Saving time and money by combining an airline ticket and a railway journey

Did you know how you can combine an international flight with railway services in Canada, Continental Europe, Japan and many other countries, saving both money and time?

This is an option many airlines offer and can be quite convenient.

Why would I choose this option?

In my case, I would rather catch a direct long-haul flight directly from Frankfurt than using the questionable airports around Berlin — and I just need a 10-minute tram ride to make it to the Berlin Central Railway Station. Most airports outside Berlin have excellent railway connections, so this makes perfect sense in my case.

I could also travel to Frankfurt the day before, stay in a hotel at the airport or near the Frankfurt Central Railway Station and take the short hop to the airport in the morning.

In comparison with domestic flights, long-distance express trains travel with much more frequency (every 30 minutes for some destinations during the day) and when you account for being at the airport with 2 hours in advance, security checks, how overcrowded the airports here are etc, this starts making more and more sense.

Not to mention the fact that railway passes are generally not booked for specific seats aboard specific trains, even if you can reserve a seat on the ICE for an extra fee. This means if you miss the train to Frankfurt, you can just hop on to the next one.

This option may be limited to certain railway routes and services, with some railways like DB in Germany and ÖBB in Austria offering a railway pass that can be used on most trains in the country for a fraction of the price of a ticket bought at the platform.

Using the railway option at the destination also offers easy travel to somewhere other than capital cities and tourist resorts.

By choosing a long-distance train, you will also save a lot of emissions, even if the flight portion is a long-haul one.

A couple of Examples

In Germany, you can get a 2-day railway pass, valid on all DB trains for € 34 one way for a 2nd class seat. This includes the ICE high-speed trains. While the railway journey is a little more than 5 hours, this option saved me from a 9-hour layover in Frankfurt or € 140 in rail tickets. For reference, DB and Lufthansa call this offer Rail&Fly.

When flying to Italy, you can add a journey with the Italian private high-speed rail operator NTV, who runs the sleek Italo trains. While they do not travel to and from Rome Fiumicino Airport for example, adding this option to your railway ticket offers great connections to locations in Italy such as Bologna or Salerno. Note that Italo tickets are for specific trains, so make sure you have enough time to transit.

When flying to Tokyo, you can get a railway pass from JR-East, facilitating full access of several transport options in the JR-East region, including Tokyo. This includes the Tokyo Monorail and the famous Shinkansen trains.

Which airlines offer this service?

If you book directly from your airline, AccessRail, who manages most of those bookings has interline agreements with most large flag–carrier airlines. This includes Air France, British Airways, Emirates, Icelandair, Lufthansa etc. The full list is available at the AccessRail website.

US carriers don’t seem to be listed by AccessRail, so if you are in the US, make sure to check if your planned flight falls undar a code-share agreement with another alliance member and book through them instead.

How do I get railway tickets from my airline or travel agent?

The railway option may not be available or well-visible in your airline’s online booking engine, so make sure to give your airline a quick call in advance. It seems common for airlines to provide the rail option as an additional service after the flight legs have been paid for and you may receive a separate booking reservation for the train ticket.

When booking online, you should therefore generally reserve and pay for the actual flight portion first before adding the train ticket.

For technical information, the airline code for most railway services is 9B (AccessRail). In the case of the French Railways (SNCF) and Air France, it is 2C. If you book through a travel agent, make sure they know about this option before proceeding.

Further reading

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