When do European train bookings open? (2024)

A reality check

  • Parable of the Milk: An American rushes into a supermarket in February, desperate to buy milk for his Big European Adventure in October. To his horror, he finds no milk with a use-by date in October, in fact no date beyond March. In a panic, he emails The Man in Supermarket 61...

    The Man in Supermarket 61 patiently replies that Europeans buy milk as part of their daily lives, days or weeks ahead, not months. No, the supermarket isn't discontinuing milk from March. No, the milk won't all sell out if he waits until September.

    In Europe we use trains for everyday activities such as shopping, business meetings or visiting Granny. So European trains open for booking 2, 3, 4 or 6 months ahead, depending on route and operator. It pays to book ahead to get cheaper fares, but no-one can book before reservations open. European trains seldom get full (Nightjet sleeper trains & Spanish high-speed trains are exceptions), getting a seat isn't usually a problem.

  • The single biggest reason people have problems booking European trains is that they look too far ahead, before booking opens.

  • The next biggest reason is trackwork: Even when booking should be open, if the train you want is missing or Ticket not available, just wait! The timetable has not been confirmed because of trackwork, sales will usually open later. Unfortunately, it's impossible to tell if booking will open late (perhaps with train re-timed) or it will be cancelled. With 4 months to go, 90% chance it's the former. With less than a month to go, 90% chance the latter. .

  • The next biggest reason is the December timetable change, when all booking horizons shrink, affecting bookings for Christmas & New Year. For example, bookings for France, Germany, Austria between mid-December & early January typically open in mid-October.See tip 1.

  • The next biggest reason is problems at the extremity of the booking horizon when it looks open because prices appear, but seat reservation inventory isn't loaded so the booking fails. Happens at lot where DB (German Railways) have loaded fares to Copenhagen or Vienna or Warsaw, but seat reservations must be sourced from the partner railway who haven't loaded seat reservations yet. Wait a few days!!

  • And some trains open later than others: For example, most Italian trains may appear open for booking, but the sleepers to Sicily are missing. Those sleepers always get loaded last, well after most other trains. FrenchIntercités de nuit are in this category too. Just wait!

  • Don't assume that the booking horizon for a particular operator is exact or constant. It often varies!

  • Ticketnot available or a crossed-out shopping trolley only means sold out if we're talking tomorrow or next week, if it's 2+ months ahead you can be 99% certain it means Not yet open for sale, please wait!

Trains which open 6 months ahead

  • Eurostar (London-Paris/Brussels/Amsterdam,see the Eurostar page) opens up to 6 months ahead.

    In fact, Eurostar can open up to 330 days ahead, but don't be impatient: If you look more than 6 months ahead the data is often incomplete, a few departures may be missing or on certain dates no trains at all show up. These missing trains almost always appear later, if you look again 2 or 3 or 4 months ahead. Basically, I don't trust the data until much closer to departure date, meaning well under 6 months.

    Tip: If you're going beyond Paris or Brussels, I'd wait until your onward trains open for booking so you can check they're running as expected before buying a non-refundableEurostar ticket. Unless you're prepared to take a calculated risk...

  • In France,TGV-Lyria Paris-Switzerland,TGV Paris-Barcelona &TGV Paris-Milan open up to 6 months ahead, but often less than this. Dates after the mid-December timetable change (including Christmas & New Year) usually open in mid-October.

    Ouigo lo-cost trains open 2-9 months ahead, so if you look too far ahead you'll only see 2 trains a day Paris-Nice, no, the other ones haven't all been cancelled, it's just that only the 2-per-day lo-cost one-class-only no-catering Ouigo trains are yet loaded.

  • German Railways (DB,int.bahn.de) open bookings up to 6 months ahead, including most international trains in both directions between Germany and Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Copenhagen, Prague, Bratislava, Budapest.

    Exception: Bookings to or from Poland only open 60 days ahead, because seat reservation is compulsory on the Berlin-Poland EuroCity trains, reservations are held on the Polish Railways system, and Polish Railways only load reservations 60 days ahead. And a booking attempt made 60, 59 or 58 days ahead may still fail if the Poles are a day or two late loading reservations!

    When it'll sell a ticket but won't add a seat reservation: For some inwards international journeys, for example Prague to Berlin, you'll find thatint.bahn.de will sell you a ticket 6 months ahead, but it can't provide an optional seat reservation to go with it as this has to be sourced from the partner railway's reservation system which still only opens bookings 2 or 3 months ahead. In this case, buy the cheap ticket without a reservation, make an optional seat reservation later if you want one.

