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Confused over Eurail passes and train reservations

I had a couple questions about traveling by train in France. Since I'll be traveling in August when it's very crowded, I feel more comfortable having train reservations or buying tickets in advance.

1) For train tickets that, on the SNCF website, say you cannot make reservations for (say Arles to Nice), how much in advance can you buy that point to point ticket if you go in person to a train station? And would I have to buy that ticket from Arles, or could I just buy all of my non-reservation tickets at one time in, say, Paris at the start of my trip?
2) For non-TGV trains that do allow reservations, if I have a Eurail pass, can I make a free reservation?
3) If I have a Eurail pass and go to a train station in person, can I get my ticket for a specific train a day or two in advance (I don't think this is the same as making a reservation)?
Thank you!

Posted by
1568 posts

Your Eurail Pass is your tickets. If the train says reservations required...it means you must reserve your SEAT which is not very much. The trains that do not require seat reservation...don't worry...just buy your seat reservation for your departure upong arriving in that city.

We traveled for 8 weeks in Western Europe and the only train we needed seat reservations when they were not required were from Zurich to Salsburg, Austria. Luckly, we had seat reservations for that train. Often times we bought seat reservations and a couple of times were were the only passengers in the car.

If you feel comfortable, get seat reservations when you arrive for your departure.

Most Europeans travel 2nd class. Not much difference except they are more crowded.

Posted by
22 posts

I just read through the rail passes section of this site which answered question #2 for me. But I'm still confused about the trains that say you can't make a reservation on, particularly long ones like the Arles to Nice train. How much in advance can you actually get that ticket to board, and does this vary if you are purchasing point-to-point tickets or just showing a Eurail pass?

Posted by
14 posts

When you land in Europe go to the train station and make all the reservations you can. I had to have a conductor remove a fellow american that was sitting in my reserved seat across from my best friend from Brussel to Paris. If you don't, be prepared to stand. Reservations are a couple of euro. It depends on the distance and the services the train offers. We sat in 1st class and a food cart came around. It was nice to know we had a seat. Go to the Bahn link in Ricks web pages and plan out the train times. You'll thank me later. Enjoy the trip.

Posted by
14 posts

I've been to Europe 5 times and compared the point to point to a eurail ticket and the eurail always wins. I suggest a eurail and then make reservations when you get there for all your destinations. If you are going to Oktoberfest and taking a night train when you leave Munich, go to AAA and pay the costly price for a reservation before you leave the USA or you won't be getting on that train. Consider the time of travel and how busy the destinations are. Reservations with a Eurail pass still cost. The eurail gets you on the train. The reservation gets you a gauranteed seat. The TGV reservation was not cheap from what I remember from Brussels to Paris but welcome to Europe where the US dollar doesn't go very far. It was worth the money to sit down and not look like an idiot american. I would get the Eurail pass and make my reservations as soon as I get there. If I was taking a night train I might consider looking into paying for the reservation in advance for a cabin.

Posted by
4555 posts

If you're only travelling in France, don't bother with a Eurail pass. You can only pair France with Germany, Switzerland, Italy or Spain, giving you, at best, 4 days in two months at $305, $269 each if you're travelling with someone else. That's at minimum, almost $70/day for each of those four days. Arles-Nice can be had for about 38 Euro, or $50. You can also get special rates that are far cheaper...eg, a 19 euro promo fare, Paris-Brussels. When the SNCF website says you cannot make reservations on a particular leg, that means reservations aren't accepted anyway. The TER trains mostly don't take reservations....they're like regional commuter trains. If part of a journey is on, say TGV, then you WILL get a reservation as part of your purchase, since they are required on those trains..that's why the price for Arles-Nice is a bit higher using TGV. For trains where reservations are optional, you'll be given the choice to make one. Check your point to points again before buying a pass.

Posted by
16 posts

Norm's information is, at best, incomplete. There are many more options for railpasses in France than he indicated, including one for travel within France only. A second class saver pass will get you 3 days in a month for $195 as a for instance. You can start here http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/passes/france_index.htm but even that page doesn't list them all, as we got a France-Benalux pass that is elsewhere on that site.

Posted by
4555 posts

Marc...you are right...RailEurope offers France-only passes, something the Eurail site does not do. But the bottom line is that it's still $65-75/day (to say nothing of additional reservation fees for many trains, and the difficulty of making those reservations-only from the U-S), and at that rate, you'd have to do a lot of long-distance travelling to make it worthwhile. With the many sales and offers on the SNCF website, it seems almost criminal not to suggest Julia check her itinerary against the point-to-point prices to see if she can save some money. And the points I made to answer her reservations questions still stand.

Posted by
18056 posts

I have made 5 trips (2 wks each) in Germany. First trip was using a German Rail pass. When I came home, I compared the point-point fares with the cost of the DB railpass and found I didn't save anything.

Since then I have learned to take advantage of the promotional offers (i.e., Schönes-Wochenende- and Länder-Tickets) from DB. After every trip I add up my actual rail expenses and compare them to the cost of a rail pass for the same travel, and I alway find I saved a bunch.

On my last trip with my wife, for a circle trip of the best spots in Bavaria, I spent $228 for Länder-Tickets for travel that would have cost $388 with a rail pass. The $160 savings more than paid for a day of our expenses.

In addition to the higher cost, the biggest drawback of a railpass is the difficulty of making reservations in advance, particularly for night trains, which will be sold out before you get to Europe.

Posted by
223 posts

One thing I'd like to mention:

I compared point-to-point purchases for the travel I anticipated doing this summer and bought a France-Benelux 4 day pass because it came out ahead in terms of pricing.

Anyway, a few of my plans changed and my Eurail pass is now more expensive than if I had purchased point to point.

I'm just mentioning it because you've got to buy your rail pass before you leave the US (you can get it from the Rick Steves travel store even), but I'd make sure that your plans are relatively firm before you buy it.

Posted by
7 posts

We traveled, with a rail pass, from Arles to Rome during a trip two summers ago and made seat reservations at one of the Paris train stations a couple of days in advance. We were in line for a while, but i think it was better to make them there where there were more English-speaking staff members to help. As i recall, though, we did double-check with the station in Arles a day before our departure from there and found out that the train had been cancelled and we had to change our departure time. But it wasn't a problem because we had reserved seats and those reservations were just transferred.