Do Eurail Passes Actually Save Money?

By Nomadic Matt | Published November 7th, 2011

UPDATE: THE CONTENTS OF THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED IN A NEW POST FROM 2013. CLICK HERE TO READ THAT POST.

Two years ago, I traveled around Europe using a rail pass. I had met a lot of travelers who used these rail passes and in my never ending quest to save money on travel, I wanted to see if using a rail pass would save me money. Back then, it did.

The post received a few comments from other travelers about how using Eurail passes had ruined their trips. They didn’t save money, they couldn’t take certain trains, or they got kicked off trains. And as I’ve traveled Europe this summer, I met a number of people using rail passes who all seemed happy with them. So I wondered, “why was there this disconnect?” What makes a Eurail pass great for one person and not another?

During my first trip, I had the Global Flexi Pass and took trains from Spain to Vienna. I saved money with the pass because the long train rides (Barcelona to Madrid, Bordeaux to Paris, Berlin to Munich) were expensive. By stringing a lot of them together with my rail pass, I saved money over the cost of buying them separately.

I got my Global Flexi Pass from Rail Europe. They are my favorite pass provider and I use them a lot. My pass is a first class ticket since I’m over 26 (you can’t get a second class ticket if you are older than 26), and it allowed for 10 rides in a 2-month period. The pass costs $884.00 USD.

Combined with a now weakened Euro, it was time to investigate again and see if my original trip was a fluke and the dissenters were right?

Did the numbers add up?

Rail passes are all about math. Nothing else matters about them except their ability to save you money. If they can’t do that, they are worthless so I make sure to track all the numbers. Here’s the break down of costs for my trip:

With Eurail Without Eurail (1st class) Without Eurail (2nd class)
Cologne to Hannover 0 94 58
Hannover to Hamburg 0 66 36
Hamburg to Berlin 0 113 70
Berlin to Munich 0 188 116
Munich to Salzburg 0 42.60 33
Salzburg to Vienna 0 87 51.80
Vienna to Budapest 0 39 29
Budapest to Vienna 0 39 29
Vienna to Brno 0 29 19
Brno to Prague 0 19.12 12.87
Total 0 716.72 454.67

My trip cost me 0 Euros in reservation fees, so the only expense I had was the original cost of the pass. The price of buying my tickets at the train station would have come to 716.72 Euros or $1003.11 USD. That means I saved $119.11 USD with this pass. That’s not a lot of money but I can think of a lot of better things to do with $119.11 USD than use it for train tickets.

Editor’s Note: I used the current exchange rate of 1 USD = .7145 Euro. The train ticket prices reflect the cost of purchasing the day before.

Why the Pass Worked

trains in germany with a eurail pass
This pass worked for the same reason my last pass worked – I crossed many borders and visited multiple countries.

As we can see, short trips still actually cost more with a Eurail pass. With the Global Flexi Pass, each trip is worth $84 USD, but the price of my short trips (i.e. less than 3 hours) was typically around 50 Euros or $65 USD. I found the same thing last year – you lose money on short trips. However, where I saved money was on the longer journeys. My trip from Berlin to Munich would have cost me $258 USD without the pass so I saved $174 USD in that instance.

Why the Right Pass is Important
Eurail passes only really work if you get the right pass and plan your trip well. Last-minute trains cost a lot of money, and rail passes really help in those sorts of situations. So if you know where you want to travel, but you prefer to make last-minute bookings, a rail pass will likely save you money.

If, however, you like to plan every leg of your trip months in advance, you will be able find cheaper train tickets without a pass. Advance bookings cost up to 50% less than buying tickets the day before or the day of. If you are OK with accepting that rigidity into your trip, then a Eurail pass probably isn’t for you. Advance booking my above itinerary (using the 2 week advanced prices available to me) would have cost me 553.72 Euros or $733.74 USD, which is $150.26 USD below the cost of a Eurail global pass.

