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Better to Buy Train Tickets in Advance?

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People are constantly posting questions on this and other travel sites which ask:

"Is it better to buy train tickets in advance or locally in Italy just prior to the travel date?"

Let me give one example which illustrates just HOW advantageous it can be to purchase train tickets WELL in advance, through Trenitalia's website.

ASSUMPTIONS: The advance fares shown below are the LOWEST 9-Euro "SUPER ECONOMY" promotional fare for a reserved second class seat on any Trenitalia reserved train (e.g. Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca, Intercity). This 9-Euro fare (which is capacity-controlled) is not guaranteed to be available when searching for seats, but is likely to be available if one books 120 days in advance. Other, higher, promotional fares may also be offered (but lower than the unrestricted fare), even one or two days before travel (there is technically no "advance purchase" requirement for the "ECONOMY" and "SUPER ECONOMY" fares). By contrast, the "last-minute" fares are the unrestricted "BASE" fares in second class for the same Trenitalia trains. I will also assume a complex itinerary, to better illustrate the benefits of booking early.

Milan/Venice: 36 Euros "BASE" versus 9 Euros
Venice/Florence: 45 Euros "BASE" versus 9 Euros
Florence/Rome: 43 Euros "BASE" versus 9 Euros
Rome/Palermo: 69 Euros "BASE" versus 9 Euros
Catania/Naples: 47.50 Euros "BASE" versus 9 Euros
Naples/Florence: 68 Euros "BASE" versus 9 Euros
Florence/Bologna: 24 Euros "BASE" versus 9 Euros
Bologna/Milan: 40 Euros "BASE" versus 9 Euros

TOTAL: 372.50 Euros "BASE" versus 72 Euros



The downside: The Trenitalia "SUPER ECONOMY" fare is nonrefundable AND non-changeable. You must "use it or lose it"Many travellers are simply not able to plan itineraries 120 days in advance, so end up accepting a less generous promotional fare (such as Trenitalia's "ECONOMY" fare, which is nonrefundable but changeable with the payment of the difference in price to the "BASE" fare), or indeed end up having to pay the full "BASE" fare if they wait to buy tickets at the train station on the day of travel (or even one or two days beforehand in many cases).

HOW to get the 9-Euro fare: Buy tickets one at a time, each one 120 days beforehand. Mark your calendars accordingly, and get the 9-Euro fares when they are (usually) most easily found. You may still find the 9-Euro fare on some trains even less than 120 days beforehand, but you're taking your chances by waiting. More likely, the promotional fare will have increased to 19 or 29 or 39 Euros (ore more) the closer one gets to the travel date.

NOTE: Booking 120 days in advance will not always be possible, because there are times during the year when Trenitalia does not upload schedules a full 120 days beforehand, especially just prior to a general schedule change. There are also times when Trenitalia has uploaded schedules 120 days (or more) in advance, BUT has not yet uploaded the promotional fares on all of its reserved trains for a full 120 days. Also, there is no guarantee that the 9-Euro fare will be offered on ALL trains during ALL periods.

What about ITALO TRENO?:

1. ITALO TRENO currently does not offer a 9-Euro fare. However, it does offer low promotional fares which are often competitive with those of Trenitalia. Here again, the "trick" is to buy as much in advance as possible. ITALO TRENO typically does not upload schedules a full 120 days in advance (but this might change in the future).

2. ITALO TRENO has a limited offering of routes which does not extend south of Salerno, nor north of Milan, Turin or Venice. It also does not connect Milan and Venice (nor many other city pairs).

3. ITALO TRENO does not offer "feeder" local trains (like Trenitalia's "regionale" trains) which connect to the fast trains in the major rail hubs.

4. ITALO TRENO is a perfectly acceptable alternative to Trenitalia on common routes, but is not a replacement for Trenitalia. Be aware that, in Rome, ITALO TRENO operates out of Tiburtina and Ostiense stations, and not the more centrally located Termini Station (used by Trenitalia). In Milan, ITALO TRENO operates out of the Porta Garibaldi and Rogoredo stations, and not the more centrally located Milano Centrale Station (used by Trenitalia). In Turin, ITALO TRENO operates out of the Porta Susa Station, and not the more centrally located Porta Nuova Station (used by Trenitalia). In the other cities, ITALO TRENO operates out of the same stations as does Trenitalia.

DISCLAIMER: The information above is correct as of the posting date, but is subject to change as Trenitalia changes its fares and promotional schemes.

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