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should we book through rail europe

is it better to book the eurostar through them directly rather than rail europe?
what about trains in italy such as as pisa to florence, florence to sienna and florence to venice?

Posted by
20686 posts

Some people like booking through RailEurope for peace of mind and convenience but for that you pay a rather substantial fee. RailEurope is a travel agency that specializes in selling rail tickets to North Americans.

Posted by
6898 posts

Your journeys from Florence to Pisa and Florence to Siena will be on Regionale trains. These are the local-class trains. Very cheap. No seat reservations permitted on these trains. It's like riding on your Sky Train system. 5.60Euro for the Florence/Pisa train. RE wants 12.80Euro for the same ticket.

North Americans have difficulty grasping the enormity of the Italian train system. 160,000 people a day go through the Florence main train station alone. 400 trains arrive there daily. 49 trains a day depart Florence for Pisa.

Be adventureous. Buy your tickets there. You won't miss the train and they won't be full. Use one of the many electronic ticket machines. They will prompt you in English and will accept your Canadian credit card.

Your journey from Florence to Venice will most likely be on a faster Eurostar. Same as above. Buy you tickets there. Seat reservations are required but the electronic machine does that as well. It's all quite easy.

Posted by
881 posts

I've been pricing train routes for two days, and RE has consistently been way, waaaaaaaaaaaaay more expensive for every route. We're doing Venice-Florence as well.

Posted by
163 posts

I have a slightly different view point on this - but i am a first time traveler to Europe...unlike the much more experienced previous posters. In planning our trip across Europe (London to Rome) I found the bahn.de website and the trenitalia site very confusing. Bahn.de was good for scheduling, but I still haven't figured out how you can order tickets or get accurate pricing. Trenitalia was even worse. I guess I'm the type of person who likes to have a budget and a plan. Going for the first time, I would NOT have been comfortable leaving some of those train trips unreserved (but keep in mind, I am taking longer trips, like Paris to Interlaken, etc - maybe not quite the same as Pisa to Florence). I spent about $300 on my train tickets. Since I've never seen the costs of tickets through Bahn.de, or purchased tickets myself while over there, I don't have anything to compare that cost with. But even if I spent an extra $100 by using rail europe, it was definently worth it to me to have that peace of mind. Their website is so easy to use, and it was very nice to pay for those tickets ahead of time and have it all planned out and included in my budget.
I'm sure others will disagree - and no, it probably isn't the cheapest way to do things - but the peace of mind it offered me was well worth the extra money spent.....just my opinion.

Posted by
17682 posts

Jodi, it is people like you who keep those guys in business.

Posted by
163 posts

What do you mean by that Lee? "people like you"?.....should I apologize for not taking yearly trips to Europe, or having 20 years of travel experience under my belt? There are a lot of people who frequent this board who are not like YOU and i made that comment knowing that it really would have helped ME when I was starting to plan my first trip - like many others are. European train sites are very confusing to a lot of us. Do you have to be so rude all of the time?

Posted by
20686 posts

My, my Jodi, who is being rude? As I posted earlier you pay a substantial fee for that peace of mind but as long as you are comfortable with that there is no problem. My guess is you paid much more than $100, but that is your business. RailEurope does not list all of the trains available certainly not all of the fares especially the lower ones.

One of the purposes of this site is to pass along our acquired knowledge so that you do not have to spend twenty years learning how to the use the railroad system. No one is going to fault if you want to do it on your own. Just understand the price you pay.

Our first rail ticket was purchased through RailEurope about 18 years ago. Later learned we paid nearly double and that was when the dollar was stronger. Now with another 250+ days of travel behinds us we have learned to buy tickets directly or when we are there. And that is the advice we give to everyone. Even if you don't catch some of the local discounts it is still far cheaper than using RailEurope.

One of the major problems with American tourists (and it may extend to Canadians) using the European railroad system is that we have been trained by our airline system in the science of "Load Management" --- basically early reservation and increasing prices for last minute tickets. So we are naturally suspicious of any advice that says we can get a last minute reservation at a reasonable price on an European train.

And Lee is correct, people who need that peace of mind and do not mind paying their fees keep them in business. And you just proved that.

Posted by
17682 posts

Frank, well put.

Jodi, you said in you post,

"I still haven't figured out how you can order tickets or get accurate pricing."

and, "even if I spent an extra $100 by using rail europe, it was definently worth it to me to have that peace of mind."

You don't have to apologize for the way you want to spend your money. If there weren't people who feel the way you do, RailEurope would not have any business. Nor should apologize for wanting to spend less so I can come back more often.

Although I have been going over for 20 years (22 actually), I've only gone over 10 times, every other year. But in the last 8½ years I've been there 7 times, once every 15 months. The only reason I can afford to go over this often is because I economize. I stay in family run pensionen and Privatzimmer. I confine my travel to smaller areas, and I fully utilize the low cost ticket that you can get over there or online from the national rail companies.

