Over a few days we ran dozens of searches on our two favorite European train booking platforms, Loco2 and Trainline, and compared the results. The goal: determine which booking experience is smoother and results in better and cheaper routes.
We have found that both of these platforms are better than booking directly from mainland Europe’s national train companies. They charge the same for any particular ticket with no add-on fees, and often find better routes. They’re also easier to use.
But which is better, Trainline or Loco2?
Our Favorite Train Ticketing Platforms for Mainland Europe
They also offer essentially the same basic pricing as the official train operators themselves do at any given moment, without the ridiculous markups of other sites and travel agents.
If you’re buying while in Europe, go with Trainline. In our tests of complex trips it found cheaper routes fewer stops to change trains, and it offered more options — like the French high-speed budget trains (Ouigo). It also more frequently offered bus and bus/train combo options that in certain cases are big money savers.
If you’re outside of Europe, Loco2 may be slightly cheaper for simple trips. Trainline tacks on a booking fee (generally about 3%, you’ll see this listed separately from the ticket price in your cart) for users in some countries outside of Europe, and Loco2 doesn’t.
- First off: Why Either One of these Platforms is Far Better than National European Train Company Websites
- Our Test Results: How Trainline Beats Loco2 for Complex European Train Trips
- Other Reasons We Prefer Trainline Over Loco2
- There Are a Few Advantages to Loco2, However (Especially If You're Buying from Outside Europe)
- Carbon Footprint Calculations Differ between Trainline and Loco2
- Wrap-Up: The Best Platform for Online Booking of Your European Train Escapades
Update history of this article
First off: Why Either One of these Platforms is Far Better than National European Train Company Websites
As we’ve covered in our previous studies, both of these train platforms are far more useful than booking directly with the national train companies like Oui.sncf (France), Bahn.de (Germany), Trenitalia (Italy), Renfe (Spain), and the rest.
First and foremost, Trainline doesn’t tack on any extra fees for most users and for tickets for most countries, so you generally pay the same as you would if purchasing your tickets directly. And Loco2 doesn’t tack on any booking fees for anyone (it used to add on a credit card fee but it has been discontinued).
On top of that, both platforms can actually quite often save you money for international train trips with changes. This is for two reasons:
- Both platforms are more clever with complex routing, and often find cheaper and faster routes, with fewer changes, than Europe’s national train operators themselves.
- Both platforms offer the same rates as each national train operator, but these operators still fail to do this for each others’ fares (e.g., Trenitalia seems to always have big markups on France’s SNCF and vice-versa).
Also, both platforms are very intuitive and easy to use — which is hardly how we would describe the error-ridden and poorly translated European national ticketing websites.
Our Test Results: How Trainline Beats Loco2 for Complex European Train Trips
Over the course of a couple of days we checked over two dozen of the most popular European train routes as well as some of our favorites and some off the beaten path.
For simple trips within a single country or international trips that didn’t require changing trains, both platforms generally performed great, offering the same rates as the national operators as described above.
In total Trainline was better than Loco2 in five of our 25 cases and the total difference for these trips was substantial: €578.80 to €397.6. This means on average Loco2 cost 46% more than Trainline for these trips. Loco2 was better than Trainline only for an epic 26-hour Madrid to Berlin trip that we tested, offering a savings of 4.4%.
An Example Test Case In Detail
Again, both companies are offering their tickets at the same prices as the national rail lines’ prices on any given day; it’s just that Trainline’s routing engine is smarter about finding useful, cheap routes, and that Trainline has access to the full range of budget options within these systems.
Results were similar when we instead chose the shortest trip options from each platform (instead of focusing on price). In most cases the proposed routes were of similar length, arriving within 10 minutes of each other (often they reported just slightly different timings for the exact same trains).
But in cases where the proposed routes differed by more than ten minutes, Trainline showed much shorter routes three times (on average one hour and 7 minutes shorter, costing on average 21% less) and Loco2 showed a shorter route option once (20 minutes shorter, but costing 29% more).
Other Reasons We Prefer Trainline Over Loco2
Here are the other reasons we think Trainline remains the superior mainland European ticketing platform right now:
- Trainline has greater reach, covering far more European train systems and offering much more complete access to all of the train options within those countries. Trainline’s current range is here. Loco2 discusses this here.
