I know the mantra here is "don't use RailEurope, they overcharge." I just learned this is NOT true for Renfe tickets in Spain. Based on advice I saw on another board, I checked and confirmed. This is what someone posted there: "Checking random dates (October 4 and November 14) I found that RailEurope offers prices similar to the Estrella fares and Web fares when these are available on Renfe. For example, on Oct. 4, the 12:30 AVE from Madrid to Barcelona still has an Estrella fare (70,60 euro) available. RailEurope sells that seat for $101. For November 14, Web fares of 47,10 euro are available on Renfe for the 12:30 and 14:30 trains.. RailEurope sells these seats for $67." I checked and found the same thing. Do the math and you'll see the prices are almost identical (I used $1.41 for the conversion). This is great information for US and Canadian travelers to Spain, who want to benefit from the advance purchase discounts, but cannot get their credit card to work on Renfe (a very common problem).
Maybe it's not so outrageously overpriced because word has gotten out to travelers that they can bypass RE. Competition is a GOOD thing.
Remember I am only talking about Spain. They may well still be overpriced for travel in France and Germany. I have to wonder if the Spain thing is because Renfe has had so many complaints from Americans who cannot get their US credit cards to work on Renfe. RailEurope bills themselves as the "official" site on Google. I have always avoided them where possible. But based on what I saw today, I will suggest to people who experience the very common Renffe frustration (error messages, refusal to take the credit card) to take a look at RailEurope, as well as Rumbo.es.
It is not a myth and never has been. It is possible that some fares are closely matched but you have not factored in delivery fees, or the limited trains that are available. But everyone should check a number of sites just to be sure of the prices.
Some of it might be when the prices were set. The price in equivalent dollars is more or less depending on the exchange rate when the price was set by RailEurope. The conversion rate today is $1.356/Eur, which makes Renfe's prices today 4% lower. It is certainly not true in Germany. RailEurope's prices are much higher than German Rail. Comparing standard fare to RailEurope price, any ICE from Frankfurt to Munich is €91 from the Bahn ($124.32). RE charges $150 for the same trains. RE shows one connection at $138, but that is for a slower EC, for which the Bahn charges €73 ($99.73). If you can commit in advance, Frankfurt to Munich is only €29 (€31.5, $43 with reservation) To add insult to injury, the Bahn charges the same $124 to Munich from either Frankfurt Hbf or FRA Fernbahnhof. RailEurope charges $181 for that same trip from the airport. RailEurope only gives you the choice of the most expensive connections. By regional train, using an RMV point-point ticket to Kahl, at €7,30/P, and spliting a €29 Bayern-Ticket from Kahl to Munich, the fare is less than $30/P.
They should always be an option. But people have to do their homework and find the best deal for them, which may not always be the lowest price. Ease and familiarity also play a factor which is often discounted by some posters here that are far more experienced than the average tourist. That the renfe site is so difficult to make work for US credit cards is one factor in RailEurope's favor. That RailEurope seems to have fewer schedule options available, especially with transfers, is a factor against them.
As I said already, my comments refer specifically to Spain, not Germany. I know RE is not a good option for tickets in Germany. And I should put this in context. The regular fare for the AVE between Barcelona and Madrid is 117 euros. The Web fare of 47 euros (60% off) is available only on the internet, and there are a limited number of seats, so they sell out quickly when they first go on sale, 62 days in advance. People are really anxious to get them and save 70 euros per ticket. But US credit cards (and maybe Canadian) do not work well on Renfe. People report spending hours trying to get the purchase to go through, without success. If you call Renfe, they will say they don't take American credit cards, but that is not true, as some of us have managed to work it out. tbc. . .
