Oh the many, many 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
- If you want to buy your tickets in advance online (recommended for better prices), skip Renfe.com if it’s not working and try Trainline, (in our tests, the best private ticketing platform for Spain). Trainline has the same dynamic pricing as Renfe itself, but Trainline actually works, is written in understandable English, and accepts foreign credit cards. Even better, it also offers competing Iryo and Ouigo tickets—high speed lines that can sometimes be cheaper than Renfe’s.
- If you’re already in Spain and prefer to pay cash, you can also go to any major Renfe station and stand in line at the ticket window. Sufficient English is often spoken at stations in major cities.
- If you’re departing from a tiny Spanish village with an unstaffed train station on your day of travel, just hop on the train and explain this to the ticket inspector, who will sell you a ticket on the spot with no fine. (This only works if you’re departing from a station where you genuinely can’t buy a ticket.)
Update History of This Article
Foreign (especially American, Australian) 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.
Our recommendation of Trainline explained above avoids payment problems. Trainline in particular works in a broad range of world currencies (USA, 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.
Calling Customer Service Phone Numbers for Renfe
Calling +34 91 9190504 you can get help, in theory, with online purchases with Renfe’s website. It is the cost of a call to Madrid. When you call you will hear at the outset a message in Spanish only that is telling you to push 1 for languages other than English. You will then hear a long string of Spanish talking about your European data protection rights, and then a prompt in Spanish to say what you are calling about. On my recent test I simply said “English” at this prompt and, after a few minutes, was transferred to someone who spoke some English.
The number for reservations, telephone sales, changes, and cancellations for tickets purchased through Renfe is +34 91 232 03 20 (the cost of a call to Madrid).
If you’ve purchased your Renfe tickets via Trainline you can take care of these things under “my booking” on the website; or contact Trainline customer support.
Press Report on Renfe Website Problems
The Renfe website has not changed much over the past decade; this in spite of what La Vanguardia reports as constant problems (article in Spanish) and a €600,000 investment in 2020 that doesn’t seem to have helped much.
As the paper noted, in responding to a Tweet about the website not working from outside of Spain—”un error en el cálculo de precio” (“an error in calculating the price”), the official Renfe account suggested using a VPN. This of course led to a lot of mockery from Spanish users on Twitter, who are disturbed that their national operator’s website is so poor at serving the many tourists who visit Spain.
Renfe’s website error message in this case said “Por favor, inténtelo más tarde. (CE02)” (“Please, try it again later.”) In my own experience with such error messages, the same search never works when you come back to Renfe’s site later. If you want to try the VPN idea, the VPN we use in our travels and can easily recommend is Nord VPN. I haven’t tried it with Renfe myself, as I just use Trainline, but would be happy to hear in the comments if that works for readers.
Purchasing at Spanish Train Stations
Train station ticket offices and automated kiosks allow you to purchase Renfe tickets with bank cards and with cash. Unlike Trainline, they do not offer Ouigo and Iryo tickets. Foreign credit/debit cards work fine in my experience.
I speak fluent Spanish and Catalan and have nevertheless found station staff to be rather difficult to communicate with, especially in cities with lots of tourists. In small towns, the Renfe train station staff can be talkative and a joy.
Pricing for the dynamically priced long distance and high speed trains is of course better if you purchase in advance.
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.
Also 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.
Trainline has flawless English, and 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.
If you don’t understand Spanish and want to understand Renfe’s site rather than Trainline for some reason, I encourage you to install the Google Translate browser extension—it’s a lifesaver for travel generally. This allows you to read pages that come up in languages other than your own, and its abilities to handle Spanish-to-English are quite good—certainly on par with Renfe’s attempt at English.
More on the Alternatives to Renfe.com
With Trainline you print your tickets at home or show them on your mobile device, whether you travel on Renfe or a competing rail operator. There’s nothing you have to receive by mail.
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. It’s our overall favorite booking site for European train travel for most countries.
Crucially for getting the best prices, Trainline offers tickets for Renfe’s competitor train operators: Iryo and Ouigo, which run great high-speed services to major cities. And it shows Renfe’s own premium high-speed service AVE and the budget Avlo. It even shows trip combinations of these services, as well as these with bus services when useful.
We’re not so jazzed that Trainline now charges a booking fee of about 3% on some Spanish train tickets and does so at the end of the booking process. But it’s overall worth it for just buying tickets without so much hassle, and for much better customer service than Renfe if things go wrong or we make a return.
Another good private booking platform is Omio. Like Trainline, it shows Renfe tickets at the same price as on the Renfe site, plus competitors Ouigo and Iryo. But it’s booking fee tends to be a bit higher than Trainline’s and its trip search results are a bit more difficult to parse. It is a better option than Trainline if you want to compare flights as well, which Trainline doesn’t offer. That said, I encourage you to go low carbon and not fly in Spain; the country is well-connected by high speed train services that are much more of a joy to travel on—once you get past the evil Renfe booking process.