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MAD/Barajas to Málaga and BCN to MAD transportion: planes or trains?

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DH and I are beginning to plan a September trip to Spain and it seems that we will be starting in Málaga and finishing in Barcelona. We will be picking up a rental car as we leave Málaga and dropping it off as we arrive in Barcelona, so we will be carless in both cities.

I'm debating whether to fly into Madrid and train to Málaga or to just fly directly to Málaga. The flights I have found seem to be inconvenient (long layover in Madrid) and not particularly cheap when trying to book the two legs (SJU>MAD>AGP) at the same time (a pro in case of delays).

For example, the SJU>MAD flights puts me in MAD around 7:00am (if not delayed), saying we make out of immigration by 8:30am, the next available flight is Iberia at 11:45 for $239.00 (ea), significantly more than the train. This does not seem to be a great deal or use of time. There is a $68.00 flight but its leaving at MAD at 1:30 pm. There is no way I'm spending that much time in the airport, my vacation time is precious.

How long is the transfer from the airport terminal to the train? Is it very cumbersome? We pack relatively light and have used trains in other countries many times before. The train ride is 2.5hrs for ~90Euros (ea) and we could probably be in Atocha for the 10:30 departure. This would put us im Málaga around 1:00PM, in time for a leisurely lunch (just so that you know our priorities, wink!).

On the way back there is an abundance of cheap flights out of Barcelona. However, I still want to know if it would be easier/more efficient to train it back to Madrid from downtown Barcelona.

I would really appreciate your experience, any opinions, please?

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