I've been booking trains in Italy for many years, and oh, the problems. Trenitalia's official website is buggy to say the least, and the ticket machines in train stations are as confusing as the humans at the ticket counters. Worse, using foreign (American, French, etc.) credit cards can cause even more headaches.
Italians have these problems too, and as much as they love train travel they're constantly cursing the national train company and especially its booking system. The website is ugly and very quirky to use even its original version (I speak Italian; I've tried).
We've thus spent a few weeks researching the best alternatives to Trenitalia for foreigners looking to avoid these problems, and want to efficiently book the cheapest tickets for Italian train travel. We tested all kinds of routes and options, and looked at complaints and defects for the public and various private systems.
There was one clear winner for Italy — and it was our main choice for France and the rest of Europe too. Frankly, it's so good that we think even Italians themselves are better off leaving Trenitalia's site for easier booking at the same prices.
Trainline helps avoid the obvious challenges of these sites, such as poor translations (and untranslated portions of the sites, such as place names), foreign credit card denials, surprise re-directs, incomprehensible options, and technical bugs that cause you to restart your purchase process. Plus Trainline searches both Italian train systems at once.
In our tests, Trainline also has a smarter search engine that comes up with cheaper and better route options than private competing portals. Customers are also generally reasonably satisfied with the level of customer service.
- Why Seek an Alternative to Trenitalia.com?
- Trainline: Our Current Top Pick for Buying Italy Train Tickets
- The Other Alternatives for Booking Italian Train Tickets Online (But Not Recommended)
- In Sum: The Cheapest, Most Efficient Way to Book Train Travel in Italy
Update History of This Article
Why Seek an Alternative to Trenitalia.com?
- For international trips, prices can actually be higher on Trenitalia than when buying through certain resellers like Trainline, as Trenitalia doesn't have as complete access to non-Italian networks.
- Trenitalia's website often has billing problems with foreign credit cards, and even errors in accepting Italian credit cards and Paypal. It also sometimes can't accept non-Italian addresses.
- Random parts of the Trenitalia website remain untranslated. Parts of pages show up in Italian, and you must use Italian (not English) place names in searches. Sometimes you need to know which train station is served for which route in order to perform the search.
- Trenitalia offers a 25-page guide for English speakers attempting to use their site, which explains the obvious stuff in excruciating detail ("continue" means "to go on") but doesn't explain real questions that users might have about the site's bizarre options and terms ("typology of the carnet"). Seat61 does a better job of explaining the options, incidentally.
- Customers often report problems reaching Trenitalia's customer service, for example, when purchased tickets are not actually generated.
- Routes that you know are available sometimes do not appear in search results at all, particularly complicated routes and those leaving Italy.
All that said, people do manage to use Trenitalia and the site often works OK once you're used to it. But we think there are a few better options, and one that is much, much better.
Trainline: Our Current Top Pick for Buying Italy Train Tickets
While Trainline isn't perfect, it's easily better (and sometimes cheaper) than booking through Trenitalia. We've found that it's also still well-ahead of competing private train booking portals for Italy, and the rest of Europe for that matter.
The Advantages of Trainline over Trenitalia and Other Booking Portals
- You get the same prices (and sometimes a bit cheaper) as when booking directly from Trenitalia: Trainline offers its tickets at the same prices as on the official websites of the national carrier Trenitalia and the private carrier Italo. (Likewise with its tickets for Germany, Spain, Eurostar (Paris to London), France and more.) Trainline makes its money on commissions — rather than adding a surcharge, like some other portals. And when you cross the border during a trip, Trainline can be even cheaper than Trenitalia, as we found recently when looking for a trip from Bari to Zurich. This is because Trainline can do combinations directly with other countries' ticketing systems that sometimes Trenitalia doesn't have access to.
- Trainline works with American and other international credit cards, accepting Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and PayPal. While Trenitalia can in theory now accept non-Italian cards, people still reports lots of problems. Trainline payment is as smooth as on any modern website, and you are immediately issued a completely comprehensible email with your itinerary and receipt.
