Finding cheap train tickets
There's an art to finding cheap train tickets, and it pays to learn a few basics tricks before you start. Read our expert tips for booking train tickets in Europe, finding the best deals and saving money.
IN THIS ARTICLE
Book in advance
Probably the most reliable way to find cheap European train tickets is to book in advance. It might sound obvious, but the cheapest tickets are available as soon as booking opens, and the price tends to climb as fares sell out. Popular days, dates and routes therefore increase in price faster than others - this is especially true of high-speed trains that require compulsory seat reservations.
Set an alert
How far in advance you can book train tickets depends on the rail operator, so it's easy to miss the cheapest tickets when they're released if you're not on the ball. To solve that problem, we've developed booking alerts to notify you when tickets come on sale.
Fix your plans
Deciding the time and date you want to travel means you can book in advance, and if you're sure that your plans won't change then you'll save more money by choosing fares that permit little or no amendment. Depending on ticket conditions, some may be exchanged or refunded with a fee, others are strictly non-exchangeable and non-refundable.
Each rail operator has their own name for their low cost, low flexibility tickets. We don't maintain a comprehensive list of every ticket from every operator but you can find our best sellers below and more offers within the associated articles.
|Country/Rail operator||Fare name||More information|
|France - SNCF||Prems||French ticket types: tickets types and discounts|
|UK - various||Advance||UK train tickets - ticket types & discounts|
|Italy - Trenitalia||Super Economy||Italian train tickets - ticket types & discounts|
|Germany - Deutsche Bahn||Sparpreis (economy price)||German train tickets - ticket types & discounts|
|Spain - Renfe||Promo||Spanish train tickets - ticket types & discounts|
Travelling at less popular times can offer significant discounts on rail travel in the UK and across Europe.
- Avoid peak commuter trains, i.e. those arriving or departing from towns and cities from around 7-9am and 5-7pm on weekdays. Depending when you book, it may still be possible to book cheap tickets on these trains but they're likely to sell out more quickly than services at less busy times.
- If you can, travel mid-week rather than Fridays. We typically find the cheapest fares mid-morning on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
- Avoid booking trips during summer holidays (if you have that luxury), public holidays and on event days when tickets sell out more quickly.
Besides enjoying the romance of an overnight train journey, you'll often save money on accommodation by travelling through the night. An inexpensive sleeping berth is often the price or cheaper than a hostel or budget hotel, plus you save money by combining travel with accommodation.
Split your tickets
Depending on your route, it is sometimes possible to save money by splitting your tickets. "Split ticketing" gets quite a lot of attention (particularly in Great Britain which has a very complex fare structure) but it can mean one of several things. Here are a few examples to give you an idea of what to look for:
- Route-specific special offers: Splitting tickets might allow you to take advantage of a special offer on one portion of a journey. For example, if you're travelling from the UK to Austria it might work out cheaper to buy a promotional fare from London to Germany (London Saved Sparpreis Europa - London) from the German rail operator, then book a separate onward ticket.
- Split to find off-peak fares: It is sometimes possible to save money by splitting your tickets mid-way through a journey. This might enable you to travel on a peak fare (or busy train on which cheap tickets are sold out) out of a city centre, then switch onto an off-peak ticket for a second part of your trip (even though it's the same train) once you're outside peak travel time. Not all trains and routes have split tickets discounts, but if you look hard enough it is often possible to save money this way.
- Mix and match travel classes: Rather than buying a through-ticket for a multi-leg journey which means you'll be in the same class for the entire journey, you can choose to upgrade one leg of a trip. For example, travelling from London to France on a Eurostar through-ticket means you'll be in First Class or Standard Class for the whole trip. Splitting your tickets at Paris means you can choose to travel Standard Class on the Eurostar and First Class on the TGV.
Be alert for specials
Rail operators regularly offer promotions, sales and special offers. These are usually for travel at short notice when the rail operator wants to stimulate sales on a particular route or dates. We add flash sales to Live Issues in our Help section and link to them from our social media channels. Important sales news like major summer sales will be announced via our newsletter.
Research discounted through-tickets
Some rail operators offer discounts for booking a through-ticket with them (usually international), i.e. booking two legs of a journey in one transaction instead of booking each leg separately. It's not guaranteed to be cheaper but it's worth comparing a through-fare with individuals legs. A couple of examples:
|Countries/Rail operator||Fare name||Description||More information|
|UK to France - Eurostar||French Connection||Combine Eurostar with onward TGV to specific French cities e.g. Nice, Bordeaux.||French ticket types: tickets types and discounts|
| Various to Germany - Deutsche Bahn
||Sparpreis Europa||Combine Eurostar or other international train with onward Intercity Express (ICE).||German train tickets - ticket types & discounts|
Use a railcard
Railcard discounts vary between countries and rail operators. Some reward frequent travellers while others encourage weekend and off-peak travel. Depending on the route, time and other restrictions using a railcard can save money on train tickets.
Return vs. single tickets
There is lots of variation between countries and rail operators, meaning that sometimes it's cheaper to book a return ticket, and other times you'll save money by booking two singles. There's no fixed rule so the best way to find out is to simply run two searches and compare the price. However, a few examples are worth knowing:
- Eurostar offers discounts for return tickets. You'll save money by booking a return journey instead of two singles.
- Most train operators in the UK offer Open Return tickets which can be cheaper than buying two singles if discounted Advance fares have sold out. See UK train tickets - ticket types & discounts.
- Renfe, the Spanish rail operator applies a 20% discount for return tickets, called Ida y Vuelta. See Spanish train tickets - ticket types & discounts.
- Trenitalia, the Italian rail operator offers cheap tickets for return journey on weekends. See Italian train tickets - ticket types & discounts.