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Eurail pass versus buying tickets?

Hi, I have tried to wrap my head around this, but I am beyond confused. We are a family of 6 (2adults, 4 kids: 17, 10, 10, and 7). We want to take the train from Barcelona to Paris (from what I can price out, it looks the same exact price as flying because we can't take advantage of the really early flights, and the novelty of riding the train intrigues us) and then later in the week from Paris to Mont Saint Michel, stay one night, and come back to Paris. All told, based on my rough calculations, this is about a $1000. How can I figure out if purchasing a rail card pass would be beneficial for us? Am I able to pick seats together or is it first come/first serve?

Any help would be great! Or if you think I am going about this the wrong way, please let me know.

Thanks!

Posted by
6439 posts

You don't need a Rail Pass. The earlier you book the cheaper the trains. When you book the party of 6 at the same time you will get seats together on the Barcelona to Paris as long as you book it early enough.

Otherwise having taken that route I would just fly if it is cheaper;

This is the site you should use to book trains directly with the company that owns them
https://en.oui.sncf/en/

Posted by
11 posts

I thought we would fly, but I think the novelty of train travel is intriguing my husband and kids. I think if we could take advantage of the early flights, it would be a no brainer, but price wise it works out about the same.
Jazz, is price your consideration for flying or did you find being on the train for 6 hours miserable?

Posted by
11 posts

Yes, using oui and raileurope.co.uk and omio.com

eta: actually using the french site. Not the us one for oui.

Posted by
6439 posts

I've taken that route twice. The first time overnight in 2002 when that service existed. The 2nd time in 2013 I stopped in Nimes for 3 nights before going to Paris . I love the area around Nimes but don't remember the train ride.

Whatever you do if you want to save money book directly with https://en.oui.sncf/en/

Those others are 3rd parties and the train schedules are not always complete on 3rd party sites

Posted by
17089 posts

Usually tickets are cheaper than a rail pass if you're able to buy well in advance and willing to commit to tickets with restrictions (which might mean no refunds and a fee for making changes--I'm not sure).

If you tell us your travel dates, we can compare notes with you on the fares we see. Otherwise, we can only make general comments.

One key thing is that if you buy individual tickets, the seat reservations are included at no extra cost. If you travel on rail passes, each passenger will need a seat reservation purchased separately, and they do cost money. I think the reservation fee on the Barcelona-Paris trip is an horrendous 34.20 euros per person. The TGV that takes you most of the way to Mont-Saint-Michel will have a reservation fee of 10 or 20 euros per person, each way.

So it looks to me as if using a rail pass will cost you an additional 54.20 to 74.20 euros per person.

Another potential problem is that there's a quota for seat reservations sold to rail pass holders, at least for international trains operated by SNCF (which I think includes the train from Barcelona). There used to be domestic quotas as well, but I believe those were lifted. It is not all that rare for someone with a rail pass to find he cannot buy a seat reservation for the train he wants to take, because the pass holder quota is full even though there are plenty of tickets available for the train.

Posted by
1262 posts

Neither Spain nor France are pass friendly countries and the TGVs between Barcelona and Paris will need additional seat reservations so a pass in your case will most likely be a waste of money. Also, don't use raileurope, omio or any other ticket reseller. You don't mention when you are travelling but if you book in advance you could get a ticket for around €300 or so for the entire family. And, book seats on the upper level for the best views.

You could fly. But while you would arrive a bit earlier, I'm not sure it will save you much (if any) time since the train is a less stressful mode of transport. And travelling through the countryside at 300 km/h is as you say an experience.

Posted by
11 posts

Barcelona to Paris is June 6. I can't get this one to pull up on scnf. It says my dates are too far out. Am I doing something wrong?

Paris to Mont Saint Michel is June 11 with return June 12. This is not set in stone, but will be one day over and back the next day. I keep wavering on this aspect of the trip as it's going to be an expensive excursion, but every time I see photos of MSM, I put it right back in. This I'm getting fares of $220 (or $360 depending on time) there and $260 back.

Posted by
6543 posts

No matter where you're going, moving 6 people is going to be expensive.
We took the TGV fast train from Barcelona to Paris is June, and I'm thinking it was around $120-130 for each of us. The train topped out at 185 mph just before getting into Paris, and it was 6.5 hours to travel 650 miles.

Posted by
7187 posts

just a cursory check of airfares 1 way BCN->PAR there are loads of cheap direct fares...$30-$55 And I see a 69Euro fare on that June 6 date BCN->Paris

So I think you're not looking at the right place. Forget the Eurail and forget RailEurope. If you just can't figure out the national rail websites then at least go to a reputable 3rd party site like trainline.eu

Posted by
16788 posts

The cheapest Eurail pass that covers international routes is the Global pass for 4 travel days within a month at about $275 per adult, $210 for the youth, and three kids free, so that currently totals $760, plus the seat reservation fees already quoted above. There is no 3-day version this year. Pass prices might be cheaper next week, but still may not come out cheaper than booking tickets 3 months in advance of your travel dates.

You can certainly wait to see what ticket prices you're able to secure from Barcelona to Paris when those open for reservation, which should be soon. They'll have the biggest impact on your decision, with the two later tickets covering a relatively shorter, cheaper distance.

