I can't tell you why they buy it without understanding it. We have bought them for some trips and not for others. For us - it's all about the flexibility the pass offers if we will be traveling long distances with several transfers. Before I bought my first one I did a TON of research to ensure it was the best option and to ensure I understood how it worked!
Simply -- conventional wisdom. Started with Europe - $5/day, then 20, 25, 50, 75, and now 200/day. It was push then as the only way to roll and it was a very good deal. But the world change, internet came along, capacity pricing, etc. and old advise to hard to ignore. And some are just smarter.
I think part of it is that people of a certain age remember people (or perhaps did it themselves) who traveled around Europe in the 60's and 70's using a railpass and a copy of Europe on $5 a day. Without any research that is still their go-to thought on travel not realizing the drastic changes that have occurred since that golden age. They think they know how it works (you just jump on and off trains at will, right??) and if they didn't do their due diligence on a website such as this one have a surprise when they get in to the mechanics of the whole thing.
What are your thoughts?
We used Select Saver Passes in 2014. I thought it was a good deal because:
At the time you could get significantly discounted Standard Premier EuroStar tickets with the Eurail Pass
We like to travel in First Class.
The Saver Pass provided a decent discount for two people travelling together.
I wouldn't use one again because:
It was stressful trying find where we needed to validate the pass before we caught our first train. The office we needed was closed when we tried to validate the passes the night before. I was worried that we were going to miss our train from Paris to Avignon.
I got tired of conductors telling me we paid too much for our reservations.
It was mildly inconvenient writing down each day of travel and the trains we took.
The reservations were another bunch of documents that I had to keep track of in addition to the pass..
If the people sitting near us on a train were American, they would roll their eyes when they saw the Eurail Pass.
It wasn't the worst travel mistake I've ever made, and we had a fabulous trip.
My thoughts? it must be good advertising but the details you need are buried sort like how drug companies tell you the side effects real fast at the end
I think you could ask the same thing about annuities, timeshares, life insurance, diet pills and facebook. It sounds like a simple solution to a perceived complex problem. So much simpler to buy one thing, here at home, than to do the math and figure out how to deal with the daunting task of understanding dealing with foreign ticket systems. Most Americans I know, have no concept of rail travel and think its too complicated, rather than normal everyday transportation for a whole continent.
That said, learning how to read and understand those foreign systems and websites work is a skill not everyone wants to learn for themselves..
If there is an award for best marketing campaign in the past 100 years then rail passes ought to be a nominee!
Passes probably haven't been a bargain for most travelers in 30+ years but still people start their trip by getting a rail pass and then ask how to use it. Getting a pass just seems to have become part of the travel culture that everyone knows for train travel even if they have never heard a railpass ad or aren't even old enough for the days of Europe On $5 a Day.
I think in some cases people are afraid it will be too hard to buy train tickets individually, so they're willing to pay for a pass without ever checking what they'd pay for the tickets they need. Only later do they discover that some trips may require reservations, and it's really not any harder to buy a ticket than it is to get a seat reservation.
In other cases the purchasers seem to place a rather high value on knowing the cost of inter-city transportation before they leave home. Some also like having paid for part of the trip ahead of time.
Then there are those handy-dandy maps (hi, Rick!) that show estimated (rounded to the nearest $5) rail fares that are the maximum you will pay, whereas even a wing-it traveler like me can often avoid paying the very top prices by traveling a little earlier or a little later in the day.
It pains me greatly when people show up on this forum, having spent perhaps twice as much for a rail pass as the tickets would have cost even if bought near their travel dates. With luck, they won't do that again.
I agree with Frank. There was a time when a rail pass was the way to go. Times have changed but perceptions have not. Some people still think, without knowing any better, that rail passes are still the way to go.
In 1988 I went to Germany with a German Rail (not Eurail) pass that cost $165 for unlimited 2nd class travel for two weeks (16 days, actually). At less than $12/day, I thought it was worth it.
When I went back in 2000, I bought a five day German Rail pass for the same price. I used the pass for my most expensive five days and bought point-point tickets for another five days. When I came home I added up the full fares (there were no Länder tickets then, just a Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket on weekends) for the five days, and found I had just about broken even. However, there were times that I used express trains, just because I could, when less expensive regional trains would have been perfectly suitable.
