Global Eurail Pass: BAD Deal

I would STRONGLY recommend against the purchase of the Global Eurail Pass
(i.e. 3 Month pass, for an adult traveler)

"LOW"-LIGHTS
I've been travelling in Europe now for over two months on this type of pass.
Highlights... or rather "LOW"-lights of my experience with the Eurail Pass system and infrastructure:
- NO customer service whatsoever.
- ZERO accountability for railway agent errors, scheduling mistakes, etc.
- NO system for maintaining your account, assessing transit options, making reservations, etc.
- Very POOR online resources (i.e. I was just trying to figure out which Black Forest scenic routes are covered and which are discounted - no easy way to do so.
- MAJOR run-arounds to schedule "Reservations". (This is really disappointing - After spending $2100 on a pass, you have abandon your city touring for a half day - and then wait in line for several hours at a busy rail station to spend more money on a reservation!)
- Getting thrown off trains (almost) due to local train-agent errors (see Note 1)
- Having agents in one country (i.e. South of France) literally refuse to make reservations for an essential connecting segment in another Country (i.e. Italy). Without a workaround, this will literally prevent you from securely and reliably getting to and from certain places.
- Getting harassed constantly by ticket inspectors
- Inflexibility to choose more efficient transit options
- Overall LARGE investment that - when all is said and done - is very unlikely to pay off

RED FLAGS
Again, based on my experience, I would strongly recommend against the purchase a Global Eurail Pass!
But if you're even thinking about it, consider the following red flags:
Red Flag 1. The Eurail pass cannot be purchased once you arrive in Europe.
Reason: In my view, this is a marketing play on your anxiety to purchase the pass before you leave the states.
In other words, once you are already in Europe, and you experience typical frequency of rail use, actual cost of rail travel, and other travel options, you would not want to buy a rail pass.
Red Flag 2. No online account system or pass registration. There is no way to do anything online. Note that if you lose your physical pass, there is no possibility of replacement. So you seriously have to ask: With all the combined resources of the European rail-lines, why is it that they can't come up with an online account system? Even the most small-scale businesses these days have online customer systems. Just go on eBay and buy an iPad, or a pair of hiking boots, whatever. Credible business operations generally keep records of transactions for follow up consumer reference and support.
Red Flag 3. No customer service. This means no accountability to anyone for pretty much anything. Essentially, they (someone, somewhere) already has your money, but when it comes to getting you transported efficiently - which is what you think you paid for - you're on your own.

(Note 1: I was nearly thrown off a train last month while on a connecting schedule from Sicily to Bari - the train station agent in Rome that set up the itinerary a week earlier did not properly make a reservation on one of my train segments. And despite the fact that I produced officially-issued paperwork directing me to be on the train (i.e. a customized and printed travel instruction given to me by the agent in Rome), the ticket inspector insisted that I un-board (and potentially miss my connecting segment).
He didn't yield until I stated - through an Italian translator "If you are so confident that this is the right decision, then please provide your name and ID - I will leave this train if you provide me your ID so I can write a complaint. " After I asked him to identify himself - essentially a request for accountability - he left me alone.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
12350 posts

I am judging that this must be your first time visiting this site. Because if you visited before you would be knowledgeable of the pros and cons rail passes. So why now the rant? How much research on this subject did you do prior to purchasing the pass? Second, most recommendations on this site are that it is difficult to justify the price of rail pass when you consider the seat reservations fees, limited access in some countries, deep discounts available for early purchases, etc. Your post will just confirm much of the previous discussions on this subject.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3733 posts

Hi,

I use a rail Pass but certainly not the Global Eurail Pass, main reason is that it excludes Poland. That's where they don't want to be economical to the buyer. Going from Paris to Warsaw can be done using one day on the Global Pass if Poland were included, but it isn't,.. unfortunately.

