Thursday, February 26, 2009

No Cheap Fares From Renfe If You Don't Speak Spanish

Not learning the language of the country where you live can always have its costs, but it seems that in the case of Spanish train services that cost can be very high. An item in the Guardian caught my eye this morning, they were advising that you should always use the native language site when booking train tickets in Europe as the prices offered can differ according to the language. They cited the Spanish train operator Renfe as an example of this. Can this really be true I asked myself? Off I went to the Renfe website and looked for a day when they offer the cheapest prices for the high speed AVE between Barcelona and Madrid. Here it is, on April 22nd you can travel from Barcelona to Madrid for a bargain €43.80 leaving at 9 in the morning. You'll need to double click on the image to see it properly.

Now try changing the language on the site to English and look for the same train on the same day. You get offered a different interface and all of a sudden it seems that the same journey on the same train will cost €109.50. I would imagine that the difference of €66 on a single journey might pay for enough Spanish classes to enable anyone to use the Renfe website.

Now there is a way around this - once you're inside the Spanish booking process you can set the language to English, it sends you back to the beginning but you do get to see the same cheap tickets. How many non-Spanish speakers get that far is an open question.

Even more alarming for those who worry about the cohesion of the country is that the special fare doesn't seem to be available for Basque, Catalan or Galician speakers either! That could tip the balance in favour of independence. The organisations that claim Spanish is discriminated against in other parts of the country get to ship their demonstrators from Madrid at a cheap price, but nobody can do it the other way round! To be fair, the multilingual part of the site does seem to be a work in progress, but then to be unfair it probably always has been.


Midnight Golfer said...

It's good that somebody did their homework on this.

I am surprised, not just that Renfe obviously thinks they can get away with this at all, but also with the disparity between the two sets of prices.

Maybe I shouldn't be.

I'm not sure I should admit to this, but this disgraceful behaviour makes me feel ashamed that Spanish rail traffic forms an important part of how I make a living.

Graeme said...

The difference in price is that between the full standard fare and the cheapest of the cheap tickets - obviously not all trains have these available anyway. As for your profession, don't worry we won't tell anyone.

Troy said...

Good detective work on this one Graeme. You beat me to it, but I was thinking about posting something about this and still may over on my travel blog.

Renfe's nefarious actions don't surprise me though. Since they pulled the fast one (sorry for the pun) and linked Madrid and Barcelona with the AVE and then cancelled all other 'regular' services, I am convinced that they are somehow in the pockets of the bus companies. That or it's part of the PSOE's plan to sell more cars that France once again.

Does anyone speak German and could do something similar over on their site?

Graeme said...

I don't speak German but I have used the site a few times so I might have a look. Although in Germany a lot of the cheap train fares are based on the idea that you buy a Bahn Card which gives you a discount. The last time I bought a train ticket there this was patiently explained to me in English by the man at the ticket desk.

Keefieboy said...

Wow! That's a bit bloody naughty. I was thinking of taking the train to Salamanca last month for a weekend break. And being lazy I chose the English version of the site. For the fares quoted, it was cheaper to fly to Lisbon!

Graeme said...

My memory of train services to Salamanca is that they were slow and cheap - so something must have changed. The last time I went it was a toss up between the bus and the train and I seem to remember that the bus was cheaper but not necessarily much slower.