Since than, for ten more trips I have planned, I have priced out my transportation using advance purchase Sparpreis tickets, Länder and regional tickets, and point-point tickets and then compared it to a rail pass, and a pass has never come close to being economically feasible, for the entire trip or for any part of it.
People buy rail passes for the same reason they rent cars - they don't have to think much about what they are going to do. And they justify it as "freedom", "flexibility", or "convenience".
Why did I commit to an over-the-stove microwave before understanding the expense of an electrician to run a dedicated power line? Some people don't want to read or do research or math, but it's a key step to understanding. We can also suffer from information overload by surfing around too many sources instead of focusing. Online shoppers now want to get to the "Buy" button in as few clicks as possible. We may not know what we don't know.
Travelers also don't always make various trip commitments in the ideal order. The bigger the purchase price, or the less refundable, the more thought you probably want to put into it. Consider ahead whether to fly roundtrip or open-jaw, whether to fly a leg that takes 8+ hours by train, whether there really is "enough to do" during a week or two at one location, or whether two nights is too rushed.
Even at a glance, I hope it's obvious that passes come in all shapes and sizes, so the tighter the trip plan, the more tailored a rail pass or variety of transport options might be compared and selected. Cost might be the driving comparison factor, or balanced with flexibility, comfort, and other priorities.
At ricksteves.com/rail, we strive to provide key details in a format that is not fine print. But not everything can be in bold red print, either. I recommend reading all of our rail info before deciding, but especially the single page dedicated to each country where you plan to travel by train. Regarding our ticket cost maps (updates coming soon), they're not all "rounded up" but are rounded to the nearest $5, up or down, and are provided with adjacent information about cheaper options.
Seasoned travelers here have gained understanding through long practice but usually also a love of planning. And it gets easier every time. Lee can choose shorter, slower, cheaper trains in part because he's likely to return to Germany yet again next year. Similar budget strategies have been described in Rick's guidebooks for years, but are not the best choice for everyone or every trip.
Sorry, Laura; I'll correct my misstatement about the fare map.
After extensive research, I myself bought a Eurail pass (Spain, France), as recommended by many respectful travel sights. Problem is it also states that reservations need to be made in advance (at least for the trains I will be taking) but I cannot find any sites that have an area for purchasing just reservations. Unfortunately the company I purchased the passes from, "RailPass" have been no help in this matter. I myself wish I never made the purchase as I can see that saving would be minimal at best.
Problem is it also states that reservations need to be made in advance (at least for the trains I will be taking) but I cannot find any sites that have an area for purchasing just reservations
Did you see this problem before or after you bought the pass?
Someone here will point you in the right direction to make the reservations.
Which site did you purchase it from and where are you traveling?
Fwood, I suggest that for your next trip, you may not want to use the same travel agents, because I believe they are not very up to date on how rail passes work.
I haven't used a rail pass like yours since the 1970s, but I think it's possible that you have only two choices:
Go to the RailEurope website to make your reservations. I believe you will be charged extra fees.
Wait until you get to Europe and take care of all your seat reservations at your first stop in the appropriate country. You'll pay for the reservations, but there will be no extra fees. I trust someone will tell us both if you will pay a higher reservation fee if you wait.
The good news is that not all trains require reservations. If you list what rail trips you plan to take, we can probably tell you whether there are any that don't require reservations.
In Spain, you may not run into significant difficulties, because (so far as I know) there is no quota in Spain for rail pass seats. Oops: I was wrong about that; Laura reports that some Spanish trains are capacity-controlled for rail pass holders.
France is dicier, because it does have rail pass quotas. You may be lucky. If not, you may need to be flexible about which train you take.
Before I bought my first one I did a TON of research to ensure it was the best option and to ensure I understood how it worked!
I assumed I would buy a Eurail pass. Like you I did a lot of research. Turns out that for our family of 4 and our itinerary point-to-point tickets were considerably cheaper. We didn't need any flexibility. We were traveling with kids during summer vacation and all accommodations and itinerary were fixed.
Lee can choose shorter, slower, cheaper trains in part because he's
likely to return to Germany yet again next year.
"Assume you will return."
And by saving money on things like accommodations and rail travel, I can afford to return to Germany yet next year.
