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Eurail Global Pass

I'm trying to figure if this is the most economical way to handle some planned rail travel next year (assuming European travel is possible for us).

We will be going on a group tour of Switzerland that ends in Lucerne. We won't need to purchase any train travel during the tour, but after we have some plans on our own:
- one day trip to Schaffhausen Switzerland from Lucerne
- travel to Paris via rail for a week on our own
- day trips from Paris to hit spots we've never been - Bayeux, Tours, Chartres are possibilities

I've run the numbers and if the pass can be used for all those trips, then a 5 or 7 day senior pass looks like the smart way to go. Am I reading it right that the pass pays the entire price or is it just a discounted price?

Posted by
1747 posts

France is not the most Eurail friendly country and you need to buy seat reservations for any TGV trips.

Posted by
18135 posts

I think it's very unlikely a Global Pass is the most economical way to go, though I haven't run the numbers. Have you priced out tickets on the SNCF website itself? Rick's fare maps are based on walk-up fares, which can be twice as high as what many of us pay when we buy individual train tickets in advance. I'm sure you will be making your Paris hotel reservation well ahead of time, right? So there's no reason--once the COVID-19 situation settles down--not to take advantage of the low prices you can get by purchasing tickets for the Lucerne-Paris trip early. Take note of the fare rules; the very cheapest tickets are non-refundable/non-changeable, but there's now a somewhat more expensive type of ticket that allows changes and refunds, which might be the prudent way to go for a trip next year. Take a look at the fares for travel tomorrow, then check them for October or November. You should see significant savings from buying early. Fares do vary by day of week and time of day.

The ticket prices you see on the SNCF website are all-inclusive. If you travel with a rail pass, you will have to pay a separate seat-reservation fee on the fast trains to and within France (TGVs and I think also ICs). Those reservation fees are significant--not just a few euros. The Lucerne-Paris trip will probably be on the Lyria, for which the 2nd-class seat-reservation fee is 25 euros per person. Another issue is that seats for passholders are limited; it's possible to be told you cannot buy a seat reservation on your preferred train even though individual tickets are still on sale. That would drive me mad.

You can check the Lucerne-Schaffhausen-Lucerne fare on the SBB website. It has been decades since I've taken a Swiss train, so I'm not up on the way Swiss rail fares are structured, but I believe there are sometimes advance-purchase discounts within Switzerland.

Posted by
7204 posts

Frankly Eurail is a legacy mode of travel now used mostly by uninformed travelers. Thankfully you’ve taken the first great step of asking for advice. Traveling in Switzerland is best done by purchasing either a Half Fare Card or the super saver tickets available to travelers planning ahead. The same is true for the French TGV ahead for the best prices which are inclusive of seat reservations.

Posted by
18135 posts

I had the same thought Wally did (maybe fly), but then I looked at the train schedule and was surprised to see that there are at least 3 daily connections next week (are full schedules running these days?) that take between 4:45 and 5:15. I doubt that a flight would be faster, given the extra time required at the departure airport.

I guess it's possible flying would be cheaper if all travelers will have only budget-airline-compliant carry-on luggage.

Posted by
625 posts

Thanx for the help guys. If I take out the Lucerne to Paris leg the pass wouldn't pay for itself not even counting things like TGV reservations. Was kind of hoping to avoid the hassle and time requirements of airport security and check-in but only the fastest train routes come close to being better (4hr45min). Especially since the tour company will take us to the Zurich airport as part of our tour for free.

Now I just have to work out affordable lodging in Paris for a week. Tried all of RS recommended rental companies. Most were either way too expensive ($500 per day), didn't do short term rentals or had cancellation policies that weren't particularly attractive given the state of the world right now. Found some possibilities of hotels with kitchenettes which might work out but closer to $300 per night than his budget of $200. Good luck with that.

Thanx again

Posted by
1747 posts

It can even be more economical than the train, and certainly faster -
and your time on this add-on trip seems limited, so why waste it on a
long distance train?

Why do you assume flying would be faster? My guess is that total travel time would be roughly the same, and long distance train tickets can be cheap if you buy them in advance and don't need flexibility.

