The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel

Interrail made booking seats a challenge



In April, four of us set out to travel by train from London to Granada in Andalusia and back again. We bought first-class 60+ Interrail passes costing £350 each for seven days and set about making the required seat reservatio­ns for each leg of the journey through However, when I tried to reserve seats on the BarcelonaG­ranada service, I was told that these could only be made in person at railway stations in Spain.

My son, who speaks fluent Spanish, telephoned Renfe to see if there was any way around this. He was told that we could book by phone three days in advance of travel – but this proved to be untrue. We were then told simply to turn up at the station instead.

On reaching Barcelona at 4.30pm on April 27, however, I queued for an hour at the ticket office only to discover that there were no available seats to Granada for two days (not all trains accept Interrail passes, apparently). We therefore had to abort our journey and forfeit the cost of our pre-booked hotel in Granada. How does someone in the UK go about booking seat reservatio­ns on Spanish trains? And why doesn’t Interrail highlight the impossibil­ity of booking by phone or online?

– Diana Clee

AInterrail, which is owned by some 35 European rail and ferry companies, launched a digital pass with a self-service reservatio­ns system in 2020. Unfortunat­ely, as you have discovered, this is not comprehens­ive, even though reservatio­ns are required for most high-speed trains.

Under “How do I buy reservatio­ns?” on the Interrail website, the advice summarises the state of play for each country. For Spain, it confirms that you can only reserve seats in advance of arrival in Spain through German and Swiss ticket offices. I asked rail expert Mark Smith, who runs the Man in Seat 61 website (, for advice. He confirmed that Renfe is pass-unfriendly because the fastest trains don’t accept Interrail passes and it charges €10 (about £9) for a seat reservatio­n on each domestic train. It appears that Renfe won’t allow advance reservatio­ns online because of concerns about fraud.

However, passengers without passes were able to board trains after discoverin­g that a reservatio­n QR code would scan at the barrier and the pass itself wasn’t often checked. (France and Italy have introduced some restrictio­ns but they do allow Interrail to sell advance reservatio­ns online.)

The only way around this ruling is to use a rail agent. I spoke to Trainseuro­pe (01354 660222; trainseuro­ which says it can obtain advance reservatio­ns for passholder­s travelling in Spain for a £10 fee. However, these are issued as paper tickets so you need to allow at least two weeks for them to be posted to you.

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