But then again, I like to go with the flow, and hardly ever know my travel plans well enough to book a tickets two weeks in advance. I don’t think most travelers do. There’s been many times I’ve said or heard people say “I’m going to Paris tomorrow” only to then leave 3 days later. Eurail passes are much better than buying the tickets the day of and they retain that same “today, I’m going here” flexibility.

If you are younger than 26, you can get one of Eurail’s youth passes, which are much cheaper (though they are only valid for second-class tickets). The second-class fares on my trip added up to 454.67 Euros or $636.35 USD. A youth version of the Global Flexi Pass is $576.00 USD, $60 USD cheaper than buying them separately.

You can also get a global pass for 15 days, consecutive travel, or (if you plan to do A LOT of train travel), unlimited train travel for a 1, 2 or 3 month period.

But if you aren’t trainsetting across Europe and are instead staying in one country or just a small area, you should consider a country pass. These are a lot cheaper than global passes. Do some research, look at train prices, decide where you want to go, add up the costs, and compare the total to the price of a train pass. I find single country passes work out in your favor if you are taking a number of high speed trains.

Read the Fine Print
a train sunset from europe
Lightening did strike twice and the train pass still saved me money. After reading through the criticisms about Eurail passes, I realized most people were unhappy because they didn’t save money and, in most cases, didn’t read the fine print. The devil is always in the details!

These train passes are not a savings panacea. One false move and bam! your savings has suddenly disappeared!

For starters, getting the wrong pass and underusing the trips will definitely lead to the pass costing more than what you would spend buying individual tickets. If you just buy whatever pass you “think” is good without working out the numbers, you probably will also end up paying too much. If you go buy yourself a Global Pass and then visit one to three countries all close to each other, you’re going to lose money. And, unfortunately, a lot of people do that.

Secondly, you also really need to read the fine print on whichever pass you purchase. For instance, some countries require you to pay reservation fees, while others do not. France and Italy, for instance, charge reservation fees. But you don’t need reservations at all in Germany, Austria, or Holland. I had to pay fees when I used my pass in 2009 in France and Italy.

Lastly, a major criticism of the Eurail pass is that you have to make reservations for overnight trains and pay extra for them beyond what you paid for your pass. But this stipulation is right on the website, as well as in the book they send you with train times and fees. You can’t just get on an overnight train in any country, find a bunk, and go to sleep. You have to reserve your bed and pay for it ahead of time. And if you don’t book ahead, you can end up stuck in the expensive sleeper, which will cost you a lot more than a night at a hostel. Rail passes reduce the cost of sleeper trains, but unlike for day trains, they don’t eliminate it.

And I think when people only find these things at the train station, it sours their experience on the whole pass.

After using these passes twice and listening to other travelers talk about their experiences, I still think they are a great deal. They wouldn’t still be around and popular if they were the major rip-off detractors said they were. But, like everything else in travel, saving money involves research and knowing your options. A rail pass will be a good investment if you put the time in to make sure the numbers add up.

f you’ve went to the website and are still scratching your head about the pass options and numbers, feel free to e-mail me! I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

If you want to book a pass, I use the company Rail Europe. Rail Europe is the largest broker of European rail passes outside of Europe. Whenever I need a pass, I buy from them as they are usually much cheaper than any other option. They have great customer service, frequent sales, and offices in Europe in case something goes wrong. You can search for passes and tickets using the widget below. It will take you right to their website.

Editor’s note: Using the links on this page will (at no extra cost to you) generate a small commission on any sales. I recommend this company because I use them myself. Don’t get a rail pass if your trip doesn’t fit the above criteria but if you get one, using the links here will allow me to continue to give you advice that helps you travel better. If you don’t wish you to use the links here, you can visit their website directly at raileurope.com. If you have any questions about passes, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll help you figure it out!

comments 61 Comments

I recently purchased a Eurail Select Pass (3 countries, 8 days) that was perfect for me. I haven’t actually done a comparison of costs, but I rode a lot of trains during those days. I loved the convenience and flexibility, since most of my excursions were not planned in advance.