For those who can't buy on Renfe, their only option to get the discount is to buy from a travel agency, such as Rumbo.es. Now RailEurope is offering the discounted Web fares as well, at the same price as Renfe. Yes, it may vary a bit due to fluctuations in the euro, which has dropped in the past few days. (My 1.41 is a few days old.) A difference of a few percent would be offset by the FTF's one would likely have to pay if buying from Renfe or Rumbo.es. RE charges in dollars so you avoid the FTF's. I don't agree this was a decision driven by competetive fever, as very few in the US know about Rumbo.es (the train purchase area is only in Spanish). And Renfe is not a competitor because it is not a viable option for most US travelers. As far as the handling fee, the RE charge for e-tickets ($7.95) is equivalent to or less than that charged by Rumbo.es. And it is a small price to pay for avoiding hours of frustration trying to book on Renfe. I value my time much higher than that, and I assume others do as well. My point is simply that I don't think it is good advice to say "avoid RE" as I have seen so many times here. Check around and compare; and don't write off RE.
Why is someone trying so hard to convince us that RE are the good guys after so many years of charging premium prices and delivery fees? Is there a vested interest? Always should check all sources but I rarely start with RE.
Not trying to convince anyone of anything, I just think the information given out here should be accurate if it is to be helpful, especially to first-time travelers. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that RE actually passes on the 60% Web discounts in Renfe tickets where they are available. This is contrary to what I have read here MANY times, and I would have continued to believe that RE was not a good option for Renfe tickets had someone not posted their own experience on Tripadvisor. A couple of people here have chips on their shoulders when it comes to Rail Europe. And all too many times I have seen blanket warnings to stay away from RE, given by lots of long-time posters here. That is not always the best advice, at least not when it comes to buying the discounted AVE tickets in Spain, if the traveler cannot buy from Renfe.
"Check around and compare; and don't write off RE" You might have found one county where RailEurope is competitive with national rail prices, but it is not the norm. I just did a comprehensive study of fares on popular routes in 7 western European counties (DE, NE, BE, AT, CH, IT, FR). RailEurope prices were 43% higher than the national railroad's, and that only compared standard fares. In Germany, for instance, RailEurope's prices were 5 times higher than savings fares. So, overall, the statement stands, based on 7 out of 8 countries, you should avoid RailEurope.
Lola, I hear what your saying. I have recently purchased a few tickets from RailEurope for my upcoming trip to Spain. After looking at Trip Advisors 99 tips for buying tickets from Renfe and trying numerous times to get my purchase from Rumbo to go through I found the RE site a good choice for tickets to Spain. I wanted to have my tickets in hand for a trip from Madrid to Toledo and had no problem through RE. The price for this shorter distance trip was a bit higher than Renfe and similar to Rumbo's.
How many times do I have to tell you I am only talking about Spain???? Lee, I am sure your calculations are correct, but they are based on skewed data. Bahn.de offers deep discounts which are not a available anywhere else. You don't say when you did your survey, and I see you have not included Spain. As for Italy , you surely remember the discussion we had more than a year ago, when I showed that RE prices for tickets were comparable to the regular ( not discounted) prices shown on Trenitalia ( but not easily available to US purchasers at that time.). Things have since changed, and it is now easier for US clients to purchase on Trenitalia. It is easy for you to prove your point by using the deep discount prices from Bahn.de. My point is that the deep discounts on Renfe are also available from RE. Frank, it is pretty silly to accuse someone of having a " vested interest" in this big multi-national corporation, simply because she pointed out facts which challenged some aspects of your opinion about RE. If anyone has a vested interest, it is you, vested in your own opinion. My only interest is in accuracy. If this website is go be useful, people have to be open to changing their advice based on new information.
Too many people here only consider price. As I said before, for MANY people cost is not the ONLY issue to consider. Most of us here are very experienced travelers and know how and are willing to take the time to research and to figure out which website and which deal is the best. We love the planning almost as much as the travel itself. But many people just want to get their reservations quickly and easily and RailEurope is a way to satisfy that need. This seems especially true for Spain given how difficult renfe's website is. And while getting discounts for early reservations is great for some people, for many that isn't an option. So yes we should give people options and let them know of advantages over RailEurope. But outright dismissal of their services is not warranted.
