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Train Ticket and Rail Pass Guides Using the rail company websites to book European train tickets
How to use the European rail ticket booking websites

Using the rail company websites to book European train tickets

What to look out for when using online booking services of the main European train operators. Don't miss out the less obvious features which can help with booking the correct ticket at an optimum price.

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One of the many quirks of European rail travel is that each of the main national rail operators in Europe, takes a unique approach to laying down a booking path to follow, when buying tickets to travel by their trains.
So if you're used to booking rail tickets on one particular website, or are familiar with booking hotels or flights online, it can be confusing to encounter a booking path, which takes a different approach to that which you were expecting.

Hence the guides that have been produced for booking tickets online with the services provided by;

  • B-Europe; the service provided by Belgium's national rail operator, which sells tickets for international journeys from and to Belgium and most French express trains.
  • CD; the booking service of the Czech national rail operator, which also sells international journeys to and from Czechia.
  • DB Bahn; the booking service of the German national rail operator, which also sells international journeys to and from Germany.
  • DSB; the booking service of the Danish national rail operator.
  • NS International; the service provided by the Dutch national rail operator, which sells tickets for international journeys from and to The Netherlands.
  • OBB; the booking service of the Austrian national rail operator, which also sells tickets journeys by direct trains to and from Austria and for Italian journeys by express trains.
  • PKP; which sells tickets for journeys in Poland by express trains.
  • Renfe; the booking service of the Spanish national rail operator.
  • SBB; the booking service of the Swiss national rail operator.
  • SNCF Connect; the booking service of the French national rail operator, which also sells journeys by direct trains from and to France.
  • SJ; the booking service of the Swedish national rail operator, which also sells journeys by direct trains from and to Sweden.
  • Trenitalia; the booking service of the Italian national rail operator, which also journeys by direct trains to and from Italy.

and there's more of these to come.

Note that they are guides to using the ticket booking portals on a PC, notebook, TV or tablet.
So each guide below is also best viewed on such devices, due to the inclusion of so many images of the booking screens; though using landscape mode on a phone will help make sense of what is being described.

When using any of these booking sites for the first time, SMTJ's general advice is to avoid using them on mobile, either accessing a website or using an app. Those mobile versions of the services typically lack many of the features which make an end-to-end booking process easier to follow, for first time users.
And yes many train tickets are now 'mobile' and enable scanning by a ticket gate or a conductor, but you typically don't have book tickets on a phone to enable this.
The necessary barcodes and QR images can be attached to emails which can be opened on a mobile device.
Though once you've got a good understanding of how the ticket booking services manage facilities such adding reservations, show the terms and conditions and explain the difference between types of ticket, then booking on mobile is typically simpler and faster.

Good to know

They have been been produced because there are typically three very good reasons for using the booking services provided by these national rail operators:

  1. They don't charge booking fees, so tend to be money savers.
  2. All of them offer discounted types of tickets, which will cheaper if booked ahead of the travel date.
  3. More often than not they sell tickets for all the train services available on a route.
    Exceptions to this include; Renfe does not offer tickets for Ougio services, Trenitalia does not sell tickets for Italo trains; and CD does not sell tickets for the trains operated by LeoExpress and Regiojet.

The guides can make the booking of the tickets seem more complicated that it actually is, because the core aim of each of the booking services, is to make it as easy as possible to pay the cheapest price possible to travel on a direct train between two locations.
What the guides strive to point is how to access and the use the information that can be found outside of that core booking path, these can include features and service such as;

  • how to book the more expensive, but less restrictive types of ticket,
  • checking the terns and conditions around refund and exchange policies,
  • managing optional seat reservations; how to add and how to remove them,
  • booking first class tickets,
  • what to look out for when booking journeys which involve a change of train,
  • why you may see different prices for seemingly the same journey.

the B-Europe website

Tickets for journeys by train in Belgium aren't discounted when booked in advance and no reservations are available on Belgian trains, but the ticketing options for the international trains are very different.
Hence a dedicated booking service for the international train services from and to Belgium.

the CD website

The ticketing service of the Czech national rail operator CD is comparatively packed with features to enable its users to glean as much info as possible when booking a journey.
So it can seem bewildering, but the info is worth knowing, which is why CD strives to provide it.
It also has the cheapest prices when booking international journeys by train from Czechia.

the DB website

The website of the German national rail operator CD has been revamped fairly recently, so its tools for looking up a journey are still fairly conventional, but the results you will then see focus on the cheapest tickets, so other types of ticket need to be sought out.

