The rail network in Spain is highly regarded as being one of the best in Europe, and whether you are living in Spain or travelling across the country, it is often the fastest and most practical way to get around. But with every pro there is a con, and whilst the Spanish rail network is fast and reliable, it can also be expensive. The best way to get train tickets you can afford? Planning ahead!
Here’s everything you need to know about securing affordable train tickets in Spain: when to book your tickets, where to buy your tickets, and any discounts you might be entitled to too.
When to Book Your Tickets
When you buy your ticket will determine how much you pay for it: as a general rule, the earlier you buy your ticket the cheaper it will be. Being flexible with when you travel and booking in advance as the best ways to save money on your ticket.
The Spanish train operator Renfe isn’t always precise on its timings, so you can’t guarantee that you will be able to buy your tickets six months in advance. Instead, tickets are released online any time from four to seven months in advance. Tickets are uploaded in batches, meaning that the cheapest tickets may not be released first, so its worth keep checking back to find the best prices.
If saving money on your train tickets is your primary concern then it’s worth travelling outside of peak times. The more popular periods (such as public and national holidays) and work peak ‘rush hours’ will always be more expensive period to travel in.
Where to Book Your Tickets
You might think that visiting your local rail station would be the best way to secure the best prices for your rail journey but, in reality, booking online is actually the most affordable option available. In fact, you’ll pay 5.5% more for tickets booked at the station as, almost inexplicable, Renfe charge this percentage as a service charge for tickets purchased in person at station offices.
When booking your tickets, whether in person or online, if you’re planning on making a return journey then you should always book a return ticket rather than two single tickets. No matter what class you're travelling in, you will receive a 20 percent discount on the price of the second leg of your journey: this return ticket will be valid for up to 12 months.
Making the Most of Travel Cards
There are a wide range of discounts available on travel in Spain, depending on your age and how many of you are travelling. The most often used and significant of these are detailed below:
Travellers over 60
Travellers over the age of 60 are entitled to a golden card (Tarjeta Dorada) which costs just 6euros per year and offers the holder significant discounts on Renfe services. On AVE trains over 60s can receive 40% off on Monday to Thursday and 25% off on Friday to Sunday. On Avant trains over 60s receive 25% off on Monday to Friday and 40% off on Saturday and Sunday, and on local trains they receive a 40 percent discount no matter what the time or day.
If you’re travelling as part of a group of four people of more then you can receive significant discounts on the cost of your train tickets. In fact, four people travelling together and sharing a table can receive a discount of up to 60% off.
Children under the age of 4 can travel for free, whilst families with three or more children are entitled to discounted tickets, provided they have a Familia Numerosa Card. This card entitles large families to discounts of up to 20 percent on their train tickets.
Young Person Discounts
Individuals aged between 14 and 26 can apply for a youth rail card, which will entitle them to 20 percent off their train tickets. For these discounted tickets to be valid, it’s important to ensure you carry your card at all time: not having the relevant card with you will invalidate your discounted ticket.
If you’re not eligible for any of the discounts above then, if you travel regularly, you can reduce the per journey cost of your train travel by purchasing a multi-journey ticket. Known as the BonAVE ticket, you can purchase ten tickets for the AVE train network at a 35 percent discount. Alternatively, if you’re travelling on Avant trains, you can get the Tarjeta Plus 10 card which offers a discount on ten journeys or, if you’re commuting on a daily basis, opt for the AbonoPlus card which is valid for between 30-50 journeys between two fixed stations (home and your office, for example).
What if My Train is Delayed?
Finally, if you’re time rich but cash poor then a delayed train might just be the best way to save you money! Renfe compensates travellers for train delays, with discounts of 50% for delays over an hour, or 100% for those over 90 minutes. On AVE trains, compensation of 50% is provided for delays of over 15 minutes, or 100% over 30 minutes. Refunds are processed at any train station, and you have three months from the date of your delayed train to apply for one. If you have a travel card then the amount of refund you receive will usually be calculated on a pro rata basis.
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