Related Content
Train Ticket Guides Buying and using Tickets & Rail Passes in Spain

Buying and using Tickets & Rail Passes in Spain

This guide to buying tickets and using rail passes for train journeys within Spain will help you save money, time and confusion.

Share

This guide explains what to look out for when booking Spanish train tickets online, so that you can buy the optimum ticket.
The aim 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.

The Spanish rail operator RENFE has recently simplified the range of tickets it offers and the terms and conditions of how they can be used, with the key change being is that there are now only three core types of ticket available for long-distance (larga-distancia) journeys:

A key thing worth knowing is that any ticket, including Basico tickets, can be canceled free of charge within two hours of purchase.

They are in ascending order of price from cheapest to most expensive.

  1. Basico tickets:

You can only travel in Estander (2nd) class when you book Basico tickets.

After two hours since purchase has passed, the following terms apply:

  • no transfer available to a different departure
  • no refund if you cancel your trip or miss the train
  • adding the flexibility to amend your ticket costs an additional €30
  • named ticket holder can be changed for €40
  • adding the ability to select a specific seat costs €8
  • sitting in standard size seat in Estander (2nd) class

Basico tickets are not available for journeys by Avant or Media-Distancia (MD) trains.

  1. Elige aka Pick n Mix tickets:

You can choose Estander (2nd) class OR 'Comfort' (1st) class when booking Elige tickets for journeys by all AVE and all Alvia (and most IC) trains
If you book a Comfort Class Elige ticket and a food/drink at seat service is available (it will be on the AVE and Euromed trains) you will have to pay for any food/drink items you order.

After two hours since purchase has passed, the following terms apply:

  • transfer to a different departure ahead of your travel date; you will only have to pay 20% of the cost of the replacement ticket
  • if you cancel your trip you will receive 70% of the price paid
  • if you miss the train you will only have to pay 30% of the price of the replacement ticket
  • adding the flexibility to amend your ticket to an entirely different departure at no extra charge costs €30
  • named ticket holder can be changed for €30
  • adding the ability to select a specific seat costs €5
    Sitting in standard size seat in Estander (2nd) class OR a comfort Plus seat in Estander Class when available (available on avlo trains)
  1. Prémium Ticket:

You can only travel in Comfort (1st) class when you book Prémium tickets.
All drinks and a light meal served at your seat will be complimentary, and as light meals are only served on AVE and Euromed services, these are the only two train services, on which Prémium tickets will be made available.

  • transfer to a different departure = no charge
  • if you cancel your trip you will receive 95% of the price paid
  • if you miss the train and need a replacement ticket = no charge (which gives the freedom to choose between departures on your travel date)
  • change named ticket holder = no charge
  • select a specific seat = no charge

Complete your journey by local trains

Book any ticket to travel on AVE, Alvia, IC or Torre Oro trains, and the journey will include travel to and from the station at which you will be starting or completing your express train journey, by local Cercanías (Asturias, Madrid, Seville, Malaga, Valencia, Bilbao and Zaragoza), Rodalies (Barcelona) trains, or the Alicante tram.

Booking tickets for rail journeys within Spain:

If you're not used to booking tickets for train journeys in Spain online, then it can be particularly quirky; Renfe is the national rail operator in Spain and its website uses unique terminology.

So either take 10 minutes to go through the info below, it should help save you money and confusion, or click on a specific question on the Content menu
And yes there's a lot of text, but hopefully not too much; SMTJ wishes booking Spanish tickets isn't quite as complicated as it can seem.

When are tickets made available online?

This varies according to the route and trains you will be taking.

If you'll be taking AVE or Alvia services you can usually book up to 6 months ahead

If you will be travelling on other trains*, including the Euromed services, Renfe's own ticket booking site previously stated that bookings open 62 days ahead of the travel date, but it's now seemingly more variable with around 30 days being fairly typical.

Don't be overly concerned about this being a tad vague; Spain is no longer country in which you have to rush to book when tickets are placed on sale, in order to obtain the cheapest price.

*= Tickets for most routes taken by Regional Express (RE) trains are not usually sold online, but the RE trains to/from Barcelona can be an exception.

Will I save money if I book in advance?

The short answer to that question is usually, but not always.

You definitely won’t if you be travelling by Avant or Media-Distancia or RE train services; tickets for journeys by these train services aren't discounted.

In contrast, for any journey by a (‘larga-distancia’) express trains; AVE, Alvia, Euromed, IC and Torre Oro, booking online, or using an Advance Travel desk, is cheaper than buying tickets from the counters which sell tickets for travel that day.

