Hi Frugalistas! When I’m in Europe I love getting about by train so buying a Railpass becomes an essential part of my planning. In the first of a three part series on getting the most out of a Railpass here’s how I go about finding the right pass at the right price for my needs.
Where am I going?
Before I even look at trains I work out my itinerary, paying particular attention to which countries I am planning on visiting. This gives me a basic idea of what type of Railpass might best suit my needs. Rather than buy a classic pass that covers ALL of Europe I look at passes that just cover the country or countries I am visiting. Remember, in the frugalfirstclasstravel world we don’t do ‘just in case’!
How many days will I be traveling by train?
If I’m in Europe for 15 days it’s pretty safe to say I’m not going to travel for all of those days. So I go through my itinerary to work out how long I am planning on staying in each location, and make some basic decisions about day trips that would involve a rail trip. Most Railpasses are sold on the basis of a number of traveling days in a given time period (for example, 5 days in 15). Again I don’t buy a pass for more days than I need to – an easy way to save money without any loss of enjoyment!
How long are the trips I am planning on taking?
Next, I want work out whether it is worthwhile using a Railpass for every day I am traveling by train. In general terms I calculate that any trip less than about 1.5 hours isn’t worth using the Railpass but I double check by looking up the price of an individual ticket and compare that with the average daily price of the Railpass I am looking at. If it is cheaper to buy an indiviual ticket that’s what I buy, and I cut the Railpass I’m buying back by a day to make sure I am maximizing my savings.
What are the tricks I need to know about my itinerary?
There are a few things you need to know about Railpasses before you buy one.
If you are buying a pass that covers a small number of countries each country must be connected to one other country on the pass. For example an itinerary of France, Germany and Switzerland can be done as one 3 country pass, but a trip to Spain, Portugal and Italy would need to be bought as 2 separate passes – one for Spain/Portugal and one for Italy as Italy is not connected to either Spain or Portugal.
If you are passing through a country and not stopping you still need to count that country. For example, travelling from Italy to Germany passing through Austria requires either a 3 country pass, or a separate Italian pass and German pass with an individual ticket from the Italian border to the German border to cover Austria depending on what works out cheaper (usually the latter). The good news is that Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands count as one country for the purposes of a Railpass.
When you buy your pass the countries it is valid for are listed on the pass and cannot be varied once issued. Planning therefore is key! Similarly the pass must be used within 6 months of its date of issue. Passes can only be purchased outside Europe. And people wonder why I’m so focused on itinerary planning!
Sometimes the border of a country isn’t the border for that country’s Railpass. For example, a German Railpass is valid for travel from Munich to Salzburg in Austria. Check with the agency who issues your ticket for other border flexible situations and avoid buying a pass with features you may not need.
Some routes on some trains have limited numbers of Railpass seats. Some trains such as the fast intercity trains require a compulsory reservation for an indiviual seat. In the off season you can just turn up at the station and reserve your seat, but outside that make sure you reserve your seat in advance.
What discounts might I be able to get?
Seniors and those under 26 are eligible for a discounted pass (the later can only get discount for a second class pass).
If two of you are traveling together for your entire trip a discounted rate will also apply if you identify this at the time you are booking.
I love the Deutsche Bahn website (available in English language version) to work out distances, routes and changes of trains.
The Rick Steves website has fantastic planning maps for train travel that can be sent to your email and printed off.
Rail Europe is a website where you can buy Railpasses, European train tickets and seat reservations. For everyone else it is a great tool for comparing different Eurail pass options and single ticket prices. (This is an affiliate link)
Join me next time when I discuss how to use your pass and save even more!
Disclaimer: the writer has on all occasions booked and paid for her own pass