- Snappy, clean website: Trainline's website is a nice bit of design and easy to use. It doesn't have the grating clutter of Trenitalia, nor the incessant advertising of other private options. (There are no popups for Booking.com, car rentals, etc. — fine sites, but you can take care of those reservations without being hassled, right?)
- Quality and speedy customer support: Trainline excels as a hand to hold and mediator between customers and the complex and frustrating European train systems. Trenitalia is legendarily difficult to get ahold of, let alone deal with, should problems with your booking come up. Trainline's support comes from normal humans who respond quickly.
Indicate your seat preference: Trainline offers this option for long-distance trains (no such option exists on Trenitalia regional trains). Some competing portals do not offer this option at all.
- Compare bus, Trenitalia, and Italo options side-by-side: The private competitor Italo runs limited services on a few of the same routes as Trenitalia and can be quite comfortable and in certain cases more convenient. With Trainline you'll automatically see both options when available, so you don't have to visit both sites separately. Trainline also automatically suggests the (usually much cheaper) bus options.
- Age and Other Discounts: Trenitalia sells discount cards for youth (12 to 26 years old) and seniors (60 years and over) that are worth purchasing if you travel very frequently via the Italian rail system. If you have these cards, you can get the relevant discounts when purchasing via Trainline, and likewise for age discounts when available in other countries. Other private ticketing portals generally don't provide this option.
- Emailed tickets: Trainline emails your tickets immediately upon purchase. For the long-distance trains you can simply quote the booking reference on board; the regional tickets must be printed out.
- Easy cancellations: If you've purchased tickets that are refundable or changeable, you can take care of this right from within Trainline.
The Disadvantages of Trainline
Here's where we think Trainline could still stand to improve.
- There is no flexible dates option. If you're willing to go whichever day is cheapest, go first to Trenitalia's advanced search, which can show you three days before and after a particular date that you enter to search. Once you've narrowed down the date, head back to Trainline to enjoy speedier booking and better customer service.
- Still has a surcharge in certain countries: While you don't pay anything extra for using Trainline for Italian as well as most other European train tickets, you may pay a bit extra for travel within Benelux countries, Austria, Denmark, and Czech: typically 2-4 euros.
The Other Alternatives for Booking Italian Train Tickets Online (But Not Recommended)
Trenitalia: We discuss how annoying the national train company's official site is up top.
Italotreno.it: The private competing rail service has a website that is a bit better than Trenitalia's, but still suffers from usability problems and incomplete translations. Since their service is much more limited, it's only relevant for certain routes. It's much easier to search both train services at once using our main train portal pick, which offers the same prices as both and is more user-friendly.
ItaliaRail: This is a private booking portal that sells Trenitalia tickets with a website that is a bit smoother for foreigners to use than Trenitalia's. The design is simpler and the English version is complete. However, unlike our main pick, it tacks on an extra fee, and its options aren't always quite as good.
Loco2.com is almost as nice as our top pick. It generally offers the same prices, though not as many route options in our tests. It also then tacks on a 2.5% credit card fee. The user interface is excellent and we'll be keeping our eyes on this main competitor to Trainline.
Rome2Rio is a cool search tool that compares everything at once: driving, buses, planes and trains. It doesn't actually sell train tickets, however; it links over to Loco2 (above) for actual purchases. Also, it seems to not have as complete a listing of train routes as Trainline and others.
GoEuro.com: This site is very clean and easy to use. It isn't as clever with suggesting complex train routes as our main pick, nor does it offer as many options about seating and the rest. It also has search functions for buses and planes. There is a small additional booking fee.
In Sum: The Cheapest, Most Efficient Way to Book Train Travel in Italy
We've switched to Trainline and we think it's better for just about anyone for Italy train bookings; it offers the same prices as Trenitalia and Italo, but without the headaches of their buggy websites and reviled, screwball customer service. We're watching the other private options but for now none of them offer as complete coverage and without tacking on extra fees.