How do I buy tickets?
Reserved tickets can be bought in three different ways:
Online - via the Indian Railways' IRCTC website or through websites such as Cleartrip or MakeMyTrip,
At a railway reservation office,
Via any authorised IRCTC travel agent.
Updated articles for all three methods will be posted shortly.
When do train bookings open?
For most trains, bookings open 120 days before the train leaves its originating station. A few short-distance trains in northern India, such as services on the Kalka-Shimla hill route have shorter booking periods (known as the Advance Reservation Period, or ARP) of 30 days. For most trains, however, you can safely assume it is 120 days.
If you are booking on a particularly popular train and need to buy tickets as soon as bookings open, keep in mind the part of the first sentence of this answer in bold. Train journeys can span multiple days, and if you aren't boarding the train on its first day of journey, the Advance Reservation Period will be a little longer. Take the case of the Bangalore (Bengaluru) - Delhi Rajdhani Express.
It leaves Bangalore (Bengaluru) at 8 pm on day 1 (for example Monday)
Passes through Secunderabad (7.50 am), Nagpur (3.30 pm), and Bhopal (9.30 pm) on day 2, for example Tuesday
Passes through Jhansi (12.56 am) before reaching Nizamuddin in Delhi at 5.55 am on day 3 (for example Wednesday)
If you wanted to book a Bangalore - Delhi journey for the train departing on May 1, 2021, bookings would open on Jan 1, 2021 (120 days in advance). However, if you were booking tickets for a journey starting at Secunderabad, Nagpur or Bhopal, you would be able to book 121 days in advance (i.e. bookings for a May 2 departure would open on Jan 1) as the train left its origin the previous calendar day, and reservations open 120 days in advance from the train leaving its origin station. Similarly, if you needed to board this train at Jhansi to travel to Delhi, you could book 122 days in advance, as the train left its origin 2 calendar days before leaving Jhansi.
Should I buy tickets in advance?
You should ideally buy your tickets well in advance for any reserved class of travel. Indian trains (especially overnight services) can be very popular, with all confirmed seats/berths selling out incredibly fast and massive waitlists forming. If you're planning to travel overnight on a Friday/Sunday or during a major festival, you might need to book over a month in advance to guarantee a confirmed reservation. Day trains (with sitting instead of sleeping accommodation) are usually easier to get tickets on shorter notice.
Of course, not all routes and trains are equally popular, but if you know the date you want to travel and train you plan to take, it is much simpler to buy your tickets early - you will get better seats/berths as well. Cancelling a confirmed reservation will not lose you too much money.
If you are travelling "unreserved" or by a suburban ("local") train in the cities of Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, or Hyderabad, you just need to buy tickets at the station before boarding your train.
What if I can't plan my journey in advance?
If you can't plan your travels in advance and find that no confirmed tickets are available for the train and date you need, you have the following options:
Buy a waitlisted ticket. The section on waitlists explains how to gauge the likelihood of a particular waitlist number confirming.
Buy tickets under the tatkal or premium tatkal quota. These are a separate quota of seats/berths that open for reservation the day before the train leaves its originating station (10 am IST for air-conditioned classes, 11 am IST for non air-conditioned classes). Tickets under the tatkal quota are sold at a flat surcharge over normal tickets. Tickets under the premium tatkal quota are sold at a dynamic surcharge over normal tickets and can get eye-wateringly expensive in the blink of an eye. Almost all reserved trains have a tatkal quota, but only the most popular overnight trains have a premium tatkal quota as well. Keep in mind that if you are booking a particularly popular train for a high-demand date of travel, tatkal and premium tatkal tickets can sell out within a couple of minutes of bookings opening, so you really need to be fast on the buzzer...
If you are a foreigner or NRI, you might be able to buy tickets from the (more expensive) foreign tourist quota if you are travelling on a route or train that witnesses particularly high foreign tourist demand. These tickets can be purchased either via the IRCTC website or from major railway reservation offices/foreign tourist bureaus.
