We ran dozens of pan-Europe searches on our two favorite train booking platforms, RailEurope (formerly 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 base prices for any particular train ticket, and often find better routes, which saves money. The catch: they add on small booking fees of a couple of euros. But overall they’re far easier to use than most European train booking sites, which can cause issues, particularly for those outside of a particular country, and even be impossible to use with foreign credit cards.
But which is better, Trainline or RailEurope?
Our Favorite Train Ticketing Platforms for Mainland Europe
Our overall preference is usually Trainline. In our tests of complex trips it finds cheaper routes fewer stops to change trains, and it offers more options — like the French high-speed budget trains (Ouigo). It also offers bus and bus/train combo options that in certain cases are big money savers. In many of our test cases, its smarter routing engine could save travellers hundreds of euros on a pan-European train vacation.
But RailEurope is nearly as useful. Its interface is just as simple and we like the small map illustrating possible routes in search results. Also, if you’re buying a large number of tickets all at once, the small flat booking fee per basket (rather than Trainline’s small percentage fee) could make it just slightly cheaper, depending on your journey.
- First off: Why Either One of these Platforms is Far Better than National European Train Company Websites
- Our Test Results: How Trainline Beats RailEurope for Complex European Train Trips
- Other Reasons We Prefer Trainline Over RailEurope
- There Are a Few Advantages to RailEurope, However
- Carbon Footprint Calculations Differ between Trainline and RailEurope
- 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 of how European train platforms compare, both RailEurope and Trainline are far more useful than booking directly with the national train companies like SNCF Connect (France), Bahn.de (Germany), Trenitalia (Italy), Renfe (Spain), and the rest.
First and foremost, while they offer the exact same prices for any particular route, both platforms can actually quite often save you money over the companies themselves 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 ways to get from A to B, 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 RailEurope for Complex European Train Trips
We ran a test of over two dozen of the most popular Europe train routes such as these routes suggested by Eurail, 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.
For most cases (simple trips between popular cities), Trainline and RailEurope offer the same fare. But Trainline’s usual 3% booking fee generally works out to less than RailEurope’s usual flat €6.95 euro fee, so Trainline generally is the cheaper option by a small amount.
However for complex trips there can be a bigger difference. In total Trainline found cheaper route options than RailEurope in five of our 25 cases and the total difference for these trips was substantial: €578.80 to €397.6. This means on average RailEurope cost 46% more than Trainline for these trips. RailEurope was better than Trainline only for an epic 26-hour Madrid to Berlin trip that we tested, offering a savings in that case of 4.4%.
An Example Test Case In Detail
Again, both RailEurope and Trainline 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 RailEurope showed a shorter route option once (20 minutes shorter, but costing 29% more).
Note that in this article we’re addressing only train tickets for mainland Europe. Trainline also offers train tickets in the UK and is generally well-loved for that compared to the complex regional UK train systems. However, the UK train options for both of these platforms was not our focus for this article, which is for those travelling in mainland Europe.
Other Reasons We Prefer Trainline Over RailEurope
Aside from generally saving us money on trips, there are other reasons we think Trainline is still the best mainland European train ticketing platform:
- 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. Here are Trainline’s current networks covered and here is the current range of RailEurope. In a nutshell: Both cover Western Europe well, but Trainline covers a few more complete networks than RailEurope, like those in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ouigo in France, and Switzerland.
- Trainline shows the first class ticket possibilities in the first search result, right next to second class. This is nice to have 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 train 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 discounts, where relevant, and automatically steers you toward them to make sure you’re getting the best deal. These are often only applicable to people who travel frequently in countries like Spain or France and drop about €50 on an annual discount card, but if that sounds like you check out our full coverage of European train discounts for seniors and for children and teenagers.
- At last check Trainline was available in 12 languages (plus a few localized versions of those languages) compared to RailEurope’s 6 languages.
- 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 on certain occasions this is required (check whether bicycle tickets are needed here for your destinations).
- In its search results, Trainline is better about showing additional add-on options when offered, such as supplements for in-train WiFi and taking your pet with you on the train. RailEurope 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, Maestro, Diners Club (for the UK), Google Pay, and Apple Pay. RailEurope accepts fewer methods, though you’re pretty likely to have one of these: MasterCard, Visa, Visa Electron, Maestro, and American Express. Many European train companies have trouble accepting credit cards from outside of their own countries and especially from outside of Europe, so buying from either one of these platforms saves a lot of headaches versus buying directly from the train networks.
- In those cases where the national train company (especially in Germany) tacks on a separate price for a seat reservation, this is transparent on the first search page of Trainline as an optional add-on, whereas it shows up later in the process for RailEurope, and you have to uncheck a box to avoid this extra fee.
There Are a Few Advantages to RailEurope, However
Both Trainline and RailEurope now have small booking fees. Trainline’s booking fee tends to be smaller, but the company is not very transparent about what these fees are and for whom — you only find out exactly what your particular booking fee will be on the final payment screen, which is hardly fair or ideal. That said, this fee is quite small and well worth it; in our tests it was 0%—literally free—on up to about 4% of the ticket price, and it seems to depend on the IP location of the computer doing the purchase and the type of ticket. Most commonly the Trainline booking fee seems to be about 3%.
RailEurope is much more transparent and has a standardized per-basket booking fee that varies only depending on the currency you’ve chosen: £5.95, €6.95 or $7.95. So for most tickets Trainline will have a slightly lower fee, but if you’re buying tickets all at once with a total cost of over €230, RailEurope may be cheaper. Very cheap train tickets (those costing less than $15 / £15 / €15 / CA$ 20 do not have a booking fee on RailEurope.
And there are a few other small things that I personally prefer about the RailEurope interface:
- Trainline is super-easy to use and makes sense, but RailEurope 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 RailEurope; it gives a quick, and handy indicator of each route and where you’d be changing trains.
Note that the RailEurope site has completely changed technology after the French SNCF (official railway company) bought the train booking platform Loco2 in 2017. RailEurope subsequently transitioned to using the technology it acquired from Loco2 (which was great) and so now RailEurope essentially works like Loco2 used to. So if you tried RailEurope pre-2017, note that the new experience is nothing like the old (terrible) version.
Carbon Footprint Calculations Differ between Trainline and RailEurope
Both sites rather prominently show the carbon footprint of each train route you consider (RailEurope 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 RailEurope, 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). Of course, it’s faster and more fun too.