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Train Ticket and Rail Pass Guides Using Railcards to save money on train tickets
Save money when using railcards to buy train tickets in Europe

Using Railcards to save money on train tickets

Don't assume that railcards won't be worthwhile when on holiday. They can pay off when only taking a small number of journeys and can be better value for money than rail passes.

| Last Updated: about 1 month ago
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Rail passes allow the freedom to travel by trains on a set number of days, but railcards are different.
They are valid for longer, typically for a year, and during this time they can be used to obtain tickets at a discounted price, so you can’t just hop on a train with a railcard, because you need to travel with the railcard and a ticket(s).
The price and type of the ticket doesn’t typically matter, so railcards can be used in multiple scenarios; you can save money when booking a first class ticket last minute at a station, or when booking the cheapest 2nd class ticket you can find online.
The online ticket agents will provide a facility to include the type of railcard you have when looking up a journey, the prices you will then see will include the discounted rate.

So the more journeys you book with the railcard, the more money you will save.
Typically once you have booked a relatively small number of long-distance journeys, the savings made will be greater than the cost of purchasing the card.
Conversely once you have purchased the card, if you then don’t book enough journeys, you won’t make an overall saving.

Using railcards when visiting a country:

Railcards are also primarily aimed at national journeys, though some cards also give access to lesser discounts on international journeys, but because of this national focus, there can be an assumption that they can only be purchased and used by those residing in the country in which they are valid.
This is typically the case for specific types of railcards which are allied to medical conditions or for students, but most other types of railcard can be purchased and used when visiting a country, so they can be worth considering if a holiday includes a number of rail journeys.
This guide will only include railcards which can also be used by visitors.

Also worth looking out for are the types of railcard which are valid for specific ages of travelers, as the ages can differ from the typical national ticket policies as to when the full adult rate applies to ticket purchases.
Many railcards are for use by families and give the ability to book children’s tickets at particularly low prices with the parents also travelling at a discount, while others enable young adults to travel at special ‘youth’ rates.
While for those blessed with senior years, using railcards can be the only means of travelling by train at a discounted rate.

Also don’t assume that because most railcards are valid for a year, that they won’t provide good value for money, when only visiting a country for a holiday.
A combination of railcard + tickets can also be better value for money than using rail passes, it depends on how long you will be holidaying and where you want to go.
Railcards can offer particularly good value in comparison to rail passes if you want to book ahead, while rail passes offer great value for money when compared with more expensive last minute tickets.

Austria

OBB is the national rail operator in Austria and it offers a range of railcards which it calls Vorteilscards.

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.

Discounted long-distance rail tickets in Austria are known as Sparscheine tickets and they can be great value for money, the Wien/Vienna ↔ Innsbruck journey is near the top of the longest possible rail journeys in Austria list, but the Sparscheine tickets on this route 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.

The downside of travelling with Sparscheine tickets is that they can only be used on the specific trains selected when booking, but the more flexible Austrian tickets that can be spontaneously used on any train on a travel date can be 4 x more expensive.
As a result the hop on at the last minute ability of Eurail/InterRail passes is often great value for money if you want to travel spontaneously.

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:

In general children aged 5 and under travel for free and children aged 6 – 14 travel at half-fare on Austrian trains, but those discounted Sparscheine tickets are an exception.
An adult purchasing them can travel with up to four children aged 14 and under at no additional charge.
It's worth keeping this is in mind, if you'll be happy to commit ahead and use this type of ticket, because 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, though for the rail passes these prices apply to those aged 60 and over.

Belgium:

If you will be taking multiple rail journeys while on a holiday in Belgium, such as day trips from Gent to the likes of Antwerp, Brugge, Bruxelles, the Belgian Coast and Ypres, Multi Tickets can be money savers.
Like a railcard, these 'tickets' are valid for a year, but atypically they cover the costs of 10 one way rail journeys, so when travelling with them you don't need to purchase separate tickets, when taking trains between any Belgian stations.

Youth Multi passes are available for €55 for those aged 25 and under.
Standard Multi passes are available for those aged 26 and over, which cost €87 for 2nd class and €132 for 1st class.

One country Eurail and InterRail pass are not solely available for travel in Belgium.

Czechia / Czech Republic

The Czech national rail company sells 'In Cards' which can be great value for money when travelling by train in Czechia.
A type of In Card valid for 3 months which gives a 25% discount on all Czech rail tickets costs 190 CZK, which is less than €8!

Though keep in mind that Czech rail travel is comparatively cheap, tickets on a smart express train for the 2hr 30min journey between Praha/Prague and Brno can be found for under 220 CZK, so the In Cards will likely only be value for money if you will be taking at least four city to city journeys, or two long day trips.