Some Indians might have access to other booking quotas. If all the passengers on the ticket are women (or male children under 12), it is worth checking for tickets under the ladies quota, usually a block of 6-9 seats/berths in the lowest reservable class of a train. Senior citizen males (above the age of 60) can check for tickets under the lower berth quota (applicable if they are travelling by Second AC Sleeper, Three-tier AC Sleeper, and Sleeper Class Non-AC). Women above 45 are also eligible for this quota, as are younger women who are pregnant - though in this case a doctor's certificate is required and the ticket has to be purchased at a reservation office, not online.
Travel "unreserved", though this isn't for the faint of heart...
Can I just show up at the station, buy a ticket, and board the train?
If seats/berths in any reserved class of travel are available on short notice (<4 hours before the train's departure), you can purchase current reservation tickets online or at the station up to 30 minutes before the train's departure. These tickets are sold at a 10% discount over regular fares.
If you cannot plan in advance, find that no reserved tickets are available, and are in the mood for an adventure, it is also possible to travel "unreserved". With the exception of India's premier trains (which are fully reserved), all Mail/Express and frequent-halt 'Passenger' services have at least one unreserved coach. In this case, you just need to buy an unreserved ticket at the station before boarding your train. Unreserved tickets are incredibly cheap, but there is no limit to the number of passengers that can board an unreserved coach. If you are looking for even the slightest amount of privacy and comfort, you will want to choose a reserved class of travel.
Irrespective of what you choose, you must purchase your ticket before boarding the train. You cannot buy tickets on board. If you are found by the ticket checking staff on board without a ticket, you will be treated as a ticketless traveller and fined accordingly.
Do tickets become more expensive as the journey date approaches?
Sigh, this is a slightly tricky question to answer without confusing a reader - the Indian Railways revels in making ticket fares unnecessarily complex.
If you are buying a ticket under the general quota for any class on a normal (or "superfast") Express or Mail train, ticket prices are static - i.e. you pay the same fare irrespective of whether you buy the ticket 120 days in advance or on the day of journey. Most tickets you buy would fall under this category.
Tickets for certain premium trains (Shatabdi Expresses, Rajdhani Expresses, and Duronto Expresses) and seasonal special trains known as Special Fare Specials have a dynamic fare structure that increases as tickets are sold. The first 10% of seats/berths under the general quota are sold at the regular fare. The next 10% of seats/berths are sold at a mark up of approximately 10% over the base fare. This increasing 10% mark up for every block of 10% seats/berths continues until a maximum mark up of 50%. However, the maximum mark up varies by class of travel , and the highest classes of travel on these trains (First AC Sleeper and Executive Class) do not have a dynamic fare structure at all. Don't ask me, I didn't create this system...
Tickets booked under the foreign tourist quota and the last-minute tatkal quota are sold at a flat surcharge over normal fares. Foreign tourist quota tickets are sold at a 50% surcharge over normal fares with an additional surcharge of INR 200 for tickets booked online (so if you are a foreigner and tickets are available under the general quota, you can save a lot of money by not booking foreign tourist quota tickets). Tatkal tickets are also sold at a surcharge over normal tickets. This surcharge varies based on the distance and class of travel.
Trains known as Suvidha Special trains have a different dynamic fare structure. In this case, fares increase as every 20% of seats/berths are sold. The first 20% of seats/berths are sold at the base fare + tatkal surcharge. The second block of seats/berths is sold at 1.5 times the base fare + tatkal surcharge. The third block is sold at twice the base fare + tatkal surcharge and so on. This can get very expensive if you book when few seats/berths are available, and it might often be cheaper and simpler to fly in this case...
Tickets booked under the last-minute premium tatkal quota are also subject to a dynamic surcharge similar to that of Suvidha Special trains and can get incredibly expensive very fast. Often, prices can rise to 3x within minutes of bookings opening for popular trains, so make sure you verify the final price before purchasing your ticket...
If I book a ticket on an overnight train, will I have to share my cabin with other passengers?
