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Global Pass w/ Reservations vs. Point to Point

Hi everyone! My husband and I will be visiting Europe this winter and have some questions about rail passes. From the videos/guidebooks it seems so easy to just jump off the train to see a town and then catch the next train to your final destination. Is this possible with both the rail pass and a point to point pass (especially if you need a reservation)? My second question is with regards to reservations. The Global Pass is making more sense (price-wise) versus the point-to-point, but with all of the additional reservation fees, it's looking like it's not as good of a deal as we thought. We want the most flexibility possible, but we also don't want it to cost an arm and a leg.

We are looking at taking the train throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, and a night train into Italy.

Thank you for your help!

Posted by
16169 posts

A rail pass seldom makes sense these days, despite what guidebooks and video's may tell you. About 15 years ago or so, the European railroads figured out that their competition was low cost airlines, which were beating the pulp out of them with cheap, advance purchase non-refundable tickets. So they followed suit. If you can commit to a specific itinerary with nonrefundable tickets, you can beat the pants off any multi-country rail passes. You will need to wait a bit, as there is a European wide schedule change due on December 10, so all the scheduled are not loaded yet, and it will be a few weeks before that happens.

Posted by
19395 posts

If a train requires a reservation, you can get off it at any stop. But you cannot get on another train that requires a reservation. Reservations are specific to individual trains.

I'll let someone else address what would happen if you tried to do that with a regular ticket on an unreserved train, because I think there might be some variation by country.

If you list the trips you plan to take, there are knowledgeable people here who can give you an opinion about whether a Global rail pass might pay off. I know, from posts here, that Germany in particular has some great deals that save a tremendous amount of money over standard ticket prices (which is what you've probably been comparing to the rail pass price). And a dedicated Swiss pass sometimes is worthwhile.

Posted by
3 posts

We were really hoping to find something that would give us a lot of flexibility as far as times and stops we can take so the specific/non-refundable ticket is something we would like to avoid if we can. I guess I am confused on the reservation part getting on/off. If we made a reservation from Brussels to Frankfurt and wanted to get off in Cologne, we would need to make two reservations, correct? One for the Brussels to Cologne part and one for the Cologne to Frankfurt as well. Would the only way to do the ‘high-speed town-hopping’ is if the entire route does not require a reservation?
The trains we would like to take are Brussels-Cologne-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Rothenburg- Munich, Munich-Salzburg-Vienna, Vienna-Innsbruck-Bern, Bern-Paris, and finally an overnight from Paris to Rome.

Posted by
7205 posts

Only specific high speed trains REQUIRE reservations. On many trains reservations are optional...meaning if you have a seat reservation then you are guaranteed a place to sit. Without a reservation you might possibly have to stand.

Don't fall for those "global" passes - just save yourself a headache and buy point to point which ALWAYS works and you ALWAYS know what you're getting when you walk up to the ticker counter and purchase the ticket and possibly a seat reservation to go with it.

Posted by
16169 posts

If you take a German ICE train from Brussels to Cologne, you don't need a reservation. Right now there trains every 4 hours beginning at 6:25 am.
The only other train you will need a reservation for is your Bern-Paris leg. The reserved part will be from Basel to Paris on the TGV-Lyria. You need to make this through Raileurope ASAP as the number of pass-holders on a given train is limited.
I don't believe the pass is valid on the Thello night train to Italy, so you will have to reserve and buy separately.

PS. From Cologne to Frankfurt, take one of the IC trains that pass trough Koblenz and sit on the left side of the train for views of the Rhine Gorge and its castles. The ICE train is faster, but if you sit on the right side of the train, all you will see is the Mercedes and BMWs on the Autobahn you'll be passing like they are standing still. On the left, they'll just be a blur.