Posted by
11 posts

I'm getting 536 Euros for Barcelona to Spain. Our flight (that we can take for optimal time...can't be at airport before 9:30, at the earliest) is $450 and whatever baggage charge will be. It would definitely be cheaper to take the flight, but DH was into the train for the novelty of it and going really fast.

Thanks for helping me figure out the rail pass thing. I thought that's how it was, but didn't want to disregard it simply because I didn't have a good understanding of it.

And, yep, moving 6 people around is not cheap! I'm also nervous we will stick out like a sore thumb with 4 kids, 3 of whom are the exact same size (twins small, 7 year old tall).

Posted by
17089 posts

I'm seeing trains for June 6 on both the SNCF and Renfe websites. For some reason I'm seeing all six of you being charged the same price on Renfe, whereas there are modest discounts for one or more of the youngsters on SNCF. I don't know what's going on there. And I'm disappointed the discount isn't greater.

These are the fares I found, first for one adult and then for the entire family (latter from SNCF only):

08:10 - 14:49 with change in Perpignan: €84; €389.70
10:10 - 16:48: €111.70; €536.10
14:00 - 20:48: €89; €427.20
16:10 ; 22:49; €69; €331.20

That first routing can only be purchased from SNCF, but that's fine, because the Renfe website is a lot harder to deal with.

The fares on the last two options look pretty good to me, but those are "Essential" fares, not full fares, and I think they may sell out, leaving you needing to pay more.

I encountered some anomalies on both websites as I checked these fares. The best I can tell, there are a few lower-priced tickets available, but not enough them to allow you to buy six. I saw single-adult fare of €69 on the 14:00 train and €59 on the 16:10 train. If you don't feel you all have to sit together, would could try buying 3 tickets and then another 3 tickets. Obviously, those few lower-priced tickets could be snapped up by others at any time.

I'll update this message after I've had a chance to check out the day-trip to Mont-Saint-Michel.

Edited to add: Don't forget that it's going to cost more to get to and from airports than to and from train stations.

SNCF: https://en.oui.sncf/en/

Renfe.com: https://www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/index.html

Edited to add -- FOR THE TRIP TO MONT-SAINT-MICHEL:

I found these outbound options on June 11 (fares for all six of you):
7:06 - 10:20: €197.50
7:32 - 11:22: €121.50
7:35 - 11:00: €270.80
9:52 - 12:55: €216.80
10:52 - 13:55: €153.80
14:52 - 17:55: €288.80
And for the return on June 12:
10:05 - 13:09: €216.80
11:20 - 14:52: €216.80
14:05 - 17:09: €274.50
18:05 - 21:07: €157.50

I've been to that part of France three times, twice in the last 3-1/2 years, and I haven't bothered to go to Mont-Saint-Michel yet. Obviously, I can give you lots of reasons not to go:

  • It will cost a lot of money
  • It's not a place that takes a huge amount of time to see, so you're swapping large chunks of two days that could otherwise be spent in Paris for a very few hours on Mont-Saint-Michel.
  • The place is crowded during day-tripping hours, so you'll want to do your sightseeing in the evening and early morning. Without a car, you can't make effective use of the rest of your time on those two days.
  • There are many interesting things to see in Normandy and Brittany. You could see them, along with MSM, on a later trip.
  • On this forum, several people have commented that they liked the view of MSM from the mainland better than actually seeing the island. In that case, I'm tempted to say, "Why not just look at a picture?"
Posted by
11 posts

I thank you for all your help! This is a great forum!

I'm being picky about times, not wanting to drag children around Paris at 10 at night, so I am hesitant to do the 2pm train and later. That's what I liked about the flights...that I didn't "lose" a whole day in Paris.

I am comfortable sitting 3 and 3, we do that a lot (divide and conquer became our motto when we got outnumbered).

So part of this is me being picky with time, which leads to paying more. I just don't want to encounter tiredness on anyone's part (young and old). Also, I had tentatively planned out some things that first night in Paris, which we could still do if we got in at 5pm, but not really with the later trains. We can't make the 8am one. We are coming off a cruise and I would be very nervous about disembarking and getting to the train station by 8.

Posted by
7187 posts

You can’t avoid “tiredness” on travel days especially when you have kids in tow. You won’t stick out like a sore thumb because people in Spain and France have kids, too, you know.

Posted by
1262 posts

I'm being picky about times, not wanting to drag children around Paris
at 10 at night, so I am hesitant to do the 2pm train and later. That's
what I liked about the flights...that I didn't "lose" a whole day in
Paris.

But you'll arrived stressed after having been through airports, as well as having spent 1.5 h in a tiny seat in a small aircraft.

So part of this is me being picky with time, which leads to paying
more. I just don't want to encounter tiredness on anyone's part (young
and old).

That's one of the benefits of travelling by train. You'll have comfortable seats, can relax and enjoy the views as well as have lunch. Either bring your own or buy on the train (menu: https://en.oui.sncf/en/train/train-services/tgv-inoui-restaurant ). And once you arrived, you will be more relaxed and ready to explore Paris.