- Trainline shows the first class ticket possibilities in the first search result, right next to second class. This is interesting even if you don’t usually take first class, because sometimes the first class option can be nearly as cheap — and in rare occasions cheaper.
- Trainline has much more complete bus options and shows them at the bottom of your train search results. Sure, we greatly prefer trains, but sometimes the pricing for certain trips is completely unreasonable — and it’s nice to see in just an instant this other option.
- Trainline’s more complete bus offers also allow it to propose more and better train and bus combo routes that can save money, and in some cases a lot of time too.
- Trainline offers more complete access to senior and youth discounts, where relevant, and automatically steers you toward them to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
- At last check Trainline was available in 16 languages compared to Loco2’s three.
- Both platforms offer add-on tickets for bikes where necessary for some French trains. Both unfortunately do not yet have this capability for other national train systems where a bike ticket is sometimes required.
- In its search results, Trainline is better about showing additional add-on options when offered by the train company, such as WiFi and tickets for your taking your pet with you on the train. Loco2 doesn’t have these. Both platforms are pretty good at allowing you to choose your seating preferences when this is possible.
- Trainline shows more complete information in the main page of search results about whether a ticket is refundable or exchangeable.
- Trainline accepts more payment methods: Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, American Express, and Apple Pay. (Loco2 accepts the first three. Many European train companies have trouble accepting credit cards from outside of their own countries and especially from outside of Europe.)
- In those cases where the national train company tacks on a separate price for a seat reservation, this is transparent on the first search page of Trainline whereas it shows up later in the process for Loco2.
- Trainline is better about offering E-ticket options (showing a code in the app, a scan code, or even simply a reference number). Loco2 offers these options too, but sometimes rather requires you to print them or even in certain cases receive them by post at a UK address. Trainline never requires you to receive your tickets by snail mail.
There Are a Few Advantages to Loco2, However (Especially If You’re Buying from Outside Europe)
Trainline has started tacking on a booking fee for people purchasing from outside of Europe, which makes Loco2 the slightly cheaper option for some users. Trainline’s booking fee in our tests is generally about 3% and applied to those with IP addresses outside of mainland Europe. The company itself has refused to provide us with specific information on who is getting exactly which fee. Loco2 never has any booking fee, though when purchasing in a non-European currency we have noticed that it seems to round up the prices to the nearest dollar or half dollar, for example, as compared to the prices directly from the national operators themselves.
There are a few things that I personally prefer about the Loco2 interface:
- Trainline is super-easy to use and makes sense, but Loco2 is simpler. Yes, this is partly because it actually offers fewer add-ons and options, but it’s nice to have less to look through for a slightly faster booking process.
- I like the small Google Map next to the search results in Loco2; it gives a quick, and handy indicator of each route and where you’d be changing trains.
As Loco2 likes to point out, they’re the little guy. That said they’ve been bought by the huge national French train company’s ticketing platform, so we’ll see how that changes things. They claim that they will continue to operate independently.
Note that in this article we’re addressing only train tickets for mainland Europe. For Trainline, there’s also a UK version, The Trainline, for train tickets in the UK, but with recent developments we’re not so sure if it’s as good; we haven’t thoroughly examined either option. We’ll be researching UK train options for both of these platforms and others at a later date.
Carbon Footprint Calculations Differ between Trainline and Loco2
Both sites rather prominently show the carbon footprint of each train route you consider (Loco2 expresses it as carbon saved compared to flying; Trainline just shows the carbon footprint of your trip). But we found it odd that they each calculate rather different results for the same trip. For example, a London-Paris Eurostar is shown as using 5.17 kg CO2 on Loco2, whereas Trainline gives 4.2 kg CO2 for the same exact ticket.
Obviously this is a difference in how the calculation is made, as where you buy your tickets doesn’t affect your carbon footprint. Ecopassenger.org estimates this same trip at 15 kg CO2 — but in any case the point is that the train is far better than driving (48.4 kg CO2) or flying (122.1 kg CO2). Faster and more fun too.
Wrap-Up: The Best Platform for Online Booking of Your European Train Escapades
That said, if you’re outside of mainland Europe at the time of your purchase, you may be able to find the same route without the few-percent booking fee on Loco2.