Although Spain’s national rail operator Renfe applies a particularly extreme form of ‘airline style pricing’ to its tickets.
Those Spanish high speed lines cost €billions to build, so Renfe is understandably keen to ensure that travellers pay the maximum possible price for journeys.
Meaning that demand often has a bigger impact on ticket prices, compared with how far ahead you are booking.

Also there aren't any specific types of ticket which are money savers.
All three types of ticket (Basico, Elige and Prémium) for a journey by a long-distance train (AVE, Alvia, Torre Oro, IC) can initially be placed on sale at at cheaper price.

If you will be travelling on AVE or Euromed services, the more popular departures can be always more expensive, no matter how far head you book.

In contrast you’ll be much more likely to make big savings if you can book ahead for journeys by IC trains and for most journeys by Alvia train; particularly when travelling between Madrid and northern Spain.

The type of train service and route you will be taking also impacts on how far ahead you need to book, in order to make big savings.
If you want to travel on a specific AVE or Euromed departure you might only save less than €10 when booking two months ahead, compared with booking only a few days ahead.
Though on the routes taken by IC trains and Alvia trains you can, more often than not, save 30-40% (or more) by booking at least a couple of weeks ahead.

However, that is broad advice, the core point we’re making is that saving more than 30%, when booking Spanish train tickets in advance, can be the exception rather than the norm.
Spain is not a country where you can typically save more than 50-60% of the ticket price by booking ahead for specific depatures..

Though if you want to be able to:

  • choose from any departure on your chosen route, or;
  • need to travel at a specific time, on routes with less frequent services
    then booking a minimum of five days ahead is recommended as some departures can sell out.

A key thing worth knowing is that any ticket, including Basico tickets, can be canceled free of charge within two hours of purchase.

What are the cheapest rail tickets

Basico are the cheapest type of tickets sold by Renfe for long-distance 'larga-distancia' journey and they are now available up until departure.
Renfe tends to differentiate the different types of ticket by their terms and conditions, so Basico tickets aren't cheaper because you can book ahead to save money; they're cheaper because how they can be used is more limited than the more expensive Elige type of ticket.

When booking on the English language version of the Renfe website, the terms and conditions of each type of ticket aren’t translated, but the key thing to note about ‘Basico’ AND 'Elige' tickets is that they are departure specific

If you have booked a Basico ticket and then ahead of your booked travel time you subsequently need to change your travel plans, and you haven't upgraded, you'll have to buy an entirely new ticket.

Upgrading a Basico ticket so that you can:

  • transfer it to another departure ahead of your booked travel time
  • take another train if you don't make it on time
  • receive 95% of the price paid in the event of cancelling your travel plans
    will cost €30; and can only be paid at the time of booking.

In contrast if you opt to book an Elige ticket, which are now always offered as an alternative to Basico tickets, when travelling by AVE, Alvia, Inter City and Torre Oro trains, you will pay a higher price, but will have more flexibility;

  • transfer to a different departure ahead of your travel date; you will only have to pay 20% of the cost of the replacement ticket
  • if you cancel your trip you will receive 70% of the price paid
  • if you miss the train you will only have to pay 30% of the price of the replacement ticket.

A key thing worth knowing is that any ticket, including Basico tickets, can be canceled free of charge within two hours of purchase.

What's good to know if I want to save money generally?

In addition to how soon in advance you are booking and the terms of conditions of using each type of ticket, these four other factors are worth keeping in mind:

(1) Both the route you will be taking AND the train services that travel on them impact on ticket prices; see the notes below.

(2) It’s not unusual for one or two specific departure per day on a route, to be (much) cheaper than the other departures.

(3) Tickets tend to be more expensive on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays and around national holidays.

(4) Taking a direct train can be more expensive than journey options which involve a change of train.

These four factors aren’t exceptional, they also matter when booking tickets in advance in other European countries, but they appear to be more extremely applied in Spain.

Travellers aged 60 and over

If you are fortunate enough to fall into this age group enquire about the Tarjeta Dorada discount card, when you are at a station with a staffed ticket office.
It costs only €6 and will give you access to a 20-40% discount on ticket prices.

Why the type of train service can matter:

Aside from local train services, Spanish national train operator Renfe places the majority of the train services it operates into categories, with each category having a specific service name.

Ticket pricing and the type of tickets available isn’t a factor in how each train service is defined; the train categories are based on speed and what percentage of the journey the train service spends travelling on a high speed line.

But these specific types of train can impact on ticket prices; so here are five factors to be aware of when looking up Spanish train journeys;

(1) AVE train services stay on the high speed lines for their entire journeys, so they’re the fastest trains in Spain, but the cheapest prices available can be harder to track down on AVE services.

