This guide to booking long distance tickets for long distance train European train journeys that involve having to change trains, includes insights to all of the topics which can be accessed from the Content Menu.
When travelling by train between many popular destinations in Europe, having to make connections between trains can’t be avoided.
Many end-to-end domestic journeys within countries have simple as can be connections between trains, factored into the timetables; this is particularly common in Germany, Switzerland and The Netherlands.
Though the need to change trains is particularly prevalent when making long international journeys by daytime express trains.
Partially because the advent of international high speed travel, has led to a reduction in the number of trains, which used to weave across multiple countries on journeys that took all day.
Examples of popular international day routes, on which connections between trains can’t be avoided, include:
It doesn’t mean that taking the train on routes such as these isn’t feasible, in fact it can often be fabulous, you’ll just need to take more than one comfortable train in order to complete an end-to-end journey.
Making a transfer between trains can often be as simple as walking on one level from one train to another – it will be if your journey involves changing trains at terminus stations such as Frankfurt (Main) Hbf, Marseille St. Charles, Milano Centrale, Munchen Hbf and Zurich HB.
But what can occasionally be more complicated is booking and using tickets for end-to-end journeys, which involve taking more than one train.
When buying tickets for journeys that involve changes of train, you have a choice between:
The positives of booking separate tickets can be:
(1) You can pick and choose your route, including those which can’t be covered by booking in one transaction.
(2)The freedom to choose train departures, which will allow more time to make a connection between trains, or to stop over somewhere on route to your final destination.
(3) It can be cheaper.
Though be wary of maximising your savings, as it's highly likely that the cheaper types of ticket will have terms and conditions, which state that they can't be exchanged to a different departure.
Book that type of ticket and you MAY not be able to exchange tickets(s) for the later train(s) you have booked, even if a delayed train causes you to miss a connection; though this has recently become a less likely scenario,
The positives of purchasing a multi-train end-to-end journey on one booking are:
(1) It’s likely that you will have more protection against the unlikely event of having to pay re-book other tickets, in the event of a train delay causing you to miss a connection.
(2) It will save you time when looking up the journey.
(3) The online ticket technology will have worked out a sequence(s) of the train departures you’ll need to take, in order to complete the journey.
Though the ticket agent tech, will usually automatically package together sequences of departures, which enable the end-to-end journey to be completed in the shortest possible time.
It will find the next onward train to your destination, or the next station, and will understandably assume that you’ll want to take those trains.
The ticketing technology will also inevitably assume that each train required to complete a journey will arrive and leave on time, so it won't take into account the likelihood of encountering a delay.
It will also be programmed to allow a reasonable amount of time, in which to make the transfer between trains within a station, but this reasonable amount of time can be as short as 10 minutes.
Looking out for the connecting times between trains
The shorter the connecting time between trains, the less contingency time you’ll have to complete the stipulated journey, in the event of an out of the ordinary occurrence, such as a delayed train departure or arrival,
Hence it can be worth trading the fastest possible end-to-end journey, for a more relaxed journey instead, by avoiding such tightly timed connections.
Some online ticket agents including DB (German national railways) and CD (Czech National Railways) will allow you to extend your preferred connecting time between trains.
But most ticket agents will assume, wrongly in our view, that travellers won’t want to wait much more than an hour for an onward connection, so won’t offer journey options which allow for this; despite alternative connections, with a longer and easier duration between trains, being theoretically available.
So if you’d prefer to give yourself more time to make a connection, booking separate tickets per train can then be the only option.
The tickets you can be issued with when making a single booking:
Though there is another scenario in which you will in effect be using separate tickets in order to complete an end-to-end journey.
When booking a multi-train end-to-end journey ticket in one transaction, you will be issued with either:
(1) A ‘through’ ticket, with all the trains you will be taking specified on the one ticket; it’s more than likely that you will be issued with this type of ticket, if you will be making a national journey.
(2) Separate tickets for each train you will be taking; this can be a common scenario if you book an international journey, particularly if different operators are providing the trains you will be taking.
Verifying whether your tickets have CIV protection
Whether you’re issued with through tickets, or separate tickets, despite NOT booking separate journeys, can affect whether you will have to pay to re-book any train specific tickets you have been issued with; in the unlikely event of a missed connection due to a train delay, or another other scenario caused by the train/railway service provider.
