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Railpass 'experience'

To those of you who have travelled with a railpass, is it worth buying a railpass mostly for the 'experience'? I've been to Europe twice, but never used one. My husband and I will be doing 16 days in Europe, a portion of which is going from Paris to Berlin to Amsterdam (I LOVE Berlin). We could do this bit as overnight trains or cheap flights. It looks like they would cost about the same (the railpass and the cost of flights and rail tickets). I'm torn - the railpass kind of seems like a hassle, having to figure out if reservations are needed or not and then make them. But it would be cool to do the overnight train thing. The flights are so fast though, we wouldn't have to spend as much time travelling and the hour of potential discomfort on the flight would be made up for by the night in a bed.
What do you think?

Posted by
33339 posts

But if I am taking overnight trains and trains between the other locations on my trip, a railpass makes the most sense. I really don't get that one, Carolyn. Rail passes don't cover sleeping accommodation on night trains. International night trains are generally "Global Price". I believe it would be less expensive to buy the appropriate ticket for that journey than to use a day of a pass. Gone are the days when you could, as I did when I was much younger, wander into a second class seating compartment (wish there were more of them left) on a train going overnight and look vagrant-y and keep the whole compartment so you could fold down the seats into a quasi-bed and kip for the night under the glow of the blue bulb and travel for no more than a day on the pass.

Posted by
32273 posts

Carolyn, I don't feel that a Railpass provides any different "experience" than travel with P-P tickets. In one sense, a Railpass is more of a hassle, as one has to check each route and determine which ones have compulsory reservations. I've found lately, that buying P-P tickets (which include reservations) makes my travels easier and simpler. One of the most important criteria for me is the overall cost. When planning my trips, I find that Railpasses are not a particulary cost-effective method of travel any longer. With the new "Mini" fares in Italy, and some of the discounted tickets in Germany that Lee has mentioned are a much easier solution. Regarding the issue of travel by rail or by budget flights, everyone has a slightly different "tipping point". In my case, unless rail travel is going to be 7 - 8 hours or more that's the method I prefer. I try to avoid the hassles and "cattle car procedures" of air travel whenever possible, but sometimes that's unavoidable. Purchasing budget air tickets well in advance of a flight is often the cheapest method (although it's necessary to allow for the inevitable "extra charges" which are tacked-on by the airlines, such as the €16 fee I recently had to pay for the "privilege" of using a non-Euro credit card to book my flight, and of course the luggage charges). Happy travels!

Posted by
9109 posts

I'm a bit confuse by the question?? A rail pass isn't required to travel by train through Europe. In fact you purchase point to point rail tickets the same way you would a plane ticket: via the rail operators web site. For lots of trains, including high-speed and overnight, restricted advance purchase fares are available which offer substantial savings....just like with airfares. For your itinerary it would make more sense (geographically) to do Paris - Amsterdam - Berlin. For Paris to Amsterdam use the high-speed Thalys train, travel time is 3 hours 20 minutes. If you book well in advance (90 days allowed), you can get restricted tickets for under 50 euros. Book here (you can print your tickets out at home): http://www.thalys.com For Amsterdam to Berlin the journey is about six hours (daytime), and advance fares are available for as low as 39 euros: http://www.bahn.com There is a night train available but it arrives in Berlin at 4:30 am, so a daytime train makes better sense. Both of these train journeys will be faster, and cheaper than flying when you take into consideration the expense/time of getting to/from the airports, and the time/hassle of check-in and airport security etc.

Posted by
28 posts

I understand a railpass isn't required - that's why I'm trying to decide between flights and point-to-point rail tickets and a railpass. We are ending our trip in Amsterdam, so it needs to go Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, even if it doesn't make the most sense. I doubt it would take six hours to fly from Berlin to Amsterdam (even centre to centre) - the flight time is 1.5 hours. You only have to be there 1-2 hours before. It costs 30 euros. The overnight train I would take leaves Berlin at 11:46 and arrives Amsterdam at 9:59. So the quetsion is, is the overnight train/railpass experience worth it vs the hassle of flying? I don't want to do these as rail trips during the day because they take so long.

