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Buying Renfe Train Tickets Online


A few friends and I are heading to Spain over September and we wanted to include a trip or two on their highspeed rail network. After a little google'ing, I had determined the Spanish Rail Company was RENFE and their web site was mildly difficult to navigate and use. The following article lists the notes/issues/warnings that I had gathered from other sites and heeded whilst purchasing online.

Step 1: Create an account


You can do this milliseconds prior to the purchase, but I recommend doing this at the start to raise your chances of a successful purchase. To register your account:

  1. Browse to the RENFE Website and click the Welcome link.
  2. Click the Purchase link, top right.
  3. On the new page, select the Register Me link in the user login window, mid-top right.

You can now start to enter your details. Note that you have to enter a 5-digit postcode (for Australia I just added a zero to the front) and you also have to have at least one symbol and one number in your password. You'll also have to select a fake Spanish Province as it doesn't hide that selection when you choose another country. This doesn't affect your ability to purchase tickets as you do not receive anything in the mail.

Meanwhile, don't be alarmed if the 'Check User' link doesn't work... it didn't work for me, but I continued through and my account was created.

Step 2: Find the timetable


Firstly, visit RENFE's Website and choose the "Welcome" link just below the title image. This link will take you to the 'English' version of the passenger timetables page. From here you can now input your departure/destination stations and a date to travel on. Note that this is for inter-city travel across Spain; you can find suburban stations on the Renfe Cercanías - Communter trains page.

Note: You can only purchase tickets 62 days in advance... be warned though, the site doesn't always have the tickets available. You may have to be 50 days or less in advance before they will appear.

Once you've worked out a good departure time, select the Query and Buy link. This will show an extra table stating the 'off the shelf' prices for each class of travel. Don't be scared by these though, you're about to head into the purchasing system where you'll be presented with the 'web fares'. Click the shopping trolley icon and a new window/tab will open with the purchasing website.

Step 3: Starting the purchase


You'll now be in the purchasing area of the RENFE site. Wait for the initial purchasing page to load; a script will change the departure/destination stations and travel date to what you had previously selected. You can then update this if you want a return journey and can also choose the quantity if you want multiple tickets.

Confirm at this point that you are still actually logged in. The panel in the top-left of the screen should show your full name, as you registered it.

After selecting the relevant details, hit the Search button.

Step 3: Choosing a service

renfe-purchase-blocked renfe-purchase-services

Right, there's quite a few different services offered by RENFE available online. These range from Overnight sleeper "Train Hotels" to the latest and greatest highspeed AVE Trains.

Note that "Estrella" is both a name for the Overnight Trains (if it's in the left-most column) and a 'Travel Class' (if it's in the right-most column) literally translated to "Star Class".

If you see the service you want, but it's marked as "Train Blocked", then don't despair! Chances are RENFE are taking their time with the timetable updates and you are too 'early' (although you may be within the 62 days prior to travel.) I had this for my tickets in September and persistence paid off. The tickets became available around 58 days prior to my travels.

You can find the full list here, but below are the services you'll probably want to purchase:

  • AVE (300km/h)
    'State of the art' highspeed network in Spain. Currently servicing: Madrid–Barcelona, Madrid–Valladolid, Madrid–Levante, Córdoba–Málaga.
  • Euromed (220km/h)
    The Euromed is a slower train with Turista and Preferente classes. You'll find these services between most major cities and they usually come with very good discounts.
  • Alaris (200km/h)
    Again, a service between most major cities which usually stops at a lot more stations than the Euromed.
  • Talgo (160-200km/h)
    Looking quite like a duck/platypus, these relics have been refurbed for smoother rides. They also travel between most major cities, filling in the stations that the faster trains don't stop at.
  • Estrella
    These trains are the overnighters. NOTE that you cannot purchase a bed online! Of three levels offered, Turista and Preferente are seats and Litera is a cabin with 6 reclining seats (potentially into 'beds', but I wouldn't count on comfort.) Other sites have indicated very little sleep had on these tickets. I imagine you can purchase the sleeper cabins over the phone?
    These are the real overnight trains... all classes starting with "cama" indicate that you are purchasing a bed. It's been mentioned that RENFE will not mix strangers in a cabin, so purchasing two tickets for a 4-berth cabin will give you space and privacy.

