Reservations Explained. You should read this. Really.

In a nutshell, a reservation is a guaranteed seat on a specific train, assigned to you personally.

Whether you need a reservation or not depends on two things: the train you’re on and what type of ticket or rail pass you have.

Let’s start with the train you’re on. There are essentially three types that run in Europe, each with different requirements.

The first type of train is “Reservations Required.” This generally applies to high speed and overnight trains. Tickets sold for these trains always include a reservation. If you are traveling with a rail pass, you must purchase a seat reservation separately, at an additional cost. If you try to board these trains with your rail pass only, you will most likely get fined.

The second type of train is “Reservations Recommended.” These trains offer you the possibility of a reserved seat, but a reservation isn’t mandatory. Even on “reservation recommended” trains, tickets sold by Rail Europe always include a reservation whenever possible. We feel it’s a small price to pay for the convenience and peace of mind of knowing a reserved seat is waiting.

Finally, “Non-Reservable” trains are trains where a reservation is NOT needed or possible. When purchasing a ticket for these trains, you will receive an “open ticket”, typically valid for any non-reservable train operating on a given route. For more information on open tickets, check out our dedicated article.  If you’re traveling with a pass, reservations are still not available. Simply get on board and sit in any open seat in the class of service of your pass.

Now let’s talk about tickets and rail passes. In general, city-to-city tickets purchased from Rail Europe include a reservation whenever possible. There are a few exceptions that you can read about here. It’s when you’re traveling with a rail pass that the question of reservations is most important. It’s easy to believe your rail pass is all you need, but you may still need to purchase a reservation before getting on board. Not finding out in advance can be costly.

How about some general information that might help? Typically, most high-speed trains and all overnight trains require travelers with a rail pass to purchase a reservation. You may also find that on the same route you have a choice between trains that require reservations and ones that are non-reservable. So when planning your travel, the first thing to find out is whether the train you’d like is “Reservation Required”, “Reservation Recommended” or “Non-Reservable.” This information is provided for every train schedule listed in our reservation booking tool and will insure proper booking.

Certain international high-speed trains like Eurostar or Thalys, as well as international overnight trains, have special reservation prices. Make sure to do your research in advance to determine whether a pass is most cost effective for your itinerary.

You also need to keep in mind that rail carriers usually have a limited number of seats for travelers with a rail pass, so be sure to book as soon as possible. If reservations are sold out, you can usually buy a regular city-to-city ticket. While it does cost more than a reservation, it won’t cost you a day on your rail pass. Reservations can generally be booked 60-90 days before your train trip, so don’t delay!

Ready to find out if your train route requires a reservation? Just click over to our website’s “Book a Reservation for your Pass” section. Type in the name of the rail pass you’ll be traveling with so we can retrieve reservations compatible with your pass. If you’re traveling with a Eurail Select Pass, you’ll also have to indicate which countries are included in your pass. Then enter your city of origin and destination, your preferred train departure time, the number of travelers and the class of service for your pass.

The next screen will list all the trains available for your travel preferences, clearly indicating whether reservations are required, recommended or not offered for each option.