It's easiest to identify which legs of your train travel require reservations by using the Deutsche Bahn at Looking Up Train Schedules and Routes Online. Details will normally state "subject to compulsory reservation." Eurail has one based on the same platform, but I always use DB. But for shorthand, reservations are required for most medium speed and faster trains in France and Spain. Your earlier research may have revealed those.
Reserve only the legs that require it. The Rail Europe link above or our similar link will sell those, regardless of where you bought the pass. (Booking by phone adds both fees and higher prices.) Trying to reserve a route that includes a connection by unreserved Regional train can result in a reply of "not available" or "train tickets found," so that's part of the reason to know your route.
- For domestic TGVs (faster trains within France that are not heading across a border), a France railway rep has assured me that they no longer put an artificial cap on reservations for pass holders, but as seats fill up, the reservation price rises from about $12 to about $27. And these trains can sell out.
- Faster trains in Spain do limit the number of pass holders, which you would especially notice around the upcoming Easter holidays, Sevilla's April fair, other special events, weekends, etc.
- The most important legs to book ahead are the international trips, which tend to be longer, more expensive, less frequent, and also to limit places for pass holders. France has a lot of holidays in April and May, so it's not low season. If that's when you're traveling, residents will be taking long weekends at their second homes that are reached via the same trains you want.
As for the ticket cost estimate map, I have some problems with it.
The map is in US$. But the real prices are in euro. The actual rail prices in euro probably won't change, but the €/$ rate constantly changes. The online map is bound to be out of date by the time it is posted; the printed one is hopeless.
The prices shown on the map are only for the most expensive trains, which gives a rail pass a distorted advantage. For instance, a five day twin German Rail pass would be $622 or $62.20 per day per person. The price shown on the map for Frankfurt to Berlin is 135€ or $160. The rail pass looks pretty good in comparison, but I can see a Sparpreis fare for May 14 of 29,90€ or $35,40, 57% of the rail pass price and 22% of the map price.
And compared with Länder and regional ticket, it gets even worse. Munich to Salzburg, according to the map, is $40 per person, but two people can do it with a Bayern-Ticket for 31€, total, $18.37 per person, half what the map shows.
There is no substitute for looking up the fare, and all the discount fares, on the Bahn website. You can also ask here.
This is what I don't understand...
Why the need to be critical of the travel choices made by others?
This is what I don't understand...
Why the need to be critical of the travel choices made by others?
I agree Carol. My decision to buy a Eurail Pass didn't hurt anybody - not even me really. And it sure didn't make train travel more expensive for anyone else.
I wouldn't do it again - but I don't feel the need to make people feel bad about their personal travel choice.
This is what I don't understand...Why the need to be critical of the travel choices made by others?
No, it is a case of being critical of Eurail pass, trying to figure out why there are always questions about the pass after people have read about how it works first and went ahead and bought it; who knows maybe someone with them will read this and make improvements on the service and for sure we are all learning more about it
This whole travel forum is about information sharing. Eurail Passes are an outdated, overpriced method of train travel. Nothing in this thread attempts to ridicule anyone...just the product.
Times have changed and technology has changed.
When I started traveling in Europe, there was no internet. If you wanted a train ticket you had to go to a travel agent. Eurail passes were easy because you could buy one pass and it would cover everythiing. (If I remember correcty, ETBD was one of largest sellers of Eurail passes in the U.S.)
Now, it's easy for a traveler to search and find the best fares possible, buy the tickets online and then print them at home. Comparison pricing and shopping are easy.
For some, a Eurail Pass might make sense. It's easy and it doesn't take much work. Sure, it might cost more but there are many travelers who would rather spend a bit more money than spend time researching.
So, is a 2 or 3 month Eurail pass still not a good deal even if you plan to take a train every couple of days and plan to do a big whirlwind loop of Europe? If not, that is too bad. I am older now, married, have limited time for vacations, and more money and less energy and tolerance to suffer any discomfort or inconvenience; I pre-plan and pre-book everything. So, I can't see myself ever buying a Eurail pass again in the future.
