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When Should You Buy Train Tickets in Europe? The three-month rule

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Thalys Gare du Nord Paris
Disembarking a Thalys in Paris' Gare du Nord. Photo: Erwyn Van der Meer

Yes, the weather may still be wintry in New York and Nice, but now is the time to start planning spring and summer 2011 travels around Europe. Many European railway administrations operate on a three-month advance booking horizon, so services on lots of French, German, Italian and Spanish trains (by way of example) are now bookable through mid-May.

Remember, of course, that local and regional train services are often bookable but not reservable. So, although you can book tickets, you’ll not be able to reserve a seat.

The three-month-rule

There are minor variations in how that three-month-rule is interpreted. For Thalys train services, linking Brussels with Amsterdam, Cologne and Paris, tickets become available three months to the day before travel. For bookings on the Deutsche Bahn website, each new day’s wave of bookings is released at midnight (Central European Time), 92 days before travel.

Eurostar services: Four months ahead

For services linking London with Lille, Paris and Brussels, Eurostar accepts online bookings four months in advance of travel. But if you want to use Eurostar’s direct services from London to Avignon in the south of France, you’ll find that Eurostar is already accepting telephone bookings for journeys up to September 10, 2011.

Looking east

For journeys to and from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, trains are usually bookable 60 days in advance, although we have noted that for journeys within those countries, the forward booking window may be only six weeks.

Finland works on a sixty-day-rule for services into Russia but domestic trains may be bookable longer in advance. For example, they are presently accepting bookings thru late April. Finland is unusual in that its online booking system closes down at night.

Early birds get the deals

Remember that for long-distance trains in Europe, it really pays to book just as soon as you can firm up your plans after bookings open. That one-way fare from Salzburg to Amsterdam for just €39 may be there for the taking 92 days in advance, but a week later may have crept up to €69. Leave booking till just one month prior to travel and you may have to pay €99 for the same journey. Early birds get the best deals.

Rail pass options

Interested in seeing a full list of rail pass options? Visit our booking partner, Rail Europe, to compare rates, destinations covered and see their latest promotions.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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