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Trains, Trains, Trains!

Working in two neighbouring countries, Italy and Austria, I spend an awful lot of time on trains. I use this time to read and basically do 80% of my office work. In fact, I am writing this blog post on a train right now!

While it is a great alternative to cars and planes, although it takes somewhat longer to get to the desired destination, it can be costly. Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks that I’ve learnt along the way, and which can help you save some money (and perhaps find even better connections!).

Here are some of my experiences:

  1. Membership cards. Each country’s trainlines have their own membership programs and sometimes there are privately owned companies (like Italo, WestBahn, Flixtrain, etc.) which have some very good offers. Sometimes ordering a basic card is free (Cartafreccia from Trenitalia) and sometimes there is a yearly fee (Bahncard in Germany, Vorteilskarte in Austria). Depending on the type of card you can save 25%, 50% or even more on the standard fare. I, for example, have a OEBB Vorteilskarte 66 which costs 66 Euros per year if ordered online (the Classic version can be bought at any OEBB ticket office but costs 100 Euros). Not only does it make you save 50% off the standard fares, but also gives you the chance to travel for free on any train of the company in Austria on your birthday and they even offer you a free drink in the train’s restaurant. Last month, I saved 70 Euros on my trip to Italy and got a free beer 😉

  2. Different apps, different platforms, different prices. I know this one sounds weird, but it’s true. The reason behind it is probably the difference in the algorithms used by each company to calculate the fare. I have managed to save money by simply checking the same route on two different apps/websites. For example, if I search for the connection Vienna to Munich two weeks from today on the Deutsche Bahn app and on the OEBB app, I will probably get the same connections but with a 20 to 40 Euros difference or even 60-80 without the membership card. Try it!

  3. Always leave a bit of time between the connections. From my experience, 90% of the time the trains in Austria and Switzerland are punctual. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Trenitalia and Deutsche Bahn. If you know that there are some planned construction works on the lines you are taking or that the particular company you are traveling on is often late, consider extending your connection time and taking a later train, if possible.

  4. If you have missed your connecting train because of a delay, it is worth going and talking to customer service. This is a true story, because of a delay in Salzburg Hauptbahnhof I missed my train to Villach, which also meant that I would have missed my later train to Italy. I went to “complain” and ask the customer service what I should do and found out that because of a delay caused by them I was entitled to a night in a 3-star hotel in Villach near the train station and I could continue my travel in the morning of the following day with the same ticket. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work with other companies, but it’s worth giving it a shot.

  5. Decompose the route. Sometimes (not always) buying separate tickets for the trains involved in your journey costs less than buying the entire journey. Oftentimes on the same train! I’ll give you a real example: the night train from Udine to Villach costs 52 Euros with the Vorteilskarte 66 (crazy expensive for one hour and twenty minutes!!), but if you buy Udine-Tarvisio (the only station in between) and then Tarvisio-Villach it costs… 29,10 Euros. Almost half!

Are there any tricks or tips you use? Comment below and share your experiences!


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