How do you score the best deal?
Calculating the savings from a pass—and whether it’s worth it to buy one in the first place—can be a complex task involving a breakdown of your itinerary, estimated days of travel, comparing prices with point-to-point tickets, and other factors.
If you have an idea of how many cities and countries you want to visit over a certain number of days, you can price your options both ways—via a rail pass and then point-to-point tickets. Check out Eurail’s handy trip planning feature, which provides suggestions for the best type of pass for your itinerary. You can then see how those fares stack up against the cost of point-to-point tickets via individual countries’ rail operators or comparison sites like Omio.com.
Also consider how much flexibility you need: Do you want the option, for example, to tack on a side trip based on a recommendation you picked up en route, or a more firm itinerary based on a transfer to a nonrefundable flight deal you scored? Generally speaking, “if your travel plans are firm and dates are fixed, you don’t necessarily need a pass,” says Mark Smith, founder of The Man in Seat 61, a website specializing in rail travel. “But if you want the freedom of waking up in the morning, and saying, ‘We’re in Berlin, should we go to Amsterdam or Warsaw?’, you don’t get that freedom with advance purchase tickets.”
For some travelers, Smith suggests a “mix-and-match” approach. “Instead of buying, for example, a 10-days-in-2-months pass to cover eight or nine planned journeys, it can be cheaper to buy a 7-days-in-2-months pass plus a normal ticket for a day when you’re only doing a short local hop such as Florence to Pisa, or a cheap advance-purchase ticket for a journey at the start of your trip that you know you plan to make,” he explains.
Finally, keep in mind that the convenience of a pass can offer significant non-monetary value, especially for longer journeys across one (or more) different countries. Buying point-to-point tickets often means navigating unfamiliar booking systems in various languages (and on websites that may have trouble with U.S. credit cards). And because different carriers have different booking platforms, that can mean multiple tickets for a single trip. If you’re not up for those extra steps, a pass is a good fit.
What about hidden costs?
Reservation fees, which are not included in the cost of the Eurail pass, can take some travelers by surprise. Even with the DIY option of self-service through the mobile app, you’ll pay a booking fee of €2 Euros per traveler per trip, plus a domestic train reservation fee, which varies per country and train type (night and high-speed trains, not surprisingly, are more expensive and almost universally require advance booking).