What's particularly worth verifying is whether the separate tickets you will be issued with, will be covered by the CIV protection (see below for more info re: CIV).
If you have been issued with separate tickets, when on route to your destination, the train conductors and other ticket inspectors, can verify that you have booked a through journey by checking for the presence of the CIV verification.
If your tickets have it, you can point it out to a train conductor or ticket agent, in the event of any suggestion that you will need to re-book.
If your tickets don't have it marked on them, then try and take with you the booking confirmation, which shows you didn't make separate bookings for each part of the journey.
The overwhelming majority of European express trains do depart, and more importantly arrive on time, or within 10 minutes of their booked arrival.
Pan-European statistics for this are hard to come by, so ShowMeTheJourney is going to utilise my experience of taking 246 journeys of over an hour’s duration on continental Europe in the past 4 years
Of these fourteen trains (5.5%) were 15-30 mins late; another fourteen (5.5%) arrived 30-60 mins late and seven of them (2.5%) were delayed by more than an hour.
So if I had been relying on all of these 246 trains to connect into another service, and utilising a 10-15 min window set by an online agent, in which to make connection, I’d have theoretically missed 14% of the trains that I’d been booked on to.
Hence a golden rule of booking an end-to-end journey by multiple trains, is not assuming that every train will depart and arrive on time, despite specific train departures being included on your ticket(s).
There is no guarantee that you will make these connections, hence it’s worth being aware of what protection you’ll have in these scenarios; and this article is of no use as proof as to what should and shouldn’t occur, with regard to how you can use the tickets you have been issued with.
At a minimum seek out and check the full terms and conditions of making a booking on the website you are purchasing your tickets from, in particular verify whether your booking will have CIV protection.
ShowMeTheJourney also advocates allowing 30mins to an hour to making connections on end-to-end journeys, because you’ll be more likely to have a more relaxed end-to-end journey.
Having to seek out a ticket office and then potentially having to wait in line to re-book against the clock, is a scenario that’s best avoided.
On those journeys above, if I had extended the transfer time even further and allowed 90 mins to make a connection, even if that meant booking separate tickets, I would have missed only one connection, because only one of those 246 trains was delayed by more than 90 mins.
Having to pay to re-book tickets in the event of a train delay is now an unlikely scenario, because the overwhelming majority of European end-to-end train DAYTIME journeys booked in one transaction, are subject to one or more forms of consumer protection against train delays and other scenarios attributable to the train operator.
Even if you have made separate bookings per train for an international end-to-end DAYTIME journey, many train operators now offer safeguards against having to re-purchase new tickets.
Keep the terms and conditions front of mind
Meaning that you can’t exchange your ticket to different departures because you’ve decided you’d prefer to travel on a different date; or because your taxi got stuck in traffic on route to the station; or because when you arrived in Lyon on your preceding train, the weather was so lovely, that you’d rather take a later train on to your final destination etc.
What those conditions of use are a lot less likely to be referring to is exchanging tickets, due to a scenario such as train delay resulting in a missed connection.
Though we can’t emphasise enough the recommendation to check the ticket agent’s terms and conditions when booking end-to-end journeys, particularly if the journey requires more than two trains.
However, for the time being*, there are no universal terms for how end-to-end European train tickets can be used, refunded or exchanged etc, primarily because the terms will vary according to the combination of trains covered by each ticket – AND by the type of ticket you have opted to purchase, discounted, OR full price.
*New E.U wide legislation has been promised, which will offer blanket protection against travellers losing out financially when making end-to-end journeys by multiple trains.
The implications of that lack of universal terms and conditions have resulted in the inescapable use of phrases such as ‘almost’ and ‘unlikely' in this article; and also creates the consumer confusion that ShowMeTheJourney is trying to alleviate.
Why is there a potential need to pay again in the event of delay, when the end-to-end train journey has been paid for?
The departure times of the trains (and train numbers in the countries which use this system) are most usually specified on the ticket because, either:
(1) Reservations are mandatory on the train service you will be travelling by - so the ticket agent needs to assign you seat(s) when booking, your tickets will then have to be valid only on that specific departure.
