I'm posting this for a friend: Hi, I am planning for a 60 day Europe trip for this coming March. I have looked into the different options of Eurail passes. Originally, I had settled with the Global Pass since it is the most convenient one. However, it is also the most expensive option. Therefore, I am looking to find an alternative option that is cheaper than the Eurail pass. My current travel route is to fly from U.S -> Lisbon (via flight) -> Madrid (via flight) -> Barcelona -> France: Paris, Nice, Provence, and Versailles (via flight) -> Athens, Santorini (via flight) -> Italy: Rome, Tuscany, Florence, Venice, Pompeii -> Vienna -> Prague -> Berlin -> Amsterdam -> Cologne -> U.S I would like to spend 3 days in Lisbon, 7 days in Spain, 14 days in France, 5 days in Greece, 14 days in Italy, 3 days in Vienna, 3 days in Prague, 3 days in Amsterdam, and 8 days in German. I have looked at Rick Steve's "Cost and Time map" (last page on http://www.ricksteves.com/rail/pdfs/railmappack.pdf) and compared the train cost to the flight cost. I found out that flying from Lisbon to Madrid is $45 cheaper than taking the train ($85), and the same goes for the flight from Madrid to Barcelona. The question I have now is what kind of Eurail pass should I get for my trip? Is the train cost I see on the "Cost and Time map" different from the Eurail pass? Also, what is the difference between Eurail passes and the train ticket you purchase at the station?
PART 2: Also, I am still contemplating over the places I should check out in France. Therefore, I will gladly accept any suggestions on places I should visit in France. I would like to check out the countryside and experience the local culture. Small cities would be somewhere I enjoy the most. I would like to make Paris as my last stop since I will fly from Paris to Athens. If anyone has any suggestions on what may make my trip run smoother and cheaper, I will really appreciated. I am open to any tips you can provide on what may be the best route to take throughout my travels in Europe, because nothing is set in stone as of yet. Thank you for reading and your help!
Like Button for Mr Tom... That's the best summary I have seen in a long time of the Pass Question. Concise, too.
"Therefore, I am looking to find an alternative option that is cheaper than the Eurail pass." Almost anything is cheaper than a Eurail pass, except perhaps buying full fare 1st class tickets on the day of travel. With a rail pass, you're paying a premium for convenience, which is currently quickly disappearing as the national rail companies add more and more restrictions on pass holders. "I have looked at Rick Steve's "Cost and Time map and compared the train cost to the flight cost." What this map doesn't show are all the substantial discounts available if you book your tickets in advanced directly from the rail operators. I compared the $150 price he quotes for 2nd class travel between Frankfurt and Berlin to the prices listed on the Deutsche Bahn website. Given the adjustment for the exchange rate, $150 is about what you might pay if you bought a one way ticket on your day of travel. However, if you buy your ticket well in advanced, and you can commit to riding on a specific date and time, this trip costs as little as €49. If an agency other than the national rail operators is selling a rail pass, always take their information with a grain of salt. Even Mr. Steves' company.
"Also, what is the difference between Eurail passes and the train ticket you purchase at the station?" The original intention behind a rail pass was to encourage multi-destination travel by rail. In years past, by delivering an upfront fee for the pass, rail companies were willing to forego some of the costs of individual trips. So, buying a rail pass was substantially cheaper than buying individual tickets, and it provided the pass holder with both the convenience of not needing to wait in a ticket line and the flexibility to allow them to take almost any train at any time. But those days are LONG gone... Over the past 30 years, with the introduction of high speed intercity services, advanced and online purchasing, rail passes have become increasingly expensive to the point that there is rarely, if ever, any cost advantage in them. You can almost always travel cheaper by purchasing individual point-to-point tickets directly from the rail operators. And now, the rail operators often require pass holders to purchase a separate reservation and sometimes even a supplement, so the convience factor is almost gone as well. So, the basic question shouldn't be "what kind of Eurail pass should I get for my trip?", but first and foremost, "Does a rail pass make sense for my trip?" To help you answer that question, go to this website: http://www.seat61.com/ You're going to have to crunch the numbers yourself, but the website listed above will arm you with all the information you'll need to make your decision. I haven't crunched the numbers myself in over 15 years because the calculations consistently indicated that a rail pass was a money loser. I haven't seen any new information in the interim that would lead me to believe otherwise.
In addition to the most excellent comments above, I think that sometimes your friend is a flyin' when she outa be a trainin'; and sometimes she's a trainin' when she outa be a flyin'. Barcelona to Paris can be quite a trip by train, very long and not always scintillating. And then there's the stop to change the train wheels or train itself at the border - Spanish trains are different than other European trains. A cheap flight there might well be easier. I don't get the flight from Provence (where in Provence I ask) to Versailles. Avignon to Paris is super fast, at 300 kph on a TGV train, right from the middle of town, nearly, to the middle of town in Paris. The train leaves from several other cities in Provence, too. From the arrival station in Paris, the Gare de Lyon it is a quick walk on the bridge over the River Seine to the Gare d'Austerlitz right onto the RER train to Versailles. If she starts the Italian portion in Rome and goes north, why end at Pompeii all the way south again? Vienna is easily reached by train from Venice but would need a long journey all the way back south to Pompeii and then a flight from Naples to Wien if she doesn't want to see the same countryside for a 3rd time.
Megan, this is your lucky day! Not only did you get great advice from Tom and Nigel, but a Nancy Sinatra reference thrown in for free! In all seriousness, do read and heed their comprehensive replies.