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Trenitalia Tickets: BE CAREFUL About Buying in Advance!

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A very common question on this and other travel sites is whether to pre-purchase Trenitalia rail tickets for travel on the date of arrival by plane or ship.

This is a very good question, and unfortunately many people are not aware of the various options available, and the advantages/drawbacks of each option:

OPTION 1: Buy ticket only when you arrive at the FCO or MXP airport train station (or at the Italian rail station where you board your first train)

Advantages: maintains full flexibility (and no forfeiture of a prepaid ticket) in case of late arrival.

Disadvantages: during heavy travel periods, you may not get your train of FIRST choice. However, high-speed (“Alta Velocita’” or “AV”) Frecciarossa/Frecciargento trains between Rome and Florence run on average every 5-30 minutes, so this is usually not a big issue. AV trains between Rome and Naples run hourly, as do AV trains between Milan and Bologna/Florence, and between Venice and Bologna/Florence/Rome. Frecciabianca (formerly “ES-City”) trains between Milan and Venice also run hourly. At worst, you may need to take your second or even third choice of train, if earlier trains are sold out (in both first and second class), something which should occur only infrequently.

NOTE: there might be a problem around Christmas and New Year's, and a couple of other days throughout the year, but this is infrequent.


OPTION 1a: If second class seats are sold out, buy a first class ticket rather than waiting for the next train

Advantages: Leave sooner, and save time

Disadvantages: Pay considerably more, for only marginal betterment of service. In a nutshell, first class seats on the AV trains have 8.5 centimeters more seat/shoulder room (since they are 3-across instead of 4-across), potentially up to 5 centimeters more leg room (but not always), and there is a complimentary beverage/snack/morning newspaper offered at the start of the trip. There is sometimes more room for luggage, primarily because there are fewer seats in first class, therefore fewer bags to stow. Also, first class railcars can be quieter (although not always so; some new Frecciarossa trains have a “silence” area in one first class railcar where cell phones are not allowed to be used). Solo travelers enjoy the fact that the first class railcars have an entire row of single seats on one side (whereas second class railcars have twin seats on both sides of the railcar).


OPTION 2: Buy a nonrefundable “ECONOMY” or a “SUPER ECONOMY” fare ticket in advance

Advantages: you can save between 10% and 90% of the regular (“BASE”) fare

Disadvantages: if you MISS your reserved train (holding an “ECONOMY” or a “SUPER ECONOMY” ticket), even by one second, you have a WORTHLESS ticket, and you must purchase a brand new, regular fare ticket. Furthermore, because (with the “SUPER ECONOMY” ticket) you can never anticipate your reservation to an EARLIER-departing train (nor make ANY changes whatsoever), you can't "hedge your bets" by intentionally reserving a very late-departing train, then plan on changing to an earlier-departing train if your plane arrives on time. NOTE: You could “hedge your bets” with the “BASE” fare ticket, or the “ECONOMY” ticket, both of which are changeable: in the case of the “BASE” ticket, the change is gratis (if timely); in the case of the “ECONOMY” ticket, the change (if timely) results in an increased fare to the “BASE” fare rate (thereby entirely taking away the discount). Nevertheless, you still risk a FORFEITURE if your plane arrives VERY late, and you MISS your reserved train by more than one hour (with the “BASE” fare ticket) or even by one second (with the “ECONOMY fare ticket).

OPINION: HERE, YOU’VE GOT TO BE VERY VERY CAREFUL: I recommend NOT buying the ticket (at any fare) for travel on the day of arrival by plane, since you simply can’t know if your plane will arrive late, or by how much!!! EXCEPTION: If you’re able to find a “SUPER ECONOMY” ticket for the LOWEST fare of 9 Euros, many people would be willing to risk a forfeiture for such an attractive low fare. Buy would you risk a forfeiture for a discounted fare of 19 or 29 Euros?


OPTION 3: Buy a regular, "BASE" fare ticket

Advantages: ensures you'll have a seat on the train you select.

Disadvantages: ticket becomes WORTHLESS if you MISS your reserved train by MORE THAN ONE HOUR. QUANDARY: these days, how can you be so sure that your plane won't arrive much later than scheduled? You could also “hedge your bets”, as described above, by intentionally booking a very late-departing train, then changing to an earlier-departing train if your plane arrives on time, but you still run the risk of a FORFEITURE if your plans go awry.


OPTION 4: if schedules are convenient, take one of the cheap, UNRESERVED “regionale” (or “regionale veloce”) trains, which are offered on such popular routes as Rome/Florence, Rome/Naples, Rome/Pisa, Venice/Bologna, Bologna/Florence (with a change at Prato Centrale), Florence/Pisa, Florence/Lucca, Florence/Lucca, Florence/Arezzo, Milan/Turin, Milan/Genoa, Milan/Verona, Milan/Venice and Verona/Venice. If you promptly board these trains at the city of origination, you usually won’t have a problem finding a seat. Remember, though, that the “regionale” trains take longer (sometimes much longer), make many more stops, have no food/beverage service, occasionally have non-functioning air conditioning, and are not as modern, quiet and “nice” as the AV trains. Also, the AV and Frecciabianca trains (but not the “regionale” or the “Intercity” trains) have a “pulitore viaggiante” on board, who is supposed to keep the washrooms relatively clean.


EASIEST SOLUTION: follow option 1 above!!! This works most of the time.

NOTE: The Trenitalia “FLESSIBILE” fare has been discontinued. This posting does not discuss the new ITALO TRENO services. Consult their website to learn about the fare structure and forfeiture rules (which are similar, but not identical, to those of Trenitalia).

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