Good to know is that DB goes the extra mile to sell international journeys which involve making connections between trains outside of journey, despite the complications that can involve.
Those quirks require a weight of explanation for this different booking path, but it's worth persevering!

the DSB website

The national rail operator of Denmark DSB has streamlined its online ticket path, so using it to book tickets for Danish rail journeys is comparatively simple, but that simplicity means that much of the pertinent info such as the terms and conditions for each type of ticket has to be proactively sought out.
Also the lack of short-cut tools to finding the cheapest price available on a travel date, results in the info in the guide to using DSB, being particularly useful if saving money is your key objective.

the NS International website

Tickets for journeys by train in The Netherlands aren't discounted when booked in advance and no reservations are available on Dutch trains, but the ticketing options for the international trains are very different.
Hence a dedicated booking service for the international train services from and to The Netherlands.
The NS International website takes a particularly unique approach to how it displays ticket prices, because it has evidently striven to ensure that prospective travellers can see the cheapest possible prices for a journey.
So the explanations around this on the guide are particularly worth looking at if you want to save money.

the ÖBB website

The Austrian national rail operator ÖBB took an innovative approach to rail ticket booking a few years ago, which it has since revamped to make it easier to use.
Though core to understanding the ÖBB booking path is that it shows the price of booking the cheapest ticket for a journey; and the prices of travelling first class, making optional reservations, taking bikes or using more flexible types of tickets etc are sold as added extras to this initial price.
Thanks to its Nightjet services, ÖBB is the dominant operator of overnight trains in central Europe, so the guide below also includes how to book tickets for journeys by them.

the PKP website

PKP operates the express long-distance trains in Poland and as it's possible to save money when booking journeys by these trains in advance of arrival in Poland, the guide below will show how to do this.
Though what is on the to do list is a guide to using Poland's alternative rail ticket booking service, Koleo as it also sells tickets for both regional Polish trains and international trains from Poland.

the Renfe website

Renfe is the national rail operator in Spain and it takes a particularly unique approach to rail ticket booking, but the guide should prove to be particularly useful for those who want to save money.
That's because tickets for Spanish long-distance rail journeys can be heavily discounted when they are first placed on sale, so its worth persevering to book ahead.

The three things to particularly look out for are:

  • the tools which enable the journeys to be sorted by price; among other criteria,
  • how to book first class tickets
  • the extras which can be added to an initial booking, which include more flexible tickets and the ability to ensure that you will be sat in a window seat.

the SBB website

SBB is the Swiss national rail operator, but its website also sell journeys by other operators and tickets for many journeys which involve connections on to the Swiss mountain railways.
Swiss train travel is comparatively simple, once you have a ticket, but the SBB online booking service is comparatively quirky.
Using the SBB app is simpler, but if you want to be fully aware of your journey options and hone in cheaper tickets, the guide explains how to use the 'Advanced search' features of the website..
Because SBB is a website on which a little bit of pain can result in a lot of gain!

the SNCF Connect website

The French national rail operator recently launched a booking service which is radically different from its predecessor, as SNCF Connect is designed so that buying tickets on a phone is little different to using a PC etc.
Hence a booking path on which only the to and from locations are initially looked up; note the reversed order from the norm.
Then as you move along the booking path, who will be travelling, the date(s) of travel etc are all later steps to be taken.
Though as the range of tickets that will be available per departure has been reduced in recent years, choosing a type of ticket is simpler than on many other rail booking services.
Something in particular to watch out for is the different booking path for the more basic, but cheaper Ouigo train services.

the SJ website

SJ is the Swedish national rail operator and its efficient booking service also sells tickets for the Snalltaget day and night trains, as well as the night trains in Sweden operated by Vy, but it doesn't sell tickets for the trains operated by MTR that compete with SJ's trains on the Stockholm to Goteborg route.
SJ makes the booking of night train accommodation relatively simple, but as always the guide below includes how to use all of the information presented, which enables the choice of how to travel on a night train.

the Trenitalia website

Trenitalia is Italy's national rail operator, so its website somewhat inevitably does not sell tickets for the Italo trains, which compete with Trenitalia's services on the high-speed lines.
Then Trenitalia approach to ticket booking is evidently is that its customers should have to use as few different steps as possible, which is admirable, but as a consequence its journey search results are loaded with useful information and facilities.
So when using it for the first time, it's good to know what's available, hence the guide strives to point out the service's less obvious features.

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.