A few tips on cheap train travel in Central and Eastern Europe
Looking for Europe trip guide? Or just Eastern Europe travel tips? Maybe don't know how/ where to find train tickets or what kind of cheap train tickets available for the route you plan to take? Or whether to take advantage of any of the train passes available? We here to help, besides particular info about specific countries (can be found on our 'Countries' pages) our team of rail experts will try to provide here a few tips on European rail travel, in this case about Central, Southeastern and Eastern Europe. This part of Europe is still a region where traveling by train can be considered as relatively cheap, mainly since rail fare (even in cases when you buy a full fare standard tickets) for almost any connection is lower then ticket for any other mean of transportation. One of the reasons for that is that in most countries domestic connections tend to be subsidized by the state, while with international tickets railway companies still using SCIC-NRT/TCV tariff, which is more flexible (and usually cheaper) comparing to the lately popular within Western Europe 'Global prices'. Besides the above almost in case of every particular interstate connection passengers are able to find additional rail offers and discounts (either it will be standard one-way/return ticket discount, CityStar ticket, limited in number Sparschiene (SparDay/SparNight etc.) promo offer etc.). Knowledge of all these nuances associated with domestic and international tariff systems can help to save quite a lot on rail travel and that is the part where we can help. For instance, it might sound strangely enough, but in some cases international ticket might actually turn out to be cheaper option then domestic ticket for a shorter distance or 'break' of a ticket via certain station (thus having 2-3 separate tickets instead one through ticket) can save you a decent sum basically out of nothing. So here we have a few tips to consider when traveling by train in Central, Southeastern and Eastern Europe:
- Timing of ticket purchase does matter. Countries in this region of Europe tend to follow some of the marketing techniques used by other transport companies, as result proposing passengers a limited amount of special promo offer tickets (usually a certain number of ticket per each train), which are obviously being sold with an essential discount from a standard fare. That is the case when a rule 'buy early-->pay less' works perfectly, especially when you have fixed dates and sure about your itinerary. For example you need to get from Budapest to Prague, full ticket fare is 80 euro for one-way journey, but at the same time Hungarian Railways offer a limited number of promo ticket starting from only 19 euro per passenger and the only thing you need is to catch them while they still available for the train you want. Or Warsaw to Vienna route, standard fare is 76 euro, while discounted tickets start from 29 euro etc. 'Catching' of such tickets in many cases is rather easy since you can book them online via official websites of the railway companies. In some cases similar discounted tickets are available for domestic connections as well.
- Take advantage of return tickets and CityStars. The idea here is rather simple - many railway companies in the region offer 'return discount' for any international ticket between country A and B, in some cases discount is >50%, thus meaning that purchasing return ticket is actually cheaper than buying one-way (which will be sold without discount), sounds absurd, but it is true. Same thing with CityStar tickets. You travel in a group or with children? Then check whether CityStar option is available.
- 'Break' your tickets smartly. Most of the regular discounts in Central and Eastern Europe are offered between neighboring countries, as result in a situation when you need to travel from country X to country Z via country Y it might make sense not to buy one through international ticket X to Z via Y, but go with two separate tickets X-Y and Y-Z. The cool thing is that 'breaking' ticket doesn't even necessarily mean that you need to get off train, you don't, just after a certain point show a different ticket. Such 'tricks' does allow to save quite a fortune. For instance let's take Ljubljana-Bratislava route via Hungary. Standard SCIC-NRT tariff return ticket will cost 184 euro, but if you buy first Ljubljana-Budapest return ticket it will cost you just 49 euro, while then a second one Budapest-Bratislava return for only 17,5 euro. And what we have here? Simple 'break' via Budapest brings down your travel expenses to only 66,5 euro instead of 184. Or another example - Belgrade-Vienna. At the ticket counter in Serbia you'll pay 70 euro for a through return ticket, but if you buy first Belgrade-Budapest return ticket (26 euro) and then Budapest-Vienna (25 euro), then you basically save out of nothing 20 euro. And there are dozens of other similar cases, so why not to use such legal and official way to save your money?
- Lately in a number of countries in the region appeared 'private' railway companies, which basically created a competition for the 'big players', as result, on many route where private and state companies compete, passengers do get a chance to travel cheaper just by choosing the right company for you date and time. At the moment it's still not a lot of private companies and far not in every country., but still if you happened to travel on routes like Vienna-Linz-Salzburg or Zilina-Ostrava-Prague why not to consider a private operator for a cheaper fare?
- Though using train pass is usually not the best idea in case of Central or Southeastern Europe, but in some cases it still might be the option. When speaking about rail passes here we don't mean InterRail or even more expensive Eurail pass, but instead local passes like Balkan Flexi Pass. This train pass is a local rail pass sold by railway companies directly (can be bough from the ticket counters), unlike much more expensive Eurail and Interrail sold by private agencies. Balkan Flexi pass is valid in Bulgaria, FYR Macedonia, Greece, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Turkey, both for any domestic or international journeys. Youth (<26) and Senior (>60) discounts apply. Obviously it's not always the cheapest solution, but in cases when you plan to travel a lot in Balkan region, then it might be.
For a particular discounts which might be helpful for your specific connection see our 'Countries' pages or ask on our Forum.