  • Austrian Railways (ÖBB,www.oebb.at) open bookings up to 6 months ahead, including international trains and their Nightjet sleeper trains.

    However, for international routes to/from Austria it depends on their partner railway.

    ÖBB's Paris-Vienna, Brussels-Vienna & Amsterdam-Vienna Nightjet sleepers may only open for booking 2-4 months ahead.

Trains which open 4 months ahead

  • French Railways (SNCF, www.sncf-connect.com) open domesticTGV & Intercité bookings up to 4 months ahead, although regional TER trains open 3-5 months ahead.Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam/Cologne Eurostar (formerly Thalys) trains open up to 4 months ahead.

    Over the summer, booking horizons get longer:SNCF open bookings in blocks, in 2024 they opened sales on 24 January for travel until 22 May, on 7 March for travel 23 May to 5 July, on 13 March for 6 July to 11 September. If you Google SNCF ticket sales opening you'll find the page onwww.sncf-connect.com where they give the current sales opening dates.

    For Christmas & New Year horizons get shorter: Dates immediately after the mid-December timetable change usually open in mid-October.

    Intercité de nuit overnight trains should open for sale 4 months ahead, but as they're more difficult to timetable around overnight trackwork they often open for sale late, sometimes only 2 or 3 months ahead, occasionally as little as 1 month.

  • Italian Railways (Trenitalia, www.trenitalia.com) usually open 4 months ahead, although they've been trying to extend this to 6 months.

    Trenitalia loads trains in blocks, prioritising popular trains & routes, so if for example you find all trains before midday mysteriously missing from the search results especially after a timetable change, no they haven't all been cancelled!

    Trenitalia's Intercity trains are usually loaded after their high-speed trains and the Intercity trains to Sicily often appear later. Intercity Notte sleeper trains are usually the last to be loaded, often well under 4 months. The epic Milan-Sicily sleeper train tends to appear last of all, sometimes less than 2 months ahead - so DON'T WORRY if the intercity to Sicily or ICN sleeper train you want is still missing from the search results less than 4 months ahead but other trains are there. It's not cancelled, just WAIT!

Trains which open 3 months ahead

  • Czech Railways (CD, www.cd.cz) open bookings for some international trains 3 months ahead. It's worth mentioning that if a train is jointly run by the Czech and the Germans or Austrians (for example Prague-Berlin or Prague-Vienna), you'll usually find it open for booking 6 months ahead on the German or Austrian railway websites, but it won't open for sale on the Czech Railways website until 3 months ahead.

  • Hungarian Railways (MAV,www.mavcsoport.hu) now open many routes up to 3 months ahead. But BEWARE, being impatient could cost you a lot of money: They appear to open some routes 6 months ahead, but with only expensive fully-flexible standard fares showing up in the search results. Cheap advance-purchase fares are only loaded 3 months or less before departure, there's no rush, many of these remain available weeks or even just days before departure. If every single Budapest-Vienna train is shown as €54, WAIT! Booking is only open when you see €13 on this train, €29 on that train, €24 on another train, clearly showing that dynamic advance-purchase fares have been loaded and reservations opened.

Trains which open 2 months ahead

  • Swiss Railways (SBB,www.sbb.ch) only open sales for Swiss domestic tickets 60 days ahead. You'll find cheap Supersaver fares for longer Swiss journeys, you can only book these 60 days or less before travel - I said it doesn't pay to be impatient!

  • Spanish Railways (Renfe,www.renfe.com) typically opens 60 days ahead, but Renfe's booking horizon varies erratically, as little as 30 days one month and 90 days the next. They load blocks of dates & trains at a time, and load some trains before others. People ask me why there is only 1 train a day from Madrid to Santander 50 days out, so once again I tell them to WAIT! Reality check: In 2023, Madrid-San Sebastian trains for dates after 22 July only opened on 7 July. Yet on routes where they now have competition, they manage to open up to 11 months ahead. Funny, that!

  • Portugal, Slovakia, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria still only open ticket sales 60 days ahead. However, the Czech Railways open bookings 90 days ahead on key international routes. Poland in fact opens reservations for domestic trains only 30 days ahead, but cross-border trains such as Warsaw-Berlin open 60 days ahead.

