How to Save When You Travel by Train in Spain
AVE train reservations now follow the example set by lowcost airlines, if you book earlier your tickets will be cheaper. Of course, you can expect that prices for reservations around key events in Spain will be just as high even if you book early. Try and avoid the beginning and end of key vacation periods (Easter, July & August, Christmas) as well as weekends that join on to a national holiday. If you can be flexible with dates, it pays to travel one day earlier or later than everyone else.
Don’t Buy at the Train Station
Surcharges are applied on medium and long distance train tickets bought at any train station in Spain, hence it’s cheaper to buy online. The majority of pages are in English on the Renfe website, however the website is often criticised for being a bit slow – so be patient!
Tickets With Savings
Buy a return ticket and you’ll get a 20% discount compared with buying two single tickets. Even though you have to validate the return journey on your outward trip, you can change it afterwards (any increase in price will have to be paid).
For frequent AVE travellers, the “BonoAVE” is better value: a ten-trip ticket with a 35% discount compared with single-trip prices. The BonoAVE is available for two classes of travel – “preferente” or tourist.
You can travel by local train for free on the days you’ll be using your BonoAVE and at some stations car parking is free. If you don’t use any trip on the BonoAVE after purchase, you can get a 100% refund of the cost, otherwise cancellation will be subject to a 15% admin charge.
Additionally on AVE trains for group travel it could be of interest to use their table-sharing tariff. If 4 people book to share a table (2 pairs of facing seats) then a discount of 60% is applied. Indeed it’s sometimes worthwhile booking 4 tickets even if only 3 people will be traveling as it can work out cheaper.
If you’re traveling alone or in a couple, you can use a Facebook app (not official) to find travelers going on the same journey in order to get these cheaper tickets together.
Avant trains, which cover distances up to 200 km, offer two travel cards: Tarjeta Plus 10 (for anyone) and Tarjeta Plus 10 Estudiantes (for student card holders). Each ticket is for 10 trips which must be taken within a 2-month timeframe. Once your first journey has been used the remaining journeys must be used in 8 days or 10 days respectively.
If you use Avant trains on a daily basis, then the Abono Plus card is more cost-effective and is valid for 30 days and between 30 to 50 trips. All these cards offer a reduction on the normal cost of tickets.
Anyone over 60 should request a Tarjeta Dorada (Golden Card) for travel on Renfe trains. The card is valid for a year and only costs 6€. You can get one at any Renfe ticket office or at your local travel agency. Discounts are as follows:
- AVE trains: Mon-Thurs you’ll get a 40% discount on any train and class of travel; Fri- Sun are subject to a discount of 25%.
- Medium Distance (conventional – not AVE trains): 40% on all trains, days and routes
- Avant trains: 25% Mon-Fri and 40% Sat & Sun
- Local trains: 40% discount
Families with 3 or more children will get a minimum discount of 20% (see our article on the Familia Numerosa Card). Children under 4 travel for free.
The Tarjeta+Renfe Joven 50 is for those aged between 14 and 26. Discount rates of up to 50% are applied, actual rate depends on type of train – see the full list here. The Renfe Joven 50 costs 50€ and is valid for one year. If you don’t have the Renfe Joven card, you can normally get a 20% discount with a valid youth card.
You could also compare prices on Trenes.com to see if you can get a cheaper rate.
Note: all discounts shown above are not normally compatible with other special offers.
New: Bono Colaborativo
The Bono Colaborativo, for AVE and long distance trains, is a voucher for 8 trips between 2 stations for up to 4 travellers. By using this voucher you’ll get a 30% discount off the normal tariff. Upon purchase both the stations and the travellers must be indicated.
Vouchers can be purchased for travel in tourist or preferente class and are valid for all days of the week during 4 months from the date of purchase.
Refunds are available for vouchers purchased but without any reservations made. If a reservation is made but not used, cancelling the voucher comes with a 15% penalty charge.
Interrail Senior Pass Discounts
Additional benefits in Spain include discounts on ferries between the mainland and islands, Italy and Morocco; a 5% discount at Husa hotels (130 across Spain), 50% off railway museums in Madrid and Barcelona and a free gift at the Hard Rock Cafe when you spend over 30€.
Compensation For Late Arrival
- Full refund, either online or at the train station.
- Full refund + 20% of the price, given as a code to exchange for a future ticket, online only.
- For Renfe loyalty programme members: Full refund as Renfe points + 30% extra, online only.
Delays of between 15 and 30 minutes have a refund of 50%.
Medium distance and Intercity trains have the following refund rates:
- Delays of 15-30 mins: 25%
- 30-60 mins: 50%
- Over 60 mins: 100%
Regional trains have the following refund rates:
- Delays of 30-45 mins: 25%
- 45-60 mins: 50%
- Over 60 mins: 100%
Use The Official Free App
Can I Change My Ticket?
What happens if you buy your ticket but then you need to change or cancel it? At Renfe changes can be free but are usually subject to a minimum 10% admin charge (20% for promo tariffs) and if the new fare is higher you’ll have to pay the difference. Cancellations normally come with a 15% penalty charge based on the original fare.
If you find yourself in this situation, check out Truecalia.com – a free website where you can sell your unused ticket rather than cancel it. You can also upload any requirements if you’re looking for cheap tickets. Tickets must be sold at a price equal to or lower than the original price.
Renfe accepts payment by PayPal as well as by credit card for online purchases.
Door-to-door luggage delivery: over 200 locations for 22€ per piece of luggage (transit takes up to 48 hrs).
Quiet cars on selected AVE trains in tourist class with dimmed lighting and a ban on cellphones (ticket prices unchanged).
Take a look at Renfe’s luxury train trips across Spain on their website.
Remember that it’s mandatory for children under four to travel with a ticket, free of charge.
Related Post: Save with Youth Cards in Spain