But more than 30 years ago, l loved the flexibility and spontaneity of a 2 month Eurail Youth pass. The only thing i had booked was my flight in and my flight home with an undated Eurail pass in my pocket ready for activation. On my flight over, i was still trying to decide which countries to visit. And 2 weeks into my trip, i decided i would go to Greece instead of Spain on a whim. I would arrive in a city or town and find a hotel. Sometimes i could not find an affordable hotel or I was bored. I would just look on the train board and hop on the next train and go to a another town. I could visit 2-3 towns in a day if i wished. If i was having a good time or met interesting people, i stayed longer. I extended my stay in Nice to a whole week because i met a nice girl from Germany. I was always envious of European residents who could buy the much cheaper Inter-rail pass. And even back then i met some backpackers from North America who told me that booking individual train tickets could be cheaper than the pass. But they were locked into a fixed itinerary; they had to leave on a Wednesday because they had to be somewhere on a Thursday. When I met other backpackers with a Eurail pass (and back in the Summer of '83, it seemed like almost every backpacker had one), we could adjust our itinerary on the fly and travel together for a while until our interests changed or we pissed each other off.
This type of travelling may not be for everybody, but if i could turn back the clock, i would love to do that type of trip again.
Keep in mind that not only North Americans can use a Eurail Pass, the booklet is printed in other languages other than English, definitely in Spanish and Japanese, Chinese (?), so travelers from South America, Japan, use the passes too.
I use the 10 day, even better when there is a promo offering a an extra day on top of the 10 days, in two month pass, 2nd class. I don't do regional traveling. It all depends on one's travel itinerary, travel aims, time schedule, geographic range, travel style, etc, etc. I use discounted, on-line adv purchase tickets, and point to point tickets too along with the pass.
I took the original question a bit differently, as in "why do people buy it without understanding it(s limitations)" versus "why do people buy it (at all)". That is, buy first, and ask questions later. I think Frank II is right, that some people are willing to pay for the extra convenience, I just don't think many would if they did some research. I do think that if they were less expensive they would make more sense.
I hate to see people get ripped off especially if only because they lack information. If a (budget conscious) family decides to buy rail passes because they think it's the best deal ($) for them then I feel bad for them. If they have all the information regarding point-to-point tickets versus rail passes but decide to go with rail passes because they feel it is a better fit for their travel needs then I have absolutely no problem with that.
My apologies this was my first use of this forum and I was mistakenly under the impression that anyone replied to my earlier thread that I would receive an email stating so this is not the case so for those of you who were kind enough to respond to my concerns thank you. In particular Laura thank you I have saved your thread for future reference. For jazz and travel here's a better idea on my itinerary below.
I purchased two Euro rail passes one being a combination 4 day pass for France and Spain the other a singular pass for Italy for 5 days both being first class directly from italiarail. Looking up train times has not been an issue in Italy as I've been able to use the italiarail site. I've also been told that making these reservations too much in advance is not a necessity as seats are plentiful for my travel dates of April 13th through May 4th of this year. My concern arose with looking up potential trains for France and Spain. Below is my train itinerary for this leg of the trip.
May 5th Bordeaux to Sarlat
May 9t. Sarlat to St Jean Pied de Port
June 4th Santiago de Compostela to Madrid
June 13th Madrid to Barcelona
I would also like to say that Rick Steves books Heaven instrumental and me being able to afford the trip I will be taking this spring
Interesting to add to my previous note I just went on the Rail Europe site to reserve a seat from Bordeaux to Sarlat is $20.. They won't allow me to use an e ticket or to pick up the ticket at the station it must be sent by mail at a cost of an additional $18..
I just went on the Rail Europe site to reserve a seat from Bordeaux to Sarlat is $20.. They won't allow me to use an e ticket or to pick up the ticket at the station it must be sent by mail at a cost of an additional $18..
The Bordeaux to Sarlat train is regional train known as TER. It is a slow train.
I took the route last month. That ticket without a Eurail is fixed price cost 28.20 euros.
TER trains you just sit anywhere. Not unless it is first class. Don't see why one would have to pay to reserve that.
Yes, you are correct it is a first-class ticket ( which was strongly recommended when purchasing the EurRail pass by the travel sites)... I also viewed second class seats and they are currently selling for $39 online I would imagine that these prices will escalate come May I also am concerned if I waited until I arrived in France that there may be a ticket availability issue especially with that being a preferred time slot for me..