(2) While Alvia train services spend only some of their journeys on the high speed lines, so prices per km can be cheaper on Alvia routes.

(3) When looking up long distance ('larga-distancia') journeys, it soon becomes obvious that when travelling between most cities, you will only have one choice of train service.
However, when there is a choice of train services, tickets are often cheaper for the faster trains, if you can book ahead.

(4) In contrast to the larga-distancia routes, tickets aren’t discounted on the media-distancia routes, so if you will be travelling by an Avant or Media-Distancia train service, you won’t save money by booking in advance online

(5) However, if you WON'T be travelling on the 'larga-distancia' trains and routes you might be able to save money by being selective about which train service you take.
If there is a choice between Avant and Media Distancia services, the Avant services will always be more expensive because they are (much) faster.

Why the route you take can matter:

Spanish train ticket prices are closely tied to demand, the more popular a specific train departure is, the more expensive it will be.
But this impacts on routes too, the high speed routes, particularly those to/from Madrid, are inevitably popular.

The Spanish national rail operator Renfe, understandably wants to exploit this popularity, so high demand journeys such as Madrid ↔ Barcelona, tend to be more expensive.
So the popularity of a journey matters more than distance when Renfe is calculating ticket prices.

For example it’s generally more expensive to travel between Madrid and Barcelona than it is to travel between Madrid and more far-flung cities such as Bilbao and Vigo.

Less-popular routes means less-frequent trains, but these are also often the routes on which you can make the biggest savings when booking in advance.
So it’s still possible to find a bargain; for example, you can make the five hour + journey between Madrid and Bilbao for under €20!

It’s generally less expensive to travel between Madrid and cities in northern Spain, than it is to travel between the capital and destinations to the east and south.

Another very good reason for booking a route with less frequent trains in advance online, is that some train departures can sell out completely a couple of days ahead of the travel date.

Why the departure time can matter:

On many ‘larga-distancia’ routes, trains don’t operate particularly frequently, but if you will be travelling between the larger cities on the high speed routes, you can expect to choose between more than 10 x departures per day
On these journeys, some specific departures per day are inevitably more popular than others; so this is when the fact that demand impacts on Spanish ticket prices, particularly matters.

As soon as tickets are released for sale, some departures on these more frequent routes will be charged at a higher price, so some departures will be consistently more expensive, no matter how far ahead you’re booking.
So try and keep your departure/arrival times as flexible as possible and search through the departures on your travel date.

It’s not unusual for one or two departures to be more than €30 cheaper than any other departure that day.
So you can typically save MORE than €30 by choosing an earlier or later departure; but might save LESS than €30 by booking ahead.

The most popular departure times can vary per route, but on routes with several departures per day it can be wise to avoid setting off between 09:00 and 10:00 and between 16:00 and 18:00
Also on routes which have a choice of train services, the slower services may not be cheaper at times of high demand; so for example, a slower Alvia train service departing Madrid at 17:00 can be more expensive than a faster AVE train, leaving at 13:00.

Why your travel date can matter:

On some routes ticket prices can be particularly expensive either side of holidays, especially on Fridays and Sundays; the rise in demand can mean that the cheaper tickets won’t be placed on sale.

Instead you can make big savings by travelling a week or two either side of a holiday weekend and other times of high demand.
So if you can be flexible with your travel dates, it can pay off to look up prices for a week ahead and a week after the travel date you initially had in mind.

Though this seems to matter less on routes with more frequent AVE trains such as between Madrid and both Barcelona and Seville.

The types of ticket summarised:

'Estander' is the equivalent of a second class (until recently this was known as 'Turista' class)

'Comfort' is the equivalent of a first class (until recently this was known as 'Preferente' class)

Something new to watch out for on the renfe (Spanish national railways) website is that the 2nd class price will be initially shown for Elige tickets, but if you click on the price, you can then see the charge for travelling Comfort Class with this type of ticket

Book a Basica ticket and you will be travelling in Estander/2nd class, book a Premium ticket and you will be travelling in Comfort/1st class.

Travel on AVE or Euromed trains on Sundays to Fridays and the Premium ticket price includes a complimentary airline style light meal served to passengers at their seats.

On the Alvia, IC and Torre Oro services which have no at-seat catering available, the Premium tickets will not be offered for sale.
If you want to travel Comfort/First Class on these trains you will need to select an Elige type of ticket and then click on the Comfort Class price, which will then become available.

Also worth knowing is that some train services including all Avant, some Inter City and most Media Distancia services are Turista/Second class only.

