I'm going to Europe next June and I plan to travel by train. I want to reserve my seats in advance, so I'm thinking about buying them around three months in advance. I'm also thinking about buying a rail pass for the countries that I will visit (France and Spain). I also prefer high speed trains because I don't want to spend time travelling.

How does it work when you buy a rail pass? Do you receive some code that allows you to reserve seats in advance or do you recommend buying the tickets for each journey?

  • 2
    I'd suggest you read the Seat61 page on European rail passes, that explains everything, and gives a guide you can use to work out if they make sense for your planned high speed journeys
    – Gagravarr
    Jan 26, 2014 at 16:42
  • 2
    At least in Germany, the reservation is not connected to a ticket for many reasons. I.e. you can buy a ticket 3 months in advance and just reserve a seat 2 hours before departure. Many commuters hold rail passes, and only want reservations sometimes. Technically you could reserve a seat but not hold a ticket and (try to) evade the fare.
    – Phil
    Jan 27, 2014 at 11:42
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    It's more or less the same in France (and, I believe, in Spain), except that reservation is often compulsory and seats are not always available for pass holders. Usually, it's only on the train itself that someone will check if you have both a valid pass and a seat reservation, you don't need a code or anything to buy either. You could therefore buy a reservation without a pass or board a train with a pass and no reservation and you would only get in trouble later when the conductor comes to check the tickets.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 28, 2014 at 2:20
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    Regarding the respective merits of passes and individual tickets, you will need to run the numbers for the specific trip(s) you have in mind. I don't think we can do much better than Seat61.com as far as general advice is concerned.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 28, 2014 at 2:22
  • 1
    See also travel.stackexchange.com/questions/8249/… and travel.stackexchange.com/questions/7935/… (perhaps even a duplicate of this question)
    – Relaxed
    Jan 28, 2014 at 11:45

2 Answers 2


In France, an advance reservation is required for high-speed trains and night trains, as well as for some other trains. There is a limited number of seats for pass holders on TGV and Thalys trains. You can make the reservation at local train stations or via a call center:


In Spain, the situation is not very different. Many trains, including all the high-speed and night trains, require a reservation. You can make the reservation at local train stations or via the RENFE call center:


You should know that the above mentioned reservations are not free. A TGV costs between 6 and 18 EUR extra and in Spain, the reservation costs vary between 4.50 and 10 EUR per seat.

If you want to book three months in advance, a railpass is not very interesting. It will be cheaper if you buy point to point tickets. Many trains have airline-style prices, i.e. depending on how long you book in advance and on the popularity of your travel dates. The chances are very high that you will save money by buying point to-point tickets. The “Man in Seat 61” has some advice on this:


You should perhaps start by reading the following page, and then proceed from there:


You can also have a look at the tag here on this site. In the past there have been a couple of questions (and good answers) on rail passes, buying train tickets in Europe, planning trips, etc.


I just came back from a 3 month trip through Europe on a Eurail pass, so here's my experiences with the train passes.

First off: This app makes the process simple. It does route-finding for the train system in Europe, and includes information whether reservations are required, recomended, amenities on the train, etc.

Reservations are rarely required. With the exception of trains into/out of major cities (Berlin, Paris, etc), you can simply board the trains and show the ticket checker the pass.

For the routes where a reservation is required it can be purchased online, or from the train station for a small fee (10-40 euros from my experience).
I would recommend not worrying about reservations until you're on the trip as things will come up, you'll find out about new events, and plans will likely change. I would plan out a general route with things you want to see/do, and adapt trip reservations/tickets as you go.

As for if you should buy a pass or buy individual tickets, it depends on how much you plan to travel. If you plan to go to 10 countries in 2 months, then I'd recommend one as routes between countries tend to be pricey. But if you're planning on staying in just a few countries buying individual tickets is likely cheaper. There are also other modes of transportation worth checking out such as bus routes if price is a major concern.

How the pass works:
You get a pass that you carry around with you. If you have a set number of travel days you need to mark them on the pass before you ride each day, if you forget to fill in a date you'll possibly get fined. If it's unlimited then you can ride with no worries.

Regarding high speed trains:
Most routes without countries are normal trains, so unless you plan on doing very long distances at a time you probably won't take more than 1-2 high speed trains. When you do take them though, reservations are highly recommended (if not required). The seats are marked for which sections of the journey they are reserved for, and if it's a busy route you may end up moving often, or spending a large amount of the trip standing without a reservation. If you are on one of these trains and someone claims to of reserved the seat, make sure you take a look at their ticket to confirm it. On the other hand, if you're on a train and want a seat, you can tell a tourist looking person that you've reserved the seat. I booked my high speed train seats 1-5 days ahead, and I would recommend booking them at least 4-5 days ahead, more if there's a major event happening.

Note: For overnight trains reserving a seat/bed is usually required.

Information about reservations and how these passes work can be found here

  • 1
    The OP explicitly mentioned wanting to travel on High Speed services, which normally do require a reservation / supplement, any chance you could address that a bit more in your answer?
    – Gagravarr
    Jan 28, 2014 at 23:11
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    In France and Spain there are highspeed trains on a majority of intercity routes. If you want to keep travel times low, TGV trains are indispensable. Paris-Lyon less than 2 hours on TGV and more than 5 hours on a classical train. To Marseille the difference is ebven bigger: 3h30 vs 9h30 .... Jan 29, 2014 at 9:06
  • Thanks for sharing your experience but did you travel through France? Booking only a few days in advance, most route being regular trains and reservations rarely required would not seem to apply there.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 29, 2014 at 9:19
  • @SantaC. You seem to be answering my question but it was (obviously?) addressed to pzenger…
    – Relaxed
    Jan 29, 2014 at 13:17
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    You can, but I've met many people that got stuck in a city for an extra day because there weren't any seats left. So to reduce stress it's a good idea to book them a few days in advance. But yes, it's not always needed.
    – pzenger
    Jan 30, 2014 at 19:39

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