Totally agreed that they can be a great deal if you do your homework. I’m going on a trip next month covering four countries, so I’m also getting a Eurail Select Pass. I decided to do this after price-comparing individual legs on the DeutscheBahn web site, and realized that I’d be saving up to 50% on some stretches!

NomadicMatt

It pays to do research!

Ciera

Another thing to look into, based on which country you are in–busses tend to be a LOT cheaper. As an expat living in Germany for 3+ years now, intercity busses and carpooling (I use meinfernbus.de and also mitfahrgelegenheit.de/carpooling.com)…if you’re willing to take the extra time, you will save a LOT of money. From Mannheim to Heidelberg, for example, it costs 29€ with the train, and generally between 6-8€ with a bus or carpool.

Ciera

Sorry! Meant Mannheim-Stuttgart.

Good article Matt.

If you are going to do a lot of traveling around Europe, then yes, but if you’re just visiting a few places I don’t think so. I’ve not used it as usually my trips are short and I travel mostly by air, except for the local trains from the airports. If you book ahead though, you can usually find some great deals for short hops especially in Germany.

You do need to do your homework first and know what type of pass is right for you. We bought a britrail pass before we went to the UK. We worked out when we needed to catch trains and how much it would be without a pass and what type of pass we would need. Ended up costing us 24 pound a trip compared to an average of 100pounds if you book last minute.
It also meant we were free to hope on and off the trains as much as we liked during the days we used the pass and it didn’t matter when we missed one of our trains!

Nice article. As with most things, the Devil is in the details. Doing the work to figure the details out and then playing by (exploiting?) the rules often separates the people who make out well with these kinds of things from those who don’t. Thanks for helping us with our homework!

NomadicMatt

I do the work so you don’t have to!

We’re using one now and I can honestly say you will have to twist my arm to travel without one again. More than the money it’s just freaking annoying booking several different train tickets. Sure the maninseat61 makes it looks easy but after you’ve struggled w/ the websites, the different countries, the timetables and the multiple languages an easy Eurail pass is about as good as they come. I’m actually planning on writing a post soon about why I love traveling with the pass.

NomadicMatt

It certainly does make things a lot easier.

When I go to Europe I don’t use trains, I rent a car :-)

NomadicMatt

I don’t drive! :)

Oh. Why? Is this a principle or what?

NomadicMatt

Just find trains and buses easier and cars more expensive.

Joana

I agree with Victor. When I travel around Europe I rent a car. It gives me flexibility and I explore more when I drive. It has worked better for me and my husband. Also, it depends where are you going, what kind of vacations are you doing, how much time do you have, how interested are you in the city and country exploration and so forth.

This is a really great analysis, Matt – it always pays to see the numbers laid out! We both got Eurail Passes on our backpacking trip a few years ago, but we haven’t considered them since.

Right now our whole schedule is SO flexible that we don’t really know how long we want to stay in Europe (or how frequently we’ll even take trains), so they don’t make a lot of sense. But on our previous trip, when we hit a bunch of European cities in 5 weeks, they were awesome.

I think like most travel passes or cards the Eurail Pass can be great for some people but not a good fit for others – it’s just a matter of figuring if it’s right for you.

Alexander

I took a trip last summer and purchased the individual tickets because I needed a round trip ticket from Florence to Milan with stop over in Bologna on the way back to Florence.

The rest of the team that I was traveling with did purchase the pass because they stayed there longer and as such made their expenses less.