I guess it's possible flying would be cheaper if all travelers will
have only budget-airline-compliant carry-on luggage.

There are no budget airlines between Zürich and Paris. The choices are Swiss and Air France, or a stop somewhere.

Was kind of hoping to avoid the hassle and time requirements of
airport security and check-in but only the fastest train routes come
close to being better (4hr45min). Especially since the tour company
will take us to the Zurich airport as part of our tour for free.

I don't think flying will be faster. And even if the tour company will take you to Zürich airport, that is still an hour of travel time.

Posted by
161 posts

We attended the Christmas Markets last December, starting in Vienna and training across Germany with stops in Regensburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Dortmund and back to Frankfurt for our flight home. We had also planned a couple of day trips from those stops. At the time, Eurail had a great fare for two seniors traveling together for a pass covering 5 days of travel in a month. Our trip lasted two weeks. Since we were unsure at the time of exactly which departure times we would board, we bought the pass to allow ourselves flexibility. We planned to pay for separate tickets for the short day trips ( Frankfurt to Heidelberg, Cologne to Aachen). I priced out single tickets for the longer hauls and felt we did at least as good or maybe a little savings with the pass plus we gained tremendous flexibility. Yes, we did have to pay a seat reservation fee a couple of times but it was not very expensive and quickly accomplished.

Posted by
161 posts

In addition to my earlier reply, we are quite experienced travelers, having traveled extensively in Europe, Africa, India, Russia , UK and other destinations so take a small amount of exception to being considered an inexperienced traveler because we look at Eurail passes. All alternatives are on the table when we travel.

Posted by
85 posts

You mention cost as your only criterion, and others point out, correctly, that point-to-point advanced-purchase fares often add up to less than the price of a Eurail Pass. Others point out SNCF's pass-unfriendly system, which requires passholders to pay for reservations on high-speed (and, I should add, some conventional) domestic trains.

Given your desire to take day trips from Paris, don't forget the flexibility benefit of a pass. If you change your mind about which day trip destinations you want see, if you want to stay an extra hour or two before returning to Paris, if the weather is favorable/unfavorable on a given day, or if you're tired and want to travel the next day instead, a pass is your friend.

Even in the cases where passholders need to buy reservations for French domestic trains, those reservations (which have standardized prices of €10 and €20 where reservations are required, or as little as €1.50 in the few remaining cases where reservations are offered but not required) are easily and freely exchangeable until the last minute. You can complete the exchange at any SNCF ticket machine, without having to wait in line. This works even for paper coupons.

In France, discounted advance-purchase tickets may be non-exchangeable, or exchangeable only up to the day before travel, or exchangeable for a fee. The greater the discount, the greater the restrictions.

From your reference to 5 or 7 days, it sounds as if you know about "flexible" passes, which let you choose travel days within a bounded period of time. Sometimes, a flexible pass with a smaller number of travel days, plus some point-to-point tickets, gives the best of both worlds.

Last but not least, Eurail Passes are sold at a discount during certain periods of the year. You might be able to take advantage by buying in advance. Search online to find past sale dates (and upcoming dates, if you look really carefully!).

Be sure to consider your financial exposure in the event that you don't travel for whatever reason. This concern applies as much to passes as to point-to-point tickets!

Posted by
18135 posts

In the past, rail passes sold at a discount were not refundable at all, whereas those purchased at the full price could be returned (unused) for a partial refund; I think the refund was 85%. The COVID situation may have changed that policy, but it's something I'd check into very carefully.

Posted by
4180 posts

Lynda - What did you end up paying for your 5 day Eurail pass for two seniors?

Posted by
161 posts

For Emily,
I do not remember exactly but it was around $600 for the two of us. We did not make our final plans until late October for travel the first week of Dec. through mid Dec. Due to my mother's failing health and death in October, we were not able to plan ahead. By then, the fares were not cheap, however, we were more interested in the flexibility since there was little fare difference on point to point tickets. We traveled several 4-5 hour segments, going from Vienna to Dortmund and then back to Frankfurt. No complaints.
In the current uncertain environment of travel, I would be reluctant to buy nonrefundable tickets.