For travelers well used to booking their European rail tickets months in advance, this time of the year can be frustrating. Following the general precept that many train tickets can be booked three months in advance, you’d have every reason to expect that tickets for Christmas and early January are just now becoming available.
New schedules from December 9
But they are not — at least in many cases. We are in the season when the standard three month advance booking horizon is often curtailed. That’s because many rail operators launch new schedules on December 9 and, until such time as those new timetables are finalized and opened for booking, trains beyond the changeover date remain veiled in secrecy. Imagine all those empty seats, entire empty trains, hidden away in the recesses of reservation systems, but not yet available to book.
When can I book?
Worry not! If you cannot book those Christmas and New Year trains, nobody else can either. It is just a question of patience, and before long all will be revealed. In fact this next week or two will see bookings open in some major markets.
France: For example, bookings for most French domestic services (for travel from December 9) will open next week. October 11 is the start date — bookings open in the early hours of the morning (European time).
Germany: Then just a few days later, Germany follows suit. Bookings for German domestic routes (as well as for many DB international daytime services and all City Night Line overnight trains to, from, or through Germany) will kick off on October 16, again in the wee small hours of the morning.
Spain, Italy, Switzerland and more: Expect bookings for other major European rail operators (such as RENFE, Trenitalia, ÖBB, SBB / CFF and PKP Inter City) to open sometime between mid-October and mid-November. Of course you can already book tickets and seats as normal for journeys up to and including December 8. It is merely those itineraries covered by the new schedules from December 9 that are not yet available for booking.
European Rail News last week published an overview of likely start dates for bookings for journeys on and after December 9.
There are always a handful of operators who beat the main pack away from the starting gate. Tickets are already on sale for the new timetable period for selected train companies (and that includes the full Christmas and the New Year period). Some services already available for booking include:
- All direct Eurostar services (viz. from London to Brussels, Paris and other destinations in France — including of course Eurostar’s popular ski trains)
- Eurostar tickets to “any Belgian station” (ie. routed via Brussels then onward with SNCB domestic services)
- All Thalys services (for example from Paris to Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne and Essen)
- Domestic NSB services in Norway
- Domestic SJ services in Sweden
- International services on the route from Sweden to Narvik in northern Norway
- Direct ski trains operated under the Schnee Express or Alpen Expres brands from the Netherlands and northern Germany to Austria
- Daytime services operated by private operator HKX on the Cologne to Hamburg route