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Is train travel in Spain possible without seat reservations?

  • 29 January 2023
  • 13 replies
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I read on interrail.eu, ‘More often than not, you need to make advance reservations for trains in Spain’. Is this true? Is it usually not possible to travel in Spain without seat reservations? Is the Interrail app information reliable where this is concerned? How can I find Spanish trains where it is not necessary to have a seat reservation?

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Best answer by Schelte 29 January 2023, 23:03

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Userlevel 7
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The rail planner app is not reliable for anything.

You need reservations for many trains in Spain, even for some regional trains. You could try the rail planner app's function to look for trains without mandatory reservations but then you'll need to verify the timetables. Reservations for regional or MD trains can be free of charge though or only €4.

Userlevel 6
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To be fair, the only trains that, as far as I know, don’t require seat reservations in Spain are:

  • Rodalies - suburban trains in Catalonia, including Rodalies MD services.
  • Cercanías - suburban trains around some of the major agglomerations.
  • FEVE narrow gauge services

The last time I travelled on one, Regional (R) trains required seat reservations. Not sure if this was a temporary measure due to COVID, so it’s worth checking. However, you cannot get very far with Regional trains only - there are only a few of those.

Media Distancia trains (MD - higher end regional trains) do require seat reservations. These cost €4. As these trains are currently free for recurring passengers (16+ times in a 4-month period), they can get busier than usual, but otherwise I’ve never had issue reserving any of these. AVANT are in fact MD trains running at high speed (up to 250 km/h), those also require a €4 reservation.

All other long distance trains also require seat reservations, between €6 and €13 depending on the train type and class. If you have a 1st class pass, you can chose the Premium fare in an AVE/Euromed and get a meal - this costs slightly more (€24). You can also ask for a reservation in Comfort (1st class seat, no meal - €13 iirc).

Userlevel 7
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The last time I travelled on one, Regional (R) trains required seat reservations. Not sure if this was a temporary measure due to COVID, so it’s worth checking. However, you cannot get very far with Regional trains only - there are only a few of those.

From Barcelona to Valencia and Madrid there are a few regional trains without reservation. Also from Madrid to Segovia.

Media Distancia trains (MD - higher end regional trains) do require seat reservations. These cost €4.

Some are free of charge. Could depend on the region.

Userlevel 7
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Does not depend on region-RENFE is a big state-run organisation that does not do such discriminations.

BUT the reason why many more R-trenes MUST RES for now is that free travel scheme for those who live there and commit to using trenes at least 15/16 times or so per mes=month. Which leads to many hombres pasajeros doing RES but not turning up (or that is what locals tell in some magazines).

F.e. one could, only 1/day and expect retrasa=delay, use R-trenes from Mad to Bcn and along costa from Bcn to Vlc. and a few Vlc-Alacant-Murcia. As for now these are also with RES.

In fact about the only area where its doable is Catalunya-around Bcn, as also the frequency for such trenes is enough to use them without serious planning.

OTOH in Andalucia its a nightmare (if one thinks of that for having to visit the counter all the times).

It MIGHT also be possible limited in Galicia (far north-west, Santiago de C / Coruna), but I dk actual situacion there for now. 

Anyway, for long-distacne between these regions its always RES and for now also mostly hi-speed AVE.

Userlevel 6
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The last time I travelled on one, Regional (R) trains required seat reservations. Not sure if this was a temporary measure due to COVID, so it’s worth checking. However, you cannot get very far with Regional trains only - there are only a few of those.

From Barcelona to Valencia and Madrid there are a few regional trains without reservation. Also from Madrid to Segovia.

Regional trains do require free seat reservations, or at least I've been told so last time I used them (a year ago, Feb. 2022). I've also been issued free reservations, both for the Valladolid-Oviedo regional train and the Zaragoza-Canfranc one. No seat assigned in the former, so pretty absurd, but it might have been due to covid and no longer be the case. 

There are also fairly few frequencies, and they take considerably longer.

Tomorrow between Barcelona and Valencia, there is just one Regional Express, taking 5h24, and there are 5 Euromed (about 2h50) and 4 Intercity (around 3h30). Unless your value of time is really low, I'd think you would not opt for those. 

The regional trains from Madrid to Segovia might be different, as these are extended Cercanías journeys (usually requiring a switch in Cercedilla, not shown in timetables). 

Media Distancia trains (MD - higher end regional trains) do require seat reservations. These cost €4.

Some are free of charge. Could depend on the region.

Only in Catalonia, as far as I know. 

My rule of thumb is to always assume reservations are necessary, and therefore ask at a ticket office. 

Userlevel 6
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Does not depend on region-RENFE is a big state-run organisation that does not do such discriminations.

Commuter train services (Rodalies) in Catalonia have been decentralised and therefore have different rules. 

BUT the reason why many more R-trenes MUST RES for now is that free travel scheme for those who live there and commit to using trenes at least 15/16 times or so per mes=month. Which leads to many hombres pasajeros doing RES but not turning up (or that is what locals tell in some magazines).

Reservations were already compulsory before those free passes were introduced. In fact, those passes have led to the debate whether to remove the obligation to reserve (and thus allow standing passengers). 

Userlevel 7
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From Barcelona to Valencia and Madrid there are a few regional trains without reservation. Also from Madrid to Segovia.

Regional trains do require free seat reservations, or at least I've been told so last time I used them (a year ago, Feb. 2022).

