On my way to New Haven again to meet Meg, and had the time to pen down a few more thoughts.
Last post was about how to obtain an visa to Europe – the Schengen. This post I will try to cover a few train sites and how to book tickets on them.
Booking tickets on European Train/Rail sites:
My first country is Spain, but I did not use the train site to book my tickets, as the tickets between Madrid and Barcelona are cheaper if I fly. There are lots of airlines on these two routes which are low cost – Veuling and Air Europa being two examples, and hence I booked on them. For schedules and prices on trains in Spain you can refer to renfe.es which is in Spanish. I read somewhere that there is an english component to it too.
Next up – France. This is an extremely easy site to book on and after hearing complaints that stuff is in French, you realise though that they have really cheap rates for tickets especially if you book 60 to 90 days in advance. The rates go up later. You cannot also book more than 90 days before your journey.
The French rail site is voyages-sncf.com, which is in French, but there are useful tips on how to navigate on this on seat61, and also I read an article on eurocheapo.com/blog.
There is an english version called tgv-europe.com, which is exactly the same, and even though I have heard that their prices are more than voyages-sncf, for me I was able to find the same rate. Only difference was that the french site gives online ticket options on more routes, and also there is an option to hold tickets on the french language site.
This should not be an issue if you already know your dates, and also if you can pick up your tickets at the ticket counter. They say that non chip-and-pin cards like american credit cards do not work on automatic machines in France, but do so at the ticket counter. On any of the two sites mentioned above, they work fine and you should not have any issue booking tickets.
Do not book on raileurope.com or co.uk as their rates are insanely high, and also the routes displayed are lesser. By default if you pick your country as America or UK on tgv-europe you are directed to them. So select France and you can then pick up your tickets at the counter or online. For me there was India and no issues popped up.
After France, the next destination is Italy on the calendar, and although ticket bookings are open 90 days in advance, and there are cheaper tickets till 15 days before the journey, you will most probably not be able to book them unless you have an Italian or maybe european card.
All international credit cards have stopped working since March of this year, and even before that they said that the barely 20% of the cards used to work. The suggestion given is to check the schedules and try to book as early as possible when you land in Italy from the train station.
The trains are very very rarely full, and the Italian ticket machines accept the credit cards unlike their french counterparts. Also, you may be eligible for an Amica fare if booked 24 hours in advance which may cut the rate by 20% on certain trains.
If you want to try your luck at the Italian site (like I did and failed), the url is trenitalia.com, and this has an english language option.
The Austrian site is the best site I have seen for booking tickets. Absolutely no hassles, and they always give you online tickets which is so easy to handle. They also start from 30 to 90 days before, and every route usually has a few tickets at cheap rates.
For example Salzburg to Prague is 64 Euros for 2nd class on their site, but they have 8 seats for 39 euros which is a huge saving. These tickets are only valid for those times, so if you miss your train then you are out of luck. But for planners like me this helps a lot.
The Austrian site is oebb.at, and this too has options for english.
Last site I tried for booking tickets was for the Munich-Salzburg leg of my trip and the german site was bahn.de. If you are a planner this is the best resource for schedules. Every site has schedules for cities they serve, but bahn.de displays almost all cities. You can plan a trip from Madrid to Prague on this site, and it will display you all the routes for a day. In this regard this is an essential site to any Euro rail plan.
They display prices for the tickets they sell, and for me as I booked in advance I got a cheap fare from Munich to Salzburg. This site too is hassle free to book from, except that they may not offer online options on their site for all routes they sell.
Now that I have laid the options out for the countries I am visiting it should make it a bit more easier to book tickets.
I am not a fan of the rail passes as they cost around 600USD and are not for planners like me. If you plan and check the schedules and prices, the search may be tiresome, but the gains are huge. I pretty mcuh will be doing this trip for half the Rail Pass cost, by booking early and also avoiding the supplements which travellers using the Rail Passes have to pay.
A bit of research always help whether you be flexible of fixed in you planning!