  • Ukrainian trains still only open 45 days ahead, but Russian trains now open 60 or sometimes 90 days ahead.

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Tip 1, the December timetable change

  • All European railways change their timetables at 24:00 on the 2nd Saturday in December.

    Operators never maintain their usual booking horizons for dates after the timetable change.

    This is the Big Annual Timetable Change. There's a minor change on the 2nd Saturday in June, but the December one is the Big One.

    So you can easily look up trains on (say) 9 December, but if you try to look up trains on 10 December you'll find no trains show up until much closer to departure date. Or you'll find some trains are loaded but others aren't. Or trains are shown but won't book properly. Whatever. It's all to do with the Big Timetable Change. Got it? Just be patient!

  • French, German & Austrian railways (SNCF, DB, ÖBB) usually open bookings for dates after the mid-December timetable change in mid-October, so the normal 90 days shrinks to 60. And even then, the French only load data until the beginning of January, there's another delay before dates later in January are loaded.

    Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian, Polish, Slovakian, Czech & Bulgarian railways usually don't open bookings for dates after the mid-December timetable change until late November or even early December, so the 60 or 90 days shrinks to as little as 10.

    For places such as Turkey or Lithuania, you're lucky if the timetable data is loaded the day before the new timetable starts.

  • But don't worry, no-one else can book either. The train won't sell out, you'll still see cheap tickets when booking opens. Just wait!!!

Tip 2,train missing or Ticket not available

  • Suppose booking should be open for the date you want, but the train you want is missing from the search results or shown as Ticket not available, or no trains at all appear. But it shows up on dates before and after your date. What's going on?

  • It's almost always engineering work. The infrastructure operator hasn't confirmed the timetable so the train operator can't open booking for those specific dates, even if dates before & after are open. It may affect just one day, several days, random days, or longer.

    It may also be because your train is an overnight sleeper, with overnight trackwork making these more difficult to timetable. So Italian and French sleeper trains may open for bookings after other trains are all open for booking, for example.

  • Will your train appear in due course, or is it definitively cancelled? You can't tell, and even the operator may not know!

    3+ months ahead, I'd say an 85% chance of appearing in due course, with or without an amended timetable. Just wait a bit...

    If it's still missing 2 months ahead, it's looking odds-on that they won't run, but it's still possible they'll open for sale very shortly.

    If it's still missing 1 month before travel it's pretty certain that it won't run. Find an alternative train or route, if you haven't already.

  • The only option is to ask the operator, either by email, phone or (often quickest) a direct message on Twitter.

Tip 3, known problem trains

  • Renfe in Spain is a known problem, they simply can't maintain a sensible booking horizon. One minute they have bookings open 3 months ahead, then suddenly they're barely opening bookings 30 days ahead. Worse, some trains appear in the search results whilst others don't, the missing trains will normally appear later.

  • Trenitalia in Italy opens 4 months ahead, in fact they've been trying to extend this to 6 months, but occasionally the horizon drops to only 2 months or so. Trenitalia does not load all the trains at the same time: I've seen regional trains appear while high-speed trains are missing. I've seen high-speed trains appear, but sleeper trains to Sicily (for example) not appear in the data until later. I've even known a period when all the afternoon trains were loaded, but not the morning ones. I've known Rome-Sicily sleepers to be open for booking, but the Milan-Sicily sleeper not appear in any search results until well under 2 months before departure.

  • Trains to or from countries such as Poland, Slovenia or Croatia may open late, even if you're looking on a website such as oebb.at or bahn.de which normally opens bookings 6 months ahead, because of delays in timetable finalisation or reservation data loading by the rail operator in question.

Tip 4, sign up to a booking alert at Raileurope.com

  • If your journey is to, from, within or between London, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Benelux you can run an enquiry at www.raileurope.com and if booking isn't yet open they'll offer to take your email address and let you when it opens. Raileurope.com have a clever system to check when key routes actually open for booking using their connectivity to the various systems - they don't just rely on the usual number of days. It's well worth a try!

Tip 5, book your accommodation first, risk-free

  • When train booking isn't yet open people often say to me, "But I need to book my accommodation!". Well, go ahead. You can usually book accommodation atwww.booking.com with free cancellation at any time up to 24 hours before your stay. I often book hotels atwww.booking.com even before I book my train tickets, then I sometimes change the bookings if I revise my route or find a more interesting hotel after more research. It's so not a problem!

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When do European train bookings open? (2024)
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