How early should you buy European train tickets? Here’s the data

MunichTrainStation400Shopping for train tickets in Europe was very easy only a few years ago, because fares were typically the same no matter when you bought them. But now all the national rail companies have pricing schemes exactly like low-cost airlines in that they start low and keep rising as the journey draws near.

Complain all you want about the higher prices for buying on short notice, but fares for those who book at least a month or two in advance are now actually quite a bit lower than they used to be. In other words, train travel around Europe is now very cheap for those who can lock every (non-refundable) trip long in advance, and yet it’s extremely expensive for someone buying tickets on the actual travel day.

Buy early, but just how early?

GalwayTrainThis site gets questions almost every day from people who are considering whether a Eurail Pass is good value for them. The common response lately is that the absolute cheapest way to get around Europe is to buy all your train tickets well in advance. After typing that advice several dozen times, I decided to actually run the data and see just how early you need to buy to get those cheap tickets.

The answer can vary based on the route, so it’s worth scanning the data below of some of the most popular rail routes in Europe. Generally speaking, buying one week in advance is a pretty big break compared to buying on travel day or the day before, and buying a month in advance is usually a pretty big discount off that. Here is more discussion of if you should buy Europe train tickets in advance.

How the test below was done

In late March, I checked fares on the official rail websites for each country for each route. The “today” fares are actually fares for the following day, researched late in the evening (Europe time). The 7-day, 30-day, and 90-day fares are all for the same day of the week to keep it consistent. Depending on route, certain days (Mondays, Fridays, Sundays) can sell out much earlier than other days.

So should you buy a Eurail Pass or individual train tickets?

InnsbruckTrainThe information below should help people make a quicker and more accurate decision on whether a Europe rail pass is good value for them or not. Most rail passes are such that a travel day can cost as little as US$30 or as much as US$100 (or more, for 1st Class passes).

You’ll see below that many of these routes can cost €100 (US$135) or even more if you buy them on travel day, so if you want to make your plans as you go, a Eurail Pass is going to save you a lot. But if you can reserve all of your train trips at least a month in advance, that’s usually cheaper than a rail pass.

>>>Eurail Pass information and help

Fares on popular European train routes, with early booking

All fares below are in Euros (about US$1.35 to €1)
All fares are for 2nd Class travel on all routes.

London to Paris

  • Duration: 2:20
  • Today: €177
  • One-week early: €112
  • One-month early: €93
  • Three months early: €49

The above fares are for the Eurostar train service for a one-way journey. Promotional fares for round-trip journeys are sometimes available, and can actually be cheaper than one-way, so it’s worth checking.

This one had the steepest fare differences depending on how early you buy, so buy Eurostar tickets as early as possible.

Paris to Nice

  • Duration: 5:40
  • Today: €95
  • One-week early: €76
  • One-month early: €66
  • Three months early: €43

Note: On this search, a €54 fare was available on travel day, but only for the train that arrives at 23:26 (just before midnight).

Paris to Brussels

  • Duration: 1:25
  • Today: €99
  • One-week early: €70
  • One-month early: €58
  • Three months early: €22

Paris to Amsterdam

  • Duration: 3:20
  • Today: €129
  • One-week early: €121
  • One-month early: €78
  • Three months early: €35

Amsterdam to Berlin

  • Duration: 6:10
  • Today: €116
  • One-week early: €89
  • One-month early: €59
  • Three months early: €59

Nice to Milan

  • Duration: 5:00
  • Today: €37
  • One-week early: €37
  • One-month early: €37
  • Three months early: €37

Note: The same €37 fare was found on all searches so it might be a low-season promotion. Fares during peak summer travel season could be higher, possibly much higher.

Madrid to Barcelona

  • Duration: 3:10
  • Today: €106
  • One-week early: €49
  • One-month early: €49
  • Three months early: €44

Note: A €41 fare was still available on travel day, but only on the slow train that takes 9 hours between Madrid and Barcelona.

Venice to Florence

  • Duration: 1:53
  • Today: €45
  • One-week early: €29
  • One-month early: €22.50
  • Three months early: €19

Florence to Rome

  • Duration: 1:31
  • Today: €43
  • One-week early: €29
  • One-month early: €29
  • Three months early: €19

Berlin to Prague

  • Duration: 4:46
  • Today: €67
  • One-week early: €39
  • One-month early: €39
  • Three months early: €39

Berlin to Munich

  • Duration: 6:05
  • Today: €130
  • One-week early: €99
  • One-month early: €89
  • Three months early: €69

Munich to Vienna

  • Duration: 4:12
  • Today: €87
  • One-week early: €49
  • One-month early: €39
  • Three months early: €39

Munich to Zurich

  • Duration: 3:42
  • Today: €29
  • One-week early: €19
  • One-month early: €19
  • Three months early: €19

Note: These fares were all lower than expected, so there might be a promotion in place.

Copenhagen to Stockholm

  • Duration: 5:11
  • Today: €48
  • One-week early: €39
  • One-month early: €33
  • Three months early: €22

Note: The fares researched were for the low season. High-season (summer) fares might be much higher.

Stockholm to Oslo

  • Duration: 5:50
  • Today: €39
  • One-week early: €32
  • One-month early: €22
  • Three months early: €22

Note: The fares researched were for the low season. High-season (summer) fares might be much higher.

Important note about advanced fares on European trains

HaltingenTrainStationThe test above was run to get sample data and it does NOT mean that these fares will be available at these prices when you go to book. Virtually all European train fares start out at the same low price when they first go on sale 3 to 6 months early, and the fares go up as more tickets are purchased.

If you go in the summer high season you might find that early fares are even higher due to peak demand. Or you might find during low season that the Today fares are lower because the trains are still half empty. The fares above are just to show examples of how fares go up as the travel day approaches.



One Response to “How early should you buy European train tickets? Here’s the data”

Hello! Wanted to say a big THANK YOU for this website. It has been extremely helpful for us in deciding whether or not to purchase Eurail passes for our upcoming backpacking trip.
And there are a ton of other helpful looking articles on here that I am eager to read on traveling too.
Thanks again!!!

 

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