Spain has an impressive high-speed rail network and although service onboard has changed in recent years (and with it a reduction in First Class services) Renfe AVE Preferente services still offer an extremely comfortable way to explore and all without having to head anywhere near an airport.

There was a time when Renfe had three proper classes of service: Club, Preferente and Turista. In 2015 Club was abolished, leading to a replacement with Preferente, Turista+ (first class seats without onboard service) and Turista. Complimentary food and drink was abolished on some first class services. To keep it simple though, if you’re travelling on a Renfe AVE Preferente or Euromed service on a weekday, you’ll receive a full onboard meal service and drinks.

Check-out our video review here

Booking Renfe Ave Preferente tickets

Booking online is easy (and Renfe have an English version of their website if needed). Generally, the further in advance you’re able to book, the cheaper the price. This means it is often possible to get a cheap ticket in Preferente if you book around six weeks in advance.

In our case, flights between Madrid and Valencia were being extremely high. This made the train a natural alternative to travel back to Valencia. We paid €47 for a ‘promo’ ticket (which was just €4 more than the Turista option). With this sort of ticket it isn’t possible to make any changes, and you’re not entitled to use the Renfe lounge. It’s also worth noting that you’re not able to choose your seat in advance of the journey. if you’re booking a ticket for more than one person you will be seated together though. If the train isn’t full you can also ask to move seats after boarding.

If you want a little additional flexibility to make changes to your ticket then ‘promo+’ can be a decent option (usually around €7 more). This also entitles you to lounge access. In our opinion it isn’t worth buying for this reason alone. The Sala Club in Madrid is essentially an enhanced waiting room. It’s in no way comparable to an airport lounge, such as those of Iberia at Barajas. In Madrid, expect a busy environment with very limited snacks and refreshments. I would never be inclined to arrive at the station early to visit, and so never tend to buy a ‘promo+’ fare.

Madrid Atocha

Madrid Atocha is the main high-speed hub in Madrid. Located in the centre of the city it’s easy to access and fairly straightforward to navigate. It’s worth rememering that you do have to go through security prior to boarding. This is a simplified version of airport security, and I have never had to wait more than 2-3 minutes to clear it. There are no priority lanes for Renfe AVE Preferente ticket holders, but due to the speed of getting through, it’s not needed.

When buying tickets online you’re able to use a mobile boarding pass. Alternatively you can print your ticket at one of the machines when you arrive at the station. Both work fine, and again it’s an easy process to navigate.

Trains usually start boarding around 20 – 25 minutes prior to departure, and doors close promptly two minutes before departure. I’d advise arriving around 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time to leave time for all the formalities. Boarding involves a quick scan of your ticket, and then you’re able to board the train.

Onboard Renfe AVE Preferente

The AVE service to Valencia takes around 90 minutes. If you were to fly it’d take just under an hour, however, by the time you’ve allowed for the airport, and travelled from the centre of the city to get there, the train is a more efficient option.

In Renfe AVE Preferente, seats are configured in a 2 – 1 format, allowing for plenty of personal space to stretch out. At the front of the carriage there are table seats, while all other rows have a large fold-down table. The seats themselves are leather and extremely comfortable.

Preferente Food & Drink

Shortly after departure a printed menu was handed out. On this journey there was only one other passenger in the same carriage. I have previously been on this service when it has been extremely busy, and it’s impressive just how quickly the onboard service is offered.

You can request a special meal prior to travelling, otherwise there is just one choice onboard. It’d be great if there was more of a choice, but what is offered is usually very good. Meals tend to consist of a small salad, a main course, and a dairy based dessert. On this journey the main was chicken with pesto, and was of a good quality. The salad and dessert tend to be on the basic side, and nothing to write home about. Meals are served with a choice of drinks. There are 2 different white and red wines to choose from, we sampled the rioja which was good.

After the main meal service liqueurs are offered from a pretty extensive list. If you’re into gin I’d recommend sampling the Nordes Galician gin.

Before long we were arriving into Valencia, on what was an extremely relaxed journey. If you’re simply wishing to travel from city to city, Renfe offers a price efficient and stress-free way to do so, which I’d highly recommend.