Free train tickets in the Costa del Sol – Questions and Answers

September 11, 2023
Last updated: April 07, 2024

Did you hear about the free train tickets in the Costa del Sol – or actually, in the whole Spain? Is it for real? How does it work? Come check everything about it! In this post, we’ll explain the program and answer the most common questions about the free train tickets in Spain. As we focus on the Costa del Sol, all examples will be centered on the trains from Malaga, but the information is valid for anywhere in Spain.

Related posts:
Free train travels in the Costa del Sol
Train stations in Fuengirola

Train stations in Benalmadena
Train stations in Torremolinos
Train stations in Malaga

Will the free trains continue in 2024?

Yesssss!!!!! The abono recurrente tickets for the period from January 1, 2024 to April 30, 2024 are already being sold, and in Renfe’s page it states that the program will go on (at least) until the end of 2024! Once again, the tickets can be bought either on-line or in the stations, and each period of the program last for 4 months.

Announce of the renewal of the program in Renfe’s page.

Are trains free in the Costa del Sol in 2024?

Yes, they are, as long as the passenger buys a ticket called abono recurrente, that costs 10 euros (for local, commuter trains) or 20 euros (for medium distance trains, that run up to 300 km) and completes 16 trips within the time frame of the ticket.

The rides are free, but it is not as simple as just entering the train; one must purchase the ticket called abono recurrente (translates to something like repeating discount), that will be refunded if the ticket owner travels at least 16 times by train during the period for which the ticket was bought.

free train tickets in the Costa del Sol: Renfe train
A Renfe Train approaches the station. Photo by Mama Malaga

Notice that (as usual) the periods are predefined:
January 01 to April 30, 2024;
May 01 to August 31, 2024;
September 01 to December 31, 2024.

When buying an Abono recurrente ticket, one has to specify for which period they are buying the ticket. The period is one of the three above; so, if you are buying the ticket in the end of April or August, be careful to choose the correct date, so that you don’t get a ticket that is about to expire.

How do I get my money back?

If you pay for it with money, the refund has to be requested in one of the train stations, after the end of the period for which the ticket was purchased.

If you pay the ticket with credit or debit card, it will be refunded automatically after the end of the period (after December 31, 2023 for the September to December, 2023 period; and after April 30, 2024 for the January to April period, and so on), as long as you have done 16 validated train trips. For reference, I received my refund for the Sept/Dec 2023 period on January 10, 2024.

How does the free train tickets in the Costa del Sol work?

There are two programs: one for short distance trains (cercanías), and one for medium distance (media distancia) trains, which would connect Málaga to Sevilla, for example. These are two separate things; getting the ticket for one does not allow for traveling in the other.

The cercanias abono recurrente ticket costs 10 euros; the media distancia, 20 euros. Each of them requires that 16 trips be completed in order for a refund to be issued.

A person can buy either of the tickets or even both. The tickets are individual, so if you are travelling with family members, each of them should have their own ticket.

free train tickets in the Costa del Sol: Los Boliches Station
Los Boliches train station, in Fuengirola. Photo by Mama Malaga

Why are trains free in the Costa del Sol in 2023 and 2024?

It all started back in 2022, when the government decided to make the trains free to incentivize the use of this means of transportation in order to reduce the consumption of oil. It had to do with fear of scarcity of oil due to the war in Ukraine.

Renfe, the state-owned company that deals with trains in Spain, issued the program for the first time for 4 months (September to December 2022); since then, as it proved successful, the program has been extended by four months at a time (January to April 2023, May to August 2023, September to December 2023, then the same for 2024). Renfe has already stated that the program will keep being renewed until the end of 2024, 4 months at a time.

How long will the trains be free in the Costa del Sol?

For now, we know for sure that it will last at least until the end of December 2024. It is up to the government to extend it more or to stop it. If they decide to extend it, we will probably get to know by December 2024, and if they keep the pattern, it should be extended again for more 4 months.

free train tickets in the Costa del Sol: Fuengirola Station
Fuengirola train Station. Photo by Mama Malaga

Who can use the trains for free in the Costa del Sol?

Anyone who buys the abono recurrente ticket – foreigners, Spaniards, locals or tourists, it doesn’t matter. All you need to get the ticket is an ID and 10 euros. The ID can be a passport or a local ID (NIE number or DNI)*.

