My wife and I are planning to travel by train from Nice to Budapest over the course of 2 weeks, stopping at a number of towns and cities on the way.

We'd prefer the flexibility of booking our tickets on the day of travel, but are wary of ticket prices rising the closer you get to the travel date (as happens markedly here in the UK). However, do European train ticket prices generally vary in this way, or would a ticket booked on the day cost the same as one booked in advance?

My initial tests on Rail Europe suggest that the price remains constant, but it would be good to get confirmation from someone more experienced in European train travel.

Our route is likely to be: Nice to Verona to Salzburg to Vienna to Budapest.

  • 5
    On the continent, prices for tickets without a reservation often remain constant while prices for tickets with a reservation usually increase over time. I don't know whether on this particular journey you'll be encountering trains where booking in advance is cheaper than an unreserved ticket. Aug 19, 2011 at 0:10
  • Could you post details on your route? The answers will likely differ if you head through Switzerland vs. Italy, or Austria vs. Slovenia. Aug 19, 2011 at 8:49
  • @Gilles: that's interesting, and something I'd not spotted. Thanks for the tip.
    – Mal Ross
    Aug 19, 2011 at 8:51

6 Answers 6


Get the best of both worlds by buying a pass. I haven't priced the European ones recently, but 5 years ago they were a huge savings, and you have total flexibility. This spring I bought UK passes and the "8 days in a 30 day period" pass was cheaper than just one leg (London to Newcastle) was at the most popular time of day. Also first class on the passes is usually a very small premium compared to regular classes, and that's not true of ticket-at-a-time prices.

I've used the British train passes for totally spontaneous trips where we literally went to the station and got on the first train that came. To combine that with paying less than if we'd booked months in advance - can't be beat!

You have to buy from abroad and have them shipped to you at home, so plan now. I hope you count as "abroad" enough to get the kinds of discounts we Canadians are offered.

  • 5
    The rules are very different for European residents and non-European residents. The former get InterRail, the latter get Eurail. The passes tend to be good value in high-cost-of-living countries (Western/Northern Europe) and more expensive than normal tickets in low-cost-of-living countries (Southern/Eastern Europe). So my gut feeling would be that the pass is not likely to be worth it for that journey, but Mal should definitely compare the costs. Aug 19, 2011 at 0:08
  • Yeah, I have compared the costs and, for the journeys my wife and will be making, buying an InterRail pass would cost almost twice as much as separate tickets for the separate steps of our journey.
    – Mal Ross
    Aug 19, 2011 at 8:49
  • Passes can be a good idea, but on many high-speed trains there are significant surcharges that are not covered by the pass. This is especially true for Italy. Aug 19, 2011 at 8:50
  • And even in Poland you were required to pay additional fees for some trains with a EUrail pass (May 2011).
    – Mark Mayo
    Aug 20, 2011 at 10:11

I guess it depends what sort of ticket you buy and which trains you use (express vs. highspeed or intercity) and what countries you cross - you could cross Italy or Germany if you want to take a detour; or maybe even Switzerland and Austria on your route to Hungary.

ItaliaRail says "Book in Advance and Save up to 30% or more" on the homepage, however i never used the train in italy, so not sure what other options you have.

In Germany you can get a discount card (BahnCard), but this only makes sense if you spent more than 400 Euro on fares each year, however they have some good one-way specials where you can travel for 29 Euro (up to 250km, 2nd class) - 99 Euro (over 250km, 2nd class).

Personally i would just go to the train station and ask about the cheapest option that takes you closer towards Budapest. This way you stay flexible and can enjoy each stop as long as you want to. This usually works as long as you travel between 2 big cities. If you get a cheap ticket to a small town you might get stuck there for a few days until you get another chance to get out of there (I learned that the hard way...).

  • It's always better to use the "original" websites (Trenitalia for example) since those "resources gatherer" (ItaliaRail) rarely offer discount fares (the earlier you book, the most probability you have to get a discounted ticket). Most of the times those sites have the english version too Sep 15, 2015 at 13:37

In Germany, the "regular" (refundable, not tied to a specific train) tickets are always the same price. However, there are limited contingents of "Sparpreis" offers at massively reduced prices (starting at 29 EUR). These are tied to a specific train running at a specific time, refunding is limited, and due to the limited contingent they're sold out well in advance (the cheapest ones within minutes after they become available).


Well in the UK at least, buying early almost always saves you money if buying off-peak tickets. Try http://www.nationalrail.co.uk for comparisons.


To summarize the other answers: It depends on the country and journey but you can't assume the prices remain constant on the continent. There are a whole lot of things with variable prices that get higher the closer you are from the departure date:

  • Premium international trains with mandatory seat reservation like Thalys, Eurostar, etc.
  • National high-speed trains with mandatory seat reservation like TGV in France, AVE in Spain and various long-distance trains in Italy.
  • Sleeper trains like City Night Line between central European countries.
  • Discount trains that have their own pricing, like iDTGV or some small train operators in Germany.
  • Special offers that are only available when booking a few weeks in advance or based on a quota (Prem's in France, Sparpreis in Germany, there are some in Italy too).

Sometimes there are only a couple of different price levels and the price goes way up at once (i.e. the discount fare disappears and only the full fare remains available), sometimes you have more dynamic airline-like pricing but in any case you can often save money by booking early. You might want to research your itinerary on seat61.com to decide if you can afford to be flexible on a given trip.


It depends on which trains you are traveling. The prices for local and regional trains are fixed and you won't have an advantage by booking early.

On long-distance trains, it's different. You can save money by booking earlier. On the other hand, the cheaper tickets are usually more restrictive. If you want more flexibility, you have to buy the more expensive tickets. But these flexible tickets are available all the time, and their price does not change. The only problem you can run into is that some trains may be sold out on the day you want to travel. That can happen during peak hours, weekends or on holidays.

Regarding railpasses, one should note that some trains, especially high-speed services and other "quality" services require an extra fee. In addition there may be limited quotas for railpass holders, as it is the case on the French TGV trains. My advice is to check the conditions carefully.

For the trip mentioned here, i.e. Nice - Verona - Salzburg - Vienna - Budapest, my recommendation is to buy the tickets in advance, as soon as you know when you want to go where. All these tickets can easily be booked online.

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