(2) The train operator applies specific terms and conditions to its cheaper types of ticket, including that the discounted tickets can only be used on the specific departures you selected when booking.
This will be more obvious if you book separate tickets for each train you will be taking, it should be clear if you check the T&Cs of the booking.
However, if you will be booking an end-to-end journey, which involves taking multiple trains, in one transaction, this commitment to travelling on specific departures during the course of a journey, can be less apparent.
The online train ticket agents will put together the available combinations of specific departures into a journey option.
Often you will be given a choice of different journey options, but once you have selected a journey option, you will often be committed to taking those multiple specific departures, that the ticket agent has packaged together.
The departure times (and train numbers) will be included on your ticket(s) or booking and whether you have been issued with a ‘though ticket, which includes every train you will be taking on the one ticket(s), or are issued with separate tickets for different parts of a journey: your ticket(s) will then likely only be valid on those specific trains; which won't be an issue if the trains are on time, and also is now less likely to be problem in the event of disruptions to the train service.
Check before you book
Therefore it is worth paying particular attention to the combination of trains that the ticket agent has included on each-to-end journey option AND the time being provided to make the connections; before you opt to book the journey.
Though if a train you will be taking on your journey doesn’t require a reservation, or if it’s a train service which doesn’t have special terms for how tickets can be used, then the specific departure may not be stipulated on your ticket(s).
But if it is and you then miss a specific train you are booked on to, due to a train delay, what you won’t be able to do is assume that you can board the next train on to your destination regardless; instead you will need to have your original tickets exchanged to a later specific departure.
If a train delay is going to result in missed connection into a train that’s specified on your ticket, the usual scenario is that you will need to have your ticket(s) stamped by the conductor on the train; and then you will need to take your ticket(s) to a ticket desk, so that replacement tickets can be issued.
Usually you need to obtain some sort of proof of the delay to the train, to demonstrate that you haven’t missed the onward connection because you fell asleep in the waiting room etc.
What is a lot less likely, but still a grey area, is whether you will have to pay for the new tickets, that will have to be issued in this scenario.
It’s much more likely that you WON'T have to pay for the tickets to be re-issued – and it’s a phrase that we keep repeating, but this isn't a scenario that you need to be overly concerned about when making the overwhelming majority of European journeys, which involve having to make connections between DAYTIME trains.
In the event of missing booked connections due to a train delay - you almost certainly won’t have to pay to re-book part of your journey in these FIVE scenarios:
(1) If you will be connecting into a local train - and this includes end-to-end tickets for journeys in Switzerland which involve travelling on an independent mountain railway.
(2) Making an end-to-end domestic journeys by express trains within a country - if the national rail operator will be providing all of the trains you will be taking.
(3) Using through tickets – that’s because those types of ticket are almost always protected by the CIV conditions of carriage, which is an international train travel agreement, that the vast majority of European railway operators have signed up to.
A summary is available here - the T&Cs of the CIV are managed by the CIT (International Rail Committee).
Though worth knowing is that Ouigo train services are not protected by the CIV, so take care, particularly when making bookings from many French cities (other than Paris) to London.
Opt to travel by Ouigo to Lille or Paris, instead of by a standard TGV train, in order to connect into an onward Eurostar, and you will have to re-book the Eurostar if a delay to the Ouigo train, for any reason, causes a missed connection into the train to the UK.
(4) If your end-to-journey involves taking combinations of trains managed by more than one of these railway operators;
These train operating companies have signed up to the AJC, – the relatively new ‘Agreement for Journey Continuation’ policy, which has also been introduced by the CIT to protect travellers using international railway tickets.
In effect the AJC stipulates that no matter what type of ticket you have booked, or have been issued with, you can continue your DAYTIME journey by a different train to that specified on your ticket, in the event of a delay to a preceding train.
Meaning that the AJC can also offer protection if you are using separate tickets per train, which you purchased by making multiple bookings.
However, SMTJ's understanding is that you also need to have made your bookings with those operators listed above, or their affiliates, for the AJC protection to apply.
Key elements of the AJC protection
For international multi-train journeys, the three other key elements of this AJC protection which are worth keeping front of mind are:
(1) It can cover journeys which involve taking more than two DAY trains, so the second and any subsequent connection between trains on your end-to-end journey are likely be protected, if all the trains you need to take are operated by companies that have signed up to the AJC.
