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Renfe Tickets by Phone?

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Someone has posted on Tripadvisor, in the Madrid forum, that he spoke with a Renfe agent at the Atocha train station as was informed of a new policy: the Renfe website will simply not accept a US credit card that has not previously been used in Spain to purchase tickets at a station. In other words, a first-time visitor to Spain will not be able to use the website to purchase tickets no matter how many times he or she tries, regardless whether he or she has signed up with "Verified by Visa" and called the Credit card issuer in advance.

The person who posted this is a long-time and reliable member of both TA and this forum, so I believe him. But if anyone can confirm or disprove this, II'd love more information.

Assuming this is true, we won't be able to buy our tickets online for our trip in April/May. I am concerned because we will be traveling at peak holiday and festival times---going from Barcelona to Toledo at the start of the Labor Day (May 1) holiday weekend, and traveling Madrid to Seville on the first day of the Feria. I am worried that the trains we need will be sold out if I have to wait until we arrive in Spain to buy our tickets.

What are my options? Can I purchase the tickets from Renfe over the phone? If so, what form of written confirmation do I get?

And if I can' t do it over the phone with Renfe, what are my other options? I guess there is RailEurope as a last resort, but I recall reading about a UK agency that will work with Renfe and offer available discounts (at least Estrella fares) as well. Has anyone used this service?

I appreciate all help and sdvice on this. (I am actually losing sleep over it.) Thanks!

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