Posted by
9109 posts

"...I doubt it would take six hours to fly from Berlin to Amsterdam (even centre to centre) - the flight time is 1.5 hours. You only have to be there 1-2 hours before. It costs 30 euros...." When you add up the time it takes to get to/from both airports (30 minutes x 2)+airport check-in time (1.5 hours),+ flight time (1.5 hours) that adds up to four hours minimum (realistically more like five hours), and there is the expense of getting to/from both airports. Personally I'd be more comfortable on the train even if it did take two more hours. You're correct that going in the other direction the scheduling is more convenient. I like night trains, so that's what I do. But again you don't need a rail pass to travel on an overnight (or daytime)train...simply purchase point to point tickets via the DB website. Railpasses are like dinosaurs these days; booking point to point ticket directly via the train operator is the cheapest way to travel by train. If you're determined to do Paris to Berlin, flying would be more practical.

Posted by
9363 posts

"So the quetsion is, is the overnight train/railpass experience worth it" To reiterate what a previous poster said, a railpass is not required for train travel and is not required for overnight trains. You can buy point to point tickets for overnight trains.

Posted by
28 posts

To reiterate myself, I know a railpass isn't required for travel. But if I am taking overnight trains and trains between the other locations on my trip, a railpass makes the most sense. So it's #1 railpass vs. #2 point to point and flights. They cost about the same.

Posted by
23473 posts

You statements about train pass is confusing but in general our bench mark is 6 hrs. If the train time is six hours or so we will CONSIDER air but the convenience of the train far out weights the vast inconvenience of air travel.

Posted by
9363 posts

"But if I am taking overnight trains and trains between the other locations on my trip, a railpass makes the most sense." I guess I didn't complete my thought before. In addition to railpasses not being required for overnight travel, they almost never "make the most sense", especially, as Nigel pointed out, when you have to pay additionally for reservations and overnight sleeping arrangements. It's almost always cheaper and easier to just buy point to point.

Posted by
28 posts

I'm trying to decide whether to: buy a railpass and use for my entire trip (including two longer journeys Paris-Berlin-Amsterdam) buy point to point tickets and cheap flights for the longer journeys I hadn't considered the additional cost for a sleeping compartment on the train - any idea what that would cost? I looked up the full price, about $256 and $218 ... The additional booking cost for this would likely push the cost of the railpass being economical, plus there's the issue of whether an overnight counts as one day or two (I understand this depends on the journey).

Posted by
2829 posts

Carolyn, I think you need to re-frame your dilemma. Whether you travel by rail or air shouldn't depend on whether your buy a pass or not, unless cost savings are involved. In any case, for the sectors you are planning to travel the extra reservation costs are considerable (especially the Thalys train between Paris and Amsterdam). Rail passes do not provide an "experience", unless you are a transportation geek aiming to spend as much time inside a train as possible. Night trains are a highly divisive issue. I'm on the camp they don't substitute for a night rest on a stationary bed, leave people overtired the following morning, are crap in terms of speed (they take much longer than equivalent daytime trains because they must cope with night freight traffic) and, if you are not travelling in a private sleeper, the can be dangerous. Also, approaching age 30, I myself crossed shared sleeping accommodations like hostels dorms, sleepers or anywhere where a person other than my gf is with me as unacceptable. But each one has one's own standards.

Posted by
4535 posts

I think you may be leaving out details and that has us all confused. How many train trips will you be taking in addition to the Paris-Berlin-Amsterdam? If several other shorter trips are included, perhaps a railpass could make some sense. But in general, your listed itinerary makes more sense to either buy all p2p rail tickets or a mix and fly the longer distances. Train trips of less than 5 hours are almost always better than flying. Few hassles or stress, stations are in the center cities, there are no security lines, the seats are spacious and comfy and you can walk around during the trip. Not to mention scenery. Overnight trains are not that great. Yes there is a romance to leaving one city at night and waking in another. You sometimes meet interesting people. And it saves a hotel. But you probably won't sleep well which means the next day will be tough.

