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Trains in Italy: Trenitalia Tickets, Dangers of Buying in Advance


These notes originally appeared on our forums.

A very common question on this and other travel sites is whether to pre-purchase Trenitalia rail tickets for travel on the date of arrival by plane or ship. This is a very good question, and unfortunately many people are not aware of the various options available, and the advantages/drawbacks of each option, which I will explain below.

Option 1: Purchase Ticket Upon Arrival

Buy ticket when you arrive at the Rome Fuimicino (FCO) or Milan's Malpensa (MXP) airport train stations (or at the rail station where you board your first train).

Advantages: maintains full flexibility in case of late arrival.

Disadvantages: during heavy travel periods, you may not get your train of first choice. However, AV trains between Rome and Florence run on average every 30 minutes, so this is usually not a big issue. AV trains between Rome and Naples run hourly, as do AV trains between Milan and Bologna/Florence, and between Venice and Bologna/Florence/Rome. ES-City (Frecciabianca) trains between Milan and Venice also run hourly. At worst, you may need to take your second or even third choice of train, if earlier trains are sold out.

Note: there might be a problem around Christmas and New Year's, and a couple of other days throughout the year, but this is infrequent.

Option 1a: First Class

If second class seats are sold out, buy a first class ticket rather than waiting for the next train.

Advantages: Leave sooner, and save time.

Disadvantages: Pay considerably more, for only marginal betterment of service.

In my experience the travel agents are less expert in selling the tickets than the railway guys. As a result, I have always received better advice from the ticket offices at the stations than from travel agents, when it came to choosing which train to use.

Option 2: MINI

Buy a "MINI" fare ticket in advance.

Advantages: you can save between 10% and 60% on the regular fare.

Disadvantages: if you miss your reserved train, even by one second, you have a worthless ticket, and you must purchase a brand new, regular fare ticket. Furthermore, with the "MINI" fare ticket you can never alter your reservation to an earlier-departing train (nor make any changes on the day of travel). You can't "hedge your bets" by intentionally reserving a very late-departing train, then plan on changing to an earlier-departing train if your plane arrives on time.

Opinion: Avoid buying a "MINI" fare ticket for travel on the day of arrival by plane or ship! Buy a "MINI" fare ticket only when you’re 99% sure of taking the train for which you hold a reservation.

Option 3: Buy a "Flessibile" Fare Ticket

Advantages: allows reservation changes up to 24 hours after departure of your scheduled train (in case you arrive late). You can also switch to an earlier-departing train, for that matter, without any surcharge or penalty.

Disadvantages: costs 25% more than the regular fare ticket.

Opinion: Usually not necessary and usually a waste of money. This ticket is designed for business travelers who don’t know exactly when they will be able to depart (within an arc of 24-hours).

Option 4: Buy a Regular, "Base" Fare Ticket

Advantages: ensures you'll have a seat on the train you select.

Disadvantages: ticket becomes worthless if you miss your reserved train by more than one hour.

Quandary: these days, how can you be so sure that your plane won't arrive later than anticipated?

Solution (works most of the time, but does not give 100% protection): intentionally reserve a later-departing train at the "base" fare (which gives you plenty of "wiggle-room" in case your plane or ship arrives late), then ask the ticket agent at the train station window to switch you to an earlier-departing train if your plane arrives on time. This is permitted with the "base" fare and "flessibile" fare tickets, but not with the "MINI" fare ticket.
2Cl: This is a ticket for a second class car.

Corsa semplice: This is a one way ticket.

Scade dopo 6 ore dalla convalida: Ticket is valid for 6 hours from when it is stamped at a machine.

Option 5: Unreserved Regional Trains

If schedules are convenient, take one of the cheap, unreserved “regionale” trains, which are offered on such popular routes as Rome/Florence, Rome/Naples, Rome/Pisa, Venice/Bologna, Bologna/Florence (with a change at Prato Centrale), Florence/Pisa, Florence/Lucca, Florence/Arezzo, Milan/Turin, Milan/Genoa, Milan/Verona, Milan/Venice and Verona/Venice.

Easiest Solution: follow option 1 above! This works most of the time.

GAC, an Italophile who has taken many trains and buses in Italy, enjoys passing on useful tips to prospective travellers.

© Slow Travel 2011

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