Plane vs Train in Spain

We (2) will be in Europe for the first time in June. It is cheaper to fly from Madrid to Barcelona and from Barcelona to San Sebastian. My question is am I missing something? Are the airports terrible or a hugh hassle? Am I missing an important cutual aspect or the scenic travel of the train? Budget is a concern but not the only one. THANKS

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1358 posts

hi, what i do is to actually compare flight vs trains. all you need to do is to "plug-n-chug" the dates of arrival/departure in the various sites. You know when youre going right? so its a no brainer. you can use Skyscanner.com or Kayak.com for flights. But you may need to try different combinations of fling into/out and see if there are any price differences. If youre flying in a straight line or just one flight in/out, then its moot. for the trains you can use Raileurope.com for the logistics. But from what ive been seeing on here, they charge more, so just be aware the price maybe higher. You can also use the local train systems/web sites to find the costs. From my experience in the London/Paris region you can only buy tickets 3 or 4 months out. If thats the case in Spain, then pick a day within the 3 or 4 months and see what prices are offered. It maynot be correct, but you will get and idea on costs to compare vs plane. What i noticed about intercountry train travel in the area i was in was that the security lines were waaay smaller. I will be doing alot more train travel this sept in different countries so i will again, get a chance to experience if thats true. also, when youre doing this pay attention to the flight/train duration to add that if its "cheaper" too. what i personally do is look at the travel times. If its getting around 6 hours long for a train ride, i will start thinking about a plane. Id rather get to where im going fast and have more time sight seeing than to spend it on a train. NOw if the tour IS the train, then the time it takes is it. WHat i also try to account for is the transit time to/from the Airports. If its around an hour or less, i dont worry about it, but if it gets longer, then im thinking/looking for other means. happy trails.

Posted by Neil
Whittington
583 posts

Madrid and Barcelona airports are outside those cities and with the (modest) expense of transport to and from I would have thought there would be little between the air fare and train ticket, if purchasing in advance. The train is more comfortable and is city centre to city centre in about the same time.
Sorry, I have not taken either journey but coincidentally spotted this - http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=2314240 see response #1

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Hi Polly-Actually, it is not cheaper to fly. Where did you look for train prices? Please do NOT use RailEurope for logistocs or for prices. The official train site for Spain is Renfe.com. They offer Promo fares for travel in June of 32-40 euro for Madrid to Barcelona on the high-speed AVE train, and 38 euro for Barcelona to San Sebastian. These are fares you have to purchase in advance on the Web. If you cannot work with Renfe (there are detailed instructions for that on tripadvisor in the madrid forum), you can use the travel agency Petrabax, which will add a small handling fee. We took the AVE from Barcelona to Madrid and it was wonderful-smooth, comfortable, and faster than flying. The train between Barcelona and San Sebastian in not a high-speed train, so it takes 5 1/2 hours, but the scenery sould be nice.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10884 posts

I know some people like to push Rail Europe but it really is not very helpful for anything. For just schedule information use bahn.de. It comes all train schedules in Europe. For ticket pricing and buying to the train site for country of travel. We consider air only if the train travel is longer than five or six hours. Airports are the same everywhere. Arrive early for check in, deal with security and wait lines for security, prohibited items in security or checked bags, etc. etc. I know it is easier to say the flight is only an hour so it must be quicker but you forget to add in all the delays associated with air travel. That is what you are missing when you ask the question.

Posted by Polly
Tallahassee, FL, USA
8 posts

Madrid to Barcelona via AVE train is $147 or $177 US dollars depending on which level of comfort you want (I guess) - the same air flight on Vueling is about the same time wise if you count the early arrival but is $59/$82/$196 depending on the level of service you want (We will each have one carry on). So add on cab fare to the airport ($20) and I come up with: $294 for two people on AVE
$138 for two people on Vueling. Barcelona to San Sebastian is for 2 people on Vueling is $110 (included $20 cab fare) and $186 for train. I guess the train ride is 1) more comfortable and 2) less hassle. Am I missing something else? Is Vueling OK?

Posted by Polly
Tallahassee, FL, USA
8 posts

Thanks. I will check the RENFE site for cheaper train fares.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Those seats for 32 to 40 euros on the AVE from Madrid to Barcelona are in Turista class, which is just as comfortable as the Turista Plus or Preferente (and just as fast!). We rode in both classes on our various trips in Spain and the only difference was the (mediocre) meal served to us in Preferente. Since the high fares you quoted are in dollars, I am guessing you got them from Rail Europe?

Posted by Polly
Tallahassee, FL, USA
8 posts

Thank you. Yes, I found the fares you were speaking of on RENFE. We are excited for our train rides - something we don't get to do in our part of the US! THANKS.