Subtitle – “MichaelT’s Italian Trains, 101”
I actually bought train tickets (two trips worth) on the Trenitalia web site! Of course it was a Friday during lent, 7pm in Italy, I had said 3 Hail Mary’s, had to create 5 user accounts to do it and burned through every credit card in my wallet but it finally worked.
Some of you were with me on this thread (http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=35114570 ) so you know that I’m anal and while I could easily purchase them while in Italy, my wife considers my best household skill as being our resident travel agent so I had to figure this one out. Some of this is also “Train 101” simply because I’ve seen some pretty amazing blunders by travelers unfamiliar with the European or Italian rail systems.
Between the tips gathered in the previous post, other threads I’ve researched and a lot of my own trial and error (I’m now a qualified Italian web site programmer), I’ve consolidated the hints of how I successfully bought tickets on the Trenitalia web site. I figured I’d start it as a new thread so others can add their tips and discoveries.
- Register by entering an email address and user name. The system needs to send you a password. That can take anywhere from a few minutes to a full day but it will come eventually.
- When you get the password via email, go back to the site to login.
- The first time you do, it will tell you the password has expired and that you need to click to enter a new one. Do that.
- Enter the password they sent you along with the new one your create and enter.
- The system will tell you the password didn’t work. Ignore that.
- Click the logout at the top of the page
- Log in again using your user name and the NEW password you just entered. Trust me, it will work.
- Generally tickets can be purchased 60-days out EXCEPT on regional trains where the purchase time is only 7-days. (I discovered this by experimenting on my last trip – try it – plug in a date within 7 days of today on a regional train and it should show as buyable.)
- Enter your requested cities, dates and times (times in military) and if you see a little shopping cart to the right of the train you want, you can buy it now. Otherwise, it says NO which means try again when you get closer to your travel date.
- Select the shopping cart and add it. If you want to add return journeys or other trips, repeat the process.
- Carriages & Seating – this is generally if you’re trying to buy tickets near someone else that has already bought them. Don’t waste your time trying to figure this one out and also don’t waste your time (like I did) trying to see if you can Google a seat map. I’m pretty sure the one I did find from 1995 is outdated at this point and that carriage is probably now a reef somewhere off Amalfi.
- Try to get the Amica fare. This is the discounted fare and will save you about 20% over the other fares.
- The other fares buyable from the US are the Flexi and Standard fares. The rest I haven’t figured out yet but I have read that they are for Italian residents.
Purchasing (Where the system usually fails)
- The systems “supposedly” accepts all credit cards – Visa, MC, Amex, etc.
- Call your CC company first though to tell them that you will be buying tickets from a site in Italy so they clear it when it goes through. Most US cards generally charge a fee of about 3% on the international purchase.
- The easiest way is if you have any type of CC from Citibank. They have a feature called Virtual Account which randomly generates a CC # for each new transaction. (Thanks for the tip J62) It’s free to sign up for if you have any Citi CC, just call them or go to the Citi web site to do so. You download a simple program that randomly generates a number for purchases so you don’t ever have to enter your real CC number. I’m not sure if other credit cards or banks offer this feature so check with your bank.
- I have used CCs other than the virtual numbers and they do work but I cleared them with my bank first. Every time I tried to use one of them without clearing them first, they were rejected.
- Enter your CC info and then pause to acknowledge whatever your religious affiliation is and make a brief offering or gesture.
- Hit enter and cross your fingers.
(I know this sounds bizarre but this is where the system fails most often... the system uses an outside vendor for the transactions and it is very temperamental.)
- If you try to enter any one or more CCs more than 3 times, the system will lock you out of your user account.
- If this happens, it’s far simpler to use a different email address and open a new account. The reason I say this is that if you click on the “reinstate my account” link, it says it takes 48 hrs. to get an email back from the system (mine was actually 72 hrs). You have to then respond (via email or fax) with your user name, a US phone # and a form of ID. Once you send this, again they say it takes 48 hrs but it’s now been over 3 days since I last did this and I still don’t have anything back from them.
- If you run out of email addresses or credit cards, jump below to “If All Else fails…”
Using Your Tickets
- If you’re still reading this, hopefully you’ve been successful enough to actually buy them on the site and print the PDFs.
- My experience with the web based tickets is that you do not have to validate them at the station in Italy. I’ve done it just to be safe but supposedly you do not need to. If anyone else has more info, please share it!
- NOTE: for those of you scratching your heads at this point, if you buy train tickets in Italy you need to validate them before you get on the train using the little yellow or red boxes that are located in every train station. This goes for almost any train ticket except the web versions.
- The conductors on the trains, at least on the regional trains, are not as familiar with these web tickets. Don’t worry about it, they work!
- On the train – when you’re on the longer trains and the little beverage cart comes through (you’ll hear the bicycle bell), remember it’s not like the beverage cart on a US airline (or at least like they used to be) and everything costs. I was actually on a train once from Milano to Geneva and a couple got a bottle of wine and then proceeded to argue about paying for it and comparing it to US airlines where things are free. Ah, the good old days!
If All Else Fails…
- Many people have recommended Marco at Pantheon Travel in Rome. (Thanks for the tip Images2)
- It is also really easy to just buy train tickets at any station while in Italy. If you go to the window, you need to learn some basic Italian (even at the English speaking window) and the Amica fare might or might not be available. The machines in the larger stations work really well too. They have an screen in English available (look for the British flag) and they take credit cards or cash. Remember to validate them before you board!!!
- Enjoy your trip and if you have any tips to add to this post, please do so!
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Trenitalia – How I Successfully Bought Train Tickets on the Web
Subtitle – “MichaelT’s Italian Trains, 101”