Theresa

Hey Matt. Do your costs include seat reservations? Did you buy a first class ticket or one at the student rate? I don’t know if different rules apply to your pass but I had a select three country pass for one week travel time. I’m over the age of 26 so anyone 26 or older is required to buy a first class ticket. I also had to make separate seat reservations for all of my destinations as they all required them. Not all trains do but mine did. Of course, with all of these factors it does help if you have nowhere to sleep and saves money on a hotel/hostel should you take an overnight train, but in my case it didn’t help me because I Couch surfed. What are your thoughts?

Theresa

I guess I should have read the whole article. In my experience, I still think the cheapest option is to fly with discount airlines over taking the train. There are too many if thens for the train in terms of the factoring and it saves more time ultimately to take a plane (which I also found out myself once I arrived in Europe last time). Although I do love riding trains, in this case, I can save that love for riding local city trains and doing ride share if I want to enjoy scenery. I also won’t miss out on meeting interesting strangers since Couchsurfing is great for that :) Thanks for the article though!

NomadicMatt

Some places aren’t served by cheap airlines and when you add up all the fees, it’s not always cheaper. It really depends on your travel plans.

Cal

Very good information. Thank you for your time in putting this together. I agree with you about going with the flow. I don’t like to make a lot of plans and just like to wing it most of the time.

Charlie

Great reading. My wife and I use trains in Europe in the winter. They get you to the center of towns/cities, as opposed to airports. If you want to visit several cities in different countries for Christmas Markets (for example), using the Rail system is so much more, convenient. In the other seasons I prefer driving to have the flexibility to stop where I want. As others have said: it really depends what you want to do!

Marianne

Hi,
Am interested to hear how travelling in Europe in winter with trains goes. I am taking my 3 children ( 2 adult, one teen) over in Dec. tought of hiring a car in out first destination as staying for 3 weeks with family but want to travel in Jan through France, Italy and then 2 of us going to Greece.
Any suggestions

We bought a pass when we were in Italy and I compared the prices online and did save a little but the best part about the deal was just going to the train station and hopping on the train. We didn’t have to stand in line to get tickets. We still had to do the normal thing of finding out where we board the train and such but everything was a bit faster and more relaxed.

I bought a youth German rail pass for 8 unlimited days of travel. I paid around $180 CAD after taxes…it was so worth it!

Bear in mind that you only saved money if you had intended to take First Class trains all the way, right? Also, In Eastern Europe it’s pretty cheap to use buses.

Great points here Nomadic! Some people prefer to get Eurail pass as they’re looking for hassle-free travel. It really depends on your preferences :)

Kieu

Were heading to Central Europe and this will be our 2nd time using a Eurail pass as well. We had a global pass before as well but since we’re not moving as fast, traveling long distance or visiting many places this time around, it was more fitting to go with a select pass. You’re absolutely right on doing the numbers first and finding the pass that’s right for you. Well see how this goes. Looking forward to riding the trains again.

Carolina

NEVER, EVER BUY A EURAIL PASS, WORST SCAM EVER!! My husband and I bought a Eurail pass for our trip to France this year and it ended up costing us more than it would’ve to get single tickets thanks to the ridiculous reservation charges amounting up to 40 Euros to go from Bordeaux to Paris, only a 3hour train ride… To top it off they are so deceiving showing a video on their website where you can go up to a counter and “reserve” your seat right before you go on your trip being that you are a “pass holder”, that is a joke! Anytime we tried to book a seat on a train at the SNCF office or at a railway station in France they told us that the seats allotted to Eurail pass holders were all booked, what a surprise!! Guess what they don’t tell you in their website: Eurail only has a ridiculously low select number of seats available to pass holders on each train, even if the train is empty, SNCF is not allowed to give you a seat on the train you want given that the Eurail seats are already taken by the time you figure out where you would like to go and when. If they do happen to have a seat rest assured that it would be on a combination of several trains with changes and wait times to make a trip last 16 hours instead of 8 for a very high cost. Worst scam ever, we would not even recommend this pass to our worst enemy, even the SNCF staff would tell you so, they feel sorry for you to have bought into the Eurail scam… Thanks Eurail for making an otherwise great trip through France a nightmare!

