I see lot of people are having trouble in booking tickets on RENFE website. I recently used the website with a positive outcome and thought of sharing my experience.
I booked 3 train tickets on RENFE website today. Once I clicked on "Welcome" on the home page to go to the English version of the website, I simply clicked on the "Purchase" link with the shopping cart icon and it opened into a new window.
First thing I did (based on advice from fellow fodorites) is to register myself, the link is on the right hand side of the screen.
From there on, I just used it like any other familiar website. From the drop-down boxes, I chose my "To" and "From" destinations, date and as my journeys are going to be one-way, I ticked on "Outward" journey.
Upon getting the search results, it displayed multiple fares for each of the trains available between the two locations. There are various icons for discounted fares and they are explained at the bottom of the screen. Watch out for Chrome Yellow icon with a star mark within. These are the Estrella fares, about 40% less than usual. The blue icon if discounts (called Mesa, if you hover your cursor over it) are for people traveling in groups and the price shown is for 4 people traveling together. If you click on that price, it expands to show 4 difference prices if you are traveling in a group of 4 / 3 / 2 or on your own.
Once I was ok with the train schedule & price, I clicked on "continue" to pay for the same. The next step was re-confirmation of the price depending on drop-down boxes of applicable discount (use google translate for that). Once I clicked Estrella, I was set. I did remember to click on the option to let me select my seat, which was placed after pricing details and before the "Continue" button for taking me to the next step.
After sharing my VISA credit card details (issued in Asia), there was a section below to fill in "Tempo Card" but I guess it is only for Spanish locals. I clicked on "Buy" and it took me to seat selection wherein there was a miniature picture of the train wherein you could click on the compartments individually and select the seat. I was careful in choosing the seat as the last seat would have lesser recline. Also note the 2+2 chairs with a broad line icon (representing a table) would mean 2 of these 4 seats on the opposite side of the moving train's direction with a table in between these and the other 2 seats. It helps to know little bit of Spanish to be able to read the compartment illustration and make out where the door, washroom, etc is.
Once I chose my seat, it took me to the page wherein it confirmed my transaction. It asked me my VISA password at this stage. At this juncture, it took close to 30 seconds. But the transaction did go through, each of the 3 times.
A PDF window automatically popped-up. This is the ticket. I saved the same on my computer. RENFE also sent the ticket confirmation on my email ID, which was in Spanish. But my gmail had a link on top of the message asking to translate the same, and on a single click, the whole email was in English, for me to make sense of it.
Couple of times during the transaction after I had entered my credit card details, I realised I had forgotten to tick the seat selection option. I closed the window, abandoned the transaction basically and restarted. The website charges you only after you have selected the seat and clicked to continue "Entrar".
Easy to use and fairly logical in sequencing (but be prepared to use google translate tool, especially to understand application of various discount categories).
Cheaper than Raileurope's international website. I saved 34% on like-to-like trains, dates and seat classes.
PDF ticket which can be printed anytime at home. Do not have to pay heavy delivery charges or pray for it to be delivered before I leave for the trip.
After I had registered and tried to login, it continued to give me error for atleast 10-12 trials. Persist a bit like I did. Finally it let me login. From there on, it was easy to do the rest.
I did take help of following 2 links to understand RENFE bookings better:
1. http://issuu.com/vallausa/docs/how-to-buy-renfe-tickets-preview shared by fellow fodorite ribeirasacra.
2. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g187514-c80518/Madrid:Spain:Buying.Renfe.Tickets.Online.html - found while googling.
Feel free to reply if you have queries in specific. I am not a veteran to book tickets on RENFE, but I have recent experience. Would love to help others if I can.
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