Posted by
19395 posts

Megan, I see your point about getting a rail pass so you'd just having to pay for separate reservations in order to get on and off the train. And only if the train required a reservation. For unreserved trains, you can definitely get on and off any time you like with a rail pass.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you're thinking about hopping on and off the train at cute small towns (like Rothenburg), that will not work very well if you're on the expensive fast trains, because they don't stop in such places. So if you hope to make that type of stopover on the trips you've described (which would normally involve express trains), you sort of need to plan the towns you may want to visit ahead of time so you can take a train (or switch to a train mid-way) that stops in the desired town(s). You'll likely end up on more local trains. They're perfectly fine; I use them all the time myself. But your trips will take longer than if you had stayed on an express train the entire time--perhaps even twice as long.

Another concern, applicable only to your travel within France, is that France has capacity controls on the number of reservations it sells to rail pass holders for each individual train. The train may have plenty of empty seats, but if they've sold their quota of reservations to pass holders, you will not be able to buy one. You'll have to wait for a later train, buy a ticket, or try for a second-class seat reservation (not that there's anything wrong with second class) after having paid for a first-class rail pass.

The Vienna-Bern trip looks like it's at least 9 hours without stops.

The Paris-Rome night train seems to require a transfer in Milan at 5:50 AM, and the trip will take about 14 hours. I hope the tracks in northern Italy are in better shape than the ones between Rome and Sicily (they probably are). I didn't sleep a wink because of the constant jerking of the train from side to side. I'd fly the Paris-Rome leg.

Posted by
11450 posts

Paris to Rome.. fly.. the romantic ideal one has of night train travel.. not happening any more.

Posted by
2353 posts

We enjoy the flexibility of a pass even if it is more expensive than point to point tickets. Train tickets bought ahead of time will always be cheaper but you are then committed to leaving at a specific time and going to a specific place - any variation and your cheap ticket is wasted as they are not refundable nor changeable.

It is my understanding on a point to point ticket - even one that does not require reservations - is they are for a specific train/route at a specific time. Unless you include a stopover period somewhere your tick is for the trains/times you booked. So if you purchase a ticket from Frankfurt to Munich and you decide that you'd like to get off in Ulm, see the Ulm Munster and have some lunch then continue on to Munich - you can not do that on your point to point ticket (unless you booked with with a stop over) - with a pass you can.

We manage to travel on a rail pass without needing reservations - even in France - we are not in a hurry though and don't mind slower trains/routes. Sometimes its a matter of picking a different time - the train at a popular time requires a reservation but the next train on the same route may not. We do love the flexibility of a pass as we travel with no reservations nor set itinerary - we decide where to go as we go along.

This is not for everyone but works for us.

Posted by
12400 posts

@ megan.... I use a rail pass. But do you feel you need the Global Pass? What about the 4 country Select Pass (France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland). ? I would look into that. Keep in mind that discounted tickets, 92 days out, are date and train specific. You get the savings while sacrificing flexibility. Basic issue is which is more important? If one doesn't give a hoot about savings, then the flexibility is paramount. It's a trade off, when you commit to certain days, you lock yourself in time wise.

How long is this trip? In Germany even though CNL will be taken out of service by December, night service by train will still continue. Going from Germany or Austria to Italy now done by CNL will be done by EN trains, same as going from Vienna to Frankfurt by night, still doable but minus the sleeper or couchette feature.

RE: the reservation fees...that is only mandatory in France on the TGV trains regardless if you have a Global Pass, certainly not in Austria and Germany, but I would advise getting the reservation for the ICE in Germany, cost 4.5 Euro, 2nd class, I took two night train rides in June on the ICE and IC, got a reservation for both, even though it was not mandatory, but then I go in the summer, peak season. .

Posted by
16169 posts

The OP is starting in Brussels, so that is 5 countries. The 5-day Global Flex twin pass is $912, and the 5-day 4-country Select twin pass is $832. Both are 1st class. The added cost for two 1st class Flexpreis tickets from Brussels to Aachen would be 124 EUR ($140), so the Global pass saves them money over the 4-country Select.

Posted by
5250 posts

"We are looking at taking the train throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, and a night train into Italy."

