Tips for How to Book European Train Tickets Online

Jump to how to find tickets for the cheapest possible price

AN INTRODUCTION TO BOOKING EUROPEAN TRAIN TICKETS ONLINE:


For journeys on which limited numbers of discounted tickets are placed on sale, the savings to be made make it worth persevering with booking train tickets online.

Aside from in Belgium and The Netherlands, you can make savings by booking European EXPRESS trains in advance - and the overwhelming majority of online train ticket bookings involve taking no more than seven steps!

However, HOW you take those steps can vary hugely from one booking service to another, hence these step-by-step guides to making your own bookings - more of these are coming soon

These variances between each booking service include, but are not limited to:

how a main station in a city is indicated,
-  whether then names of towns/cities are translated or not,
-  the order in which you take some of the steps - you may have to choose a journey before a travel date etc,
-  how you access the terms and conditions of each type of ticket,
-  whether discounted tickets can be exchanged or refunded,
-  whether the TOTAL price of making a journey is initially shown,
-  a choice of ticket, or not
-  whether only direct international journeys are available, or whether you can also book international journeys that involve a change of train etc etc.
 

So our step-by-step guides to using each ticketing website will help you find the right ticket at the optimum price.
 

When making a booking always take care to:

(1) Check the terms and conditions of the specific type of tickets – the usual (but not consistent) rule is that the more heavily a ticket has been discounted, the less likely it is that you will be able to exchange it or claim a refund.


Many of the cheapest types of discounted tickets cannot be exchanged or refunded at all.

(2) Double check the details of the trains (departure dates and times) you are about to be charged for, before making the payment.

When hunting for a good deal it can be all too easy to forget that you have changed a travel date in one direction, but not another, OR have left a train in your ‘basket’, that you no longer want to take etc.

(3) Consider the delivery options carefully – if you’re booking from outside your home country the easiest and cheapest options can be to collect from a station, or to receive an e-ticket which you can download to your phone.

Check that your printer is working before you opt for ‘print at home’.

(4) Even if it’s optionalentering your mobile phone number can be a good idea – many ticket services will send you SMS/text messages if any subsequent changes are made to the train services that you have booked tickets for.

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FINDING TICKETS FOR THE CHEAPEST POSSIBLE PRICE:

We've produced detailed guides to how to book the optimum tickets for your journey in these countries:

Austria  l   Belgium  l   Czechia

Denmark
  l   France  l   Germany

Great Britain
  l   Hungary  l   Italy   
 
Norway  l   Poland   l   Spain

Switzerland  l   The Netherlands  

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We've also split these more GENERAL tips for booking the cheapest possible tickets, which you can find below, into two parts;

 - what to beware of when booking the cheapest possible tickets,

tips for how to buy these cheapest tickets.

Five Things worth being aware of when booking the cheapest possible train tickets for DIRECT journeys:

(1) On these train services, advance tickets are NOT discounted, so there's no need to hunt down the best possible deal online, you'll pay the same price if you book at the station.

(i) Any train journey within Belgium

(ii) Any train journey within The Netherlands

(iii) Most Regio train services in Germany

(iv) Regionale Veloce and Regionale trains in Italy

(v) TER trains in France

(vi) REX trains in Austria

(vii) MD and Regional Express in Spain

(viii) Oresundtag trains between Denmark and Sweden

(ix) on virtually all independent railway lines in Switzerland.

(2) When making journeys by train within some Eastern European countries, including Hungary and The Czech Republic, you will more often than not only save the equivalent of a couple of euros by booking in advance online.

(3) On routes/journeys on which limited numbers of discounted tickets are placed on sale, you will normally have a choice of between two or three types of ticket - most discounted, cheaper and full price.

(i)The cheapest types of ticket(s) are ONLY valid for the specific departure you have chosen - and they also cannot be refunded if YOU subsequently change your travel.

It's likely that you may not be able to even exchange these tickets to a different departure, if you subsequently change your travel plans - and even IF you can exchange them, you may have to pay an admin fee.

So booking the cheapest tickets months ahead, can be a false economy.

(ii) Discounted tickets which can be refunded for an additional fee, and/or can be exchanged with or without paying an admin fee.

These tickets will be more expensive than the cheapest tickets, but can actually be a good option as they give you the freedom to alter your travel plans.

However, this type of ticket is less common and won't be available on routes on which those most heavily discounted tickets can be exchanged for a fee.

(iii) Tickets that aren't discounted, but CAN be exchanged or refunded.

A plus of these tickets CAN be the freedom to choose your departures on your travel date, rather than being tied to specific trains to and from your destination.

Though on trains with compulsory reservations you'll still need to have booked a specific departure, the big advantage of this type of ticket is that if need be, you can transfer them to another departure at no extra cost.

The online price of these tickets that can be exchanged or refunded, is also usually the price you would pay if you booked tickets last minute at the station.

(4) A sliding scale of  ticket prices can be applied to some/most/all departures - this can also be called airline style pricing.