Yes, you will - unless the train is running particularly empty. The number of passengers in the cabin, of course, depends on which class of travel you book - the higher the class, the fewer the passengers you will be sharing with. It is not really a thing to book multiple berths/a full cabin for a single passenger, especially given the heavy demand for most Indian overnight trains, and this arrangement can be overriden by the ticket checker to provide full berths to passengers who are RAC. There is no gender segregation practiced either, except in First AC Sleeper, where berth allocations are decided a few hours prior to departure and staff usually ensure (unless entirely impossible) a single female traveller is not placed in a cabin with only men.
Does the Indian Railways offer any railcards, concessions or other discounts?
The Indian Railways does not sell any railcards that provide discounted travel, but many types of concessions are offered. This link lists 50 (!) categories of travellers eligible for fare concessions. However, most of these concessions are extremely specific either in terms of categories of passengers (non-infectious leprosy patients, for example) or purpose of travel (students travelling to write the UPSC exam, for example).
There are however three main concessions available to the general public for any purpose of travel, and these are the only concessions that can be booked online. These concessions are not applicable to foreign travellers with the exception of the infant concession.
Senior citizen concessions: men above 60 receive 40% off the base ticket fare and women above 58 receive 50% of the base fare. These concessions are valid on all trains and classes except (a) Executive 'Anubhuti' Class on certain Shatabdi Expresses and (b) Garib Rath Expresses. Senior citizen concessions have been suspended across all COVID-19 Special trains currently operating to discourage unnecessary travel by senior citizens during the pandemic.
Child concessions: children between the ages of 6 and 12 are entitled to a 50% concession if they do not opt for a separate seat or berth for themselves. If they require a separate seat or berth, full fares will be levied. In either case, they are entitled to meals on 'full-service' trains such as Rajdhani, Shatabdi, Duronto, Vande Bharat, Tejas and Gatimaan Expresses.
Infant concessions: infants (i.e. under the age of 6) travel free of charge but are not issued a separate berth or seat. They are also entitled to food on full-service trains. If you are travelling with a child under 6 but want a separate seat or berth for them, you will need to mark their age as 6 and pay the full (adult) fare for their ticket.
I am booking a multi-stop journey. Do I have to buy individual tickets for each leg, or is there a pass that I can purchase?
The Indian Railways do not sell passes for long-distance railway travel (monthly, quarterly and annual passes are sold for suburban travel, but that is a different story). While the railways used to offer the 'IndRail Pass' for foreigners travelling in India, this was discontinued around 2017. As such, you will have to make individual reservations for each leg of your journey.
However, you might be able to save money by purchasing a break journey ticket or circular journey ticket for a multi-stop itinerary. Detailed articles on how to book both these types of tickets will be posted shortly.
Do I need to carry or print a physical ticket to show the ticket checker on the train?
This depends on whether you have purchased your ticket online or at a railway reservation office. If you have booked online, you do not need to print out a copy of your ticket - the confirmation SMS or email is sufficient to show the ticket checker. Ticket checkers carry a list of all passengers booked in the coach with their details. At least one passenger on the ticket needs to provide a valid ID that matches the details on the ticket checker's list. Most ticket checkers do not particularly care if you do not show them the online ticket printout/SMS/email, but if no passenger on the ticket can provide an ID, they can be fined.
If you have purchased a physical ticket from a reservation office, you need to produce both the ticket and a valid ID (though most ticket checkers will not insist on seeing the ticket if you have a valid ID).
For Indians, valid IDs include the following:
Voter ID card
Aadhaar card (including m-Aadhaar and e-Aadhaar)
Credit cards from Indian banks that have the photo of the cardholder printed on them
Passbooks from nationalised banks with the photo of the account holder printed on them
Student identity cards from recognised schools or colleges
Photo identity cards with a serial number issued by central or state governments, PSUs, district administrations, municipal bodies, or local panchayat administrations.
If you use the Indian Government's DigiLocker facility and have your Aadhaar or driving license in the 'issued document' section of your DigiLocker account, these are also acceptable proofs of identity.
If you are a foreigner, a passport is the only proof of ID valid for travel on the Indian Railways (i.e. foreign driving licenses, credit cards with photos, and other such IDs would not be accepted).
What happens if I lose my ticket copy?