NomadicMatt

I’m not sure who you talked to but the seat reservation fee in France is only $1.50 for the inter city trains and 9 Euros for the TGV. Rules are actually found on both major pass sellers websites: http://www.eurail.com/plan-your-trip/train-reservations/reservation-fees#france and http://www.raileurope.com/about-us/rail-europe-policies/raileurope-rail-policy.html

You shouldn’t have paid more than $18 Euros for a reservation fee.

The issue of seat availability is government policy and something that has been changing for the worse in the last few years.

Jose Pinto

Eurail global pass is a scam!
It seems that you work for them because you are not telling about the availability for making reservations for the trains in France. The number of seats available per train for global pass holders are 17, which is a ridiculous number that is sold out inmediately. These 17 seats available per train are taken almost automatically by travel agencies who know this system, so forget about traveling in France with this pass.
I bought the global pass and I ended paying much more than I expected initially.
Most trains require a reservation which is about 10 euros each. If you plan to save money by taking a night train, forget about that, a reservation for those trains are between 30 and 60 euros.
When I tried to make a reservation from Geneve to Paris more than 1 month in advance the phone number anounced in eurail web didnt work… Afterwords I intented to make that reservation in a train station and guess… Sold out!
When I tried to make a reservation to take a night train from Paris to Madid the fee Was 120 euros per person….
Conclusion, the eurail pass is a joke, a scam!
It is better to buy every train separatelly and avoid having a frustrating time during your holidays.
People who give good comments about this issue are very suspicious… Like they were actually working for eurail…

NomadicMatt

I doubt everyone here is en employee of Eurail or the travelers I meet on the road. I don’t doubt you had issues but while Eurail seats are limited, they are never that limited and I’ve never been on a train in France where I couldn’t get a seat and I’ve been traveling on passes for years. Some of the first class high speed trains have a lot of limited capacity and if you are booking last minute, you can have an issue getting the train you want. Regarding the reservation for the night train, that’s a cost that is listed on the site and should not have blind sided you.

Matt, you make it clear in your post that Eurail passes are usually not the cheapest way to travel Europe by train for most people. If you can’t, or don’t want to plan ahead, then I can see that the passes can be worth the investment. But as you point out, booking three months in advance with the relevant train company can produce significant savings over these passes. You can also secure beds on sleeper trains that will enable you to go to sleep outside Paris and wake up in the Alps for the price of a night in a hotel.
Your cost comparison table is true but would be more enlightening with the 3 month advance booking rate included. How many people buy an airline ticket the day before? Historically, that is what rail travellers used to do. Train companies now use airline pricing models and customers need to be aware of that fact.

sharmin

I a bought a eurail select 3 countries and 5 days pass to travel europe in March, 2013. Now when I am trying to book a reservation, it is showing two option : second class and first class option. My friend told me that with eurail pass you can ride in first class with second class money. But I can see a lots of price difference. I am travelling with my two kids. I am really confused. Why first class reservation is so expensive with pass? Then why the pass said it is for first class? Please clarify.

NomadicMatt

It depends what train your taking and where. First class tickets can be used for 2nd class travel.

D.J.

Just like many people state on this post. If you have a budget and want to save money traveling through Europe, YOU MUST DO YOUR HOMEWORK! If you do not want to do all the research, take a bus tour and realize you won’t get what you pay for and most of the sites you will see will be rushed or viewed out of the bus windows.