Your exact travel times and dates can remain unknown, and your itinerary can be changed even during your trip with a rail pass. But you probably do not need a Eurailpass whether of the global or select variety. You should instead consider the German Rail Pass - which allows for train passage to/from Brussels BE, Strasbourg FR., Salzburg and Innsbruck AT, and to Bologna and Venice IT.

You may have to supplement the rail pass with individual tickets (or perhaps a separate rail pass) for Switzerland, or if you have in mind more extensive journeys (like Rome or Paris) within Italy, France, and/or Austria. But the German Rail pass prices are outstanding - and could serve as a CORE travel strategy. NO RESERVATIONS are required to use the pass (though the German Rail IC buses may be the exception - not sure.) You might have to sacrifice flexibility to get great prices on 2 or 3 of your stated travel legs, but maybe that's not so awful if you are able restructure your itinerary. Another option is to incorporate supplemental low-cost flights to places the German Rail pass doesn't cover, like Paris and Rome, if those are musts.

I wish I knew how long your trip was. It's not clear to me whether the many destinations you have in mind are a "wish list" or a set of places you could reasonably see in the time you actually have.

Posted by
4400 posts

For $912, I'd fly up to Brussels and drive you around myself. That is a crazy amount of money to pay for trains in Europe. Have you read the Man in Seat 61 site? Great tips:

http://www.seat61.com/Railpass-and-Eurail-pass-guide.htm#railpass-or-point-to-point-tickets

Also, please fly from Paris to Rome. It is not romantic, it is not nostalgic to do this route by rail. Finally, consider planning a bit ahead. It will save you money and stress. With the internet, it is very easy to figure out in advance what a place is like. It's not the 80s anymore.

Posted by
2353 posts

Perhaps if I lived there I might become jaded after some time...I hope not. For some of us travel by train is still enjoyable and somewhat magical.

Night trains are definitely not for all. We love them - I will say I do spring for a sleeper compartment.

The alternative would be to split the route into 2 travel days perhaps stopping somewhere like Lausanne for the night.

The best place to check routes/schedules & if a res is required is the DB site:

https://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query2.exe/en?protocol=https:&rt=1&

There are so many options - pick what works best for you.

Posted by
11450 posts

I don't live there, but I have taken quite a few trains . Even in first class 5-6 hours are my limit !!!

Night trains are yucky, however if you want to pay extra for a cabin perhaps they are survivable , but you do pay for that over passes

Posted by
796 posts

We have used railpasses for many years and love the flexibility. We get the Eurail pass that covers all of their covered countries and you have your rail travel paid in advance to anywhere you might choose to go even on a whim. This pays for your travel. Reservations fees are for the reservation itself, not the travel and is separate. You likely won't need many reservations. You can get this info at www.eurail.com Incidentally, the Global Passes are on sale right now for 20% off. We just got ours with this nice discount for our own upcoming trip. There are also special benefits in each country for discounts on things such as free ferry rides, 50% off ferries and other benefits for those who hold Eurail passes. You can find out more at Eurail's site. One great benefit includes a free ride to and from Corfu, for example. You get amazing discounts in Switzerland and even some free trips. There are discounts even for shopping in some countries.

Go to the Eurail website, click on Eurail Passes, then look to the left and choose countries individually to see what freebies and discounts you can get in each country. The money you can save can be considerable and something travelers who don't use the passes usually know nothing about.

Posted by
796 posts

@Sam- You have until Dec. 30 to purchase the passes at a discount. You then have 11 months to activate the pass. You don't have to do all your travel by the purchase deadline.

Posted by
12400 posts

That is a change, a very positive change, in rules, allowing you to activate your pass within the next 11 months from the date stamped on the Pass. I got my Pass prior to Sept 30, 2016, got the extra day, ie, eleven instead of 10, it's stamped 9/23/16. I have until Aug 23, 2017 to have it activated, then another two months to use it up....works perfectly for my plans.

