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Train Ticket Guides Buying and using Tickets & Rail Passes in Austria

Buying and using Tickets & Rail Passes in Austria

This guide will help you save money, time and confusion.

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Welcome to ShowMeTheJourney's guide to booking tickets for train journeys within or to and from Austria, the info covers the core basics of what you can expect to encounter when making bookings.
The intention is to provide context for the tickets and journey options you should encounter, in usual circumstances, when making a booking either online or at the station.
SMTJ has striven to ensure that the advice presented is as accurate as possible, but a guide such as this cannot cover every combination of journey options.

If you want to go right ahead with a booking, you can go use the Content menu, to go direct to the booking agents which sell train journeys within and both to and from Austria.
Though before doing so, having an idea of what's available is recommended, hence the answers below to the questions you'll most likely have.

Good to know:

Four things which are good to know about tickets for long-distance Austrian train journeys:

1 - Tickets will typically be cheaper if you book online compared to the price charged at the ticket desks in stations (the discounted tickets can only be booked online).
2 - Online bookings typically open 6 months ahead of the travel date.
3 - Seat reservations are an optional extra and can be added to a booking.
4 - Reservations, seats in First or Business Class and more flexible tickets, are all sold as additions to the price of Second Class tickets.

Encountering the OBB website:

Austria’s state railway operator OBB’s booking service was re-designed in November 2021, and it now easier to use than the previous version, but the booking path for purchasing tickets is comparatively unusual, particularly on a desktop PC.

It's worth persevering with if you want to save money on express train journeys both within and from/to Austria as the cheaper, discounted 'Sparschiene' tickets can only be booked online, or on the the OBB app.

Booking tickets for rail journeys within Austria:

You'll also need a touch of patience to take in all the time and money saving info below.
So if need be, click a question to jump straight to what you need to know most.

Is it possible to save money by booking Austrian train tickets in advance?

If you will be travelling on the express trains the answer is yes.

The discounted tickets for train journeys within Austria by express Railjet trains and IC trains AND on international trains from Austria are branded ‘Sparschiene’ tickets and these tickets can only be booked online or on the OBB app.

Online bookings now DON'T close 3 days ahead of the travel date, so IF Sparschiene tickets are still available on the day that you will be travelling, you can book them online before you head to the station.

So if you will be travelling long distance on an OBB express* train, avoid booking tickets last minute at the station; because the Sparschiene tickets won't be available at the station.

*However, journeys by regional REX trains are NOT discounted online, so tickets for journeys by these trains will cost the same if you buy them at the station immediately prior to travel.

Check through the departures to find a bargain:

A sliding scale of prices will usually apply to Sparschiene tickets, so the very cheapest tickets of all disappear first.
Search through the departures on your travel date because the cheapest Sparschiene tickets inevitably sell out fastest on the most popular trains, but they can linger on alternative earlier or later departures.

The prices of Sparschiene tickets can vary by more than €30 across a day's departures, so it can be a good idea to sort the results on OBB by 'fare', if you can be flexible re: departure and arrival times.
On the Wien <> Salzburg route they're more likely to be placed on sale for the slower RJ services, compared to the faster RJX services.
They can also be more widely available if you're willing to make connections between trains during a journey.

How far ahead can tickets be booked on the OBB website?

Tickets are available on OBB up to 6 months ahead of the travel date.
However, it doesn't always follow that you'll need to book months ahead to ensure that you'll be travelling at the cheapest possible price.

OBB seems to rank how popular a train is likely to be, more highly than how far in advance a ticket can be booked.
What this means in practice is that even when looking up a journey five months ahead, the same train departing one or two days later can be more than 50% cheaper.

It's also possible to find the price of a specific departure being more than 50% cheaper when looking up a journey only a month in advance, compared to booking 3 -6 months ahead.
That's because the prices are seemingly closely tied to the demand, for example less people evidently travel on a Wednesday in January, than on a Wednesday in April. hence the prices being typically cheaper in January.