Tip: If you buy a Global Pass, 15 – 21 – 30, 1,2 or 3 months, it will pay off if you are covering most of Western Europe during your trip and staying maximum of 2 – 3 nights in each city.
If you start in London and plan to take the Eurostar Chunnel Train and plan to stay 2+ days in Paris or Brussels, do NOT validate your pass to get a discount on the Chunnel. If you do, you will waste the days on your pass just visiting Paris or Brussels. The Tip is to buy a Eurostar ticket as far in advance as possible, now at $65.00 for summer 2013, and validate your Railpass on the day you depart Paris or Brussels. Plan your Railpass travel days starting on the day you leave Paris. If you bought a 15-consecutive day Global pass and spent 3 days in London and 3 days in Paris, your 15 days will start the day you depart Paris and end on the day you arrive at your last city by train. If you stay the last 3 days in, lets say, Rome and fly home from Rome, than your total trip would be 24 days and you would only use the Railpass for the 15 days in the middle.
Plane VS Railpass – If you buy the budget flights in Europe well in advance, they can be very cheap. You must compare baggage fees, transportation costs to and from the airport and total travel time. Most people that buy a Railpass are not worried about the time, it is about the experience, the views and the people you can meet.
Car vs Train: Parking is NOT free in Europe. Look at your hotel web sites. If you stay within the city, it can cost you $30.00 to $100.00 for each 24 hour period.
New restrictions: Yes, it was awesome and you had more freedom traveling on trains 18 years ago. France is very strict on limiting the number of pass holders on a train, so now that you know this, book your seat reservations well in advance so it is not a problem. When I run into travelers young and old in Europe that are having problems, it is always because they did not read the information or call the free 800 number to Rail Europe and asked the reps. It is all spelled out for you. If in Europe, ask the information desk.. Read guide books, website and do your homework and you will have an amazing Adventure in Europe!

Tolu

When it says 3 days in 2 months do they have to be back to back, or does that mean any 3 days within 2 month?

NomadicMatt

Any 3 days in 2 months.

Camille Dibbs

I does pay to do your homework. I will be backpacking for 35 days. The pass made no sense for me and my friends. As students, we can’t afford to be there too long, so we try not wasting time by doing most long journeys during the night. On a eurail pass, night travel is not one trip, but two. That is because their pass allows you 10 travel “days” with travel unlimited during that specified day (who is going to use this unlimited anyway?). I contacted raileurope and they confirmed that night travel counts as two days because it technically covers 2 days.

We did our homework instead and got 20 voyages for about 400 euros. Alternating between regional trains, big train lines and eurolines bus is much better.

NomadicMatt

Yes, the pass isn’t good in every situation! You’re right.

Actually, most night trains only count as 1 day. Trains that leave after 7pm and arrive after 4 am the next day only count as the day you arrive, so 1 day, not 2.

Just wanted to clear that confusion up.

solomon

Hi guys! I am new to using Europass, and I have the following questions:
1- In case of ‘5 days of travel within 2 months’ option, can I use all days of travel within shorter period, such as travelling 5 days within 10 days or even within a week? Is there any rule on this?
2- For my plan of travelling in June, I am thinking of using the ‘Select 5 countries’ option. I am going to select Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy.
If the train passes through a country which I did not select, would that charge me additional fee? For e.g. travelling from Copenhagen to Paris, I don’t know but the train may cross Belgium and Netherlands, or travelling from Paris to Rome the route may be via Switzerland.
3- I read on http://www.eurail.com that number of seats for Europass holders is limited on some trains (such as TGV and THALYS). How can I be sure that I get seat reservations before I bought the Europass? I don’t know the availability of reservation but thinking of buying the pass 2 weeks before starting of my trip. Moreover, I will have to catch up flight from Rome back home at the end of my travelling. So I really need to be sure of this Europass and especially of the Reservation thing. Thank you for your help!

NomadicMatt

1. You can use them in any frequency you want.
2. No, it’s ok to cross through countries.
3. Normally, you can just get a spot the day before. Spots are limited on some lines but as long as it is not a night train, you should be ok. But always get a spot as soon as ya can!

Solomon

Thank you so much for your briefing, NomadicMatt !