One country InterRail and One country Eurail passes for Czechia are also comparatively cheap compared to other countries, with Adult 2nd class pass prices starting at €93; the type of pass valid for three days of rail travel in a month.

Though at today's exchange rate €93 = 2289 CZK, so you don't need to be a math genius to work out that an In Card + only paying 75% of the ticket price is likely to be cheaper in a number of Czech rail travel scenarios; particularly if you don't mind booking ahead and committing to travel by specific departures.
The Eurail and InterRail passes only offer good value for money against the last minute, more expensive Czech train ticket prices.

France

French national rail operator SNCF sells a range of railcards, known as Carte Avantage which are very popular in France; particularly as it's not uncommon for a journey of more than three hours by a standard TGV InOui service to be priced at more than €100, if you're not booking at least two months ahead.

A tad oddly SNCF offers three types of Carte Avantage cards which are split according to age, Jeune for those aged 12 to 26 and Adulte for those aged 27-59 and Senior for those aged 60 and over; but they all cost €49, are valid for a year and all have the same core benefits:

  • a 30% reduction on tickets for travel by standard TGV (TGV InOui) and Intercités; in effect these are the French long-distance express trains.
  • There are also maximum price caps, so on certain journeys by the TGVs, the discount can be more than 30%; max price of journeys of up to 1hr 30mins = €39; up to three hours = €59 and over three hours = €79.
  • A 25-50% discount when travelling by TER train services, the French regional trains; though now this doesn't apply on the TER trains in Provence-Alpes-Cote D'Azur, or Occitania.
  • A 30% discount on the high speed trains from France to Germany (not Thalys); to Italy (not Frecce), Luxembourg, Spain and Switzerland.
  • Those discounts also apply to one other person travelling with you, so you can purchase pairs of tickets at the discounted rates.
  • Each card holder can take up to three children at 60% of the child ticket costs. (Those aged 4-11 qualify for child ticket rates in France).

Working out whether combinations of Carte Avantage cards + discounted tickets will be better value for money during your holiday, than using one country InterRail or one country Eurail passes valid for France, can a somewhat convoluted process, but if you will be taking two or more journeys of 3hrs +, then it's worth doing the calculations; particularly if you will be travelling in July and August.

Something which needs to be factored in when doing the math is that the discounted tickets you book with the French railcards will include the seat reservations, but when using Eurail and InterRail the reservations for the TGV InOui services and on some Intercités services, will cost from €10.

Also if you won't be travelling solo, you also need to factor in that the benefits of the Carte Avantage cards extend to more than one traveller.

Purely as an example, ShowMeTheJourney looked up the comparative prices for two 'Adults' taking a round France trip of Paris → Bordeaux → Toulouse → Marseille → Nice → Paris in early July when booking 2 months in advance.
The total cost for this itinerary with an Carte Avantage Adulte card was €345; the card saved €125 on the tickets, so when factoring in the price of the card the actual saving was around €75.
In contrast two InterRail or Eurail passes valid for the 5 days of travel plus two sets of four* reservation fees at €10 per journey = €474.
(*reservations not required for the Marseille to Nice journey

When travelling solo the total ticket cost of Carte Avantage Adulte card + the five discounted tickets = €196; in contrast a five day InterRail pass + four reservations = €237.
But in this one solo traveller scenario, stopping over in Nimes on the Toulouse to Marseille journey and a return trip to Avignon before heading off to Nice, would tip the balance in favour of the rail pass.

Germany

The German national rail operator DB offers multiple types of Bahn Cards which are railcards which can be used to obtain a 25% or 50% discount when booking tickets for train tickets in Germany.
They can also be used to reduce the ticket price when booking journeys between Germany and Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina (ZFBH and ZRS), Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Netherlands, Republic of North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland.

Various types of Bahn Card are available, but what's particularly useful if you will be planning a holiday with numerous rail journeys in Germany is that Bahn Cards valid for 3 months are available, which are given the name of Trial Bahn Cards.
The prices are:

  • A Trial Bahn Card 25 which gives 25% off 2nd class journeys = €17.90
  • A Trial Bahn Card 25 which gives 25% off 1st class journeys = €36.90
  • A Trial Bahn Card 50 which gives 25 - 50% off 2nd class journeys = €72.90
  • A Trial Bahn Card 50 which gives 25 - 50% off 1st class journeys = €146

If you're happy to commit in advance and book non-flexible, discounted Super Sparpreis tickets for specific departures, the prices of many long-distance German rail journeys in 2nd class start at €17.90.
Therefore you need to make only four trips with a card which gives 25% off 2nd class journeys, for the Trial Bahn Card 25 card to be a money saver.
However, those €17.90 ticket prices can be hard to track down if you're not booking more than a couple of months in advance, so prices of €39-49 can be more typical.
At those prices you only need to make two long trips (one return journey) for the card to be worthwhile.