Posted by
3 posts

Hi and thank you for your responses. From what everyone has been saying, we are going back and forth between booking each stop in advance and including layover time to explore the city and a pass (maybe a Select) so we wouldn't have to leave a city before we are ready or be stuck in a city longer than we would want. We are running into some confusion since the raileurope website is saying almost all of the trains have a mandatory reservation while the bahn website is saying only two will need a reservation. Which should we trust?
Thanks again!

Posted by
5250 posts

With "layover time to explore the city," what sort of time does that mean for the 10 destinations you've named? How many nights do you have altogether after Brussels and before flying out? I don't wish to pry, but I'm pretty sure that none of us wants to recommend a 10-days-in-X-number-of-days unless you actually have sufficient time for your sightseeing layovers.

Posted by
4400 posts

Whatever you do, DO NOT use RailEurope as a resource for schedules, prices or information. They are not the official rail carrier, but a travel agency. Please start reading the link to the Man in Seat 61 site to understand the basics and to get the correct links to resources.

Posted by
2353 posts

Definitely use the DB site for schedules and res requirements. Use the rail site for the country for any required reservations.

Posted by
16877 posts

The trains we would like to take are Brussels-Cologne-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Rothenburg- Munich, Munich-Salzburg-Vienna, Vienna-Innsbruck-Bern, Bern-Paris, and finally an overnight from Paris to Rome.

I haven't read through this whole thread, but want to clarify that the only train on your list that requires a seat reservation is Bern-Paris on the TGV Lyria (or Basel-Paris, if you choose a departure that connects there). We advise making that reservation early, since they can sell out, and there are fewer schedules that you might like; you can do it at the same time that you buy the pass. TGV Lyria is the most expensive of all pass holder reservations at about $33 in 2nd class or $68 in first; you can choose 2nd class even with a 1st-class pass. TGV Est reservations from Strasbourg, Colmar, or a German city to Paris are cheaper.

Take the direct ICE from Brussels Nord station to Cologne (or any other connection that doesn't require reservations) to avoid the Thalys seat reservation fee.

[Edit] This is a know issue with the Rail Europe shopping cart that some trains which recommend reservations show up as reservation required. As mentioned above, the German DB site is your accurate resource. I would not bother with the optional German reservations.

A night train also requires a sleeper reservation, but the Paris-Italy night train does not accept rail passes. A separate ticket is the only way. Flying this route is often cheaper; see www.skyscanner.com.

So, you could do this trip with a 5-days-in one month Eurail Global Saver Pass with the current 20% discount at $367 per person in 1st class (or less if you're both under 26). This is very easy to use and flexible for your first 4 travel days.

Or, if you didn't need Switzerland, or if you paid separately from Brussels to the border, the 5-day, 4-country Select Saver Pass costs $334 per person in 1st class.

Posted by
12400 posts

@ Megan...If you're traveling in 5 countries, that is no reason to get a pass covering all five countries, it's not needed, which is why I suggested the 4 country Select Pass. It depends on the countries. When I travel say, on a trip to Germany, France, and Austria for 3-5 weeks nowadays... land in Paris, take the train to Frankfurt, and so on, I get the Austria-Germany Pass

Posted by
18055 posts

the raileurope website is saying almost all of the trains have a
mandatory reservation while the bahn website is saying only two will
need a reservation. Which should we trust?

I'd say both. RailEurope is just a travel agent. If they only sell a ticket bundled with a reservation, that's the way it is if you buy it from them. But the national rail lines in Europe, such as the Bahn, don't have to do it RailEurope's way. Very few trains of the Bahn require a reservation if the ticket is purchased from the Bahn. However, the Bahn doesn't sell tickets for segments entirely outside Germany (unless they are part of a trip with one end in Germany, and then only for some segments in some countries). For these you'll have to go to that rail company's website and see if they require reservations.

And, although it usually includes a seat reservation, a "Passholder reservation", a mandatory supplemental fee required from holders of rail passes to ride premium trains, is not the same thing as a seat reservation.