(2) That’s because it applies when the different train operators, who have signed up to this agreement, will be providing each train.
(3) It doesn’t matter if you were issued with separate tickets when making a single booking.
What is NOT covered by the AJC are the independent train operating companies, such as Italo in Italy, or Regiojet in the Czech Republic.
Also outside the AJC are some of the international train services, managed by multiple operators, including Eurostar and Thalys.
So the AJC won't prevent tickets having to be re-booked, if you make separate bookings for each part of a journey, when making connections from and into Eurostar services.
Also Ouigo trains in France aren't signed up to the AJC, so connections between Ouigo and Eurostar trains aren't protected, if a delayed Ouigo causes a missed connection into a Eurostar, you will have to re-book the train to the UK.
(5) However if you will be making a multi-train international high speed journey, your protection against having to re-book train specific tickets in the event of a delay, is provided by Railteam - IF you have booked an end-to-end ticket inclusive of ALL the journeys you will be taking, and not made separate bookings for each train you will be taking
The members of the Railteam Alliance are:
In the event of a delay, Railteam has a ‘HOTNAT’ – ‘hop on the next available train’ policy - but it only applies if you don't book separate tickets for each part of the journey.
Although the name of that Railteam policy is a tad misleading, because if your booking does include a specific train, what you can’t do is just hop on the next train on to your destination, you will need to stop at a ticket or info desk and have your ticket re-issued.
Though note that if, for example, you will be making a journey from London to Cologne/Koln and make separate bookings for the Eurostar to Bruxelles and a Thalys train from Bruxelles to Cologne, you will likely have to re-book in the event of train delay causing a missed connection.
So either in combination or isolation, the AJC, CIV and Railteam policies will LIKELY protect you against financial loss, in the event of delays to DAYTIME trains requiring a re-booking on these routes (and more):
The CIV, AJC and Railteam conditions of carriage don’t protect you in absolutely every scenario in which train delays impact on an end-to-end ticket booking.
The three main grey areas, which can apply regardless of whether you have booked an end-to-end journey on one ticket, are:
(1) An end-to-end journey on which more than two trains have departure specific terms and conditions.
Our understanding is that the CIV rules only cover one connection per journey – the CIV certainly rules don’t cover more than two trains when making an international journey; and the AJC and Railteam won’t absolutely protect you against every scenario either.
If a journey involves taking three specific trains, it's less likely to matter if the second train misses the connection into the third and final train, because you will have only missed one connection.
But what can be a grey area is if the first train causes you to miss the second train – meaning that you will then also be too late to take the third train (and then the fourth etc).
For EXAMPLE, you could be travelling from London to Bologna by taking a (1) Eurostar from London to Paris, (2) a TGV from Paris to Turin, (3) A Frecce train from Turin to Bologna.
If the Eurostar is delayed on route to Paris, it’s not absolutely guaranteed that Trenitalia will re-issue a ticket free of charge for the Turin to Bologna journey.
That’s because Eurostar hasn’t signed up to the AJC, Trenitalia isn’t a member of Railteam and the CIV won’t cover this second connection.
If an end-to-end ticket had been booked which included taking an Italo train between Torino and Bologna, you would then definitely have to pay to re-book the Italo train – because NTV which operates the Italo trains, hasn’t signed up the AJC, isn’t a member of Railteam and this second connection wouldn’t be covered by the CIV.
Though we have had to pick a particularly extreme journey to illustrate this point – Bologna is near the limit of how far it’s possible to travel from London by train in a single day.
(2) Cancelation instead of delay.
The clue is in the name of the AJC policy - ‘journey CONTINUATION’ and those CIV rules are also designed to protect against train delays.
You also can’t deploy Railteam’s HOTNAT policy if you haven’t even made it to the station in which you’ll be changing trains.
This shouldn’t be an issue if the final train of your journey has been cancelled, tickets should be issued on the next train to depart - they certainly will be if the cancelled train is operated by a company that has signed up to the AJC.
But a more awkward scenario can arise if the first train is cancelled, on a multi-train journey with more than two connections.