*Edit: Check on the two pictures below: the one on the left is a snapshot of the video in Free train travels in the Costa del Sol and it includes passport among the documents accepted to buy an abono recurrente ticket; the one on the right is a more recent (October 28, 2023) screenshot of the same page in the Renfe cercanías app, that doesn’t include passport. Despite of that, passports are still being accepted as documents.

free train tickets in the Costa del Sol: Renfe app august 2023
Renfe app in August 2023
free train tickets in the Costa del Sol: Renfe app October 2023
Renfe app in October 2023

How will the refund be issued?

If you pay the 10 euros with your debit or credit card, the refund will be issued to the card after the conclusion of the 4 months duration of the program – if you pay with cash, the refund has to be requested at one of the train stations.

How much does a regular train ticket cost in the Costa del Sol?

A regular local train ticket, not the abono recurrente, is priced according to how many zones are in use. Let’s clarify it.

Free train tickets in the Costa del Sol: Renfe map of cercanias, Málaga
Map of the Malaga Cercanías train stations, by Renfe.

See the picture with the map of the lines for the local, commuter trains? Notice that it has gray zones, numbered 0 to 4. Well, the normal ticket prices depend on how many of those zones are being crossed. The prices of today (September 2023), with examples for the line C1, are:

A one-way ticket that stays in one zone: € 1,80
Examples: Plaza Mayor to Torremolinos, or Aeropuerto to Victoria Kent.

A one-way ticket that crosses one zone: € 1,80
Examples: Plaza Mayor to Aeropuerto or Torremolinos to Torremuelle

A one-way ticket that crosses two zones: € 2,05
Examples: Torremolinos to Fuengirola or La Colina to María Zambrano

A one-way ticket that crosses three zones: € 2,70
Examples: Aeropuerto to Fuengirola or Malaga Centro Alameda to Benalmádena – Arroyo de la Miel

A one-way ticket that crosses four zones: € 3,60
Example: Fuengirola to Malaga Centro Alameda

The local abono recurrente ticket costs 10 euros regardless of how many zones are crossed, is valid for unlimited trips between any stations within the province for which it was issued, and can be refunded after the end of the period as long as 16 validated trips are made; that’s why it is referred to as a free train ticket.

free train tickets in the Costa del Sol: Benalmádena - Arroyo de la Miel Station
Benalmadena – Arroyo de la Miel station. Photo by Mama Malaga

How can I know the train timetable?

If you have the app Renfe Cercanías, you can check the times for the trains in the first option of their menu, called “routes and times”. It won’t give you a full timetable; it will ask a train station of origin and one for destination, ask for you to choose a time and then show you the results that depart after that time.

If you prefer to check without the app, use this timetable link for Málaga. You will also need to fill up your stations of origin and destination but can see all the options available for a given day. Roughly speaking, trains on the line C1 (Málaga to Fuengirola) run from 06:00 till midnight, departing each 20 minutes. The longest trip on this line, from Fuengirola to Málaga Centro Alameda (or vice-versa) would take 46 minutes.

On the line C2 (Málaga to Alora), whose timetable can also be checked either in the app or in the timetable link above, trains run roughly from 06:00 to 22:00, but departures occur only once per hour or two hours – then the timetable is really needed, right? The longest trip on this line, from Málaga Centro Alameda to Alora (or vice-versa) would take around 40 minutes.

Is it worth it getting the abono recurrente ticket?

That depends on how often you use the trains. Basically, if you were going to spend more than 10 euros on local trains, it would be worth having the ticket, even if you were not going to use it enough to get the refund. To know how much you would spend without the ticket, check the question with the prices for individual tickets..

For the previous examples, if a person is staying in Fuengirola and would like to visit Malaga, one round trip would cost €7,20; with one more round trip, even to stay in the same zone, it would already add €3,60, getting to a total of €10,80. In this case, it would already be more economical to have the abono recurrente ticket, even if the refund would not be achieved. Notice that the abono has to be bought before using the trains; it won’t refund any trips done prior to that.

For the medium distance trains, getting the refund is much harder, as not many people would do 8 round trips between Malaga and Seville in 4 months!! It may be worth it, though, as one such ticket can cost 37,35 euros. So it is better to check the price of the regular ticket you have in mind before buying the medium distance abono recurrente ticket.

free train tickets in the Costa del Sol: Renfe train
Renfe cercanías train. Photo by Mama Malaga

Can I use the abono recurrente in different provinces?

