If train travel is your transport of choice, your next question might be: should I buy a Euro rail pass? Or point-to-point tickets?

In a previous post we discussed how to buy point-to-point tickets, and their pros and cons.  In this guide, we’ll discuss how to purchase a rail pass, and if it ultimately makes sense to buy one for your trip.

European Rail Pass

Opposite that of point-to-point tickets, A rail pass covers your train travel in one more countries, and for a certain (pre-selected) amount of days. This allows for a certain level of flexibilty when traveling, unlike point-to-point. The initial intent of a rail pass was so that you buy a single pass, and then can hop on any train – fuss free. (this however, is not exactly the case anymore- more on that later)

For non-Europeans, rail passes must be purchased before leaving home.  Popular places to buy a rail pass are: Eurail and Rail Europe. You can pick different passes, from coverage in just one country, to coverage in basically all of Europe.

Should I Buy A Euro Rail Pass?

It may seem tempting to purchase a rail pass without much thought. However, there are some drawbacks, so it’s important to first ask yourself a few questions before buying…

How Many Countries Will I Visit?: If an all-out tour of Europe for a couple months is your aim- you will probably benefit from a rail pass.  If you are only staying in one country, and one or two cities – skip the pass.

What’s My Age Again?: There are certain discounts depending on age. Travelers from 12-25 qualify for the ‘youth discount’, which can save you up to 35% compared to adult tickets. More on discounts.

Point-to-point vs. Rail Pass?: Before buying a rail pass, compare prices for your destinations with point-to-point, then rail pass. If long trips are in your itinerary, it may play to the advantage of a rail pass.

An important note to consider: Point-to-point, booked far in advance, will always be the cheapest option.

Drawbacks

As stated above, the simplicity of rail passes are no longer. Gone are the days of just hopping on any train you like. These drawbacks of a rail pass should be taken into consideration:

  • Reservations: It’s not always the case, but even if you have a rail pass there’s a chance you will still have to reserve a seat on your desired train. And usually- it’s not free. Reservation fees can go anywhere from a few euros to 30€. Overnight trains will always need a reservation. You can make a reservation at the ticket window, or online.
  • More Fees: Reservations sometimes aren’t the only fees tacked on to rail passes.  Sometimes a ‘fast-train fee’ is placed on the pass as well. These can range again anywhere from a few euros to 45€
  • First Class Only: Many rail passes only allow for a ‘first class’ option for passengers over 26 years old. This of course bumps up the ticket price. (Although, some look at the comforts of first class as worth it.)

Conclusion

The answer to “should I buy a rail pass” is a solid: maybe

Ultimately, it comes down to dollar signs and personal preference. If you want flexibility, comfort, and don’t mind spending a little extra – go for the pass. Although, if you have fixed dates for travel, and it isn’t very long – the cheapest option is to buy point-to-point tickets in advance.

I like to think of the rail pass as being beneficial for the extended stayers with no fixed plans. If that’s not you – check out point-to-point instead.