Multiple factors can then become significant, including whether you’ll actually now be able to complete your end-to-end journey before the end of the day, or whether you now think completing it will just be too problematic to be worthwhile.
Our advice is, before you book, contact the agent offering the journey for sale and enquire what their terms and conditions are in the event of a train cancellation, for the end-to-end journey option they’re offering for sale.
It’s particularly worth clarifying:
(1) Whether the entire booking can be refunded if you no longer want to make the journey in the event of a cancellation.
(2) Whether you’ll need to re-book the cancelled train at your starting station AND then book new tickets at the subsequent stations.
What you’ll particularly want to know for certain is whether only the cost of your original booking will be refunded.
That’s because virtually any ticket for an express train will cost much more than you originally paid - if you then have to buy a new ticket(s) per subsequent train, just before boarding.
However, it is highly unlikely that you’ll find yourself in this situation, of those 246 train journeys I have taken in recent years, I only encountered one cancelled train – and that train didn’t have mandatory reservations, so I just hopped on the next train that was departing.
(3) Journeys with connections into and from overnight trains:
Overnight trains are infrequent, with no more than 1 x train per night on any route, and due to their lengthy journeys they are more susceptible to delay than daytime trains.
Tickets to travel by them, particularly in sleeping cabins, are also comparatively expensive as they include the journey fee + the accommodation costs.
These are likely to be contributory factors as to why ticket agents rarely offer end-to-end bookings that involve connecting into and from overnight trains.
As a result it's much more likely that you will have to make separate bookings for the night train and the other trains you will need to take, in order to complete an end-to-end journey.
Using separate tickets means that you won't have protection from the CIV regulations against having to re-book in the event of delay.
The fact that travelling on overnight trains inevitably means that journeys can't be completed by the end of a day, may also impact on overnight journeys being protected by the AJC policy.
Therefore if you are considering making separate bookings per train in order to make an end-to-end overnight journey, the advice from ShowMeTheJourney is:
(1) See if one ticket agent will sell all the tickets you will require.
(2) Prior to booking, contact the ticket agent and check what their policy will be re-booking, particularly if a train delay or cancellation were to cause a missed booked connection into the overnight train.
(3) Either ask the agent for advice on booking an optimum connection, or extend the time you'll have to connect into the overnight train to two or more hours.
That scenario doesn't have to be a problem, target a restaurant or hotel bar in or near the station and have a meal/drink between trains.
Having said ALL of that, the other factor which makes it unlikely that you’ll encounter an issue with using train departure specific tickets, is that the ticket agents usually don’t sell end-to-end journey options, on which there’s a risk that you’ll lose out financially in the event of a delay.
The German national rail operator DB has recently increased the number of international train journeys it sells on its ticket booking website, but these newly offered journeys are all covered by the operators that have signed up to the AJC.
What it doesn’t seemingly sell online are end-to-end journeys which aren’t covered by the CIV, AJC or Railteam Alliance.
For other journeys not covered by the protection of the AJC or Railteam, DB directs customers to its telephone booking service, presumably so that customers can be made aware of any potential pitfalls of booking those journeys.
The ticketing websites of the other national train operators nearly always won’t offer end-to-end journeys, which carry a risk of a re-booking being required in the event of a delay causing a missed connection, particularly if they are not operating every train that’s required to complete the journey.
For example, the national rail operators usually don’t sell end-to-end journeys which involve having to transfer between trains in another country; because they don't operate the trains you will be connecting into.
When using specialist agents, which combine multiple trains into end-to-end journeys that can be purchased in a single booking, you will often be protected against any additional financial outlay, by their respective terms and conditions.
They have built their reputations partially by offering exceptionally standards of customer service when more complicated end-to-end journeys don’t go to plan.
When reservations aren't mandatory
What can also take the pressure of using end-to-end tickets is when reservations AREN’T compulsory on a particular train service: particularly if the next train on to your destination is provided by the same operator.
Always check with the conductor on the train that's being delayed, what you’ll need to do, but if the final train you need to take will involve travelling in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland or The Netherlands, it’s likely that you will be able to just hop on a subsequent, alternative train.
That’s because reservations aren’t required on the express trains in those countries.