So you don't always have to be booking more than two months ahead to find the cheapest prices for long-distance journeys, but the cheapest prices tend to sell out faster on:

  • Friday and Sunday afternoon/evenings year round
  • summer Saturdays
  • trains which depart between 08:00 and 10:30; and between 16:00 and 18:30
  • around national holidays.

What are the steps for booking 1st class tickets?

When looking up journeys on OBB it initially shows one price for each journey; namely the cheapest 2nd class price available for that specific journey.

However, if you want to book a 1st class ticket and therefore don't want to pay the price shown, you still need to click THIS price.

You will then be taken to the booking page on which other options are provided, including the price of upgrading to 1st class (Business Class is also available if you will be travelling on a Railjet).

The trick to saving money when booking 1st class tickets on OBB:

Something that can be less than obvious is that the price of upgrading to 1st class can vary radically between departures, particularly on the Railjet routes.
Also this variation in price can be out of sync with the price of 2nd class tickets.

For example you can look up a journey from Salzburg to Wien and see 2nd class prices of €19 or €29 for multiple departures.
But the price for a 1st class upgrade on a departure with a 2nd class price of €29 can be €10, but on a departure with a 2nd class price of €19 it can be more expensive at €20.

So don't be guided by the price of 2nd class tickets, also check the price of the 1st class upgrades carefully; because the total cost of a Sparschiene ticket + a first class upgrade can be cheaper on a departure which looks more expensive, because of a higher cost of a 2nd class ticket.

Is there anything in particular to be aware of when booking Sparschiene tickets?

Book a Sparschiene ticket and it will be specific to the departure you selected when making a booking and it can't be refunded at all if you subsequently change your travel plans and it also can't be exchanged to an alternative, later departure.
Though the OBB booking service now links to an insurance policy costing only €3, which protects against circumstances such as having to cancel a booking due to illness, though scenarios such as change of mind due to a mix up of dates etc, won't be covered.

Meaning that if you arrive at a station too late to board a train because your taxi got stuck in traffic, or there was a fault on the tram etc, you will have to pay the full price at the station for a replacement ticket.
The only scenario in which a Sparschiene ticket can be used for an alternative, later departure is IF your journey involves more than one train AND a delay to an OBB train causes you to miss the departure you were booked on to.

1st Class Sparschiene tickets:

When initially looking up a journey it's fairly obvious on which departures Sparschiene tickets are available.
However, if you opt to add a 1st class upgrade, having clicked on the Sparschiene ticket price, the terms of the Sparschiene tickets still apply,
Meaning that your 1st class ticket will also be specific to the departure you selected when making a booking AND it can't be refunded at all if you subsequently change your travel plans.

Which Austrian train tickets sold by OBB can be exchanged or refunded?

This has been altered recently, now when booking on the OBB website, if you're initially offered a 'Sparscheine' ticket, you can upgrade it to a ticket with less stringent terms and conditions, during the booking process.

  1. Sparscheine Komfort tickets:
    The use of 'Komfort' in the name of this ticket type isn't to do with the seats on the trains, but it stems from the additional peace of mind that this type of ticket provides.
    As is clearly spelt out on the OBB website when making a booking, if you upgrade to this ticket you can cancel it free of charge up to 15 days ahead of the journey, but if you cancel it with 15 days left to go, you'll receive up to* 50% of what you paid for it (the 50% that OBB will retain is in effect the cancellation fee) *= OBB will retain a minimum of €15.
    Though in common with the standard 'Sparscheine ticket' you will be committing to travelling by a specific departure, if you subsequently realise that you'll need to take an earlier or later train, you'll need to follow the full/partial refund process and then re-book.

