What’s the difference between Preferente and Turista tickets?
This is a question we’re often asked. Like in many countries, there are different classes of train tickets in Spain. The two main ones are Preferente and Turista. But what’s the difference? At a simplified level, a Turista ticket is an economy ticket and a Preferente ticket is similar to a business class ticket. And on many trains, the difference in price can be around 30 EUROS. So it’s worth knowing what each offers!
The number of seats
To start with, the seating configuration is different. Turista has four seats across the width of the train, with two seats on each side of the aisle (you can see this in the picture above). In Preferente, the seats drop to three across the width of the train and the configuration is two seats on one side and one seat on its own. The seats themselves are also more comfortable.
It’s worth pointing out that Turista class seats are not that much tighter (seat-width wise) than Preferente as the aisles themselves are wider too. The main gain is that if you’re travelling alone, you can bag a single seat for just you.
On some trains, there is also a Turista Plus, which has the same seats as the Turista class but the configuration is the same as Preferente.
Renfe sells Preferente as full-price and also reduced-price (Promo+ or Promo). By choosing the reduced-price option, you’re waiving your right to change/cancel your ticket without penalty. And (unfortunately) you also don’t get to choose your own seat. Instead, this is assigned to you by the reservations system. Since the Renfe system will assign you the least desirable seats, you can expect to be seated in the opposite direction the train is travelling in. This seems to be the case even if you’re the only person on the train!
Tip: once onboard, if you want to change the seat, ask the onboard Train Manager. They are usually equipped with a real-time connected iPad with all the seat assignation onboard. He/she usually walks through the train at the very start of the journey, starting in Preferente car #1. If the seat you want (those much-coveted centre table seats, for example) is not booked, you can change seat for free!
Some reduced-price ticket (Promo fare) holders also don’t have access to the Sala Club lounges at most major stations. For more on what Sala Clubs offer, you can find a guide to the one at Madrid Atocha Station on our sister site. And only full-priced Preferente ticket holders get the benefit of free parking at the train station.
We explain the fare structure in more detail in our blog on: Train tickets – Fares.
The seat spacing in Preferente is very comfortable. But be aware that if you go for the much coveted “table” seats in the centre of the train, you share that leg space with the person opposite, which can sometimes be very annoying indeed.
Some, not all, trains have onboard WiFi – you’ll need your ticket number in order to generate a login code sent to your mobile phone, to get on-line.
You can tell if a train is supposed to have WiFi onboard from this helpful logo outside. From personal experience, the WiFi is good or “it’s broken”. So don’t assume that you’re going to get it even if the logo is on your train.
Every seat in Preferente has its own (spanish socket) power outlet – perfect for charging your devices. On AVE trains these are under your armrest. On the older Alvia trains, you’ll find it underneath your seat. These were evidently retro-fitted on the Alvias and you’ll need to be super flexible to find them. Or just crawl around the floor of the train…
The Preferente cars provide at-your-seat meal and bar services, rather like an aircraft. But beware: there is no food/bar service on Saturdays. Don’t ask me “why not on Saturdays?”. I have no idea. But there you go!
Shortly after departure, the crew will come round offering newspapers called Prensa (which means press). Only national titles are available. And only for Preferente passengers.
What’s on the menu?
The food served up in Preferente is okay… On morning trains, it usually involves a tortilla (an omelette) served with some pastries, juices, coffee etc.
Lunchtime and dinnertime trains have a hot meal service, again served with a bar offering wines, beers spirits etc.
As a regular user of Spanish trains I find the Renfe trolley service very annoying. When you ask for “water” for example, they will only serve this in a small plastic glass. If you order sparkling water, you’ll get a 200ml bottle. It’s annoying, because they only generally come through the train with one drinks service. I’ve found the simplest way round this is to just buy my own bottled water before boarding. You can also buy bottled water onboard from the Cafeteria. Last time I did this it was 2,10 EUR for a 300ML bottle. That same bottle of water will cost around 0,50 EUR in a supermarket.
They also seem to take forever to clear away the trays from meal services. So if you’ve got work to do, take into consideration there is no room on your table while the meal tray is out.
Passengers in both Preferente and Turista can buy from the on-train Cafeteria, which provides a limited, but very tasty range of food. This includes hot pork-loin steak sandwiches made to order, which are really nice.
On the high-speed AVE trains, the Cafeterias are quite freaky with lots of additional windows, so you really can tell when the train is hurtling along at 250 Km/hour whilst your munching on your bocadillo!