The Sarlat to St Jean Pied de Port has three connections with the last being a seat reservation required. According to the site, my train requirements in Spain cannot be booked at this time
Like many said above, " buyer beware" though I did my research I was not aware that the site that was providing me with much of my research that went into my decision making process " Rail Europe... neglected to mention at all through all their promotional emails over 6 months and through travel sites that promote the use of the EurRail pass is that purchasing the actual tickets for each individual train usage becomes a job in itself.. Many rail sites do not accept the use of this pass when purchasing tickets online in advance. Even the site that promotes and actually sells these passes Rail Europe does not offer any convenience when it comes to actually purchasing tickets themselves.. the only option they offer is to receive the tickets through the mail at a substantial additional cost which must be done prior to your departure..
For future trips, I would not take train advice from any website that "strongly recommends" a first-class rail pass. Some people like first-class, but most find it totally unnecessary in western Europe, and I have a hard time understanding why it would ever be strongly recommended across-the-board (as opposed to for individual tickets on those fairly unusual occasions when first-class isn't much more expensive than second-class).
There is a marked difference between 1st TGV and 2nd class TGV, and if that ride is more than 3 hrs, I'll pay a bit more for the 1st class TGV. In July 2011 I took the TGV Pais to Perpignan, r/t, (had to go back to Paris anyway for family reasons), 5 hrs each way. On one leg I sat in 2nd class, the other 1st class, which was far more preferable than in the 2nd class.
To be honest I would be completely satisfied with the purchase of my first class EurRail pass if it weren't for the inability to actually purchase the tickets in advance without jumping through hoops or paying a significant surcharge for delivery.
The EurRail pass is marketed not just for its supposed potential savings but also it's convenience factor. I just want people to know that I myself found neither to be the case in my particular situation
When I buy my rail pass on-line, I never pay for shipping. The delivery is free. I pay only for the cost of the pass, that's all, since I don't buy insurance for the pass, don't need it.
"The EuroRail pass is marketed not just for its supposed potential savings but also it's convenience factor.. I just want people to know that I myself found neither to be the case in my particular situation"
And that's why so many of us get so upset at the EurRail pass. Even if it saves money, it's not nearly as convenient as it once was. With so many more trains requiring reservations, the old "just hop on any train you feel like and your pass will cover it" is no longer.
And that's a shame. Swiss Travel Passes do still work this way, and it was a great feeling to be able to take almost any conveyance in the whole country, knowing it was covered. But that's not the way EurRail passes work any more, and it seems that this is not made crystal clear to buyers beforehand - only when they actually try to use it.
For me, the Eurail pass works great. I have used it a number of times when I travel to Europe. Sometimes I lose money while other times I come out ahead but for me the convenience is key. Traveling by myself, I only know where and when I'll be landing and departing from the US. I make a hotel reservation the night of landing and the night before my departure back to the US I go by the seat of my pants with just a sketchy itinerary. I don't know where I'll be the next day until I get there. The pass makes it flexible to make last minute plans because I've often stayed longer than anticipated in a city I fell in love with versus a shorter time in a city that was a disappointment. I like the convenience of just showing up at the station when I want and take the first train out. Many times I've showed up at a station and the ticket lines were very long. I just bypassed them. I have hopped off a train midtrip because I found the town interesting or I was short of time. Granted, I've never taken a reserved train but do all my traveling in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, etc. I get the full pass that includes 1st class because for the continuous number of days and special sales usually offered, it actually winds up being cheaper than a 3 country 2nd class pass. There have been many times where 1st class really saved me because regular coach was standing room only. Also, I like the flexibility of being able to get a good seat in coach or 2nd class. Being in 1st class, there have been many times where I've had the entire compartment to myself to switch back and forth to take pictures or turn the lights out at night. Being that I love to ride trains and stare out at the scenery, for me the only way to see Europe is to arrive with my Eurail pass in one hand and a copy of the most recent European Rail Timetable book in the other. Granted, I rather spend my time riding the rails and exploring different cities and immersing in their culture than spending a day in a museum. If you have set plans and a strict itinerary, then I would not recommend it but if you need flexibility, it is worth it's weight in gold!!!
"...because regular coach was standing room only." How true on the ICE !