  2. Standard-Ticket Gruppe:
    Choosing these tickets enables what OBB terms Adding 'Highest Flexibility' to your booking, in effect this means you won't have to travel by a specific departure and can choose any train within a 24hr period.
    You can also cancel and obtain a full refund at any time pre-travel date.
    Though these tickets tend to be much more expensive than Sparscheine tickets; also the use of 'Gruppe' in the ticket name is a tad confusing as these aren't group tickets.

However, these Standard-Tickets tickets cannot be 'exchanged'.
The logic applied by OBB is that, if you want to subsequently travel on a different date, you can refund your 'Highest Flexibility' booking and purchase another ticket.
If on your travel date, you want to travel by a different train to that what you had originally planned to take, then you can simply use your ticket on an alternative departure.

What about seat reservations on Austrian trains operated by OBB?

Reservations are available, but optional for journeys for journeys within Austria by Railjet trains, IC trains and international express trains.
So if you want to pay the €3 seat reservation per person fee, you need to be proactive and ADD it to your booking.

Therefore, seats on the train you will be travelling are NOT absolutely guaranteed if you haven't reserved.
Though the OBB online booking service now indicates whether a specific departure is proving to be exceptionally busy.

What about child tickets on Austrian trains operated by OBB?

If discounted 'Sparschiene' tickets are offered for your departure on the OBB website then these tickets are great value if you will be travelling with children who will be aged 14 and under on your date of travel.
That's because each adult (aged 15 and over) purchasing a 'Sparschiene' ticket can take up to children aged 14 and under for free!
These children will still require tickets, but there will be no charge for them.

This also applies when 'Sparschiene' tickets are available for direct journeys by international trains from AND to Austria; so when travelling with children from and to Austria, it usually pays off to book with OBB.

However, the flat rate will be charged for seat reservations per child and for upgrades to 1st class.

What can be confusing is that when adding the age of the children you will be travelling with to the booking, you will see 'no discount', but this is referring to the fact you won't be using a travel card or any other offer.

For journeys when no 'Sparschiene' tickets are available, including journeys by REX train, the terms are;
Children aged 5 and under travel for free
Children aged 6 – 14 travel at half-fare

You will need to show the proof of age of the children to the conductor on the train, so make sure you have the children's passports with you when making journeys within Austria.

Can railcards save money when visiting Austria?

A range of railcards which are branded Vorteilscards are available which provide discounts when booking rail journeys in Austria.

The most popular type of railcard is the Vorteilscard 66, which lives up to its name with a price of €66.
It can only be purchased online and can then be used when booking tickets on the OBB website; it will be valid for a year.
When booking it gives a discount of 50%.

The 'Vorteilscard Classic' card offers the same 50% discount for a year and costs €99, but this card can be purchased from and used at ticket counters.
So unlike the Vorteilscard 66 card you can use it to purchase last minute tickets at a station just prior to boarding, either from a ticket counter or at a ticket machine.

In comparison InterRail passes and Eurail Passes for Austria cost from €146 for passes valid for 3 days of travel within a month; to up to 8 days of travel within a month for €258.

The discounted Sparscheine for the longest rail journeys within Austria can cost as little as €29.
Therefore when these prices are available, you'll need to be booking five or more trips at this distance before the Vorteilscard 66 becomes value for money.
Though if you'll be taking five long-distance journeys, on for example a Wien → Graz → Salzburg → Bregenz → Innsbruck → Wien itinerary; and can find the prices at the €29 rate, a Vorteilscard 66 + five tickets discounted by 50% will cost around €141.
In contrast a rail pass valid for five days will be more than €50 more expensive at €197.

However, if you don't want to be restricted to Sparscheine tickets, using the Vorteilscard Classic to obtain a discounted rate on last minute tickets at the station can be (a lot) more expensive than using the one country Eurail/InterRail passes valid for Austria.
On that five city itinerary outlined above a Vorteilscard Classic card + the five tickets bought last minute at the station at a 50% rate, will typically cost more than €300, so the 5 day pass would save more than €100.

