Train Tickets Explained.

A  train ticket is a travel document valid for a single journey between two cities.

There are essentially two types of train tickets in Europe: tickets that come with a reservation and tickets that do not include a reservation, also known as open tickets. It’s important for you to understand their specifics, so let’s take a look.

First – the train tickets that come with a reservation. They come two ways: as a single combined document or as a ticket issued with a separate reservation. A single document that is both the train ticket and the reservation is identifiable by the fact that it specifically indicates the train number, train time, car number and seat number that you have been assigned. These are generally issued for high speed trains such as the TGV, Eurostar, Thalys, etc… These tickets are only valid for the train indicated on it, and you must occupy the seat that was specifically assigned to you. You cannot use these train tickets to board another train- even on the same route, and you cannot get off and on the train along the way.

In the case of separate train tickets and reservations, you will receive two distinct travel documents: the open ticket and a stand-alone reservation. The reservation portion works just like the previous case: it is valid for a specific train only, and you have a specific seat assigned for you. The reservation portion of your train ticket can only be used in conjunction with a valid open ticket for the same route. The reverse, on the other hand, is not true. If for some reason you cannot use the reservation portion of your train ticket (if you miss your train, lost the reservation or simply change your plans), the open ticket portion of your train ticket remains valid. You may either purchase a new stand-alone reservation to board a train that requires one, or use just the open ticket portion you already have to board a train on the same route that is “reservation recommended” or a train that does not require reservations. For more information about reservations and the different types of trains running in Europe, make sure to read our “reservations explained” article.

Now for the second category of train tickets: tickets that don’t include a reservation, also known as open tickets. These train tickets are valid for a specific route and can be used to board any train that runs on this route that does not require a reservation. It’s quite flexible because you can decide which train to take after you’ve bought the train tickets. With open tickets, you do not have a pre-assigned seat. You can sit in any available seat in the class of service your train ticket was issued for. Keep in mind that these different types of train tickets are usually not offered at the same time on the same route. In most cases and based on the route you’ll be taking, you will either get a ticket with a reservation included, an open ticket and a reservation, or an open ticket only. You do not have a choice in most instances, but it will help that you understand which kind of train ticket you’re getting since their condition of use is slightly different.

Now that we’ve covered the different types of train tickets you may get, let’s review the possible ways you’ll get them. Unlike airline tickets, not all train tickets can be issued electronically. Train tickets bought from Rail Europe can be issued in one of three ways:

  • Paper ticket: the train ticket is physically printed by Rail Europe and shipped to you before your departure to Europe via UPS.
  • Print at home e-ticket: the train ticket may be issued either as a pdf which you must print from any computer printer prior to boarding the train or issued with a unique e-ticket code and this e-ticket confirmation code along with your photo i.d. will be checked when on the Italo train.
  • Print at the station e-ticket: a e-ticket confirmation code is created and communicated to you at the time of purchase. Then all you need to do is print the actual paper ticket from a self service kiosk at the rail station prior to your train’s departure.

Whichever delivery method you choose, you will need to physically show your train ticket to the conductor onboard at the time of ticket control or upon check in for certain trains like the Eurostar. In any case, the Rail Europe email invoice is never acceptable as a form of train ticket. Make sure to review our section on delivery methods for all the details and possible options for your travel document.