If you're used to booking tickets for Spanish journeys by train and know your route, so want to book your tickets with the fewest possible steps, and receive a confirmation email within two minutes of starting the search for your ticket, then the Renfe booking service has been cleverly put together to enable you to do that.
The Renfe booking service is the type of train ticket website on which if you want to see all of the info that's available, you have to be proactive and click buttons and arrows to find it.
Though having said that the Renfe website was relaunched a few years ago, and now, once you've mastered its slightly quirky features, booking a ticket is comparatively straight forward.
And the Renfe website does a particularly good job of inserting the weight of terms and conditions around Spanish rail tickets in general, into the booking path, so if you take your time when using it and read all of the info, you'll have a clear picture of what exactly you are purchasing.
If you search for the Renfe website, when you click on the result it's likely that this is the first page you will see.
The two things, which have been highlighted on this image of the top section of the Renfe home page, are:
If you want to view the website in English, this is the language option which needs to be selected.
The notes for the image above are:
Notes for identifying a specific station:
As stated above the long-distance trains from Madrid depart from either or both of the main stations in the Spanish capital:
Barcelona Sants is the main station in the city.
Santa Justa is the main station in Sevilla
In Valencia the AVE and Euromed services use the station named Joaquin Sorolla, but all of the other trains from and to the city use the Nord station.
The default on the Renfe home page is that you will want to book a Return journey; note that is pre-selected on the drop down option.
So if you only want to travel one way, you can click the arrow beside 'Return' to change it.
Look out for the fact that if you want to travel one-way and have gone along the booking path towards booking a ticket, but then want to look up another journey by clicking back on the home page, it will default back to a return journey.
So if you want to go one-way you always have to be proactive and select this option on the home page.
As an example, a journey from Madrid to Barcelona has been searched for and the things to note, on what is a typical departure selection screen when booking with Renfe, is:
On the Renfe home page you are not given options for only seeing direct trains in the search results, or to choose departures at a specific time etc.
You only enter the start and finish points of your journey and the travel date.
The only other home page options are whether you want a return or a one-way ticket, how many passengers will be travelling and whether you have a promotional code.
Because you can't select a travel time, all of the journeys on your travel date are included in the search results and the idea is that you can then filter these results to suit your preference.
So it's by using the filters that you can hone in on the trains which depart or arrive at specific times; or remove the options which involve having to change trains.
Though note that on Renfe the prices can vary significantly by each departure, so if you can be flexible with your timings, you can often save money.
The default is that all of the departures available on your travel date will be listed in order of earliest of the day first, but if you want to buy the cheapest possible ticket, you can sort the list by price.
Or if speed matters more to you, you can select Duration.
Elige tickets have more flexible terms, so are more expensive, but as is explained in more detail below, you can opt to travel in the equivalents of second or first class seats if you choose this type of ticket
Premium tickets have the most flexibility, but they are only available for journeys by all types of AVE train and the Euromed trains, because an included 'extra' of booking a Premium ticket is a complimentary at seat hot meal; and only these types of train are equipped to serve it.
This specific departure is by a low-cost more basic Avlo service
Note that tickets for the competing low-cost more basic Ouigo services can only be booked on the Ouigo website, they are not sold by Renfe.
Only Basico tickets are available when travelling on an Avlo train.
This departure is by AVE train, hence all three types of ticket being available to book.
That yellow circle around the prices is highlighting how much they can differ between departures, you'll see that the AVE trains leaving only 30 mins apart have very different rates.
If traveling at the cheapest possible price is what matters most, in this example its worth checking the difference between the terms of booking the Basico tickets for the Avlo and AVE departures; and this is easily done at the next stage of the booking process.
On the above example a journey has been looked up from Barcelona (Todas), any station in Barcelona, to Valencia (Todas), any station Valencia.
As can be seen four different train services are available on this route; so it can be an idea to not solely fixated by price, as you won't be comparing like-for-like journey options.
Different types of ticket will also be available, depending on the specific type of train service being used on each departure.
As explained above, each of the up to three types of ticket available for Spanish rail journeys, have very specific different sets of terms and conditions.
Hence a comparatively unusual feature of booking with Renfe, is that these terms and conditions are automatically included within the booking path, you don't have to look them up.
It's worth taking the time to read them as you will be bound to them once you have made a booking.
As can be seen above the terms of using Basico tickets on this departure by an AVE train are listed in the 'What's included' section and what is particularly worth paying attention to is:
What's been circled above is that when booking Elige tickets you can choose between sitting in the equivalent of first or second class seats; a 'Comfort' seat is the equivalent of a first class seat on Renfe's larga-distancia (long-distance) trains, hence Elige-Comfort tickets being the equivalent of first class tickets.
On departures on which Premium Tickets are not available, selecting this option is how to book seats in first class.
Also note on this particular departure that the Elige Comfort price is cheaper!
Elige tickets are not available on the international trains between Spain and France
The terms and conditions in the 'What's Included' section, which are particularly worth paying attention to, are:
As explained above, you don't have to opt to travel in Comfort Class when booking Elige tickets for Spanish train journeys.
The core differences if you select 'Elige' instead are (1) you will be travelling in an Estander seat (a second class seat) and the range of extras (2) which you can add to your booking are the same as if you were to opt for Elige Comfort - and they cost the same price.
Though if you don't select Elige Comfort, when you click 'Next' to move on to the next stage of the booking process, you will see the equivalent of the above screen which will point out the additional cost of opting to travel in Comfort instead.
Though what's worth looking out for is that, a tad cheekily, Renfe will assume that you will want to opt to pay the additional cost, so if you don't want to do so, you have to be proactive and switch to continuing to book 'Elige Estander'.
What's worth paying attention to in the 'What's Included' section for Premium tickets is:
If you will be considering booking Premium tickets primarily due to the inclusion of a complimentary hot meal, because you'll want to be able to eat something during the journey while travelling in the equivalent of first class, it can be worth comparing the cost of a Premium tickets with an Elige Comfort ticket + the cost of adding a light meal as an extra to that type of ticket.
The food offering will be of a higher quality when booking Premium, but if you're not bothered about having a hot meal and will be happy with one of the Elige Menu options (see below), you'll be able to likely make a significant saving.
Something to look out when using the Renfe website on a PC to book train tickets, is that having selected your departure and the type of ticket you want to travel by, to move on and proceed to the booking screen, you need to click on the Next button, which you'll find down in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.
Also note that:
Take a second to do this, as choosing an incorrect train in error won't make any difference to any additional charges involved with exchanging tickets to an alternative departure.
A somewhat odd feature of using Renfe to book train tickets is the stage of the booking path at which you enter your personal details, because doing so isn't the final step if you want to add extras etc. Though note that you don't have to register with Renfe in order to make a booking.
As indicated by the arrow, there are some key stages of the ticket booking process which you will find below the area in which you enter your personal info.
As can be seen above, having scrolled down, you will then see the opportunity to add 'Extras' and other features to your booking:
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