No. Each province has their own abono recurrente; if you are going to spend time in more than one province of Spain, you can buy one abono recurrente ticket per person for each province where you will be staying, if it is worth it.

Can I use the abono recurrente between any stations or only between those for which I buy the ticket?

In the Cercanías program, you can use the train between any stations. You will be asked to choose stations while buying the ticket, but you can travel anywhere along the Cercanías lines.

In the media distancia (medium distance) program, you can only travel for free between the stations for which the ticket was bought.

free train tickets in the Costa del Sol: train structure in Los Boliches, Fuengirola
Structure of the railway in Los Boliches, Fuengirola. Photo by Mama Malaga

How to get the free train tickets?

You can buy the tickets on the station or online. To buy on the station, look for ticket fare “abono recurrente” on their ticket machines; to buy online, check the post free train travels in the Costa del Sol where I explained and added a video describing how to do it. 😉

Which is better: buying the ticket in the station or buying it online?

Buying directly at the station has the advantage that you can count on the help of renfe workers in case something is not clear. You will need to buy a regular train card (that costs 50 cents and is called TSC card) if you don’t already have one, and the abono recurrent ticket will be added to that TSC card. The disadvantages of buying this way are that 1) there is usually a line for the office and 2) the station personnel is often busy and, therefore, you may wait a bit for help, if needed.

If you buy online, you’ll get a QR code that will be stored under ’my tickets’ in the app Renfe cercanías used to buy the ticket. When you go to the station, you can add it to your TSC card using the ticket machines (for free) or you can simply use the QR code directly to open the barriers that have QR code readers. The disadvantage of buying this way is that while every barrier reads the cards, only some have QR code readers. If you choose to buy online and then transfer the QR code to the TSC, you’ll end up needing to use the machine in the station any way.

free train tickets in the Costa del Sol: QR reader
A barrier that has both card reader and QR code reader. Photo by Mama Malaga

Between the TSC and the QR code, I prefer the TSC. First because of the number of barriers; second that a few times it happened that the barrier couldn’t read my QR code, so someone from the station would come and help (and I saw it happening to many other people too); and third that you still have your free ticket if your phone’s battery dies. I bought my first abono recurrente ticket online and added it to my TSC card on one of my first train trips. The second, I bought at the station.

Can two or more people use the same ticket?

No, each ticket is valid for one person only.

From what age kids need a ticket?

Kids up to 5 years old can travel for free with an adult (maximum two kids per adult).

When I read about this program, it says I need to validate the card. What is that?

You know how you need to bring a regular train ticket close to a reader on a barrier for the barrier to open? That is the validation. You need to ‘show’ your ticket to the barrier before passing it, or else it won’t count as one of the 16 trips needed to issue the refund – and you may get a fine for traveling without a validated ticket!

free train tickets in the Costa del Sol: Los Boliches, renfe train
A Renfe Cercanías train at a station. Photo by Mama Malaga

Can I bring a dog in the train?

Yes, one pet (cat, dog, bird…) or bicycle is allowed per person in the train. They travel for free. Keep in mind that dogs must wear a muzzle in the train.

Can I go from Malaga to Valencia for free?

No, because that would not be a media distancia train; the media distancia tickets are for trips of up to 300 km, but Malaga to Valencia is more than that. Notice also that even for shorter than 300 km trips, they may not sell abono tickets for all destinations. There are Medium Distance abono tickets between Malaga (Maria Zambrano station) and Seville, but not between Malaga and Granada or Cordoba. I’m afraid these trips would be full price. There is, though, a media distance abono ticket between Seville and Cordoba.

And that’s all for now. Let me know if you have more questions in the comments 😉 Happy travels!

17 thoughts on “Free train tickets in the Costa del Sol – Questions and Answers

  1. This is amazing information. Thank you so much for sharing it.
    Do you know if there is a way I can check how many journeys I have used on
    my abono recurrente ticket? I think I am over 10, but not at 16.

    Many thanks and Merry Christmas.

    1. Hi Ian!
      In theory, when you check ‘my tickets’ in the app, it shows how many travels happened. But just in theory. My own shows 15, and I’m sure I’m past 40 validated trips. Other than that, I don’t know how to check; I hope Renfe has a better way to count than the app.

