Oh the 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 online, go for Trainline, which is the best ticketing platform we’ve found for Spain. It has tickets at exactly the same price as Renfe, but with a completely functional and translated website. (Our second-choice platform, also great for Spain, is Loco2.)
- If you’re already in Spain and want to pay cash, you could also go to any Renfe station and stand in line or else use the automatic ticket machines.
- If you’re in a tiny town and there is no one working at the ticket window on the day you travel, just hop on the train and explain exactly where you got on to the ticket inspector, who will sell you a ticket on the spot with no fine. (This only works if you’re departing from an unmanned station.)
Update History of This Article
Foreign (especially American, Autralian) 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.
But because of the other problems with Renfe.com, the trickiness of exchanging tickets, and the half-translations, we’d recommend Trainline instead as explained up top. It accepts Mastercard, Paypal, American Express, and Apple Pay and we’ve heard of no issues with foreign cards. You can set the currency for Trainline to U.S., Canadian, or Australian dollars; Euros; most other major European currencies; Argentine pesos; Brazilian reais; Japanese yen; and Chinese yuan.
Even Renfe.com’s English version is half in Spanish!
Yes, we know. At our last check, most of the deep pages in the 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.
And 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.
As we mentioned at the top, try Trainline. Its English is perfect, and it’s 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 and half in Castilian Spanish.
A bit more about the alternative to Renfe.com
With Trainline you print your tickets at home, show them on your mobile device, or else print them in the train station itself at the Renfe ticket machines using your booking reference. There’s nothing you have to receive by mail, unlike some other booking options.
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.