Rail Europe for international train tickets

Lizet Wesselman - 07/04/2024

Rail Europe for international train tickets

Lizet Wesselman - 07/04/2024

Traintravel in Europe is quite easy. In most countries, trains are generally on time and there are plenty of different connections in a day. Especially important routes, such as between major cities, are widely available. But even if you want to go to different countries, you can often take a train across borders quite easily. But where should you book your international train tickets? At the train operator in country A, or just in country B, or maybe both a piece? You can easily book international train tickets through RailEurope, so you won’t have to figure this all out.

Different train operators

Every country has its own train system. Many countries have one big train operator to manage almost all trains, but in some countries, you’ll find different train operators per region. Sometimes they’re still part of the one big company, but called differently, so it’s a bit confusing at first. 

If, like me, you travel thousands of kilometres by train every year, you’ll eventually know it by heart. But if you’re less familiar with train travel, it can be a bit of a puzzle. That’s why there are so-called “third-party” platforms. This is a platform that does all the research for you and then links all the booking systems together. This way, you can easily book trains from country A, B and C in one go. A bit like Skyscanner or Google Flights for flights.

What is Rail Europe?

Rail Europe is one such third-party platform, where you can book train in Europe, without having to figure out the local train ticket systems yourself. Trust me, this will make your life a whole lot easier. They have contracts with all train providers in Europe, which means you book the same train tickets through their platform as when you’d book directly. Whether it’s a normal ticket, a ticket with seat reservation, a bed on a night train or even just a seat reservation like you need for an interrail trip, everything is available through Rail Europe. Even ferries in Greece have recently been added to the offer.

So the advantage of Rail Europe is that you can book everything directly through them. Whether you’re travelling in one country, interrailing or taking a long route through several countries, you can now book it through one platform. That saves you time, research and a lot of different apps and booking platforms.

Should you book through third parties?

A third party is a middleman, though, and Rail Europe is no different in that. If something goes wrong with your train, where should you turn to? Can you call them for help, or do you have to sort it out yourself? When it comes to flights, I’m not a fan of such platforms at all, because I’ve heard too many times that flights were cancelled and both the platform and the airline couldn’t help. Then you’re just on your own.

But in terms of trains, my feeling about that is different. Especially if you’re travelling through several countries, it’s convenient to be able to buy everything in one place and therefore also be able to deal with one company. But if you miss a transfer, you can always ask for help at the station first. In most cases, you can then just catch the next train. This is not the case with flights, in which case you really have to contact the airline to get a new flight. So the chances of needing help from such a third-party platform for trains are much smaller. But if you do, they’ll try to help you of course.

What makes Rail Europe a good platform?

Of course, Rail Europe isn’t the only train ticket platform, so why this one? The reason I ultimately chose Rail Europe over all other platforms is because of their ongoing developments. The team is incredibly passionate, and they keep working on ways to make train travel easier and more attractive. In 2024, for example, the possibility of booking seat reservations for Interrail was added to the offer, and they’re currently working on making it possible to resell train tickets.

Meaning, if you find a good deal and want to buy that cheap train ticket, but aren’t actually sure you’ll be able to travel (you haven’t asked for time off at work, for example), you can resell them if it doesn’t work out after all. Cancellations aren’t really a thing in train travel, or you have to pay an extra fee to buy that benefit. So being able to resell your tickets, makes it easier to buy the cheap train tickets and then figure out of you can actually take the trip.

This is interesting because with international train tickets, it’s often the case that when they are launched for sale (2x a year), they tend to be very cheap. The more tickets are sold, the higher the price. In short, a last-minute train ticket can sometimes be 10x as expensive as the first 50 train tickets. So if you’re quick, you get the best price. But it does mean you’re buying international train tickets 6 months ahead of a trip. If you’re usually more of a last-minute planner, it’s nice to know that you can sell the ticket if in 4 months, it doesn’t fit into the schedule after all. You’re selling your ticket to another traveller, so obviously there is a risk that no one will buy a ticket for that route and you will still be stuck with your ticket. Therefore it’s advisable to sell the ticket at least a few weeks before the trip.

Still in development

This platform for reselling train tickets is still under development, so we’ll have to wait a while for the details of how exactly things will work. But it should be that your ticket is released again and if someone books that same route, they automatically get your ticket. So it won’t be a platform like with concert tickets where you offer your ticket at a random price and people get to choose which ticket to buy. It will automatically go through the system, making sure the tickets are sold again. There is no launch date yet.

Are train tickets via Rail Europe more expensive than direct?

The revenue model of third parties is in commissions, and these usually fall under a marketing budget. Without going into too much technical detail, this means that the train operator pays those platforms from their own profits. This is because the train operator also ultimately benefits from those third parties. Theyo have their own reach and might reach people that wouldn’t otherwise book direct anyway. This ultimately means that you shouldn’t have to pay more through a third party platform than you would directly.

However, this isn’t always the case, so it does pay to check. But in my experience, prices are usually pretty much the same, with at most a euro difference. Again, if you travel through several countries, it pays to be able to book all your train tickets through one platform. If you then pay €158 for a few different international tickets, instead of €149 directly, I wouldn’t be particularly bothered by that price difference. For the convenience such a platform offers, I think it’s worth the money. Do pay attention to special offers. I know that a lot of offers are also implemented in the Rail Europe platform, like discounts for Interrail passes. But if there’s a local discount on every first Saturday of the month, this might not always go through. So it does pay to double check the prices if you want to be sure and for example when it’s a pricey ticket. A € 10 trip most likely isn’t going to be much cheaper anyway.

Unfortunately international train tickets are often still more expensive than flights, so it’s understandable that you’re looking for deals. That’s why I always recommend comparing. But if you opt for a third party, Rail Europe is a good option, with fast customer service and soon the ability to resell your train tickets.