Posted by contractsman
6 posts

Thanks for the input Frank.
I read what I thought was the authoritative article by the site editor "Should I get a Rail Pass?"
It didn't say what I said, which is essentially "Don't buy a rail Pass".
Although it does state many of the negative considerations, it equivocates with pros and cons, and isn't clear on the recommendation against.
So again, for the benefit of anyone lucky enough to read this and not only the "official" / Site editor's article on the subject:
"DON'T BUY A GLOBAL EURAIL PASS"

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
12350 posts

That has been the common advice on this site for a long time. The number of postings on this subject is well past a hundred. But there are situations when a pass is suitable for some travelers.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8573 posts

Contractsman.. I think you did a service by posting.. you gave specifics and details from your own experience and that is going to help someone who may be on the fence.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
4317 posts

Contractsman: I also thank you for posting this. There are indeed lots of warnings from other posters not to buy the pass because it is not a good value and has lots more restrictions than are apparent initially. But there are very few posts by those who actually bought and used it, detailing their actual experience.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
1551 posts

Rail passes are somewhat of a legacy product in much of Europe, a bit like travellers' cheques. There has been little to no attempt to modernise the administration and use of them, with online marketing effort being concentrated on discounted tickets fixed to particular services, effectively the air travel model.

They can still make sense in some countries, particularly if reservations are not compulsory and you have an intense or long distance itinerary.

They were originally not sold in Europe because they were significantly cheaper than equivalent products sold within Europe, and by and large this remains true, where those products still exist. For example a 7 day all line rover for railways in Britain bought locally is £478.

Posted by Emily
Vienna, Austria
922 posts

Yes, it is common feedback here to steer clear of the rail pass...however, this site does its customers no favors by heavily promoting the rail pass. Just look at the transportation section on here. Rail passes are everywhere and this website sells them!

I also have serious issues with the methods recommended here on deciding if a rail pass is right for you...has anyone reviewed the cost estimate map in the last decade?

Interestingly, two major themes of posts on this site are 1) thieves/money belts/pick pockets and 2) Rail passes/Rail Europe/Eurail.

It is funny to me that people are so obsessed with losing their loose change but don't seem to care that they are throwing away hundreds of dollars on over priced rail passes. It is also interesting to me that this website sells money belt and passes. Hmmmm.

Posted by Tim
Knoxville, TN, USA
3445 posts

I completely agree, Emily. I'm also rather astonished that RailEurope is also promoted by some of the RS Employee Forum people. I don't think I've ever seen ANY non-RS Employee EVER recommend RailEurope.

Posted by contractsman
6 posts

Ok... to everyone who's chimed it to say "I told you so"... or rather "The forum told you so",
please do a simple Google search for "Should I buy a rail pass?"
Actually you don't have to - I just did.

Note that the top ten results all seem to either recommend the rail pass, describe how to best use it (which is an implied endorsement), or simply equivocate about its pros and cons. Not a single one of these strongly recommends against it:

Top Ten Google Search Results for "Should I buy a Rail Pass?"

Rail Pass FAQ
ricksteves.com

Trains & Rail Passes | Rick Steves' Europe
ricksteves.com

How to Choose Among Rail Passes by Rick Steves ...
ricksteves.com

A beginner's guide to Eurail & European rail passes | Buy a ...
seat61.com

Everything You Should Know About European Rail Passes ...
raileurope.com

Do I need a Eurail or an InterRail pass? | Eurail.com
eurail.com

Eurail Pass – View Pass Options & Find Out How It Works ...
eurail.com

Do Eurail Passes Actually Save Money? - Nomadic Matt
nomadicmatt.com

Eurail Passes: Do the Numbers Add Up? - Nomadic Matt
nomadicmatt.com

Europe by train: how to get more bang for your buck - Lonely ...
lonelyplanet.com

Posted by contractsman
6 posts

To try and put this into perspective...

I would estimate that when all is said and done, I probably will have spent about $500 to $1000 more than I would have without the pass. (Although this could still swing a little more in my favor as I continue into Western Europe - maybe I could get to a delta of $500 or less versus point to point tickets).

"Travel Tax"
In the context of a three to four month tour of Europe - at a cost of five to ten grand,
this is a learning experience and a modest "travel tax" - like overpriced junk food in tourist sites, 20 euro taxi rides late at night (when you just are too exhausted to decode the public transit option), and premium admission fees to tour the most popular landmarks (18 euro to enter the tower of Pisa).