Amanda

I will be travelling around Germany through Amsterdam to France and then over to Ireland, most likely in 2 months September-Nov. I am considering the Global Pass 15days/2mth but then keep going back to maybe just getting the Germany/France pass and paying for my Amsterdam and Ireland trips separately. I am trying to do research on how much each train will cost between points but it is confusing me. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Suzanne

France is no longer available with the Select Pass as of 2013 unless you bought the pass in 2012.

Joshua Joseph

I pals, i need some help and great a piece of advise as you’ll seems to seniors and expects doing europ tour…

This is my schedule for europe back packing tour. There is only 2 of us starting our journey from
Arrival to Paris -> Barcelona -> Brugge -> Amsterdam -> Munich -> Lucerne -> Venice -> Rome -> Vatican -> Florence -> Depart from Milan

We plan to be spend 1-2day in each location and Train pass is worth?

Clueless friend :(

Long

Hi all,
I will be travelling in the coming july (i know it’s very rush)
I m not sure whether I should get a Eurail Global Pass Youth or not so i need some opinions.

I m 24 years old so Youth pass is applicable to me.
I will be travelling using train a lot but I am not sure get a pass or point-to-point tickets will be a more appropiate choice.

Here’s my planning so far and the trip will be one month:
Rome, capri island, florence, pisa, cinque terre, milan, venice, geneva, interlaken, lucerne, zurich, munich, prague, berlin, amsterdam, paris

Long

To add on, the reason i feel one month eurail global pass youth might be more worth it because of some long distance trips.
Geneva to Interlaken
Zurich to Munich
Munich to Prague
Prague to Berlin
Berlin to Hamburg
Hamburg to Amsterdam
Amsterdam to Paris

These journeys stated above is around 100euro each ( I checked from RailEurope website)

So pls giv me some opinions, whether the pass is worth it or not

Thousand thankssssssssss

Wustpisk

The table is highly misleading – the column ‘with Eurail’ should contain the price of one pass day (cost of pass divided by number of days of validity) – which is about €65
I don’t know where you got your prices from, Matt, but you were ripped off and/or poorly advised. In fact I am not sure whether you have actually been on some of these journeys. Munich to Salzburg is a lot cheaper than €33 if you use a Bayern Ticket, Salzburg – Vienna is €25 on the Westbahn train – buy on the train (not covered by a pass), Vienna to Brno is indeed €19 but only if bought in advance, but the bus is much better and more comfortable and only costs €8, same Brno to Prague – €8 on the bus.
A pass makes ZERO financial sense in places like Hungary, Slovakia or Czech Republic – if we take the cost of one pass day as being c. €65 consider that there are no feasible journeys that you can take that cost more than about €22 bought on the day.
It is also no use in Italy, France or Spain as outlined above, or on the Thalys.
A common mistake people make – Eurail is NOT the rail operator – it is nothing more than an expensive re-seller, as is Rail Europe which should not be used under any circumstances as they typically charge many times more than the real price. Do NOT use them for price comparison purposes (or for anything else)!!! Even if you buy tickets on the day it is cheaper.
Of course if you do your homework and buy your long-distance tickets on-line in advance you can save a huge amount. Most people have a good idea of where they will be going to – very few people decide to pop over to Oslo from Rome at the drop of a hat, for example. These things take a bit of planning.
Reservations are NOT necessary on the vast majority of day trains in Europe, if they are, they will come with the ticket. Travelling using overnight train and want a couchette/sleeper? then forget the pass – you will have to pay a very large reservation fee in some cases and it is many times cheaper to book these in advance from the website of the rail company of the country that your journey commenced in.
Buses are also good – I mentioned studentagency between Vienna, Brno and Prague (and other places), there is also Westbus between Salzburg and Prague (€29).
In short – don’t waste your money on a pass unless money is really no object and you don’t mind queuing up and getting reservations for night trains where required. It is one of the most expensive ways of travelling around Europe nowadays.

I don’t think you even read the article. Nearly everything you have mentioned here is covered in Matt’s review.

