Solved: The Problems with Renfe’s (God-Awful!!) Website and How to Get Around Them


Although the Renfe website theoretically accepts non-Spanish credit cards, it is infamous for random rejections and other dysfunction that can make it nearly unusable. Even Spanish users have problems. A few private travel portals now offer better user experiences and one has the same pricing as Renfe.

Oh the problems with Renfe.com! I’m fluent in Spanish and have used the site for years, but I still get plenty of error messages myself.

We’ve put together some of the major problems and what to do about them in this article, but basically the solutions boil down to one simple thing: buy your tickets elsewhere.

Solutions for Renfe Website Problems

The easiest fix for Renfe’s stupid website is to just not use it.

  1. If you want to buy your tickets online, go for Trainline or Loco2, in our opinion they’re the best two private ticketing platforms for Spain. Loco2 has tickets at exactly the same price as the official Renfe site, but their site actually works, is properly translated, and accepts foreign credit cards. Trainline offers tickets at the same price if you’re actually in Spain, but sometimes has a 3% or so markup for users with IPs outside of Europe. But even so, Trainline can be worth looking at too for its more extensive European rail and bus offerings.
  2. If you’re already in Spain and want to pay cash, you could also go to any Renfe station and stand in line. We hate this solution unless we’re in a very small-town station, and then it’s actually kind of fun and you can get good advice (if you speak Spanish, Catalan, etc.).
  3. If you’re departing from a tiny Spanish village and there is no one working at the ticket window on the day you travel, just hop on the train and explain exactly where you got on to the roving ticket inspector, who will sell you a ticket on the spot with no fine. (This only works if you’re departing from an unmanned station.)

Check tickets on Loco2     Check tickets on Trainline

Update History of This Article

This article was published August 30, 2018. It was updated on April 22, 2019 regarding Trainline fees.

Foreign (especially American, Autralian) credit cards are rejected by Renfe.com

Renfe’s website has so many problems with credit cards that travel forums are chock full of users complaining that their American and other foreign credit cards get rejected rather randomly by the Renfe site. But don’t feel bad, even Spanish users with Spanish bank cards and presumably flawless Spanish often can’t get the “ridiculous” Renfe website to work.

Often the problems are related to poor interaction between the Renfe site and the banking institution that needs to approve the transaction. For Spanish bank cards, this generally means receiving an SMS message or looking up a code on a card full of codes provided by the bank. For other nations’ cards, all sorts of other checks are done.

Generally when the transaction is canceled or fails on Renfe.com, the card is not charged, but if you’re at all in doubt check with your card issuer.

Now that Renfe accepts Paypal, that’s a good choice that’s less likely to foul everything up and force you to start over.

But because of the other problems with Renfe.com, the trickiness of exchanging tickets, and the half-translations, we’d recommend Loco2 or Trainline instead as explained up top. Trainline in particular works in a broad range of world currencies (.S., Canadian, or Australian dollars; Euros; most other major European currencies; Argentine pesos; Brazilian reais; Japanese yen; and Chinese yuan) and accepts Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, American Express, and Apple Pay. It’s our overall favorite booking site for European train travel for its smarter routing too.

Even Renfe.com’s English version is half in Spanish!

Yes, we know. At our last check, most of the deep pages in the Renfe website and even the homepage itself were half in Spanish on the “English” version of the site.

And where there is English, the translation is so poor as to sometimes inhibit understanding.

And in our experience,the site’s error messages are almost always in Spanish. For example upon clicking on one ticket that was offered, we got the error: “El tren consultado no se encuentra disponible para la venta en estos momentos” (The train you requested is not available for sale at this time). Fine print for ticket conditions is also in Spanish.

Both of the alternatives we mention have flawless English, and Trainline is available in 15 other languages as well. Linguistically, Renfe’s site’s only forte is in offering a smattering of Spain’s other languages, like Euskadi or Valencian. Though again, badly translated according to my friends who speak those languages, and still half in Castilian Spanish.

