Monday, October 10

Traveling to Italy? Don't get taken for a Ride

Before the (thankfully) inimitable TrenItalia took hold of Italy's national train company (and shook the Italians down in the process), I practically lived on Italian trains. For over 15 years, I travelled the swathe of the boot on average 6 days per week.  In a country that prides itself on the human contact, I enjoyed every minute of it.  
But then TrenItalia decided that train fares could be hiked up to meet "European levels" even though Italian salaries stayed put precisely at the salary level I had in my second job -- at the age of 23.  
But, every now and again, I am forced to take the trains to one appointment or another, and I will be first to admit that I love going city center to city center, the hassle-free service (except if you're actually carrying luggage), sleek trains and even bustling train stations.  But, every now and again, you must also conduct a quick reality check, and remind yourself that it's not just the illegal and shoddy 'taxi drivers' offering you a ride who wish to separate you from your money: you need to be quite aware of the next sneaky deal that TrenItalia is trying to put past you.
Nowadays, you get much faster service if you simply purchase your train tickets at one of the dozens of automated machines perched throughout nearly every station.  Believe me, it's faster than attempting to purchase over the internet, whereby you will get timed out, have to register, and, if you're a foreigner, not be able to retrieve your tickets...once you've submitted your firstborn child's social security number.
When attempting to take a slow (read: inexpensive) train to Florence or Naples, I kept getting hood-winked.  I'd input the destination and up would pop a number of trains, all coming in at the most expensive price.  Because I had checked the train schedule online, I was certain this could not be the case.  But, thinking that the local and often faulty trains perhaps had been discontinued, I carried on paying the piper.
Until one day, I noticed, at the bottom of my screen, a few choice words:  TUTTE LE SOLUZIONI or, in English, ALL SOLUTIONS (or perhaps, ALL TRAINS).  I clicked.  Suddenly, up popped all those missing cheap trains I had seen on the website.
So, if you're not in a hurry and don't care about having an internet connection, but actually just want to enjoy a comfortable ride in a proper wagon with other passengers where you will almost always have a convivial conversation with those around you, try this.  
You heard it here first.  And, you probably won't hear it anywhere else.  (Except TripAdvisor Forums!)


Jacques said...

The same point actually gets trashed around at least every couple months on Trip Advisor forums.
One thing to note about the fast trains is that if you are sure about your travel date and time, there are discounted fares which can be as much as 60% off. The are limited availability, and with much more availability for normally "empty" trains (the 10:30 train which eats a good part of the day) and have almost no modifications possible once they are issued (which has to be at least the day before or earlier), but they can be a good deal.
You also get assigned the seats almost no one would pick (near the doors, for example). Currently the generic reduced fare is called "mini" but the same basic program has had different names in the past, and probably will have others in the future without changing the substance.

Francesca Maggi said... you didn't hear it hear first! I once saw advertised "starting at midnight, trains Rome-Venice for 9 euro!!" Knowing tkts would be limited, I waited til 12:01 & then shot in with my reservation.

All trains & all routes were supposedly sold out.
I don't believe it.

Or, they allotted 1 ticket per train at that fare.

Regardless to say, I've yet to purchase a discounted ticket (also because most are if you plan 30 days in advance).

Jacques said...

I didn't mean for you to change the post... In any case, for some trains it does seem there aren't any, but it doesn't usually require 30 days for me, though I don't buy Milano-Roma hardly ever any more, only Milano - Venezia or Venezia - Firenze - Roma, and can usually manage a good discount (not always 60%, but 25-30%) up to about a week before, and then 10-15% still a couple days before... and the delays seem to be less than once upon a time...

mmtmrb said...

we figured out that little trick but only at the end of our trip, when we were trying to get trains around tuscany. we had good luck with Saturday's free and family tickets but that was booking months in advance

Kay said...

Not just Trenitalia... I first discovered this little gem of a rip-off in England. It took me a minute to work out why I was offered such an expensive option when the internet had given me a much better price. I wonder if the people who sell the vending machines use that as a marketing ploy?