There are now only three core types of ticket available

They are in ascending order of price from cheapest to most expensive.

  1. Basico tickets:

You can only travel in Estander (2nd) class when you book Basico tickets

  • no transfer available to a different departure
  • no refund if you cancel your trip or miss the train
  • adding the flexibility to amend your ticket costs an additional €30
  • named ticket holder can be changed for €40
  • adding the ability to select a specific seat costs €8
  • sitting in standard size seat in Estander (2nd) class
  1. Elige aka Pick n Mix tickets:

You can choose Estander (2nd) class OR 'Comfort' (1st) class when booking Elige tickets.
If you book a Comfort Class Elige ticket and a food/drink at seat service is available (it will be on AVE trains) you will have to pay for any food/drink items you order.

  • transfer to a different departure ahead of your travel date; you will only have to pay 20% of the cost of the replacement ticket
  • if you cancel your trip you will receive 70% of the price paid
  • if you miss the train you will only have to pay 30% of the price of the replacement ticket
  • adding the flexibility to amend your ticket to an entirely different departure at no extra charge costs €30
  • named ticket holder can be changed for €30
  • adding the ability to select a specific seat costs €5
    Sitting in standard size seat in Estander (2nd) class OR a comfort Plus seat in Estander Class when available (available on avlo trains)
  1. Prémium Ticket:

You can only travel in Comfort (1st) class when you book Prémium tickets.
All drinks and food served at your seat will be complimentary

  • transfer to a different departure = no charge
  • if you cancel your trip you will receive 95% of the price paid
  • if you miss the train and need a replacement ticket = no charge (which gives the freedom to choose between departures on your travel date)
  • change named ticket holder = no charge
  • select a specific seat = no charge
    The price per person is discounted, though it tends to be similar to the ‘Promo +’ price.

What about the refunds if the train is delayed?

Renfe had a offered a particularly generous ‘delay compensation’ scheme when making long distance/larga-distancia journeys, but seemingly this is no longer the case.
Buried fairly deep on the new Renfe website is info which when translated states:

'In the event of a delay in arrival at the destination for more than one hour, the traveler will be entitled to a monetary compensation equivalent to fifty percent of the price of the transport ticket. used.
When the delay exceeds one hour and thirty minutes, the compensation will be equivalent to the total of said price.

Not withstanding the foregoing, High Speed and Long Distance may* establish generally more advantageous compensations for their clients than those previously expressed
*Special compensation terms of delays less than an hour may be specific to each ticket purchased, so check the terms when booking.

Why are a few prices exceptionally cheap?

When looking up some journeys, including between Madrid and Barcelona, you can often spot what seem like bargain prices, around 50% cheaper than the standard fare.
But check the journey times carefully before rushing to book these, they can be much longer and also usually involve a change of train.

Booking agents (national and international):

Agents in neighboring countries:

See if there’s a unique journey guide for your trip, featuring info on the trains, tickets & stations.
Leaving From
Going To

Exploring Spain with rail passes:

Spain has a reputation for being something of a no-go zone when exploring Europe with 'global' Eurail and InteRail passes, due to the high volume of trains which require rail pass users to pay reservation fees.
But those trains with the comparatively expensive fees happen to be some of the most fabulous trains on earth and they travel on high speed lines which cost billons of euros to construct.
Also if you go long-distance on the popular routes, those fees can be comparatively good value for money.

Using one country rail passes:

If you want to explore Spain by making long-distance journeys on the express trains it's worth comparing a RENFE Spain Pass with an InterRail One Country Pass for Spain or a Eurail Pass for Spain,

The big tick in the box for the RENFE Spain pass is that despite reservations being required for journeys by the larga-distancia express trains and most Media-Distancia services, you won't be charged for them; so in effect they're included on the pass.
With a RENFE-Spain pass you can book reservations at ticket counters at stations

With the Eurail and Interrail passes, the same reservation fees as 'Global Passes' will apply (see below)

Using multi-country 'Global' passes:

If you will be travelling with a Eurail or InterRail multi-country ‘Global’ pass, don’t let the fact that you’ll have pay to reserve seats prior to boarding most Spanish train services, hold you back from including Spain on your travel itinerary.

Rail passes can be good value in Spain, tickets on the high speed routes between Madrid and Barcelona, Malaga and Seville can be comparatively expensive, so only paying the reservation fee can be a money saver; particularly when the limited numbers of discounted tickets have sold out.