This scenario also comes into play if reservations aren’t available AND tickets ALSO aren’t generally discounted, on the final type(s) of train service that you’ll be taking to complete a journey - such as R/RV trains in Italy and TER trains in France
Though if a specific departure has been included on your ticket because you have booked an end-to-end-journey at the cheapest possible price, then ask the conductor on the delayed train to verify the delay on your ticket.
Situations in which end-to-end tickets often aren't available
When looking up end-to-end journeys you might not find them available for sale on a ticket website; though that scenario is more likely for international journeys, particularly those with more than one change of train.
The four main reasons for this are:
(1) The route you want to take isn’t feasible as an end-to-end journey, primarily because it involves an overnight stop on route.
(2) The ticket agent doesn’t have all the necessary journeys loaded on its back-end systems; no European train system is fully comprehensive.
(3) The ticket agent is avoiding offering a journey, because a routing is potentially high risk in terms of a customer having to incur additional charges by re-booking in the event of a delay.
This is partially why so few multi-train journeys, that involve taking an overnight train can be booked in one transaction.
Though be aware that if you then go ahead and book separate tickets, you and not the ticket provider, will then be taking on that risk.
(4) The ticket agents rarely offer journey options which involve connections between trains of more than around 80 minutes, particularly if an alternative train is departing around an hour earlier.
Booking separate tickets per journey instead
So if the journey you want to take is not available as an end-to-end option, which can be booked in one transaction, you can book separate tickets instead.
You might have not to book separate tickets for every train you need to take, you could for example, book a London to Torino journey involving two trains on Trainline and then book a Torino to Bologna journey on the same site; because you’d rather not change trains in Milano etc.
The big disadvantage of using separate tickets is that they are not covered by the CIV agreement.
Meaning that if train delay causes you have to miss the other train(s) that you have booked tickets for, it’s more likely that you’ll then have re-book tickets for the alternative train(s) that you’ll need then to take, in order to complete your journey.
Particularly if you have saved money by booking the cheaper types of ticket which can't be exchanged or refunded.
However, the good news is that bookers of separate tickets are now more LIKELY to have protection against having to pay for additional tickets, IF they will be connecting between DAYTIME trains provided by operators who have signed up to the AJC.
Although it’s still pretty much imperative that you pay close attention to the connecting times between trains when booking separate tickets for an end-to-end journey.
Above all don’t assume that trains will depart and arrive on time.
We also recommend planning ahead and contacting the ticket agents to check whether you will have to re-pay in the event of missing a booked connection.
Though booking separate tickets for different legs of a journey can be a particularly good idea if you’d rather take a relaxed approach to making connections between trains, by using the 90 mins+ between trains to have a meal in or near the station etc.
Even if you will be making connections not protected by the AJC, by taking a longer period of time between trains than that offered by the ticket agents, you will be minimising your chances of encountering a scenario in which you won’t able to use your ticket(s) on the subsequent train.
In the rare event of a train being delayed by more than hour, you won’t then have time to head for a restaurant between trains, but you also wouldn’t have to pay for replacement tickets.
If you do encounter the relatively rare scenario, in which a railway operator has caused you to miss a train you had a booking for, then human intervention will come into play.
Ticket agents and conductors can be sympathetic in a scenario of missed connections; as long as you have obtained proof of the train delay, so they can be sure that you’re not having to re-book because you missed your alarm call etc.
I have had tickets re-issued by the Eurostar desk at Gare Du Nord because a tightly timed connection did actually get me there before a preceding train was due to depart, and when a TER train arrived more than an hour late in Paris, because a truck had hit a railway bridge.
The ‘Accueil’ info desks at French stations, don’t issue tickets, but in Nice they were happy to verify I’d missed a connection into a Intercités train because of a delayed arrival of a Thello train, despite that Thello train not being operated by SNCF.
The Frecce desk on the concourse at Milano Centrale, re-issued tickets because a Malpensa Express train from the airport had been cancelled; and these are just four examples, when staff have acted outside the usual remit of the ‘rules’, to ensure I didn’t lose out financially.
Although a more likely scenario is that railway staff will stick to the rules of using tickets for end-to-end journeys, hence it being a good idea to become aware of what those rules are before you book; and the best source of what terms and conditions will apply to your particular journey, are the ticket agents.
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
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.