For online tickets, this isn't a major issue as long as you have a valid ID that matches the details on the ticket checker's list (of course, you need to remember the details of your journey - which train you're taking and your coach/seat numbers). If you've purchased your ticket at a reservation office, you will need to get a duplicate ticket by submitting a letter to the nearest reservation office specifying as many details of the ticket that you can remember as well as providing a proof of ID. You will be issued a duplicate ticket at a cost of INR 50 per passenger if the ticket was for Seond Class Sitting/Sleeper Class Non-AC and INR 100 per passenger for any higher class of travel. If you request a duplicate ticket after the train's reservation chart has been prepared (roughly 4 hours before the train's departure), the charges for a duplicate ticket will be higher. Please note that once a duplicate ticket is issued, the reservation cannot be cancelled.
Duplicate tickets are not issued for tatkal tickets.
How much do I lose if I cancel a ticket I've bought?
Cancellation charges are based on (a) the class of travel, (b) when the ticket is cancelled and (c) the status of the ticket (confirmed/RAC/waitlisted) at the time of cancellation. If all passengers on the ticket are confirmed at the time of cancellation, the following cancellation fees apply per passenger (plus a 5% GST levy on the cancellation fee):
If you have booked a ticket under the tatkal or premium tatkal quota and all passengers are confirmed at the time of cancellation, no refunds will be provided. However, if the train is running late by more than 3 hours at your boarding station and you do not wish to travel, you can claim a full refund of your ticket minus clerkage charges.
If some (or all) passengers on the ticket are on the waitlist or are RAC, you can cancel the ticket up to 30 minutes before the train's departure. You will receive a full refund less 'clerkage' charges per passenger, which are:
For Second Sitting - INR 30 per passenger
For all other classes - INR 60 per passenger
How do I cancel a ticket I've purchased?
If you have purchased a ticket at a reservation office, you can cancel it at any reservation counter. The procedure to cancel a reservation counter ticket is almost identical to the process of booking one - you need to fill up a reservation form with the details of the journey (date, train, class, passenger details) and submit it to the reservation clerk along with your ticket. If the ticket was paid for in cash, you will receive a cash refund. If it was paid for by card or UPI, refunds will be credited to the same card/UPI account.
If the ticket was booked on the IRCTC website, you need to cancel it via the IRCTC website - click on the 'login' link right on the top of the page, then click on the 'my account' link (also on the top of the page, in the line below the login link). Navigate to 'booked ticket history' where you will find a list of recent tickets you've booked. For each active ticket, you will see an option to cancel. Refunds will be processed to the payment method used to book the ticket.
If you have booked via a different website or app (Cleartrip, MakeMyTrip, Google Pay etc), follow the procedures of that website or app to cancel your ticket.
If you have booked your ticket from a physical travel agent, the agent will need to cancel your ticket from their account and remit any refunds to you. This can be a little complicated if you've left the city/town where the travel agent's office is and do not plan to return soon - if you can, I generally recommend booking tickets online or at a railway reservation office yourself.
I booked a ticket for 5 people, now one person wants to cancel. Is it possible to cancel just one passenger or do I have to cancel the whole ticket?
It is possible to part-cancel a ticket (i.e. cancel only some passengers from a ticket). If cancelling via IRCTC/other website, you will be presented with the list of passengers on the ticket with checkboxes to their left - just check the names of the passengers whose tickets you wish to cancel.
If cancelling at a reservation office, enter only the names of the passengers whose tickets you want to cancel on the reservation/cancellation form, and make sure to inform the reservation clerk that not all passengers on the ticket need to be cancelled.
I cannot travel/decided not to travel. Can I give my ticket to somebody else?
If you have a reserved ticket, no. Tickets are not transferrable (hence the requirement to carry an ID during the journey). If the person travelling on your ticket is caught during the journey, they will be treated as ticketless travellers and fined accordingly.
However, if you need to transfer your ticket to a blood relative (parent/child/brother/sister), you can do so by submitting a letter to the Chief Reservation Supervisor of the nearest railway reservation office along with documents that prove the relationship - you can't just get on the train and try to "explain" the situation to the ticket checker.