys?

The only European train service for which you have to check-in airline style is Eurostar.
For all other international trains you simply board with other passengers, though don’t leave it too late!