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How to Book First Class European Train Tickets For Less Than Economy

If you’ve traveled by train in Europe and purchased either a RailPass or point to point tickets on a site like RailEurope then you paid too much–probably way too much.

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Have a Picnic in First Class on the Cheap – OBB Austrian Train

The first time I was planning an extended trip in Europe I read a number of mainstream travel articles that advised me to price out all the trips I wanted to take on RailEurope, compare that to a RailPass covering those routes and then purchase the cheaper option. The point to point tickets were cheaper, so I bought those–for what seemed like a reasonable price–and patted myself on the back for going with the more cost effective option.

The only problem was that, just as in the case with articles about flights and hotels, “mainstream” articles about trains give readers ridiculously horrible advice.

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First Class Club Duo – Trenitalia Italian Train

Generally, big sites like RailEurope are outrageously overpriced for two reasons. First, they are essentially reselling you tickets they bought from other companies, so they charge a commission. Secondly, and this is the really important one, for most routes they can ONLY SELL FULL FARE TICKETS which can sometimes cost 3 to 4 times as much as the lowest fares which can be booked directly with the company operating the train.

For the most part, full fare tickets can be changed or cancelled for a refund, while discount tickets are non-refundable. That benefit hardly justifies paying 3 to 4 times the discount rate.

For example, on a recent train trip from Austria to Hungary full fare Second Class tickets were about $140 per person, while non-refundable First Class tickets were less than $50.

So, by booking non-refundable tickets directly on the train company’s website we ended up with a First Class table for two–and First Class Lounge Access–for about a third of the price of a (smallish) Second Class seat booked on a large site like RailEurope.

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BYOB – TGV French Train

It might sound confusing booking your tickets directly with each train operator, rather than with one ticket reseller but it’s actually quite simple and you’ll save a lot of money. Luckily, there is a fantastic online resource with step-by-step instructions on how to get the best rates for each route. It’s called The Man in Seat 61 (seat 61 is his preferred seat in First Class on the Eurostar from London to Paris) and is the most comprehensive resource for train information in Europe. I’ve also used information on the website to book trains in Asia, Africa, and Australia.

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First Class Lounge

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Access in Complimentary with Certain Tickets

So remember:
-Book your tickets directly for discount rates
-Seat 61 is the best resource to use to figure out which website to use to book directly
-Consider Booking First Class: It’s a bit more comfortable and often costs just a little extra
-If you’re a couple traveling in First Class try to book a “Club Duo” it’s a table for two in front of a large picture window–a wonderful way to travel
-Bring a Picnic: You can bring your own food and drink onboard so don’t be shy about bringing a bottle of wine and something to eat
-Take advantage of First Class Lounge Access: Some train stations offer lounges for First Class passengers–a quiet room with comfy seats and wi-fi, as well as free snacks and drinks while you wait for your train

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