Rail Europe is a great resource for planning, although not the most comprehensive. If I do all my research and come up with say 10 different options, RE may have 1 or 2 at most that are acceptable. Put it this way, I priced everything that my partner and I needed on RE for around $1150 and then located point to point tickets for around $675 to satisfy our itinerary. Yes, RE is convenient, quick, one stop shopping but how can anyone justify the price difference? I'll spend the extra hour or two on research and save a lot of $$$$.
"How many times do I have to tell you I am only talking about Spain????" You can't talk just about Spain. Spain is only 15% of the population of continental western Europe. And for the other 85%, the principle holds, don't use RailEurope. To say that R/E is a good place to go, based on one country, when it's a total ripoff in most of the rest, is very misleading. I made the survey yesterday afternoon, and I didn't include Spain because I was comparing it to the rest of Europe. My result aren't "skewed". It's not just because German Rail gives deep discounts for advance purchase, although that is certainly an issue. It's also true for full fare. For full fare, from Frankfurt Hbf to Munich Hbf, RailEurope sells train specific tickets with restricted refundability and a high (22%) return penalty for $168, including shipping (there is no "print at home" option). The same tickets, with reservation, can be purchase at a counter in Germany for $129.02 (at todays exch rate), $38 less. If you are willing to go without reservation, you have the option with German Rail, for $122.95. For $126.32, you can get that ticket, with reservation from Bahn.de or a Bahn automat. Note: these are fully refundable, non-train-specific tickets. You can use them for any ICE to Munich after the validity date. After the validity date, you can refund them less €15. As for Bahn discount tickets, if you are willing to commit to a specific train and purchase in advance, which is what you are doing with RailEurope anyway, you can get that ICE from Frankfurt to Munich for €31,50 (€42.56 today). And if you change your mind, the penalty for cancelling up to the day before is €15.
Perhaps if the title had read - RailEurope prices for Spain too high a myth? then we would not be having this discussion since that is probably truthful or close to it.
Of course you can just talk about Spain. Lola's point was that, for Spain, the line that RailEurope is more expensive than other options is wrong. Her entire OP was directed at Spanish trains only. And since we get numerous threads about the difficulties buying tickets on renfe's website, why wouldn't this be good information?
I think Lee has a vested interest in Bahn.de
My very first line said I was only talking about Spain, and put my comments in context. You guys put your own slant on it. But I give up; you win. Who wants to go to Spain anyway? It is full of people who can't pronounce Spanish properly, eat dinner impossibly late, and serve inexpensive wines with names no one ever heard of. And it is crammed with so many Roman ruins, Moorish palaces, historic cathedrals, and world-class art museums there is no time to relax. The countryside is full of olive trees and the beaches full of Brits and Germans. And the food is really weird---they don't even know what a tortilla is. And who wants to eat all that seafood? Give me a good Wienerschnitzel every time.
BTW, Douglas, I have to differ with you about the ease of using R/E vs the Bahn. R/E requires the exact (English mispelling) of the town names whereas Rail Europe has an "ignorance algorithm that allows various mispellings and non-english spellings of names. For instance Koln, Koeln, Keulen (Dutch spelling) are all acceptable spelling of what R/E only accepts as "Cologne". Second, R/E has a very limited list of destinations and connections. In 2008, I went from Walkenried to Karlsruhe. I had no problem finding a Sparpeis fare (€29) for Walkenried to Karlsruhe on the Bahn website. RailEurope does not recognize Walkenried. The regional train went from Walkenried to Northeim, then to Karlsruhe. When put in Northeim to Karlsruhe, it recognised Northeim, but couldn't find a connection. So, here is a case where RailEurope is totally ineffective at finding the proper rail connection.
