Even though EO is currently living it up in Santiago Chile I have just bought the cheapest train tickets for Europe to some travel destinations where we will be later this year.
Not only that, I also managed to book front row seats on our two bus trips coming up in March as we head from Santiago to Mendoza and on to Buenos Aires. More on that later, but for now let’s get back to telling you how to buy cheap train tickets for Europe.
Yes I did write cheap, because they were cheap, really cheap.
First of all, I thought of doing what we did many years ago when we were young enough to benefit from the Interail system that was back then. It’s still around, but not only are we a lot older and therefor pay a higher price, the system is much different. With country limitations, tickets for limited days of travel, it’s all to complicated and did I mention expensive.
Considering that we arrive in Venice Italy by cruise ship after 21 days sailing from Buenos Aires, I thought it best that we stay a night there. A couple of reasons why, 1) always allow for the unexpected in travel. 2) being flexible with travel dates helps when searching for the best deals. & 3) Venice is kinda nice, right?
Interrail or Eurail
Our itinerary for Europe is this, we need to get to Bern in Switzerland and then to Bordeaux in France, then on to Spain before we visit the UK. That makes the 4 country deal that you can get from Eurail called the select pass ideal as each of those countries border each other. The UK doesn’t and even if it did, sadly does not fit into any of the Eurail or Interail passes.
As you can see, the price is huge and the limitations on travel days not ideal to say the least. And by the way, if you’re thinking you only need three countries, that’s not allowed it must be 4, there is a two country pass though!!
After checking out all the other offers and passes that Eu Rail have and also those from Rail Europe I decided to look elsewhere. My google search for train tickets in Europe returned the normal ads and the above mentioned sites. It dished up one site called ‘The man in seat 61’. My intrigue got the better of me and so I explored.
The man in Seat 61
The site seat61 is a gold mine of information. Everything and some more about train travel in Europe. It gives good advice on what to look out for and what to expect or not as the case maybe. Best of all, it has links to places where you can buy tickets and check timetables etc.
After reading a few of the posts that related to what I was after, which by now was a ticket from Venice to Bern I followed the man in seat 61’s advice and dug a little deeper for my tickets.
Here’s the thing, buying those passes is great if you are going to be doing LOTS of train travel on ALL of the days alloted to that pass. However, if you’re not going to be burning up the tracks then as a rule they will not pay off. And the best news is, that you can purchase a regular single trip at a fraction of the price, yes, up to 90% off the full price ticket.
Like you, my thoughts were yeah really, as if… Well, YES really, because I did it. Let me tell you how.
How to buy cheap train tickets for Europe
First of all, let’s get this said. Not all tickets and all journey’s will be 90% off, so don’t come back at me with any grief, you have been warned.
My search was for Venice to Bern as you know. In the search I put in my details and hit enter. Sure enough the various times and prices came up, but not very exciting, the prices were still quite high.
So I tried another site and another yet still the same sort of results, not happy Jan!! I went back to seat 61 to check that I had understood the right facts. Digging more into the Tardis of information this guy has I found out some more golden nuggets.
My next input for my search was to split the journey. From my results before I could see that some of the trains made a stop in Milan to change train. With my next searches being Venice to Milan and a separate tab for Milan to Bern, wait for it…
Strangely the same trip but being purchased as two separate ticketed trips were CHEAPER, this guy was right, however no were near 90% cheaper.
The 90 day rule
This is where the fun really starts. Knowing the price of the full fare and also the two ticketed trip, I put my dates in that would coincide with our actual arrival in Venice and sure enough they came back with a blank… The search is either to early or there is a problem, blah blah.
Now get this, day 92 ahead from the date I was searching was available and at a huge discounted price. Day 91 also, day 90 the same, day 89 had less available and then it just dwindled out back to normal prices.
With three days to wait to see if my date of travel would come up cheap, I did what all good price detectives do and searched each day. The results were true to what seat61 had written. My 90 day window came and at midnight here in Chile I plugged in my criteria and BOOM there they were waiting for me, tickets from Venice to Milan & Milan to Bern all a fraction of the normal fare.
My ticket that could have cost me $320 AUD give or take a bit in conversions actually cost me $90 AUD that’s 72% off.
Split the train journey into separate trips
I then tried my other trip, Basel to Bordeaux. The same thing, very expensive for the whole trip in one ticket. I split the travel into Basel to Paris and Paris to Bordeaux, enter… BOOM again massive reductions in the price.
My ticket would have cost me $376 AUD and I bought them for $74 AUD with the conversions, that’s 80% off.
Also bear in mind searching on different country websites. This can work either in your favour or not. I found that buying the tickets through a UK site cheaper than with an Australian link. The Italian part of the trip with their site was way more expensive than with a French site. My advice is do plenty of searching and play with the dates. Also remember to clear browsing data, cookies and cache, this will ensure that your get new updated results, not just a repeat of before.
I saved a bucket load in with just my two trips so far and will be looking at booking others using the information I have mentioned. The 90 day rule is the best as long as you can commit to these dates. The catch is that the tickets are non refundable or changeable, so you have to sure that you will travel on that date and time or you will forfeit the entire ticket.
That is pretty normal with any heavily reduced fare, even flight ticket specials are the same.
So to wrap up my experience with booking the cheapest train tickets for Europe, here are the best links that I can give you.
Great resources to help find cheap train tickets
Check this site for heaps of great information, The man in seat 61 is; http://www.seat61.com/index.html
For my French tickets I used Loco2, a great booking site and very easy to use; https://loco2.com/
Italian rail service is; http://www.italiarail.com/
Captain train can be of use; https://www.capitainetrain.com/search/
The Swiss train network in English; http://www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk/en
For Swiss train tickets; https://www.sbb.ch/ticketshop/b2c/sprache.do?en
Remember, with most of the best deals whether you be looking for the cheapest cruises online or the best flight deals or even how to find the cheapest train tickets for Europe you need to do plenty of reasearch. If you search you will find.