Understanding Seat Reservations
What’s the difference between a seat reservation and a train ticket?
A train ticket and a reservation are two different things, although they are related.
A train ticket is a travel document that allows you to board a train for a journey, but does not necessarily guarantees an accommodation (seat/sleeper) assigned to you on board. A reservation guarantees you a specific accommodation on a specific train.
In many cases, train tickets are issued as combined ticket and reservation: you receive one travel document that indicates the specific train and seat assignment. This is the case for most high speed trains such as Eurostar, Thalys and TGV, as well as for night trains.
In some other cases, you may receive a train ticket and a separate travel document for your reservation. The ticket is then called an “open ticket” because it is valid on any train running on the route for which the ticket was issued. The reservation portion is a stand-alone document that corresponds to a reserved seat/sleeper that’s been booked on a specific train, at a set date and time. The reservation cannot be used by itself. It’s only valid for travel in combination with a valid open ticket for the route that the reservation was issued. In general, when you book on the Rail Europe website, we’ll always issue an open train ticket and a reservation when possible.
By itself, a reservation can never be used to board a train. It must be used in conjunction with an open train ticket, as we’ve just described, or with a rail pass. Read more details on how reservations work with a rail pass.
Can I purchase seat reservations from Rail Europe once I’m already traveling in Europe?
Yes, but only when an e-ticket is offered for the train you want to take. If only a paper train ticket is offered, you’ll need (and want) to purchase your reservation(s) locally at the train station since shipping costs from North America to Europe are prohibitive.
Seat Reservations are sold out for the train I want to take. What should I do?
If the train you’re planning to take requires a reservation and reservations are sold out, there are only two things you can do. Purchase a regular, full-fare ticket if those are still available, or try to travel on another train (later or earlier) that has reservations available.
If you do decide to go ahead and purchase a regular train ticket, you won’t have to use your rail pass at all for this trip. So make sure you don’t mark the date in your pass calendar, and you’ll be able to use it to travel another day.