I still say you used a skewed sample, as you rely heavily on Bahn.de. Those are all the price comparisons you have offered. What about Italy? RS sells tickets on the ES (Freccia) trains for the same price as Trenitalia, for each route I have checked. They do not offer the mini fares but those are not always available on Trenitalia either. And I do not see where you have considered FTF's, which can increase the price of purchasing a ticket in euros from 1% to 3%, depending on one's credit card. Do you think everyone has a card with no FTFs?
Lee I think you have made your point - about Germany. Can we widen our horizons? The porpoise of this Helpline is to help newbies, mostly. If there are advantages that we can point them to in various bits of the continent, isn't that good? I'll always defer to you for German trains, but others also know about beyond the borders. Let's let them have a go?
"BTW, Douglas, I have to differ with you about the ease of using R/E vs the Bahn." I never compared RailEurope with Bahn. I was comparing it to renfe, which is notorious for its difficulty, even just to check on schedules. And again you discussed Germany when Lola is trying to discuss Spain. No one here is arguing that RailEurope is the way to go for trains in Germany. And it has been mentioned many times by all of us that RailEurope has its limitations, like limited schedules.
At risk of having James tell me I need to get a life, I looked up some prices and schedules other than Germany. For Italy, prices and schedules for the ES trains between Florence and Milan were the same on Trenitalia and RailEurope, within a couple of percent. As Lola pointed out, a few percentage points can be offset by paying in dollars on RailEurope so no foreign transaction fees are incurred. For France and Austria, the difference was dramatic- a huge markup by RE. Paris to Lyon by TGV was 66,50 on SCNF, $127 on RE. Those are regular prices on SCNF and there were discounts available on some trains. For Innsbruck to Vienna, OEBB has a regular fare of 58,30 euro but lots of trains had seats left at the discounted price of 19 euros. RE charges $119. So it appears that RE could be a good option for Spain and Italy, not for France or Austria. I did not check cross-border tickets. At any rate, I agree that the statement that RE overcharges is way too broad. It depends on what country you are talking about. (doesn't the French rail system own most of RE???) And if Frank wants to pull out his oft-used point that RE does not show complete schedules, which I saw recently on a post about Spain tickets, I checked on that too. Between Madrid and Barcelona, RE showed every AVE train that Renfe did, all 20-something of them. So as a general statement, that is not accurate.
I really don't get this big hoopla. If you buy anything over a certain $ amount, it's good to check 3-4 different sources. It doesn't cost a dime to check RE prices. You probably won't buy there if you check around, as it's often overpriced and normally no cheaper than its competitors, but you never know for sure unless you check, and their price will usually make you feel better about the price you pay when you finally decide on one of RE's competitors.
The hoopla, as you call it, was unnecessary. I started this discussion simply to point out that the usual advice to avoid RailEurope is not good advice for Spain. I wanted the experts and the first-time travelers to Spain to know that the coveted Web fares are available on RE, so it is a viable option for those who cannot purchase on Renfe. Instead of acknowledging that this might be helpful, some people took issue with my title ( which I have duly changed) and turned it into a staunch defense of their entrenched opinions, based on OTHER countries. Those figures are irrelevant to the topic. I was even accused of having a vested interest in RailEurope, which is both laughable and offensive. I would cry " argumentum ad hominem" but I don 't know how to change the gender of the object to female.
I always tell people the only reason to purchase tickets in advance is to get a better price (as in advance purchase discount tickets). I always purchase my tickets just before travel at the station. Only once would it have been nice to have had advance reservations, on a holiday, but that day I was arriving at FRA on a flight from the US and could not have predicted the arrival time. However, there were plenty of unreserved seats on the train. I could have bought reservations when I bought the tickets, if I had known. In 10 years of travel in German/Austria only once have I ever purchased tickets in advance of going. That was Sparpreis tickets from Cochem to Bad Harzburg and Walkenried to Karlsruhe in 2009. In that case, today the discount tickets would cost $87.80, yes, including 3% FTF. The price on Rail Europe would be been $459.88 (including a VSN ticket for the part not sold by RE). The Bahn counter price it would still have been only $261.96.