How this works in practice:
(i) For the type/types of tickets that are discounted, batches of tickets will be assigned different prices.
(ii) When the batch of tickets at the cheapest possible price has sold out, the price will rise - usually in increments of €5 or €10.
(iii) So the prices of the discounted type(s) of ticket, can rise until they're only available at the maximum price for each TYPE of ticket.
(iv) If these tickets, at the maximum price point for that type of ticket also sell out, then that type of ticket comes off of sale and will no longer be available.

Although in France the most heavily discounted tickets are automatically taken off sale 10 days ahead.

(5) Each specific departure per day is usually treated in isolation – so the very cheapest prices may not be available at all on certain departures.

The more popular a departure is likely to be, the less likely it is that the very cheapest prices usually found on a route, will be made available on that particular train.

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Four Things worth being aware of when booking the cheapest possible train tickets for INDIRECT journeys with CONNECTIONS:

(1) In common with booking direct journeys, you can save money by booking in advance for this type of multi-train journey  - because you will be booking before the most heavily discounted tickets have sold out.

(2) Those terms for booking the cheapest tickets for the direct trains - restrictions around exchanges and refunds, if YOU want to alter your travel plans, and having to travel by specific trains etc - are ALSO usually applied when booking end-to-end journeys which involve changes of train.

(3) The fact that the trains you will be connecting INTO can be specified on your ticket, means that it's worth paying particular attention to the time, which the ticket agents are allowing for making the connection(s) between trains.

(4) Complications with using tickets in the event of a train delay, leading to a missed connection into a specified train departure are unlikely, but should be considered when booking - hence our guide to booking and using tickets for such journeys.

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Six tips for paying the cheapest possible price for tickets by express trains:

When trying to book for the cheapest possible price, try to:


(1)  Book as soon as the discounted tickets are placed on sale.

This can vary from 1 month – 6 months ahead.  The specific booking period is included with each journey on our guides.

On some booking sites, including most versions of Oui-SNCF, you can sign up for alert services that will let you know when tickets have been released for sale.


The usual* ticket booking windows are:

(i) 1 month ahead = Poland and Switzerland

(iii) Up to 2 months ahead = Czechia/The Czech Republic and Denmark and Hungary and Sweden

(iv) Up to 3 months ahead = France and Great Britain

(v) 3 - 6 months ahead = Spain

(vi) 12 - 13 weeks ahead = Norway

(vii) Up to 4 months ahead = Italy

(viii) Up to 6 months ahead = Austria and Germany

(2)
Be flexible re: your departure and arrival times and even your travel dates.

Having looked up tickets for when you want to travel, it can be worth looking through the earlier and later departures to see if you can find tickets at a cheaper price  either side of your optimum departure/arrival times.

On certain booking sites such as DB and Oui-SNCF 'cheapest fare finder' tools are available, so that you can hone in on the cheapest departures on a particular date.


(3) You will be less likely to find tickets at the cheapest possible price on: (this is necessarily broad advice):

(i) Trains due to arrive in major cities between 08:00 and 10:00 on Mondays – Fridays.

(ii) Trains departing from major cities between 15:30 and 18:30 on Mondays – Fridays.

(iii) Any train departing between 14:00 and 20:00 on Fridays and Sundays year round, but particularly between June and September.

(iv) Departures either side of public holidays, particularly Easter and Christmas.

(v) Routes that have particularly infrequent trains.

(vi) Routes to and from holiday destinations at weekends (the coast in the summer, ski resorts in the winter).

(4) Check 1st and 2nd class tickets – when the most heavily discounted 2nd class tickets are sold out, the 1st class equivalent may still be available.

When that is the case 1st class can be cheapest of all, or the price difference between 1st and 2nd class can be only a few €s.


(5) For journeys of around less than three hours, alternative slower train services can be available, including:

Regio trains in Germany

Regionale Veloce trains in Italy

TER trains in France

When the most heavily discounted tickets for the express trains have sold out, these alternative trains can be cheaper

(6) The very cheapest tickets also TEND to sell out particularly quickly in France and Germany - and in Italy between May and September, so in those countries it can particularly pay off to book as far ahead as possible.

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THE TICKET BOOKING LINKS:

Now it's time to take the plunge and book your journey.

These country links below will take you to a page that includes the online ticket agents which sell tickets for journeys within and to/from these countries.

Austria  l   Belgium  l   Czechia

Denmark
  l   France  l   Germany

Great Britain
  l   Hungary  l   Italy   
 
Norway  l   Poland   l   Spain

Switzerland  l   The Netherlands  

Or if you will be taking a journey on a popular route, you will find the specific booking links and ticket info for more than 1000 journey options on our JOURNEY GUIDES.

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YET MORE USEFUL INFO:

HOW TO BUY TICKETS - general advice)

SEAT RESERVATIONS - all you to need to know

CHILD TICKETS - T&Cs and insights