  2. Thank you for the reply.
    I have a Renfe & Tú card, but do not use the app. I did try it at the local station, but it didn’t work.

  3. Hi
    We are visiting for a month from 8th Jan . Staying in Benalmadena. We intend to visit Granada , Seville. , Cordoba all by train
    I’d be so grateful if you could advise me on what ticket could be used . I’m assuming the medium journey one ? And then the other one also for getting to Malaga ? Can these discount tickets be used on any of the trains going to those destinations also please
    I’m finding it all a bit complicated!

    1. Hello Una,
      I can see how it can get a bit complicated, because it involves several provinces and trips in and between them – but I bet it will be a very interesting trip!

      There are two types of abono tickets: one for nearby (cercanías) and another for medium distance, as you already figured. While the cercanías one works for all stations within a province’s lines (C1 and C2 in Malaga province), the medium distance ticket works only between the cities (and stations) chosen in the moment of buying. For instance, a medium distance ticket for Malaga-Seville would allow you to come and go between these two cities, but would not take you to Cordoba, for which you would need to get another medium distance ticket; nor would allow you to travel in the cercanias trains of Seville or Málaga.

      Notice that there are Medium distance abono tickets between Malaga (Maria Zambrano station) and Seville, but not between Malaga and Granada or Cordoba. I’m afraid these trips would be full price. There is, though, a media distance abono ticket between Seville and Cordoba.

      If you intend to go from Benalmadena to Malaga and return at least 2 times (a total of 4 trips), the Malaga cercanias abono ticket is already worth it, because it is cheaper than 4 simple tickets. But the abono ticket would not be valid in Seville’s cercanías trains – that would already be another cercanía ticket, because it is another province. Would it be worth buying a cercanias ticket in Seville as well? It depends on how many trips you would do there.

      In short, from the looks of it, I believe that the Malaga cercanias and the medium distance between Malaga and Seville would be useful for you – plus some other tickets depending on your exact plans and dates. Check renfe’s website to compare prices, and have a great trip!

    2. Hi,
      Thank you so much for such an informative post. We are planning to visit Malaga in May’24. We are going to stay in Gaucin and planning to visit Malaga city. Can you please suggest me any such train card which will save us money. Thanks

      1. Hello,
        The current programs are valid until the end of April; I don’t know yet if they will be extended to May. Let’s hope so! I’ll update the post as soon as new information is available. 😉

  4. Hi, wanted to buy this ticket online, want to use from Los boliches, does Los boliches have qr code reader yet? Many thanks

    1. Hello Tony!
      If I recall correctly, in Los Boliches they have a machine, close to the one that sells tickets, that can read QR codes. They don’t have barriers there, so it is not so evident; it takes a bit of looking around.

  5. Hi I am trying to buy the ticket, but once selected there’s no date available anymore? It does still give the option to purchase for €10 still, do you think this is correct? Many thanks

    1. Hello Tony,
      I think it is correct. Buying the Abono Recurrente ticket today would mean it is valid from today till April 30; there is no other option available at this moment. This may change in the end of April, if the program is maintained, because them there would be an option between the ticket that finishes in April and the one that starts in May. 😉

  6. wij gaan in april naar Benalmadena en willen waarschijnlijk Malaga, Cordobo, Ronda en Granada bezoeken. Malaga kan makkelijk met de trein, maar die andere niet zo goedkoop begrijp ik. Is het dan toch wellicht goedkoper om en auto te huren ipv met de trein te gaan met 4 personen ?

    1. Hello Jolanda,
      Indeed, from Benalmadena to Malaga, the train is enough, but to go from Malaga to the other cities, as 4 people, it seems to me that hiring a car would be cheaper. Check the car rental prices in Discovercars.com; they have very good offers.

  7. Thanks so much for the info. I will do this for an upcoming trip.

    I note not all stations have gates. Do you have to ‘touch out’ if this is the case? I.e like the Oyster system in London? Or can you just walk off the platform.

    Also if joining a station that does not have gates does one have to ‘touch in’ if you have the unlimited €10 ticket?

    Thanks

    1. Hello IanF,
      In those stations that don’t have gates, there is a place by the ticket machine where one should validate (touch in or out) the tickets. It is important to do it, so that the trip can be counted as one of the 16 needed to receive the 10 euros back; even more important because there can be Renfe controllers in the train checking that travellers have valid tickets. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *