Split Ticketing Guide: How to Lower Your Train Fare

In this split ticketing guide we explain how you can easily lower your train ticket fare with the simple trick of splitting your journey and buying separate tickets.

Book smart, pay less

On my way back from a recent trip to Ukraine I had the pleasure of making an epic train journey from Mariupol to Bucharest.

The last leg of this epic journey was on the ‘Ister’ night train which links Budapest with Bucharest.

Thanks to split ticketing, I managed to get around 50% off from the normal fare, saving €78 on that journey.

In this guide, I will show how you how I exactly managed to do this and will give one other example how you can save a lot of money with split ticketing.

ister night train bucharest split ticketing
The Ister night train at Bucharest Gara de Nord. Thanks to a split ticketing trick, I managed to get 50% off from the normal fare on my ticket from Budapest to Bucharest. ©Paliparan

Domestic vs international tariffs

Let’s first start off with the journey I mentioned earlier, a train ride between Budapest and Bucharest.

The reason why I managed to get 50% off the normal fare is because there is a difference between the domestic tariff and the international tariff.

Simply put, if your train crosses an international border (especially in Eastern Europe) it can make sense to split your booking into two.

Although this doesn’t always work on every journey in any European country, it certainly is a great trick for trips between Hungary and Romania.

romanian night train cfr budapest keleti pu
A Romanian sleeper train at Budapest’s beautiful Keleti station. ©Paliparan

Booking the ticket

On my trip, I was travelling from the Hungarian city of Szolnok (the first main stop after Budapest) to Bucharest. However, take in mind that the same booking trick also works perfectly when starting your journey in Budapest.

As this is an overnight journey, I wanted to travel in a private sleeper compartment.

The full fare between Szolnok and Bucharest is 762.5 RON (154 EUR) for a private sleeper when booked on the website of CFR, the Romanian Railways.

However, you can easily get the costs down if you split your booking at the Romanian border station of Curtici.

Instead of booking one ticket from Szolnok to Bucharest, you now book two tickets. You simply book one ticket from Szolnok to Curtici, followed by a ticket from Curtici to Bucharest

The trick here is that you book your ticket from Szolnok to Curtici in 2nd class and Curtici to Bucharest in a private sleeper compartment.

This way, I paid 68 RON (14 EUR) for a 2nd class ticket Szolnok to Curtici and 306.9 RON (62 EUR) for a private sleeper between Curtici and Bucharest, using the cheaper domestic Romanian tariff for a bed in the sleeping car which you won’t find for international journeys.

Add up the costs and that’s 76 EUR for a journey from Szolnok to Bucharest instead of the 154 EUR I would have paid without split ticketing! A saving of 78 euro!

ister night train romania 2nd class seats cfr
Second class seats on the ‘Ister’ night train which links Budapest with Bucharest. ©Paliparan
private sleeper ister cfr
My private sleeper on the ‘Ister’ night train. ©Paliparan

Pros and cons

Of course, the minor disadvantage is that you won’t travel in a private sleeper compartment all the way, but in reality that doesn’t matter on this particular journey.

This train arrives at the Hungarian border station of Lököshaza at 10.10pm local time and at the Romanian border of Curtici at 11.55pm local time.

Given that there is passport control at both stations, chances are unlikely that you would have gone to sleep anyway before Curtici as you would have been rudely awakened by the border guards!

Instead, now you can just lounge in your seat in the normal seating car until the train departs from Lököshaza.

At that moment, I simply walked through the train from the 2nd class seating wagon to the sleeper carriage and showed my Curtici-Bucharest ticket to the sleeping car attendant, who showed me the way to my compartment.

Even though I had two tickets, there was absolutely no need to leave the train at Curtici – you can simply stay on board the entire journey.

Soon after we cleared passport control at Curtici I then went to sleep in my own cosy compartment, knowing I had just saved €78.

curtici station romania
Just before the Ister arrived at the border station of Curtici, I walked through the train to my compartment in the sleeper wagon. ©Paliparan

Another split ticketing example

The above example shows how split ticketing can work on a single train ride. However, split ticketing can also work perfectly on a multi-stop itinerary in which you have to change trains a couple of times.

