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Soon, my wife and I want to travel from Faro to Lisbon by train and back a few days later. I have found this website: Comboios De Portugal.

A complication is that we are not exactly sure when we will get to Faro. So, if we book ahead then we will need to play safe and book a fairly late train. Alternatively, we could just turn up at the station and buy on the spot. My experience with UK trains is that this is a poor strategy as the prices will be bad and we might not even get seats. So, here is the question: which of these strategies?

  1. Book ahead as the prices will be better and we will certainly get seats. Accept that we may need to hang around in Faro for a few hours.

  2. Just turn up at the station. The prices will be the same or similar and there will be little danger of no seats.

  3. Something else that I have missed.

The prices on the website seem reasonable and first class is not much more so we will probably go first class.

Update. I am on the train now. It was at the platform 30 minutes before departure and it departed exactly on time. Despite the booking site showing that it was nearly full, it is in fact almost empty. I guess that more may get on at intermediate stops. The carriage is nice: roomy, clean, and comfortable. Storage for large bags is not great. If it was actually full then it might have been a problem. However, it is at least as good as trains in the UK.

One minute late out of Loule and a few people got on.

7 minutes late out of Tunes and it is close to full now.

Final update after quite a few trips. Ticket buying is easy online for major routes and you do not need to print the tickets. You will be asked for an ID number, e.g. passport, but we never had this checked. Local trains may require old style paper tickets bought at the station. It is a good idea to book several days ahead in a busy season as the trains often sell out. Punctuality is erratic. It seemed good at first with delays of at most 10 minutes but later we had some trains 30 or 40 minutes behind schedule.

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    With the UK as a reference, you will find train tickets in Portugal very cheap, so from a price you don't need to worry. However, if you are travelling at a popular time, the trains may sell out, which depending on the train may mean you can't travel. – gerrit Aug 15 at 13:02
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Prices in Portuguese trains do change with time. This only happens in intercity trains, like the one you want to get.

This is a fairly new trend. Prices used to be the same all the time bought online or not. In advance or not.

The market is now starting to develop at this level. This means you can get good deals if buying in advance, but don't lose your sleep over this. The prices don't go insane if buying at last minute.

Good advice that I can give you is to choose the bus over the train to go from Algarve to Lisbon. I love trains and would love to tell you otherwise, but unfortunately, the frequency of trains from Algarve is quite low and it often gets delayed on route.

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    Thanks. I have found the schedule and it is acceptable. Delays along the way are a different matter. A tricky choice, trains are a lot nicer and we were keen to see how nice first class is. Buses do the job but are a much less fun experience. I'd accept it but persuading the wife will be harder. – badjohn Aug 15 at 16:03
  • @badjohn I understand :) When do you need the ticket (aproximately)? Without promising anything I can try to find out if those get sold out or not. I don't think they do, especially if you're travelling first class. But I don't use that route that much and it's Summer. – nsn Aug 15 at 16:06
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    @badjohn I contacted CP. Unfortunately, on summer, from Algarve, tickets are sold out 2 ~ 3 days before departure they told me. – nsn Aug 15 at 22:47
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    Thanks for the warning, I have just booked. It was just on time as there were very few seats left. Quite a nice booking system. The seat selection was ones that I am familiar with from planes. – badjohn Aug 16 at 7:02
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    Since you're a train lover, don't refrain from using trains to other destinations. The trains are usually on time. The southern line is, as far as I know, the exception (not always) due to some passage where it gets delayed. Enjoy your trip! – nsn Aug 16 at 8:38
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In Portugal train prices are stable, they never escalate. Only difference is that there are discounts (up to 65%) for people who buy some days ahead. You can check information here.

The big disadvantage when buying on the spot is that tickets may run out. This doesn't happen often and many times they only run out in second class, so you may still find some first class tickets, more expensive, but like you said it's not a big difference. Also even if they run out for next train there will be seats for the train after; tickets in Portugal are mostly bought on the spot so they sell their last seats in the last minutes.

Buying on the spot is a fair option. No discount, but besides that the worst it can happen is that you go in that train you would be going if you buy before.

Edit: After comments from @badjohn I know now that what I've written here about tickets running out prevails in most cases but not in Algarve during Summer.

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    As I just commented to nsn's answer, I decided to book ahead. This was lucky as there were only a few seats left (even in first class). We were not able to sit together but we should survive that ordeal. – badjohn Aug 16 at 8:36
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    @badjohn, it is always allowed to swap places if you can convince someone near one of you. – Willeke Aug 16 at 15:33
  • Of course. We'll see how it goes on the day but it won't be serious if we can't. – badjohn Aug 16 at 15:51
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    Thanks for you feedback @badjohn. I also learned something here. Have a nice trip. – dxvargas Aug 17 at 10:12

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