I love taking trains to get between larger cities in Europe. If you aren’t going to explore the countryside and the little towns, there’s really no need for a rental car. The trains are efficient, clean, and easy to navigate. It often makes sense to fly to a larger airport to save money/miles and time spent on connections, and then just take a train to your final destination. For example, just a few weeks ago my husband and I recently flew to Milan and took a train to Florence.
Tickets bought online don’t have to be validated and there’s no need to go to the ticket office — you can just board the train. These are my tips on how to buy Italy train tickets in advance and save money.
Buy Train Tickets For Italy Ahead of Time
If you are flying into Milan, it’s easy to get to Florence, Bologna, the town of Como, Genoa, Rome and even Venice by train. A few years ago, I flew to Venice and after spending a few days there, took a train to Rome. To save money, I prefer to buy train tickets for fast intercity trains ahead of time. The train tickets will be much cheaper when bought about 30 to 45 days out. The only time I don’t buy train tickets in advance is for my day of arrival. If my incoming flight is delayed, I’ll lose the ticket.
There’s no need to purchase tickets ahead of time for regular regional trains as the price doesn’t fluctuate compared to intercity trains. Regional train tickets are cheap and easy to buy at the train station on the day of travel.
Two Train Companies: Trenitalia or Italo?
There are two major train companies in Italy, Trenitalia and Italo and both have easy to navigate English language sites. Italo operates trains between bigger Italian cities and Treniatalia has both fast intercity trains and regional trains. I’ve never taken an Italo train, but I’ve traveled on Trenitalia many times.
If you have plans that involve train travel, check both sites regularly for discounts, deals and promotions.
For example, here’s the Trenitalia current promotion. When you search for tickets, select at least two passengers to get your tickets to price out correctly.
How to Book Trenitalia Train Tickets
As I mentioned earlier, I like to buy my intercity train tickets in advance. I’ve played with the dates a lot, and in my experience, it seems that 30-45 days out is a “sweet spot” for getting the best deal. Be on the lookout for special offers, and check out the Italian version of the site too, as sometimes promotions aren’t the same. I once found a 30% off discount (sconti) code on the Italian site.
Trenitalia site is very easy to navigate. Just plug in your dates, destination, and the number of passengers. Here’s an example of the fares for June.
You’ll see train fare options on the next screen, including the total for all passengers. Click on the little arrow next to the fare to see all options.
I highly recommend booking Premium car, the difference in price is not huge (89.80 Euros vs. 78.40 Euros for two passengers in the example above), but you’ll be a lot more comfortable. The main difference is in how crowded Standard and Premium cars can get.
When I was writing this article, I ran a few sample searches for Milan to Florence trains and the fast nonstop trains were sold out for the next couple of days. If you are traveling around major holidays like Easter or Christmas, definitely book your train tickets well in advance.
I then re-ran the search for five days out and the difference in price is not insignificant. Standard car is more expensive than booking Premium car for a few weeks out!
Once you decide on the dates and the routes, book online with a card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees and earns at least 2x or 3x on travel, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Ink Business Preferred card. Train tickets code as travel and are eligible for Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit.
Emailed Reservation For Trains In Italy
Here’s what your reservation will look like. There’s no need to validate the ticket on the platform or go to the ticket counter.
You can just board the train and show the reservation print-out to the ticket inspector. They could probably scan the PDF straight from the smartphone, but I prefer to have paper copies of important documents in case my battery dies or something doesn’t work as it should.
How to Book Italo Train Tickets
Similar to Trenitalia, Italo also has an easy to navigate English language website. Check the site regularly for any promotions, discounts and special offers.
It pays to book ahead of time, you can clearly see the price difference.
As you can see below, only the more expensive Flex option is bookable for next day’s departure.
The difference between Smart and Comfort in this example is only 2 euro. You’ll get more legroom and a wider seat, which also means less crowded train car. I’d always take this option — the trains in Italy could get very crowded, especially during school vacations and major holidays.
Train travel in Italy is easy and relatively inexpensive. It’s easy to buy tickets directly from the train companies, and there’s no need to use an intermediary. If you can, book your long distance trains ahead of time to save money. When buying train tickets, I always use a credit card that earns extra points on travel purchases. If you buy the tickets with Chase Sapphire Reserve, the purchase will count toward $300 annual travel credit reimbursement.
Our destinations expert, Sarah, talks about her knowledge of Italian trains.
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