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2355 posts

Global passes are indeed almost always a poor travel choice. They sell a convenience that doesn't exist for most travelers on most itineraries.

I wish (though that is unlikely to happen) that RS stopped promoting rail passes as a first-choice for ground transportation in Europe (as in "rail passes are good, but check first it buying separate tickets isn't cheaper") to an option that could be cheaper for a minority of cases (as in "buying rail tickets online in advance is the cheaper way for longer journeys, though in some cases a pass will be more economical").

I doubt this approach will change, though, considering how resistant-to-change RS advice generally is (IIRC, up to 2009 they didn't even sell tours on credit cards - checks only - and they were still suggesting things like cold-faxing hotels, sending c/c info on regular emails, considering traveler's checks as a viable option and other outdated practices until a relatively recent past).

Now something that is borderline misleading (though I don't think intentionally) is that map with ticket prices between major cities. On this day and age, with all major countries having some form of flexible pricing on their railways, it makes little sense to publish a map for cost comparison like that. It isn't even a consistent map - it doesn't display maximum turn-up-and-go fares, it doesn't display cheapest-fare-on-fastest-train, I really don't know where did they come with those values on the map from...

Posted by Dawn
Denver, CO
403 posts

Contractsman... thanks for posting this! I think you'll open up a lot of newcomers eyes as to all the negatives of a rail pass. Point to point is almost always the way to go. Sorry you learned the hard way. On the bright side though - you're in Europe! Have a great time.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
6852 posts

No, there's not much special service for railpass travelers in Europe; you use the same services and are expected to do the same research as local train travelers. Visitors might be only 1 - 2% of all European train travelers. No, there's no automated system for tracking your travels; the paper railpass is it and is very valuable. With a 3-month consecutive pass, there's not much to track. Once the station agent has activated the pass for a 3-month travel period, nobody cares how many trains you take or which borders you cross within the covered territory. It will take years before 24 countries, and more than 24 railway operators, from Portugal to Romania, can all organize and agree upon a universal electronic ticketing system.

Yes, seat reservations cost more and are required on many trains. You can see a printable list on the last page of Rick's dowloadable rail guide or see the Eurail app. As much as you can, it's important for you to understand what you're buying, check tickets before leaving the ticket window, and present them properly (dated, validated, etc) onboard the train. If you don't cannot show a paid seat reservation when required, then you must be prepared to pay for it onboard. It's true that the actions and understanding of any individual staff person can influence your trip as much as the official rules do. I have never been harassed by ticket inspectors. If you chose to buy a 3-month consecutive Eurail pass, then it should have been because you planned a lot of travel over a 3-month period in several countries. If you made that value comparison before choosing the pass, then you should be confident in your decision.

How to Look Up Train Schedules Online gives you the DB train schedule link and tips for using it. For your mobile device, you can download their free DB navigator app.

Posted by contractsman
6 posts

"Global passes are indeed almost always a poor travel choice. They sell a convenience that doesn't exist for most travelers on most itineraries."
{Quoting Andre L.}
As a first time (extended) traveler - planning on spending three to four months in Europe, there were too many itinerary variables to perform a reliable "value comparison" - an exercise made even more complicated by the potentially misleading published fare information (as others have noted) and the difficultly ascertaining the additional reservation fees.
As it happened, the "thumbnail" comparison I actually did before purchasing the pass made the rail pass seem like an equivocal proposition (six of one, half a dozen of the other) with at least a good chance that I would pay no more for the pass than for point to point tickets,
Thus, perceiving that the rail pass would be flexible and convenient to use and having read the following recommendation from the RS "Should I get a rail Pass?":
[ "If a first-class pass costs about the same as traveling with second-class tickets, go with the pass for comfort (see here for more on the differences between classes)." ]
... I chose the rail pass.
The reality as I've stated is that the pass is MUCH LESS convenient than point to point...because at many train stations you can simply purchase your p-t-p tickets at a kiosk... but with the rail pass, you take a number and wait in line...sometimes for hours at a time (Madrid, Florence, Nice) just to get your onward reservations. I'm not exaggerating when I say that during the first month of my journey, I spent nearly a workday every week or two just dealing with my rail pass. That's not convenience or flexibility.
AND of course it turns out to have been much more expensive (I'm fairly certain, although the tally isn't complete yet).
I suppose it's theoretically possible to perform a comprehensive and reliable value comparison - IF you have access to comprehensive, reliable and valid information, and IF you have fully worked out an extended itinerary (of as much as three months) in advance.
But I would suggest that (1) that level of preparation isn't at all consistent with the freedom and flexibility many travelers want; (2) that level of preparation would not be typical for a first time traveler; and (3) with that level of preparation and advance planning, supplementing p-t-p train travel with air travel would almost always yield a cheaper and more convenient result than a rail pass.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11036 posts

