Understanding train tickets
How long are train tickets valid for?
It depends if you have a ticket with a reservation or an open ticket.
Open tickets are valid for one month from the date of issue. The validity dates will be printed on the tickets. You can travel with an open ticket on any date within the validity period (however, remember: separate reservations may be necessary, depending on the route).
Tickets with reservations are only valid for the train for which the reservation was issued, on that specific travel date and time of travel.
Does my train ticket include a seat reservation?
It depends. Some tickets include a reservation, some tickets come with a separate, stand-alone reservation, and some tickets do not have reservations.
Here’s how it works:
First, keep in mind that there are three types of trains that run in Europe: trains that require travelers to have a reservation, trains that offer reservations but don’t require them, and trains that do not offer reservations at all. Depending on which train you will be traveling on, you may or may not need to have a reservation. Read our detailed article on the subject of reservations to learn more about it.
Rail Europe tickets include a reservation whenever possible. To tell if you have a reservation, see if you received one or two travel documents for your trip. If you received two travel documents, you probably received an open ticket and a reservation. The reservation portion will show a train number, car number and seat number assigned to you personally.
If you received only one document, you should also see if it indicates a seat number and car number. If so, your ticket includes a reservation.
The only case where you may not have a reservation with your ticket is if you received an open ticket. With these tickets, you can simply hop on any non- reservable train that travels on the route for which you bought your ticket. Follow this link to learn more about how open tickets work.
How can I tell whether or not I have a reserved seat onboard?
To tell if you have a reservation, first see if you received one or two travel documents for your trip. If you received two travel documents, you probably received an open train ticket and a reservation. The reservation portion will show a train number, car number and seat number assigned to you personally.
If you received only one document, see if it also indicates a seat number and car number. If so, your train ticket includes a reservation.
What different types of tickets are there?
There are essentially two types of tickets in Europe: tickets that come with a reservation and tickets that do not include a reservation, also known as open tickets.
First – the train tickets that come with a reservation. These tickets come two ways: a single combined document or a train ticket issued with a separate reservation.
A single document that is both the train ticket and the reservation is identifiable by the fact that it specifically indicates the train number, train time, car number and seat number that you have been assigned. These are generally issued for high speed trains such as the TGV, Eurostar, Thalys, etc… These tickets are only valid for the train indicated on it, and you must occupy the seat that was specifically assigned to you. You cannot use these tickets to board another train- even on the same route, and you cannot get off and on the train along the way.
In the case of separate train tickets and reservations, you will receive two distinct travel documents: the open ticket and a stand-alone reservation. The reservation portion works just like the previous case: it is valid for a specific train only, and you must sit in the seat you have been assigned. The reservation portion of your ticket can only be used in conjunction with a valid open ticket for the same route. The reverse, on the other hand, is not true. If for some reason you cannot use the reservation portion of your ticket (if you miss your train or lost the reservation), the open ticket portion of your ticket remains valid. You may either purchase a new stand-alone reservation to board a train that requires one, or use just the open ticket portion you already have to board a train on the same route that is “reservation recommended”. For more information about reservations and the different types of trains running in Europe, make sure to read our “reservations explained” article.
Now for the second category of tickets: tickets that don’t include a reservation, also known as open tickets. These tickets are valid for a specific route and can be used to board any train that runs on this route that does not require a reservation. It’s quite flexible because you can decide which train to take after you’ve bought the tickets. With Open Tickets, you do not have a pre-assigned seat. You can sit in any available seat in the class of service your ticket was issued for. Keep in mind that these different types of tickets are usually not offered at the same time on the same route. In most cases and based on the route you’ll be taking, you will either get a ticket with a reservation included, an open ticket and a reservation, or an open ticket only. You do not have a choice in most instances, but it will help that you understand which kind of ticket you’re getting since their condition of use is slightly different.