However the Trial Bahn Card 50 cards are only worth buying if you want to avoid the more restrictive terms of using Super Sparpreis tickets and Sparpreis tickets, because the 50% discount is only applied to the more expensive Flexible tickets.
When booking Super Sparpreis tickets and Sparpreis tickets, the Trial Bahn Card 50 cards don't live up to their name and only provide for a 25% discount.
Though as Super Sparpreis tickets can't refunded or exchanged, the combination of Trial Bahn Card 50 card + flexible tickets provides protection against a trip having to be cancelled.

Comparison with rail passes

For illustrative purposes, a round Germany trip of Cologne → Hamburg → Berlin → Munich → Freiburg → Cologne by ICE trains in early July, when booking 2 months in advance, at adult 2nd class rates was researched .
The total cost of a Trial Bahn Card 25+ five tickets was €218; with a saving on the ticket price of around €60.

In contrast a one country InterRail pass and a one country Eurail pass for Germany, valid for 5 days of travel at the Adult rate, is €241.

Seat reservations on German express are optional, so if you want to reserve the same rates are payable whether you book tickets or travel with rail passes.
Though if a stopover in Bamberg was taken on the Berlin → Munich journey and a stopover in Bonn on the Freiburg → Cologne journey were both factored into the trip, the rail passes then become better value for money.

Great Britain

A range of railcards are available which can be used by visitors to the UK on train journeys within England, Scotland and Wales and the discounts which apply to tickets also apply to many regional rail passes, including Spirit Of Scotland passes.

Family & Friends Railcard:

  • Cost =£30
  • Valid for one year, but at least one child aged 5 to 15 must be part of the travel party for the pass to be eligible
  • Core benefits = 1/3 off adult Standard class tickets for up to 4 adults and 60% off child rate tickets for up to 4 children aged 5 to 15.

26-30 Railcard

  • Cost =£30
  • Valid for one year
  • Core benefits = 1/3 off adult rate on all Standard Class tickets + 1/3 off adult rate on First Class Advance tickets + 1/3 off when using Oyster cards in London off-peak

Two Together Railcard

  • Cost =£30
  • Valid for one year, can be used by the two people named on the card
  • Core benefits = 1/3 off all Standard and First Class tickets at the adult rate

Senior Railcard

  • Cost =£30
  • Valid for one year, can be used by people aged 60 and over
  • Core benefits = 1/3 off all Standard and First Class tickets at the adult rates + 1/3 off when using Oyster cards in London off-peak.

Network Railcard (ideal for day trips from London)

  • Cost =£30
  • Valid for one year and can be used for journeys within the shaded area on this map.
  • Core benefits = 1/3 off all Standard Class tickets at the adult rates for journeys within the area + you can take up to three more adults with you who also qualify for a 1/3 off + take up to four children aged 5 to 15 and receive a 60% discount on the child ticket rates.

Comparison with rail passes

One country InterRail passes are available for rail travel in Great Britain; along with Britrail passes for visitors to the UK who don't meet the InterRail criteria.
Thanks to the extraordinarily high prices of walk-up tickets for long-distance rail journeys, both of these type of pass can be great value for money if you want to take spontaneous rail journeys.
However, if you are happy to book ahead and commit to specific trains with Advance tickets, then it's possible that a combination of railcard + rail tickets; or railcard + rail tickets + regional rail passes will be money saver, even when visiting Britain for a holiday.

For example, if two people aged 40 wanted to take a holiday involving London and Scotland:
A Two Together Railcard + a pair of Advance tickets for the journeys each way to and from Glasgow booked a month ahead + 4 day trips across Scotland from Glasgow using 2 x Spirit Of Scotland passes booked at the railcard rate, would have a total approximate cost of £410 / €480.
But two x 2nd class Adult InterRail passes valid for six days of rail travel in Great Britain = €524

If the two people aged 40 were to be travelling with an 8 year and a 10 year old, the InterRail cost would still be €524, because there would be no charge for the two child rate InterRail passes, but the total tickets costs when using a Freinds and Family railcard would be approximately £515 / €605.

So as can be seen there are no 'rules' around whether rail passes will or won't be money savers, but if a holiday to Britain includes just two long-distance rail journeys, it's likely that a railcard + tickets will be a money saver.
On the London and Scotland example above, the savings on the journeys between London and Glasgow, paid back the costs of the investment in the railcard.