RENFE do not include the "compulsory reservation” attribute in the timetable data for these trains they send to the European Timetable Centre (see e.g. the DB planner). They do for many others, so they seem to make a distinction. I used Madrid to Segovia back in 2015 without a reservation. Things might have changed but if that is so, then RENFE is sending incorrect timetable data.

I've also been issued free reservations, both for the Valladolid-Oviedo regional train and the Zaragoza-Canfranc one. No seat assigned in the former, so pretty absurd, but it might have been due to covid and no longer be the case.

Might be indeed. I used Canfranc-Zaragoza in 2015 without a reservation. RENFE still indicate this train as not having compulsory reservations.

Media Distancia trains (MD - higher end regional trains) do require seat reservations. These cost €4.

Some are free of charge. Could depend on the region.

Only in Catalonia, as far as I know.

A friend of mine used a few last Autumn in Galicia or Asturias (I forgot exactly which ones) for which he got free reservations.

My rule of thumb is to always assume reservations are necessary, and therefore ask at a ticket office. 

That might be the best strategy… although so far for me and my friends, the indications in the DB planner were correct.

Schelte wrote:

If you have a 1st class pass, you can chose the Premium fare in an AVE/Euromed and get a meal - this costs slightly more (€24).

Is this ‘Premium fare’ the AVE reservation cost referred to in the Interrail app for 1st class (presently €25.50)?

Userlevel 6
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Schelte wrote:

If you have a 1st class pass, you can chose the Premium fare in an AVE/Euromed and get a meal - this costs slightly more (€24).

Is this ‘Premium fare’ the AVE reservation cost referred to in the Interrail app for 1st class (presently €25.50)?

In August 2022 these cost me €24.80 in Premium. Officially €23.50 but Renfe charges a 5.5% booking fee when booking through their ticket offices, and there is no way to book these online. Not sure if they have increased this year, or whether Interrail just adds €2 as their standard booking fee. In any case it’s close to that.

You could also ask for them to be booked in Comfort for €13.70. Especially outside meal times, Premium makes little extra sense in my opinion; you do get drinks and club lounge access, but I don’t think that’s worth the €11.

 

Hi Schelte,

When are the meal times? And wouldn’t you be guaranteed a meal between Madrid and Granada, or only if this was during a meal time?

Userlevel 6
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The precise meal times are not very clear, but depend on the departure time of the train. I think you can determine it from the icons in the timetables but I am not sure. 

Notice the difference in icons next to "Cafetería/Bar móvil". The 14:35 AVE from Madrid to Granada shows this icon, suggesting a meal

The 15:33 AVE from Granada to Madrid shows this other icon, which I think has to be interpreted as a snack:

The early morning one shows this icon, suggesting breakfast: 

 

And the late evening one shows this different icon expectedly for dinner:

 

But, Renfe being Renfe, there is no official guide of these icons anywhere, so this is really guesswork. The linked information page is a broken link, so not helpful either. I can't however think of a different explanation why someone would have gone through the effort of setting up these different icons though.

You can see these icons by searching the train in the Renfe timetable search, and clicking in the "Prestaciones" column on "ver".

It will say on the ticket (see for instance the bottom ticket which mentions "ALMUERZO" - Lunch. A snack is referred to as "Merienda"). Be aware that you don't get a choice of meal on board (just one option), so if you have any dietary preferences register them up to 12 hours before departure (either when booking or later through a ticket office or by phone, I guess).

This all, to be clear, only when booking premium. When booking the cheaper comfort you only get a 1st class seat but no service. I personally think the Snack ("Merienda") option isn't worth the €11, but the meals are. Note drinks are also included - including alcoholic beverages.

The top picture was my breakfast between Madrid and Valencia. The bottom one my lunch between Zaragoza and Figueres (note however meal service stopped in Barcelona, I think they don't offer it between Barcelona, Girona and Figueres).

 

Userlevel 6
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Media Distancia trains (MD - higher end regional trains) do require seat reservations. These cost €4.

Some are free of charge. Could depend on the region.

Only in Catalonia, as far as I know.

A friend of mine used a few last Autumn in Galicia or Asturias (I forgot exactly which ones) for which he got free reservations.

Probably in Galicia as in Asturias there is just one weekly MD: it only runs on Saturdays from Valladolid to Gijón, and is in fact an Alvia, where a small number of seats are sold as MD. I'm pretty certain these seats are sold for €4, though the time I wanted to book it it was sold out.

I ended up travelling in the slightly later Regional - which was indeed free and for which I got the below reservation. Not sure how they would treat you without a reservation, but they were pretty convinced at the ticket office it was necessary and they were able to pull this out of their system. According to DB this train has no compulsory reservation.

 

Userlevel 7
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A friend of mine used a few last Autumn in Galicia or Asturias (I forgot exactly which ones) for which he got free reservations.

Probably in Galicia as in Asturias there is just one weekly MD: it only runs on Saturdays from Valladolid to Gijón, and is in fact an Alvia, where a small number of seats are sold as MD. I'm pretty certain these seats are sold for €4, though the time I wanted to book it it was sold out.

I'll check with my friend which trains he used.

I ended up travelling in the slightly later Regional - which was indeed free and for which I got the below reservation. Not sure how they would treat you without a reservation, but they were pretty convinced at the ticket office it was necessary and they were able to pull this out of their system. According to DB this train has no compulsory reservation.

Which means RENFE are (or were) sending incorrect data. Thanks for this info. It might still be/have been a COVID measure but RENFE being RENFE, they don't see making life easy through clear information as a priority.

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