Step 4: Choosing a class


One note here... I tried to purchase "Preferente" class on a Barcelona to Madrid service and I got the error to the right. I was interested in what I expected to be first class but wanted to get the tickets purchased; instead I opted for "Turista".

  • Turista
    This seems to be equivalent to 'economy class' or 'coach'. All trains have this and it's the lowest (and cheapest) option available. All trains I checked out still had 2+2 seating though... so it can't be too uncomfortable?
  • Preferente
    Don't quote me on this, but I think these are 1st Class seats with a discount... I wasn't able to purchase any though.
  • Club
    Bloody expensive... seems to be first class with no discount and all the options (drinks, food, etc..)
  • Butaca Super.
    No idea... if anyone can provide information on this then please do!
  • Cama Turista
    No idea... if anyone can provide information on this then please do!
  • Cama Preferen
    No idea... if anyone can provide information on this then please do!
  • Cama G. Clase
    No idea... if anyone can provide information on this then please do!

Step 5: Confirming ticket details


The next screen is one of the most confusing. At the top of the screen you will see the trips you wish to take with the classes you have selected. At this point you can choose to switch to another class type if required. Switching between the types and pressing "Recalculate purchase price" will show you what each of the tickets are worth. Chances are you already chose the ticket type in the previous screen and you don't need to adjust this.

There is also a family discount option ("Descuento F.Numerosa") which allows discounts to parties travelling as a family. I don't know exactly how this applies and don't recommend touching it.

Select your final options (seat selection, meals, etc...) and then choose Continue.

I usually don't bother with seat selection for any tickets that I purchase (on any mode of transport...) ...but... for the purposes of this post I'll show you what happens when you tick that checkbox.

Step 7: Credit Card Details



Ok, the first thing that scared me on this page is the lack of a credit card 'type' selection. You cannot select 'Visa', 'Mastercard, etc... I assume RENFE just knows how to decipher this from the card number you've entered.

You'll notice at the top of the screen that there is a 'Select a card' button... this brings up a blank list (I first expected to select my card type via this.) I freaked out during my first purchase but then realised that it's for storing your credit card details so you don't have to type them in each time. I chose not to do this.

Go through and fill out your details... Skip the 'TEMPO Card' area as that seems to be their loyalty program. You'll need to make sure the number has no spaces, your name is correct and you have the CVV number from the back of your card (it's the last three digits on whatever number exists.) If you don't know any of these details then contact your bank or ask someone who's paid online with a credit card before to help you.

Finally check the 'I agree...' checkbox and hit continue.

Step 8: Seat selection (optional)


If you didn't choose seat selection then you can skip this step; otherwise, choose your seats...

At the top of the page you'll see the entire consist of the train you'll be travelling on. The buffet car is noted and so are the classes of travel. RENFE will select a car for you to travel in by default, but you can choose another as long as it's marked as the class of travel you have chosen.

Once you've chosen a car you can then select a seat on the bottom half of the screen. Note that anything marked 'X' has already been booked by someone else. Work out where the amenities are and choose the required amount of seats simply by clicking on them.

After selecting all required seats, press continue to start the card verification process.

Step 9: Credit Card Verification


Now comes the tricky part... you'll have a few hoops to jump through here depending on your card issuer/bank. If you've ever bought anything online (not via Paypal) and have seen your bank's "verification screen" then you can expect to see it here too. RENFE, at this point, will attempt to contact your bank and will then hand control over to the bank's verification system. My bank here in Australia presented it's verification screen where I was to click a button, receive an SMS and then type in the code given.

NOTE: The first time I did this my bank's verification screen did not appear! Something timed out somewhere and I got a "This website is not responding..." error. I ended up just hitting refresh (as I knew I hadn't verified the initial payment) and everything then just worked. It's always daunting when dealing with your own hard-earned dollars... but be persistent and it should work.

Step 10: Review and print your confirmation


If you've made it this far then you're in! Congratulations, on this screen you'll have a booking number and trip details. You will also receive an email (if you typed the correct one in whilst registering) with all the details too. There's no need to print this screen; print the email instead.

I never tried the SMS option... there's a radio button that you can select... I imagine you then press the "Print Tickets" down below. I didn't even click that button; I was happy with the email as proof of purchase.

There is a link at the top left to view your 'Journeys'. Click this and it'll show you a short list of your confirmed tickets.

Step 11: Travel.

I'll get back to you on this in August/September 2011.