So the best means of working whether a Vorteilscard Card + half price tickets , a rail pass, or just booking tickets will be the cheapest option, is to look up the journeys you want to take on the OBB website; remembering to take 50% off the prices you see to obtain the Vorteilscard Card rate.

Travelling with Children:

OBB also offers a Vorteilscard Family card.
They cost only €19 and an adult travelling with one these and a valid adult ticket, can also travel with up to four children aged 14 and under at no additional charge.
So there's no point in buying these if you will only be using Sparscheine tickets, but they can be good value for money if you'll want to take last minute day trips from major cities, during a holiday.

Adults don't receive a discount with the family cards, but they can be used in conjunction with a Vorteilscard 66 or a Vorteilscard Classic.

Though if you will be travelling with children aged 4 to 11, keep in mind that if you purchase an Adult one country Eurail / InterRail pass, you can add two child passes for no additional cost.

Those aged 15 to 25:

A Vorteilscard Jugend card costs only €19 and anyone aged 26 can use one to obtain a 50% discount on Austrian rail tickets, so for those aged 15 to 25 these cards will typically pay off when booking just two long-distance rail journeys; or just one, if a ticket is priced at more than €40!

Though prices for Austrian Eurail and InterRail passes at the Youth rate begin at €127 for 3 days of travel, so even at €19 for the card, if you will taking more than six long-distance journeys, it's likely that the value for money balance will tip towards the passes.

Those aged over 65:

A Vorteilscard Senior card costs €29 and gives the 50% discount on most Austrian rail tickets, so the value money equation needs to be worked against Austrian Eurail and InterRail passes at the special Senior rate, tough for the rail passes these prices apply to those aged 60 and over.

Do I need a ticket for my bike on Austrian trains operated by OBB?

Yes, you can’t just hop on a train with a standard (non-folding) bike in Austria.

To travel by regional REX trains you will need to purchase a special bicycle ticket, which costs 10% of the full price 2nd class ticket; a minimum fee of €2 applies.

For journeys by Railjet trains, IC trains and on international EC trains within Austria you will need purchase both a bike ticket AND a reservation for your bike prior to boarding; more info is available on ShowMeTheJourney's guide to these special bike tickets

Can tickets for any train journey within Austria be booked on the OBB website?

The national rail operator OBB doesn't operate every train in Austria; the two main exceptions are:

(1) Trains operated by Westbahn, which offer an alternative to OBB trains in both directions on the Wien/Vienna - Linz - Salzburg route.

The OBB website does not sell tickets for journeys by Westbahn trains and the Westbahn website does not sell tickets for journeys by OBB trains

(2) The independent tourist lines in mountain areas.

Though OBB will sell tickets for train journeys within Austria that include an OBB train AND a journey on the independent railway, such as the Zillertalbahn between Jenbach and Mayrhofen

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Booking tickets for international rail journeys from and to Austria:

OBB will sell tickets for international journeys by train from/to Austria.
Though it's typically worth checking the price of a specific departure being offered by OBB and then checking the price being offered by the national rail operator, in the country that you will be travelling to and from (see the links below).

There can be particularly wide discrepancies in the prices offered for international train journeys to and from Austria, it's not unknown for OBB to be more than 50% expensive, or more than 50% cheaper; so shop around.

Though keep in mind that international Sparschiene tickets also can't be exchanged or refunded.

Child Tickets:

When 'Sparschiene' tickets are available for direct journeys by international trains from AND to Austria, each adult (aged 15 and over) purchasing a 'Sparschiene' ticket can take up to 4 children aged 14 and under for free.
These children will still require tickets, but there will be no charge for them, so when travelling with children from and to Austria, it pays off to book with OBB.

Booking 1st class tickets for trains between Austria and Germany:

If you book 1st class tickets on the DB (German national railways) website, seat reservations are included within the booking.
This also applies when booking tickets for journeys between Austria and Germany.

