Hi, I'm leaving in 6 days (i.e., just over 4 business days) and I've procrastinated to the point that I am just now thinking about rail passes. I don't want to pay for them and not get them before I leave - How long do they take to arrive in the mail? Thanks!
These days rail passes don't save money - they cost you extra.
Probably would be just the same to buy your tickets at the window on the day of departure.
Had you not procrastinated, you would have been able to purchase cheaper tickets online. Maybe you still can - visit the websites of the rail service for each country you will visit for more info.
What is your itinerary?
Thanks for answering. That's what I had intended to do - to buy them online at a discounted price as a pass. It's not a deep discount, but it seems to save at least a little.
My itinerary is a loop, with Milan as the starting and finishing point: Italy for about a week, Vienna and Budapest split between about 5 days, and Southern/Western Germany for about a week, and then back to Milan.
If you do do this trip with a pass instead of individual tickets - your recent reply above seems to say that - you must buy your mandatory seat reservations prior to boarding any Italian train higher in grade than a Regionale. You are liable for a large fine if you don't, and will be treated as if you had boarded the train without a ticket. If you had purchased individual tickets the reservation would be included in the price.
Steven - You did not understand my response correctly. I think passes of all types are a waste of money and should not be purchased, by phone or online. Point to point tickets purchased in advance online from the national rail carriers (MAV for Hungary; OeBB for Austria, for example) are the way to go these days. Unfortunately, you are likely too late to do this and save money as the discounted fares are likely gone. I was suggesting that at this late stage, you are just better off buying your tickets on the day of travel at the train station. That will be no more than any type of pass, I promise you, and you avoid all of the reservation fee hassles.
Ah! You're right, I did not understand. Thank you, Emily and Nigel, for the help. I'll look into advance point-to-point tickets to see if they might still be discounted (and if they will even arrive before I leave). Between being too late to purchase them (probably) and hassles with reservations -even though I won't save money- your advice might have just saved me a ton of stress. Thanks again.
You might additionally find this website helpful and it will guide you to the correct national rail carrier sites:
If you book online, some railway companies do "print-at-home" E-tickets. Then you don't have to wait until you get to the station to buy your ticket, and you have no worries about it taking too long in the post.
An example fro German Railways is shown here.
Standard shipping for railpasses is 5 business days. Rail Europe does offer expedited shipping (2-3 days) for an additional price, but I think that this will still be cutting it close. Your best option at this point will be to buy individual tickets. Some tickets can be purchased online ahead for a better price (such as Italy & Germany) on their individual country rail websites: Italy - www.trenitalia.com and Germany - http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en. But many of these advance-purchase tickets are non-refundable, non-exchangeable, so you should be ready to commit at the time of purchase. You can also just buy tickets as you go, at any train station or travel agency once you are there.
I disagree with Emily and her statement that railpasses are "a waste of money and should not be purchased". Whether or not a railpass is worth it depends on your individual trip - how much train travel you plan on doing and where. You can use our handy Cost maps to estimate the cost of individual, 2nd class tickets purchased in Europe and compare those with the cost of a railpass to see which is most economical for your particular trip. You can find our Europe cost maps here: www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/cost-maps
In some countries, even with a railpass you will still need to make a seat reservation and pay an additional fee. This will be for overnight trains, high-speed and many international trains. French TGV trains, Thalys and many Spanish trains have limited availability for railpass holders and therefore should be reserved well in advance. Reservations for many other trains, such as high-speed Italian trains can be reserved a day or two in advance, at any train station or travel agency. Most trains in countries, such as Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the UK don't need to be reserved with a railpass (except Swiss scenic trains like the Glacier Express and some ICE Sprinter trains).
If someone is just traveling in Italy, because of the additional reservation cost, it's usually cheaper to buy individual tickets rather than an Italy railpass (unless you are doing a lot of long-distance trips). In other countries, such as the UK, Germany and Switzerland, a railpass can be a good value and give you the freedom to travel when you want, without having to make seat reservations. The bottom line, you really have to do the math to find out.
I love the website rome2rio.com. Incredibly easy to see how to take trips on trains, busses, ferries, etc.
Remember that if you follow the "company line" given by the RS staffer above about using the map of train fares that those fares are the worst case, walk up fares based on distance not real prices.
You can almost always do better on the prices if you are willing to plan ahead.
Steven and other be warned - this website sells rail passes through Rail Europe, so, of course, the RS staffers will always promote them. The rail map that Rich refers to shows greatly inflated costs in order to persuade unknowing buyers to purchase a rail pass. I have mentioned many times that this map needs to be updated.
Again, I strongly suggest a good read of the man in seat 61 website on the railpass vs. point to point discussion. I do know what I am talking about, but maybe it is more helpful to get the full deal from an expert.
Finally, at this point, your best bet is to avoid the rail pass entirely and buy tickets at the train station on the day of travel. You might even benefit from special deals on regional travel or private rail carriers, such as Westbahn in Austria. I promise you that this method will be no more expensive, just as flexible and a lot less confusing than a rail pass.
It is absolutely untrue that myself or any other RS staff member would recommend a railpass if it's not needed. In fact, quite often we talk people out of getting railpasses when they don't need one. Rick's travel philosophy is to educate and help travelers save time and money. Our advice is to always do the math. If it's close, we often advise still not getting a pass if reservations are a factor.
Your statement regarding our point-to-point maps - "The rail map that Rich refers to shows greatly inflated costs in order to persuade unknowing buyers to purchase a rail pass" is also NOT true. Our point-to-point maps are updated once a year and are indeed only estimates. They are based on the AVERAGE, 2nd class ticket cost for the fastest, most direct trains between any two given points, purchased a few days ahead at a station. We then convert the cost into U.S. dollars, since railpasses are sold in U.S. dollars. These prices can certainly fluctuate according to the euro-dollar exchange rate, but are as true as can be. We certainly don't try and sell passes to people who don't need them.