UPDATE: THE CONTENT OF THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED IN A 2013 EDITION THAT IS MORE ACCURATE REFLECTION OF THE CURRENT SITUATION IN EUROPE. CLICK HERE TO READ THAT POST.
Despite all my trips around Europe, I could never say I’ve “railed” across the continent. I am usually so scattered in my plans that I take few trains and lots of planes. I end up in Venice and decide Amsterdam is fun and fly back there. My plans are never consistent enough for trains. But on this trip I really wanted to see Europe by train.
I get a lot of questions about European train travel and the value of European rail passes. I’ve heard mixed reviews about them from other travelers so I decided this trip it was finally time to answer the most important question – “will buying this pass save me money?”
I emailed Rail Europe and asked “Would it be possible to get a pass to review for an article on Eurail passes?” They said yes so with my Global Eurail pass (the multi-country one that was valid for 15 trips in a 2 month period) in hand, I was off to ride the rails through Europe.
What did I find?
A Eurail pass is great value if a) you use ALL your segments and b) you are traveling long distances on high speed or overnight trains.
So let’s do the math first because the proof is in the numbers. Here is a breakdown of the reservation fee costs with and without a Eurail pass for all my trips:
|With Eurail||Without Eurail (1st class)||Without Eurail (2nd class)|
Note: All these prices are in Euros. I convert them into dollars based on the average exchange rate of $1= €0.67. The first column is the reservation fee I paid. Train prices are based on what was told me at the time I booked the ticket. While all trains are roughly the same price, different departure times might be a few Euros more or less than what I paid.
As you can see, the pass clearly saved me money. But there are very important things to note:
First, what type of pass you get will greatly affect how much you save. There are a lot of different passes but the two main passes most travelers use are the 1st class adult pass and 2nd class youth (for those under 26) global flexi passes. A two month 15 day 2nd class ticket costs $774, with a value of $51.60 per trip. A 1st class adult ticket costs $1,190.00, with a value of $79 per trip. These passes let you travel all over Europe and give 10 or 15 trips in a one or two month period. Consecutive day passes can be bought for up to 3 months, but aren’t really that good of a deal if you aren’t traveling every other day since everyday you don’t use them is a lost day.
Additionally, if you aren’t traveling for 2 months, you can get passes for 3 or 5 days, for a few specific countries, or even just one country. For any trip, there is a pass for you.
Secondly, I saved money because I took long inter-country trains. I mentioned the value of each trip because looking back at my travels, some train rides cost below the value of a Eurail trip. Many trains I took cost a lot, and in these cases, the passes saved me money. But for short trips, using one of my Eurail trips would actually cost me money. The Brussels to Brugge ticket only cost €12, far below the $79 value of that segment. If you are just taking short trips around Europe, then getting a Eurail pass will cost you more. However, if you only take it across vast distances or on overnight trains, you’ll save money.
Did I Save Money?
The value of my travels would have cost $1,294 for the reservation fees and the pass. The cost without the Eurail pass would have been $1,767. For a second class ticket, assuming the same reservation fees, I would have spent $878, whereas the trip would have cost $1,157 without the pass.
In both scenarios, I’m saving money.
I wasn’t a believer in these passes before, but after seeing how the numbers add up, I think Eurail passes can be a great way for budget travelers to save money if used correctly. Even in an age of Ryanair, rail passes still make a lot of sense. In order to maximize value, make sure that you research train prices without the pass and add them up versus the value of the pass. You don’t need to know all your plans, since they change, but this at least gives you a ball park idea.
I know the initial sticker shock of the passes often leads people to forgo them and just wing it but winging will lead to higher transportation prices. You have to think of the money you spend as an upfront investment knowing that over the course of your trip, you’ll save more money than you spent. And in Europe, that extra money can be a lifesaver.
If you want to book a pass, you can use the widget below search passes, prices, and train tickets. 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.
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!