Posted by
14580 posts

Carolyn, On most of my trips I use a Pass but the trip was longer than 16 days. Re: reservations: they are needed from Paris-Berlin, day or night. Didn't used to be that way for a day ride. If you do Paris-Berlin night, I suggest the direct CNL departure. I did Berlin-Paris via Hannover this summer, CNL, sat in a compartment sleeping upright, cost of the reservation 2nd class was 9 Euro with my Pass. CNL trains require reservations. I've done the route by day also, changing in Mannheim. Are you going Paris-Berlin, then Berlin-Amsterdam? I myself would do one of those legs by night. Depending on your time frame, you might prefer Berlin-Amsterdam (day) with a transfer in Duisburg (I prefer that instead of in Holland) using a Pass with no mandatory reservations. I've done the Duisburg-Berlin direct on the ICE...good, fast connection. If you go on the CNL and need a couchette or sleeper, that eliminates any Pass savings. In that sense it's better to go by day. The other way is to skip the couchette or sleeper, which is what I do, and just pay for a compartment seat, ie., 9-10 Euro. One more thing: from Paris-Mannhem (if you transfer there) or Frankfurt (day) 1st class on the ICE or TGV will cost 25 Euro in addition to your Pass, but once in Germany, you can hop on any ICE from there to Berlin w/o a mandatory reservation. Buy the point to point tickets if you plan on any day trips r/t from Berlin, eg., Berlin-Dresden, Berlin-Rostock, Berlin-Potsdam, Berlin-Hamburg, Berlin-Frankfurt an der Oder.

Posted by
1503 posts

I am going to offer a different point of view. We have done railpasses twice taking night trains both trips. The railpass significantly lowered the cost of the night train (we got deluxe double, and deluxe triple sleepers). You should go to the DB website and look at the cost of the night train with and without passes. I think taking a night train may justify the use of a rail pass. Just my two cents.

Posted by
3050 posts

No advice specifically on the Railpass question (I have found them convenient in Germany, but a pain in the ass in France) but I'm going to second the idea that rail travel is generally a lot less stressful and more pleasant than air travel. I just got in from Berlin this morning and while the hour flight compared to a six + hour train ride sounds like a good deal, I crunched our door-to-door time for both and realized I only saved about 2 hours by flying, total, and it was a lot less pleasant and more stressful. I'd go with what fits your budget, definitely, but if the train travel is less than 6 or so hours and isn't more expensive than flying, it's a much nice option.

Posted by
235 posts

Railpasses are probably most valuable on a trip where you don't have an itinerary set in stone and you plan on doing a lot of moving from place to place. I did one trip with a railpass. It was fun to get up and have breakfast in Brugge and say "let's go to Provence today" and be there in time for dinner. Fun, but not really cheap when you consider the number of supplements we paid. Otherwise, if you already know where you're going, point-to-point tickets bought well in advance will probably be cheaper. If I were doing Paris-Amsterdam-Berlin, it would not occur to me to get a railpass unless I planned on making stops along the way. Also, flying within Europe is cheap and in some cases saves time. I don't get sentimental about trains anymore. If I can shave $50 and and a couple hours (door-to-door) off a trip, I fly. I know that might not square with the prevailing thought here, but that's my preference.

Posted by
14580 posts

Was that Tegel or Schönefeld where you arrived, Sarah? The route between Berlin and Stuttgart on the ICE is pleasant...you must have been pressed for time.

Posted by
3050 posts

I flew in to Schoenfeld. While it wasn't that bad getting to Berlin from there (we stayed at the Arcotel John F. in the Mitte), it was still a hassle to catch a 7am flight out. We are night owls and I knew realistically we wouldn't be going to bed before 2 or 3 am while in Berlin - but the U-bahn to RE connection to the airport meant we had to be at checkout at 4:20 a.m. to catch the U to Alexanderplatz and then the RE to the airport, which sucked. (We just stayed up the whole night). We weren't really pressed for time so much as money. I'm terrible about planning my trips enough in advance to get a good train ticket price, and meanwhile I got a deal on GermanWings for 60 euro R/T to Berlin. The train ticket would've been a good deal more expensive 3 weeks out from the trip. I should just suck it up and get a DB 50 card so train travel would be more reasonable, price-wise. But man we were talking on both flights about how much more pleasant train travel is. We'd trained to Berlin twice (admittedly both in 1st class - nice perk of some railpasses) and I really missed it.