I note that you have mentioned 4 months a couple of times. I also note that all the countries you have mentioned are in the Schengen area, yet you are only allowed a maximum of 90 days in any 180 days in the entire Schengen area, assuming that you are from a country (like the US, Canada, Australia) which participates in the Schengen visa waiver program, and that you have not made other visa arrangements.

Are you OK that way?

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3733 posts

Re: "No customer service whatsoever." That's a bit strong. Maybe over the phone when you order the Pass if you don't do that online.

The customer service for Passholders is the EurAide counter located in the main cities at the train station, Frankfurt, Munich, Budapest, Berlin, etc. I had to go them on a recent trip, thought i had better do so since the controller punched my Pass right between two days, ie, between day 3 and 4. My concern was because of this sloppy controller I could lose a day. Since I was in Munich anyway, I went to the EurAide counter, told the guy of the situation, he agreed. wrote instructions on the back of the Pass, stamped it with the DB stamp...problem solved. Very helpful. The EurAide counters are almost always busy. It turned out that my concern on losing a day was groundless since no other controller for the remaining 10 days even drew attention to what I was worried about.

Posted by contractsman
6 posts

Thanks for the concern over the Schengen zone time limit Nigel.
I detoured for about a week or two in the Balkans - and my final destination is the UK - so I think I'm good.

Fred, I recall specifically asking for Eurail support at several of the earlier train stations in my trip -
Madrid, Barcelona, Nice, etc. and I was told that no such entity exists. I'm glad to learn that they have a physical presence in some cities, and I may seek them out as my trip progresses.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3733 posts

In the packet of amenities along with your Pass, the general information booklet has info on what to do if you are in a bind, get stuck and in need of help, ie, the EurAide counter/office. Maybe the service varies from country to country, which should not be the case. I've only seen the EurAide "operate" in Germany and Paris where Pass holders need to go someone in the know and who can speak fluent English.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10262 posts

So, Eurail passes are a bad deal. Next in shocking news, the sun will rise in the east tomorrow...

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
2635 posts

Thank you for bringing this up in a quite vocal way. Indeed, regular contributors who have nothing to gain warn against the pass, although RS staff sells it and suggests it. The websites you read were written by sellers, one of whom made a profit off your purchase. There is definitely a fine line between the ethics of advise and sales in this case. I'm also sorry that some answers here were not supportive or had a mocking tone. Hopefully you'll join us as a contributor and keep warning others of your experience. Finally, I wonder if this thread might disappear if it hurt sales.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
12625 posts

A few years ago, Eurail said you could buy some railpasses in Europe at "aide" (not Euraide) counters in main railway stations. They no longer specify at "aide" offices. Euraide might be able to help you, but they are an independent company, whose only association with Eurail is that they are a reseller of Eurail passes. As far as I know, and according to the Euraide website, they have offices in Munich Hbf and in Berlin Hbf. They have German Rail ticket terminals in their offices and can sell you any ticket that the Bahn can sell you. They essentially provide the same services that you can get from the Bahn (although possibly with better English).

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
3733 posts

Contractsman,

There is an "Aid Office" at the Sofia railway station, Belgrade, Bucharest and Brasov... these railway stations according to the Pass Guide, if you're going to the Balkans,

Posted by Terri Lynn
Nashville, TN, USA
433 posts

We always buy the Global Eurail passes and have never had any problems. It is important to read all of the details so to know exactly how things operate. For us, they are a good deal.