Among other things, ExperiencePlus! Traveler Services include assistance with train tickets.* We know navigating Europe’s array of railway systems, services, schedules and ticket types can be a maze, but we’re here to help!
In the following, we’ll explain some ins and outs, tell you how we can help and offer advice on how to buy your own tickets.
Below are the most common questions we get. Click on the + to display the answers.
*Not included in Explorer tour pricing.
What does “purchase in advance“ actually mean?
When we say “purchasing train tickets in advance” we mean booking train tickets online ahead of time, much like a flight ticket. If you purchase your train ticket at the station, then in most cases you will still need to get your ticket before boarding a train as on-board sale is becoming less and less common on European trains – and impossible on some, e.g. in Germany or Denmark.
Where can I look up train schedules?
The first place to go is usually the country’s railway operator site. The name and link will be mentioned in the detailed arrival and departure instructions we provide you with, or you can easily google it. Here are the top four:
- Italy: Trenitalia.com
- France: SNCF.com
- Germany: Bahn.de
- Spain: Renfe.com
You may also consult consolidator sites, which are a bit easier to use. Our favorite is Trainline.com with its transparent and intuitive interface and help topics. Trainline is adding more and more connections across a variety of countries and runs an excellent blog. One word of caution: Trainline may not offer all types of train tickets, and sometimes regional trains may not be found there. It always makes sense to also check the local train operator’s site in addition. Trainline adds a small booking fee.
Do I need to book train tickets in advance?
This is a frequent question which results in an array of complex answers involving some ifs and whens. Booking your ticket online in advance depends on the train type, time of travel and how flexible you want to be.
Regional train? No.
In general, regional or commuter-type trains like those going from an airport into town, trains connecting smaller towns, or trains within cities, do not need to booked in advance and they have fixed prices. In fact, purchasing your ticket online for these types of trains will issue a ticket that is non-refundable and train-binding. This means, you can only take the one train specified on your ticket, at the time or during the time window printed on your ticket. For those types of trains, we recommend purchasing your ticket at the station.
Long distance trains? Yes and No.
For long-distance trains, it can make a lot of sense to purchase your ticket online in advance. See more information in the section about long-distance trains below.
Do it like the locals!
As an example, Portuguese train travelers hardly pre-purchase their train tickets. Trains usually won’t sell out, but it might be advisable to book your ticket in advance if you are traveling on a national holiday.
If I purchase at the station, can I use my credit card?
Yes – with potential limitations. Most ticket vending machines nowadays accept credit cards, but your card will need to be equipped with a chip and PIN. Read more on using money and credit cards while on tour here. Most larger stations also have a kiosk, where you can buy your ticket from a person.
Should I book tickets for long-distance trains in advance? And what about seat reservations?
For most long distance trains, it can be advantageous to book your ticket online in advance for the following reasons:
- Fares are cheaper further out.
However, here’s the But: Be mindful of the fine print. Usually, the lower a fare, the less flexibility you will have and similar considerations as specified above for regional trains apply. Flexible tickets exist and they are a good choice if you’re not sure yet of the travel time. However, keep in mind that even though a ticket is deemed flexible, you might still need to see a representative at a kiosk or go online to exchange it, oftentimes for a fee (e.g. for French trains).
- Some train lines can be very busy.
Long-distance trains running from Frankfurt Airport are a good example for a high-traffic line, so it can be nice to have your train ticket in hand when you land.
However: Always check the fine print with regard to seat reservations and exchange conditions:
The complex life of seat reservations: In Germany, second class tickets do not automatically include a seat reservation, but the seat reservation will need to be purchased separately. If you book your ticket in advance, make sure to check if a seat reservation needs to be added separately. Also note that seat reservations are train-binding, so the flexibility only goes so far. You can purchase a new seat reservation at the vending machine or at the counter, if available. Other countries oftentimes automatically include seat reservations, but exchange fees usually apply if you miss the train your ticket was issued for.
It’s a toss-up! Of course, booking your train ticket in advance for the day your flight comes with its own potential of complications, in case your flight is delayed or you get stuck in customs. If you book a flexible ticket, you should be able to use it on the next train if you miss yours, but exchange conditions and fees can apply.
I’m not sure about my departure plans. Can Tour Leaders help me while on tour?
Depending on what your departure plans are, it might be best to book your train tickets while on tour. You might not want to leave immediately if you have some time and would like to explore more of a place, or you might have received some suggestions from Tour Leaders that you wish you could check out if you hadn’t already booked your train. Stay flexible! Tour Leaders can help you with your train questions while on tour.
Are special offers and fares a good choice?
Yes! With some limitations to keep in mind. Many countries or even regions offer special group tickets, so this might be something you want to make use of while you travel. An example is the Bavaria Ticket or Bayern Ticket, the German Railway offers. It can be used by up to 5 people and is even valid on certain trains across the Austrian border. Restrictions apply but it’s a great solution if you’re going back to Munich after our Bicycling Secret Bavaria Plus! the Austrian Alps trip. Some restrictions apply, so be sure to consult with Tour Leaders about your plans and check out the information online.
How can ExperiencePlus! help?
We will gladly arrange your train tickets for you (excludes Explorer tours). We will purchase them online with your credit card after we’ve discussed the best strategy with you by phone or email. Our preferred platform for purchase currently is Trainline.com, but we may use the national operator’s systems. We do not earn a commission for purchasing your train tickets.
Will my credit card work for online train ticket purchases?
It is not unlikely that your credit card’s fraud detection kicks in and the transaction is declined the first time around. In that case, you will need to get in touch with your bank or credit card company and release the transaction.
Will there be additional fees?
Some platforms, e.g. the German Railway, add a credit card fee. Consolidator platforms usually add a small commission. ExperiencePlus!’s booking services are complimentary and included in your trip reservation. Do remember that transactions will take place in the country’s currency that you are booking with, so you might incur transaction fees, as per your credit card agreement.
Does ExperiencePlus! earn a commission for train bookings?
No. We do not earn a commission on train bookings.
First or Second Class?
This greatly depends on the train type and itinerary. For long distance trains, e.g. on a TGV in France, there’s not much difference between classes. On Italian regional trains, it is way more comfortable to travel first class as it is less crowded. Some countries offer additional services, like meals brought to your seat, or access to lounges at the station. Trainline has some great information on this on their blog.
Where will my luggage go?
Usually overhead, under your seat or between seats. Many long-distance trains have special luggage compartments. In any case, the luggage is brought on and off the train by yourself and will usually be stored nearby your seat. If you are traveling with a bike case or a bike, extra fees may apply.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
- Many train tickets are issued to a traveler’s name. Make sure you’ll have your ID handy to show to the conductor.
- Most tickets these days can be kept on your phone. It makes sense to also save a screenshot or have a print-out along, just in case.
- Tickets for regional trains purchased at the station must usually be validated at one of the stamping machines before entering a platform, much like a subway ticket. Do this before boarding the train, or, in some cases before entering the platform. Read more on this here. Mobile tickets will be validated so they are valid for a certain time window on your designated travel day.
- Traveling by train in Europe is easy and comfortable. Make sure to be on time so you will find your platform without a hassle.
- Make sure you’re in the right coach (first or second class) and, if you have a seat reservation, double-check you’re in the correct seat.