Though as will be seen below 1st class Eurail and InterRail 'Global' passes aren’t such good value, particularly if you’re planning on taking multiple long-distance high speed journeys.
Those €23.50 1st class reservation fees listed below include a light meal, similar to those served on airlines; though the meals aren’t served on Saturdays, and in our opinion don’t by themselves justify the price difference with the 2nd class reservations.

​​​​​
Eurail and InterRail Reservation fees:

(1) AVE trains: 1st class = €23.50*; 2nd class = €10
*The €23.50 charge includes a light meal and it is not served on Saturdays, so on Saturdays the 1st class fee MAY also be €10.

All of the fastest high speed trains between Madrid and Barcelona, Girona Figueres, Malaga and Valencia are AVE trains.
Most of the high speed trains between Madrid and both Alicante and Seville are AVE trains.
AVE trains also operate between Barcelona/Madrid and Malaga/Seville and on some departures between Madrid and Leon.

(2) Euromed, €23.50*; 2nd class = €6:50
The €23.50 charge includes a light meal and it is not served on Saturdays, so on Saturdays the 1st class fee MAY also be €10.
Euromed trains operate on the Barcelona - Valencia - Alicante route

(3) Alvia trains: 1st class = €23.50 OR* €10; 2nd class = €6:50
*If you will be travelling by Alvia train to destinations also served by AVE trains, you will have to pay the €23.50 fee.
Alvia trains provide most of the services between Madrid and northern Spain

(4) Avant trains: 1st* and 2nd class = €4
These short distance high speed trains are 2nd class only, so 1st class pass users need to pay the fee and travel 2nd class.

(5) IC and IC (Talgo) trains: 1st class = €10; 2nd class = €6:50

(6) Media Distancia trains: 1stn and 2nd class = €4.50
Most of these trains are 2nd class only, so 1st class pass users need to pay the fee and travel 2nd class.
A notable exception are the regional trains on the:

  • Barcelona - Girona - Figueres - Port Bou - Cerbere; and
  • Barcelona - La Tour De Carol routes,
    fees don't have to be paid to travel by these trains.

Booking these reservations:

Spanish national rail operator RENFE does not sell rail pass reservations online and now they are also not available on the Eurail/Interrail reservation service for journeys within Spain.
The only option, other than booking them at a station in Spain, is to pre-reserve seats by calling Renfe phone sales: +34 91 232 03 20.

Pre-reserving a seat is possible up to 24 hours before a train's departure. You will receive a PNR code which you must use to pick up and pay for your reservation at a local station ticket office, making sure to show your Interrail Pass. You must collect your reservation within 72 hours. After this time the pre-reservation will expire.
Please note that a pre-reservation is not the same as a reservation. It only holds a seat for you for 72 hours.

The ticket booking desks at Spanish stations can vary; at most large stations there will be separate ticket desks for reservations for trains leaving that day and for advance reservations..
Using an advance reservation desk can take time, so a good option is to use one of these ticket offices to book all the reservations you'll need while travelling in Spain.

Be aware that reservations may be completely sold out on the most popular trains, so if you want to book reservations on your travel date, the best option is to head for the station early in the morning; and then be flexible re: the times you will actually be travelling.
If need be deposit your bags in a left luggage office and then return to the station later in order to catch your train.

Also not all ticket counter staff will speak English, particularly outside of Barcelona and Madrid, though don’t be overly worried about this; when SMTJ was using Spanish ticket desks with our InterRail Pass, the staff were exceptionally helpful.

Using Eurail & InterRail Passes for train journeys FROM Spain:

(1) On RENFE-SNCF trains on the Paris - Barcelona route:
Fees vary depending on the journey:
Barcelona to Paris: 1st class = €48; 2nd class = €34.

Or save money by following an alternative routing from Barcelona to Paris.

(2) On RENFE-SNCF trains from other cities in France to Spain including the Marseille to Madrid route:
Fees vary depending on the journey:
Madrid to Marseille: 1st class = €48; 2nd class = €34
Barcelona to Lyon: 1st class = €26; 2nd class = €19

When travelling to and from Spain on the high-speed RENFE-SNCF trains, you can use the Eurail reservation service or the InterRail reservation service, but you will be charged a €2 booking fee per reservation per person.
Or (in theory) you can call 00 33 18494 3635.

The region of [Occitanie](https://www.sncf-reseau.com/fr/carte/occitanie/carte-reseau-ferre-occitanie-3bold text) has now introduced new rules which state that Eurail and InterRail passes purchased after July 1st 2022, can no longer be used on the TER trains which operate within the region,
Meaning that for future Eurail and InteRail passes, they won't be valid on the French TER trains which travel from the Spanish border at Cerbere and Port Bou on into France.

Booking international rail passes:

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.