A bit more about the alternative to Renfe.com

With Trainline or Loco2 you print your tickets at home, show them on your mobile device, or else print them in the train station itself at the Renfe ticket machines using your booking reference. There’s nothing you have to receive by mail, unlike some other booking options.

In our tests, Trainline has smarter routing software, so if you’re changing trains and particularly if you’re crossing a border, you’re more likely to find a convenient and less costly route with Trainline than with Renfe or the other private portals we’ve tried.

We used to recommend only Trainline, but they’ve started to tack on a fee of about 3% for those booking trains outside of Europe, which makes the also excellent and fee-free Loco2 a more attractive option for those outside of Europe at the time of ticket purchase.

A small-town Spanish train station. Photo by Bonaventura Leris.

 

6 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Daniel
    July 29, 2019
    Reply

    I can’t seem to find any high speed options from Barcelona to Madrid. Do either Loco2 or Trainline offer the highspeed trains?

    • Mose Hayward
      July 29, 2019
      Reply

      Yes, they both do, you’ll see these in your search results between the two cities.

  2. Avatar
    michael merry
    June 20, 2019
    Reply

    Some insights on buying RENFE Tickets May/June 2019

    This year 2019, we decided to use RENFE extensively during our two week Spain vacation. In the past advance purchase of tickets has not been a difficult task, despite everything published on blog sites. We learned that RENFE AVE (high speed trains to some major cities, mostly to the southern areas) tickets were now available up to three months in advance! and other trains, thirty to sixty days. Unfortunately this turned out to be erroneous. Our Madrid Malaga AVE tickets became available two weeks before our June 6th travel date. How this came about was strange. We had been checking every day to see when they would come on line and nothing. Finally I called a friend in Madrid and asked for help. I wanted the Malaga tickets as well as tickets from Madrid to Puebla de Sanabria and then from Puebla to Santiago de Compostela. I also wanted to go from Santiago to Vigo and return the same day. Finally I wanted day returns to Toledo from Madrid. Two weeks before the first journey, nothing was on sale on line at the RENFE site. Then my luck changed! My friend called back and said he had spoken to RENFE and they would look into my complaint. Ten minutes later, everything opened up to all destinations. I got my AVE tickets to Malaga and my ride to Puebla de Sanabria. From Puebla to Santiago de Compostela was a little more complicated as it involved a change in Ourense to what seemed to be another train. It was clear on the tickets with the coach and seat numbers so no problem. The Vigo and Toledo trips were easily obtained, all in a couple of hours. There were some small problems. RENFE only let me buy one ticket at a time and I was obliged to use a different credit card for each of the journeys. Five different cards I used and finally got my tickets. But that’s not the end! Pueblo de Sanabria is a tiny (Pop. 1400) town and we spent a pleasant night there. (Hint. Make sure you have a taxi waiting for you there, call in advance 620 986 526) Next morning the train from Madrid was late and we arrived at Ourense late. What to do? Well, we were directed to a coach outside the station and without more delays, off we went on a 75 minute ride to Santiago! All’s well that ends well. The trains are comfortable and clean and information is in English and Spanish. One last tip! Do not cut off the page below the actual ticket! RENFE does not like that and may send you to a ticket machine where you are obliged to put in the reference numbers and get tickets printed. No all machines have the cardboard rolls available and you may have to try several until a loaded one is encountered. Good luck!

    • Mose Hayward
      June 21, 2019
      Reply

      That’s a heck of a series of crazy problems. Glad it worked out! Thanks for sharing, I like to keep tabs on what issues people are having.

  3. Avatar
    Melinda
    May 1, 2019
    Reply

    This is amazing help!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!
    After 2 weeks of failing to use the Renfe website and giving up to then going down to train station to buy the ticket which still isnt great because the machines at each station only let you buy a ticket for a train departing from that particular station. This info has helped so much! Especially as i will be in Spain for hopefully the next year.

    I was able to pre purchase a whole heap of tickets for the next three weeks of my trip which meant i could get cheap tickie!! YAY!

    • Mose Hayward
      June 21, 2019
      Reply

      Thanks for commenting! Makes me feel better about the time it takes to do this site sometimes… 🙂

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