Minimize Reservation costs

  • 10 December 2023
  • 12 replies

Hello, I am planning to travel with  family of 5 persons. Looks like seat reservation costs are per person per train. Going from The Netherlands to south of Spain will take 3 high speed trains to Madrid.

  • Amsterdam - Paris €35
  • Paris - Barcelona €35
  • Barcelona - Madrid €10 or €23,50 => €20
  • TOTAL €90

=> Are these costs per seat or per reservation of 5 seats ?

If it is per seat, that would be 5 persons x €90 x 2 (return trip) = €900 for seat reservations only 😳 !!!

Are there ways to minimize these costs??


Best answer by rvdborgt 10 December 2023, 19:39

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12 replies

Userlevel 7
Badge +9

The reservation fees are per person.

Use the hourly intercity from Amsterdam to Antwerpen, then IC to Lille Flandres. From Lille, either find a direct TGV to the south of France (e.g. Perpignan) or travel to the south via Paris. In the south or France, use TERs to travel via Portbou (no reservations). Domestic French TGV reservations are €10 (limited availability) or €20. The AVE Barcelona-Madrid is €10 in 2nd and €13 in 1st class. The €23.50 option includes food but you need to take that.

Another possibility is to travel from Lille to Hendaye, use Euskotren to travel to Donostia/San Sebastian  (not included but cheap) and then further to Madrid. Obviously, you won't be travelling via Barcelona if you take this route.

It will take a bit longe of course.

Userlevel 7
Badge +4

Unfortunately your route is one with a very high bunch of reservation fees. Yes, it’s per person per train.

You can find itineraries without reservations on the trip planner - there is an option to select. But from Amsterdam-Paris it’s a very slow route.

One option might be to travel down through Germany and Switzerland to Geneva, then take a TER to Lyon (no reservation fees so far), then take one of the RENFE trains to Barcelona. The cost for this train is only €13.70. Officially you can only buy this reservation at a RENFE ticket office (in Spain!, which is impractical) but increasingly we are hearing that people have been able to buy it from the guard on board the train.

Userlevel 7
Badge +5

Go via Lille as suggested or via Brussels (very limited passholder quota though so book well in advance!).

- IC Amsterdam Centraal - Bruxelles-Midi 06:278 - 09:17

- TGV Bruxelles-Midi - Nîmes Pont du Gard 10:17 - 15:30 20€

- TER Nîmes Pont du Gard - Montpellier St-Roch 16:00 - 16:45

Also possible to leave earlier in Nîmes Centre or go further to Narbonne for example.

And then on day 2 :

- TER xxx - Perpignan - Portbou

- R Portbou - Barcelona-Sants

Scenic route along the coast

Userlevel 7
Badge +4

Another option, is to pick a city on the high speed line in France - such as Lyon, Nîmes, Montpellier, Perpignan - and see how much a cash ticket is from there to Barcelona or Madrid. 

This might be simpler (but not cheaper) than the above option of hoping to buy the reservation onboard at Lyon.

Userlevel 7
Badge +5

increasingly we are hearing that people have been able to buy it from the guard on board the train.

I'm not sure when @Joost Fontein is planning his trip but I'd expect this train to be completely sold out in summer.

Would staff let people use the extra folding seats in the hallways ? I'd be interested to know. Also for myself...

Userlevel 7
Badge +9

One option might be to travel down through Germany and Switzerland to Geneva, then take a TER to Lyon (no reservation fees so far), then take one of the RENFE trains to Barcelona. The cost for this train is only €13.70.

€10 in 2nd class, probably €13 in 1st class. Plus a 5% booking fee if bought at a RENFE ticket office.

Userlevel 7
Badge +10

Other possibility is to go in other countries in middle Europe where reservations are not needed.

Like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czechia or Denmark. Even high speed trains have only optional reservations.

Only High speed trains have compulsory reservations in Netherlands, Belgium or Sweden.

Userlevel 7
Badge +7

A bit of a challenging route this. Some extra questions to finetune the search:

  • When do you plan this trip exactly, summer or earlier?
  • Adults only travelling? Or kids with you to (under 12, under 18, under 26)?
  • Do you plan any other travels with a pass, or just Amsterdam-Madrid?
  • Do you mind to get re-routed via slower lines, are sleeper trains an option?

If timed well, I think buying ordinary tickets in advance might be a better idea than the cost of passes+ reservations. For a random date mid February I can find return tickets Amsterdam/Barcelona for 900 EUR (for 5, calculated with three kids).

Especially if you try and compare some of the SNCF/RENFE low cost variants, or competitors (OUIGO, AVLO, Iryo) via a website like the trainline or raileurope.But it’s just very annoying that Spain doesn’t share its train data far in advance.

E.g. If you’re a bit lucky in the pricing, you can get e.g. from Lille to Marseille for 19 EUR per person (full ticket), from where you can get an AVE directly to Madrid for 81 EUR.

The more we know, the better some of us on this forum can do their pricing magic ;)


All thanks for your replies.

Actually my plan is to go to Marocco.Trying to find alternative for airplane

  • I indeed found the routes without any reservation, but with whole family that is gonna take too long and too much hassle. 
  • I found an alternative which is still a bit of a hassle, but OK.
    • Amsterdam-Paris by high-speed. in afternoon
    • Paris - Bayonne [corrected from Narbonne] by night train with berths
    • Then hopping Bayonne [corrected from Narbonne] - Hendaye -Irun - Madrid, arriving in evening
    • (Then next day on to Algeciras + boat to Marocco).
  • That is 48 hour trip 8-\
  • With Eurail or direct tickets, both is all about €1.600

Not sure how my wife and children think about his :-D

Userlevel 7
Badge +5

You can probably do this journey with regular tickets for cheaper as long as you book well in advance.

1600€ was for pass + one-way reservations ? How would you like to come back ? Same route or via Barcelona ?

How old are the children ? What are your exact travel dates ?

If you answer these questions we'll be able to give advice. We'll gladly help to find cheap tickets if possible. :)

Btw you need Interrail and not Eurail since you live in Europe.

children are 9, 14 and 15

Dates would be leaving from Rotterdam Thursday 11th July, returning in Rotterdam Sunday August 4th.

(Dates not fixed yet. Might be a week later. Or starting on Fridays).

Looks like it is only possible to book trains like 4 months in advance (or even less).

@thibcabe I just had a first look at possibilities and rought prices yesterday. Wondering how that will be exactly if tickets become available to book for summer time. If there are cheaper tickets, of course always welcome for that service.

Userlevel 7
Badge +5

Yes most tickets will be available from March. Spanish trains probably later. Same goes for Interrail reservations of course.

I had a quick look for random dates (price for 5 people) :

- Amsterdam - Paris 200€

- night train from Paris 300€

- cross-border Euskotren 15€

- San Sebastian - Madrid 100€

- Madrid - Algeciras 200€

You'd have to book in March/as soon as bookings open to get those prices.

So yes you're right : about 1600€ for a return journey. Unfortunately not all Spanish train reservations are available through Interrail. The situation could change until next summer but nobody knows.

You might save a bit by taking the Madrid - Marseille AVE as far as Nîmes and the following morning do Nîmes - Brussels - Amsterdam.

Also consider ferries from Morocco to France : they'll probably be in high demand but at least you avoid Spanish infrequent trains with mandatory reservations.

Last thing to keep in mind : Paris will host the Olympic Games next summer so everything will be more expensive than usual. Also extra security and stress.