Italy

Conventional railcards are not available for Italian rail travel, because to benefit from discounts for seniors or youths you need to be registered in the CartaFRECCIA scheme, which is only possible if you have an Italian postal address.

The Netherlands

Conventional rail cards are not available in The Netherlands, but if you will be holidaying in The Netherlands and want to explore on more than one day by train, there is a method of using the national travel cards as a money saver, compared to buying tickets for each journey you'll be taking.

OV-chipkaarts are cards which can be used on public transport throughout The Netherlands, including the railways; instead of buying tickets you tap in and out of ticket gates when taking rail journeys (and tap machines on the buses, tram and metros).
When visiting The Netherlands you can buy the OV-chipkaarts from a ticket counter at a Dutch railway station, one per person and each person will need to have a passport photo.

Once you have the OV-chipkaart, you can insert it into a ticket machine and load a Dal Vrij pass on to it, which costs €107.90 if you are aged 64 and under, or €46.80 if you are 65 and over.
The plus of using the Dal Vrij pass is you can then use the OV-chipkaart for a month on any public transport at weekends or national holidays and during off-peak hours; which are weekdays from 09.00 to 16.00 and from 18.30 to 06.30.
Or you can buy train tickets during those times for you and up to three other people travelling with you for a 40% discount on each ticket.
With three or four days of extensive travel by public transport, the Dal Vrij pass will have paid for itself.

Though when you return home you'll need to log on to your online banking and cancel the direct debit for the Dal Vrij pass; to save Dutch people the bother of having to renew the Dal Vrij pass it is sold on a direct debit basis, but the T&Cs make it very clear that you can cancel the debit after the first month.

Spain

Conventional railcards aren't available for the majority of rail journeys in Spain unless you will be aged 60 and over when taking rail journeys in Spain.
You can take your passport to an advance travel desk at Spanish stations and purchase a Tarjeta Dorada card for only €6!
You can then use it to obtain discounts of 25 - 40% on Spanish rail tickets.

Switzerland

If you will be visiting Switzerland you can purchase Half Fare Cards HERE that will be valid for 1 month.
They cost CHF 120 for adults, but live up to their name and give a 50% discount on most Swiss trains and public transport networks and that includes the Swiss mountain railways; you can also use them to get a 50% discount on first class tickets and it doesn't matter whether you book online or last minute at the station

Half Fare Cards can be good value for money, even if you will only be spending a relatively short time in Switzerland, particularly if you want to travel spontaneously, so don't want to commit ahead to specific departures in order to obtain the Sparbillette (Supersaver) ticket rate.
Use them to book last minute tickets on around three long-distance journeys and it's likely you'll make an overall saving, particularly if you book 1st class tickets.

If you will be travelling with children aged 6 to 15 then the Half Fare Card can be particularly good value for money, because when you buy it online and add children of this age to the travelling party, it automatically becomes a Swiss Family Card at no additional cost.
The children aged 6 to 15 at the time of the trip then travel for free when accompanied by an adult; children aged 5 and under travel for free on Swiss railways in ay case.

Combining day passes with Half Fare Cards:

You can also use Half Fare Card to obtain Saver Day Passes at a 50% discount, so if you want to explore a large area of Switzerland in a single day or two and ALSO want to make some long-distance trips, the Half-Fare card can pay off.
More info about how to use a Half Fare Card for visitors together with Saver Day Passes is available on the rail passes in Switzerland guide.

Though if you don't want to commit ahead to purchasing Saver Day Passes and would rather be spontaneous to take advantage of good weather etc, Half Fare Cards can also be used to purchase last minute Day Passes at a 50% discount .
Though the flex type of Swiss Travel Pass, which is valid for three days of travel in a month, is cheaper than buying a Half Fare Card + 2 Day Passes.

That using rail passes in Switzerland guide also explains how the various types of rail passes can be cheaper than booking Swiss rail tickets, even at the Half-Fare Card rate; it depends on which journeys you will be taking.

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Simon Harper

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

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This second version of ShowMeTheJourney is exciting and new, so we are genuinely thrilled that you are here and reading this, but we also need your help.

We’re striving not to let anything get in the way of providing the most useful service possible, hence a facility has been set up with DonorBox which can be used to support the running costs and make improvements.

Instead of advertising or paywalls, your financial support will make a positive difference to delivering an enhanced service, as there’s a lot of ideas which we want to make happen.

So if you have found the info provided here to be useful, please consider saying thank you.