I’ve been asked about buying train tickets – Eurail Passes in particular – and I promised to talk about it here. I’ll explain the pass and other options available. Then I’ll follow up in the next few weeks with more details and recommendations.
The Eurail Pass is an open-ended ticket that lets Americans travel in their choice of countries during a set time period. The fee for all travel is paid at the time of purchase. For example, you can buy a three country pass, such as Germany, France and Switzerland, as long as the countries share a border. Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands count as one country and are listed as Benelux.
You could choose to travel in just one country; you can travel in two, three, or four countries; or you can choose the Global Pass that covers 28 European countries. Most passes can be used for up to two months from the first day that it is validated. When you purchase a pass, you choose the number of days that you’d like it to be valid – 5, 6, 8, or 10. If you order now, you will also get at least one free day*. The train rides do not have to be used on consecutive days (except for the five continuous options), so you might only need the 5-day pass for a three week trip.
The prices for an adult three-country pass range from $443 for a 5 (+1) day pass to $643 for a 10 (+1) day pass. The 10-day pass is the best deal with the ride days averaging just under $60 each. The ride days for the 5-day pass average nearly $75. The ride day lasts from midnight to midnight and you can take more than one train trip within each day.
This sounds like a deal, doesn’t it? The Eurail pass can be great for some travelers. If you plan to be in Europe for an extended period of time, you can spread out your ride days. You can plan your travel for particular days and stay in one place in between your travel days.
Or, to see all of Europe, you can purchase a Global Pass and travel every day for a month for $1065 – plus you get an additional 5 days free*.
If you are traveling with a friend or your family, you can save even more money. A discount of 15% is given to adults that are traveling together and children 11 and under are free with a paying adult. Youths from 12 to 26 get a discounted ticket, but do not get an additional 15% off.
High speed trains often require reservations which need to be purchased separately. They can cost an extra €2-3, or may be given with no extra fee. Using regional trains usually avoids the need for reservations.
One of the most important advantages of using a Eurail pass, is that you can travel at a moment’s notice. There is no need to buy tickets ahead of time. For travelers that want to move when they want and where they want, the Eurail Pass is great.
Although the Eurail Pass can be a great option, I have not tried using one yet. Why not? In 2009, when my daughters suggested train travel, my first thought was to get a Eurail Pass. I checked options and prices; I saw how convenient it looked. My daughters checked into buying individual point-to-point tickets and it didn’t take long for me to see the advantage of buying our tickets their way. The main reason I buy point-to-point tickets? – I want to save money.
Each time I planned travel around Europe by train, I priced out both Eurail Passes and individual tickets. I still have hope that one time the Eurail Pass will turn out to be the best option. However, when purchased ahead, the individual point-to-point tickets have always been less expensive – sometimes, a lot less expensive. When five people can travel together on one “Happy Weekend” ticket, the savings add up quickly. I’ve learned to plan travel around the sales and specials.
If you can plan your travel 90 days in advance, you will find the lowest prices. Since it’s usually best to have lodging planned this far in advance, especially in a big city, planning transportation also makes sense. If you don’t plan and purchase ahead, though, you will pay full price which can add up to more than the price of the Eurail Pass.
If you want to remain flexible in your plans – not tied into a set schedule – the Eurail Pass is the ticket you are looking for. If you want your plans set and the decisions made before your trip, you could save a lot of money with point-to-point tickets.
Buying individual tickets requires planning three months before you leave for your trip. It can be intimidating for someone unfamiliar with the process. That’s what I’m here for. Look for the next post, where I’ll show you how to get the best deals on high-speed and regional trains in Germany. Later, I’ll detail buying tickets in France, Italy, Switzerland and other countries.
Stay tuned and enjoy the ride!
*The free day promotion expires April 30, 2016.