Brandy

I am at a loss. I am going to Barcelona in September for a TEFL class and it is 4 weeks. During that stay I wish to travel to France, Italy and Greece and maybe England. I would not be able to use the pass while I was in class, so I only need it for the weekends and a few days before class begins, as I am arriving early. What are your suggestions? All the people I spoke to said the pass is the way to go. I just don’t know if it is better than renting a car to see these places or purchase the ticket as I go. I want to see places that are not right off the rail. HELP!!

Bobby

So my buddy and I did a bigger trip, and the bigger you go, the more the pass saves you money.

Rome to Florence
Florence to Venice
Venice to Munich (overnight)
Munich to Berlin (overnight)
Berlin to Amsterdam
Amsterdam to Paris
Paris to Barcelona (overnight)
Going from Salzburg to Prague tomorrow and then back in two days
Going from Salzburg to Vienna next weekend and back

Trips like this with the overnight trains saves a HUGE amount of money, not to mention you aren’t paying for a hotel or hostel that night. Go big or go home.

PJ

I have a 2 week trip coming up this fall to Europe. I’ll be visiting France, Germany, Austria, and Italy. I foolishly thought the EUrail/Raileurope pass would be the best bet, but honestly those passes are only good for people who have no set plans and like flexibility. They hardly save you money and you have to pay reservation fees. The price comparisons used on the RailEurope website are inflated, and the “comparison” they recommend for train price vs railpass price is inaccurate because of the inflation and the fact that they don’t show all available departures on the date you are looking to travel (there could be cheaper options out there when you book direct).

For two travelers, RailEurope’s best offer is around $1200 USD for the passes. However, today I priced out every single train for each day of travel, and I can book each train (with better times than offered on the RailEurope site) for more than half, $527 for 2 people.

If your plans are set, book all of your trains directly through the country’s website which you are in before your next stop. The sooner you do it, the better. Also, a good guide is seat61.com

Danni

Just did the calculations and as a youth, the global pass is almost $100 cheaper on the eurail website compared to the one you’re suggesting. I hope you’re not misleading people for the sake of commission.

Great write-up Matt. Rail passes definitely work in Europe, but one DOES need to research. We usually rent cars in Europe because it gives us the freedom to explore nooks and crannies in forgotten villages and towns :-)

Thanks for the great post. My wife and I were debating this topic the other day. Since our travels include extended stays in one place and all short trips I think we’ll pass on the Eurail passes. We will take some train rides but it sure is a shame it isn’t more flexible for short commuters like us. Maybe in the future when our stays aren’t so drawn out we will go for it. But right we’re under the mantra of “travel slow” not far and fast.

Hey Matt,
Thanks for the informative post. We have a similar pass system in India also though it is more common for city buses or metros. As trains are highly booked and almost no seat is available a month in advance there is no pass system in place for intercity trains.
The more thought i put into it I decided that the Metro pass for three days ( worth INR 300) doesnot make much sense. Even though it entitles you for unlimited rides for three days you would rarely need those many rides unless you are on a trade trip. (minimum fare is Rs. 8)

Your article has also helped me with the ebook i am working on.

Happy travelling

Another great review for Eurail Matt!
Im a massive advocate for Eurail and their passes (No I dont get any kickbacks for this). I originally used a 2 month consecutive global pass in 2009, and experienced some of the negatives some people face. But to be honest, I had a fantastic time with my pass, I saved a stack of money and travelled all over Europe! I have just purchased my second pass for my partner and I to use in November 2013. And I will happily use Eurail again on my next trip.
I think a lot of people are under the impression that once they buy a pass, they have nothing else to pay, and often this results in some of the stories weve noth heard about other using passes. I took the time to research and understand my pass well before I left Australia, and I think this is why I had such a good experience.
I have a short review too on my website and I also dedicated a page just to Eurail and how to use their passes.
Keep up the great work Matt!

NomadicMatt

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