In this example, we take a look at a group of four friends who want to travel from Cologne in Germany to the seaside town of Vlissingen in the Netherlands.

You might think that buying your ticket at the website of the German Railways or Dutch Railways is your best bet.

In this case, the Deutsche Bahn gives us a full-fare price (‘flexpreis’, a fully flexible ticket) of €196.80 for four persons travelling. However, there is also a saver fare available for €159.60.

Although the saver fare option takes slightly longer as it takes a more roundabout route via Amsterdam, it uses the more premium ICE (InterCity Express) train, Germany’s flagship high speed train.

However, if there are no such saver fares available, the cheapest fare would simply be the €196.80 flexpreis ticket on the most direct, fastest route.

Exactly the same prices can be found at the international booking page of the Dutch Railways.

german railways split ticketing
Four people travelling between Cologne and Vlissingen starts at €159.60 when booked at the website of the German Railways. The cheapest full fare price is €196.80 for four persons. ©Paliparan
dutch railways website
The website of the Dutch Railways gives the same prices, with €159.60 for four people being the cheapest. ©Paliparan

Ticket deals

Is €159.60 the cheapest price for a journey from Cologne to Vlissingen when travelling with four people? No. Also here, split ticketing can make a huge difference.

With a simple trick, you bring down the costs to just €80.7, which would save you €78.9 in total compared to the cheapest saver fare or €116.10 compared to the full fare price.

Mind you, this split ticketing deal uses exactly the same trains as you would take when booking the €196.80 flexpreis ticket above!

Just because we are going to perform another split ticketing trick and use some special ticket deals, we can save more than half the price.

Saving money in Germany

The trick here is to split our tickets at the first Dutch station of Venlo.

In this case, we will buy one of the group tickets of the German Railways which allows for unlimited travel within a German state on a certain day.

These tickets are excellent value if you travel in a group – and it will show its worth here as well.

From the German Railways website, we buy a so-called SchönerTagTicket NRW for €45.70. NRW is the acronym for the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia) in which Cologne is located, in case  you were wondering.

With this ticket, you get unlimited travel for up to five people on all regional and slow commuter trains within the state (on weekdays only when travelling after 9am, in weekends throughout the entire day).

Even though Venlo is located just across the border in the Netherlands, this NRW regional ticket is valid to Venlo as well.

cologne koln hbf
Köln Hbf, Cologne’s main railway station. ©Paliparan

Saving money in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, a similar group ticket deal is available which can bring us some further savings.

We can buy a so-called Off Peak Group Ticket which will only costs us €35 for four persons travelling together.

Although this ticket is only valid on off-peak hours on weekdays (it is valid the entire day on weekends and public holidays) you can use it for all of the InterCity (IC) trains we need to take to get from Venlo to Vlissingen.

So for €45.70 plus €35 (€80.70 in total) we can therefore take the exact same 10.25am train departure from Cologne to Vlissingen – even though both the Dutch and German Railways would quote you €196.80 for the same journey!

If you miss a connection somewhere on the route, you can just take a later train as the tickets are flexible.

Apart from the hourly Mönchengladbach to Venlo train, all other trains depart at least once every half hour, so even in case of a delay and missed connection you won’t have to wait long.

You just have to make sure you don’t travel in peak hours when these saver deals are not available.

split ticketing
We managed to bring down the price from €196.80 to just €80.70 for travel on exactly the same trains! ©Paliparan

Conclusion

Although it doesn’t always work for each and every train journey, there are many instances when split ticketing can save you lots of money.

In both examples in this guide, I managed to save half of the normal train ticket costs by using a split ticketing trick.

Split ticketing is worth trying when you travel internationally by train, as buying separate tickets for the journey on each side of the border can sometimes work out a lot cheaper.

However, it is certainly not uncommon for domestic journeys to be a lot cheaper with split ticketing as well, something which for example often works in the United Kingdom.

It’s always worth it to play a bit around with different booking websites and to compare prices and ticket deals. If you know where to look for, you can make some huge savings for your next train journey!

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Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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One thought on “Split Ticketing Guide: How to Lower Your Train Fare

  • July 10, 2023 at 12:06 pm
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    very informative, I will use this guide on my next vacation.

    Reply

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