However, in contrast, if you book tickets for train journeys between Austria and Germany on the OBB website, reservations AREN'T included
They can be added to the booking on payment of an additional fee, so booking these tickets with DB can be a money saver.

Booking tickets for non-direct international train journeys from Austria:

Some international journeys require a change of train outside of Austria.
OBB can generally sell tickets for end-2-end journeys which involve a change of train in Germany or Switzerland, but NOT in other countries

Look out for ‘Ticket Valid for Section of the Journey Only’ when looking up some international journeys on OBB that involve a change of train outside of Austria.
In these instances the price displayed by OBB only includes the first leg of the journey from Austria over the border.
If you book these tickets you will have to purchase another ticket(s), in order to continue your journey to your final destination; and OBB doesn't sell these tickets

Using Eurail and InterRail Passes on trains within Austria?

A big tick in the box for using rail passes in Austria is that those 'Sparschiene' tickets are departure specific; meaning that those who have booked them, have the pressure of HAVING to be at the station on time.
But if you're using a Eurail or InterRail pass, you can just hop on the next train if need be.

You often won't have to wait more than an hour for the next train to depart and seats will usually be available on the next train to leave.

Reservations:

Rail pass users don’t have to make reservations to travel on any DAY train operated by OBB; so you can be spontaneous and hop on and off the trains.

Seats are usually available on Railjet trains; IC trains and on international EC trains within Austria.

However, if you have a 2nd class pass, we recommend making reservations on Railjets departing/arriving from Wien between 08:00-10:00 and 16:00 -18:00 and on IC and Railjet trains on Fridays and Sunday afternoons/evenings.

Also if you want to take in the scenery, then it can be worth being aware that some seats on Railjets in both 1st and 2nd class have no window view; and on busy trains these can be the only free seats available.

Booking reservations:

Rail pass users can book reservations for DAYTIME trains online on the OBB ticketing site; the guide to how to book tickets/reservations on the OBB Website explains how (see above)
Seat reservations can also arranged without booking fees at the Reisezentrum desks at major stations.

Using Rail Passes on non-OBB trains:

Eurail and InterRail passes are also valid on the Westbahn trains between Wien and Salzburg.

However Eurail and InterRail passes are not valid on some independent railways, including

Using Eurail and InterRail Passes on trains to and from Austria?

Whether you do or don't have to make reservations on the trains from and to Austria depends on the train service you will be travelling by;

When rail pass reservations (supplements) are OPTIONAL:

Reservations are optional on these three international train services to/from Austria:

(1) The international Railjet trains to Budapest, Munchen/Munich, Praha/Prague via Breclav and Zurich
Although reservations are recommended for 2nd class pass users on these trains particularly on Fridays to Sundays and in June to August; they tend to be busy trains.

(2) The ICE trains to Germany; but are highly recommended for 2nd class pass users

(3) The EC trains to Germany and Switzerland (and for journeys to the Czech Republic on the EC trains heading to Poland).

They're also not available on cross border local trains, so rail pass users can just hop on board these trains.

Worth knowing if you want to travel between Innsbruck and Italy is that there are hourly local (S-Bahn) trains between Innsbruck and the border station at Brennero.
There are less frequent Regionale trains between Brennero and locations to the south including Bolzano, Trento and Verona.

When rail pass reservations (supplements) are COMPULSORY:

  • the EC trains to Croatia and Slovenia
  • the EC and Railjet trains to Italy
  • the EC trains to Poland
  • the Nightjet trains
  • All other overnight trains

Booking these reservations:

Rail pass users can book seat reservations for DAYTIME trains online on the OBB ticketing site, the guide above to how to book tickets/reservations on the OBB Website explains how.
Rail pass reservations for the Nightjet trains CAN now be also booked on the OBB website, without paying any booking fees,

Or you can arrange and pay for the reservations for day AND night trains at the Reisezentrum desks at major stations without paying a booking fee.

Author

Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.

ShowMeTheJourney

This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.