The focus of this article is free train travel in Catalunya but is valid for other parts of Spain.
First, there are multiple transport networks in Catalunya: TMB metro, trams and busses, Renfe Rodalies/Cercanies, Renfe Regional/Medium Distance, Renfe AVE, High speed/Long distance and FGC commuter trains. for a breakdown of each network see my Public transport guide.
only Renfe Rodalies/Cercanies and Renfe Regional/Meduim Distance Are participating in the scheme for "free" train tickets.
About the scheme
The scheme was announced in July as part of the Spanish Government's effort to reduce the cost of living.
Registered users can obtain the passes, which will be a QR code via the Renfe app on the mobile phone.
On August 24th, Renfe published a video (in Spanish) explaining the process in more detail. People who are not registered can acquire the free season passes at ticket offices or self-service machines.
Renfe registered users are able to obtain free passes for the Rodalies/cercanies de Catalunya and Media Distancia (regional) routes online.
The Cercanias and Rodalies season passes for the period of September through December require a deposit of 10 euros, the medium-distance pass, a deposit of 20 euros. The deposits will be refunded when travelers fulfill the requirement of making at least 16 trips in the mentioned four-month-period.
Renfe's Avant and high-speed AVE services are at a 50% discount if the travel time is less than 100 minutes.
source: Gencat Abono Gratuito Article.
How to set it up
Step 1: Register using this link.
Step 3: Purchase ticket through the app selecting origin and destination station, date and time of travel.
Step 4: In the drop down select a tariff "Seleccione una tarifa", Chose the new "Abono gratuito para viajero frecuente".
Step 5: This will generate a QR code and a 7 digit pin that you can find in the menu "Comprar billetes - Mis billetes".
Step 6: When you arrive at the station present the QR code and 7 digit pin in the self service ticket machines or ticket office where you will receive a physical train ticket for the journey. Remember to validate your journey before starting and to ensure it counts towards your minimum of 16 trips.
source: Renfe Cercanies abonos.
Other Rail & Transport Network Discounts
The TMB network which covers Barcelona trams, metro and buses has reduced the price of multi-trip tickets by upto 50%.
I habitually use a T-casual 1 zone ticket of 10 trips for travel inside the city. For details of which tickets are discounted, visit the TMB website Fares reduction page.
For habitual users of the FGC lines and renfe Rodalies/Cercanies outside of Barcelona, Zone 1 to Zone 6 T-casual, T-usual and monthly season tickets have been reduced in price by up to 50%.
FGC tourist train lines like the Cremallera de Montserrat and Cremallera de Nuria prices are not showing any special discounts during this period.
Renfe recommend acquiring the "abono gratis" before 5th of September. To acquire the "abono gratis" you need to make a Journey by selecting a ticket then choosing abono gratis, where you can enter your card details and pay the 10 or 20 euros deposit.
On the surface this seems like a good idea but it is also collecting a lot of personal data about passengers and does require multiple steps to set up and benefit from. Aditionally, when you make your first train trip and select the free ticket option this will be recorded as your chosen destination and you will only be able to make free trips to this destination.
It is free but on the condition that you make at least 16 journeys in the four month period (September to end of December) that the scheme runs. If you make less than 16 journeys, Renfe will retain the 10 or 20 euro deposit.
The Renfe free train tickets scheme is only designed for commuters that make the same journey for work multiple times a week.
The best way to travel for tourism and leisure is still to buy a ticket, with most train tickets having generous discounts.