BTW, there is no reason to spend even $100 more for tickets. Euraide (www.euraide.com) will get all of the tickets for your trip through German Rail in Germany, at European prices, and send them over here for one fee of $50.

Posted by
17682 posts

Jodi, IMO, the German Rail website is very easy to use to get schedules all over Europe. However, German Rail only shows prices for tickets they sell online, and these are usually only trips with at least one end in Germany. Many national rail websites only show prices or sell trips entirely within the country. For trips entirely in other countries you have to go to national rail website for that country, and the Italian Rail website doesn't work very well and French Rail is very "user-hostile" (but then, French Rail owns RailEurope; maybe they deliberately make it difficult not to use RailEurope.)

I think people have found that they can get tickets for anywhere in Europe, at the lowest price, by calling German Rail in Germany. You can usually get an English speaking person.

Posted by
163 posts

Frank and Lee - I'm not trying to argue with you and say that people should order from RailEurope. I know it's more expensive, and your method probably does work better for a majority of travelers - and yes, everyone on this board appreciates your knowledge....but can you for one second see the point I'm trying to make? I am a new traveler. I want my trip planned out ahead of time. I don't want to use Euopean train sites, they confuse me. RailEurope made my planning process much easier. Just thought that might be helpful to other first timers, who don't want to get a PhD in the European rail system.

Posted by
163 posts

A funny thing has been happening - that I thought was worth mentioning. Since my first reply to this message - and Frank and Lee's subsequent answers - I've been getting PM's supporting what I've said and encouring me to continue standing up to certain "Message Board Bullies". Some people have even mentioned that they've quit spending time on this board because of some of the attitudes of veteran posters and how 'newbies' are continually made to feel inferior.

Just thought I would share that - take it or leave it.

Posted by
191 posts

Not getting involved in anything other than the original question here...

I don't know if I just lucked out but for last September, I priced my routes using Raileurope and then the local sites for the routes I wanted. As best as I could tell, I paid about $25 more for using Rail Europe which, to me, was totally worth it. But it was sort of a 'trip of a lifetime' and I'm not sure when I'll be back, as my top priority these days isn't travelling. I do love it, but I have other things that are more important to me. So, the peace of mind I got from it was money well spent in my view.

Posted by
17682 posts

Jodi,

I never "bullied" you. You can spend your money anyway you want to, and you obviously want to donate it to RailEurope. That's OK. However, there are other people reading this forum (you didn't even start this thread), and they have the right to know that there are good reasons not to get point-point tickets from RailEurope. It might be right for you, but it is probably not right for them; most people want to save as much money as possible. And, I also showed you a source where one can get European tickets less expensively in advance.

Just so everyone elso on this forum understands the pricing difference, a ticket from Frankfurt to Munich from RailEurope costs $152. This is via a fast ICE train. German Rail sells a ticket on the same train, online, for €89, $120 at today's exchange rate plus 3% for a credit card transaction. That's a savings of $30 (21%) on that ticket alone. If you are willing to spend more time to save money, German Rail will sell you online a ticket for the slower IC for €71 ($96), a savings of $54 (37%). RailEurope doesn't even offer that ticket. Finally, with advanced purchase online of a non-refundable Dauer-Spezial-Ticket, you can travel from Frankfurt to Munich for €29 ($39), a savings of $113 (74%)!

RailEurope is one of the least expensive places to get railpasses, although this site offers some good perks that might make it a better place. However, there are much better places to get point-point tickets.

So, if you want to get tickets from RailEurope, go ahead, but don't try to justify your decision as anything but convenience, and, when you take an agressive stance and people bury you with facts, don't cry "bully".

Posted by
446 posts

I would like to say, in support of Jodi, that there do seem to be some rather opinionated people on this board. They are often right in what they say, but they tend to kind of imply by the way they word their posts that they have the best knowledge and answers, and that less experienced travelers should defer to them.

I encountered this sort of attitude awhile back during a discussion of the best way to get Euros for a trip. I revealed that I had opened a couple of European bank accounts and bought Euros to put in them, giving me the convenience of a Euro-denominated debit card and the ability to withdraw free of service charges at some ATMs. I enjoy having my European bank accounts and realize that I probably didn't save much money by buying Euros this way, and I acknowledged that fact. But, when I revealed this rather novel idea, several people jumped on me and tried to tell me I was all wrong to do what I did.

My point here is, I did what I felt was right for me in the circumstances. It was fine for others to point out defects in my logic, but the way some people worded their replies, it kind of made me feel that I was stupid to do what I did.

So, I can understand Jodi's complaint. The "experts" on this board need to try to be a little more sensitive to people's feelings and avoid language that tends to make "newbies" feel dumb.

Posted by
17682 posts

BTW, if anyone feels overwhelmed by getting tickets from the less expensive sources, there are people on this forum that are very experienced. If you will PM me, I can help with German Rail (that's kind of my area of concentration). I also have a German travel website at www.germantravel-info.com. There are others, Centennial Frank and Larry (Italy) and Tim and Norm (France). And Frank II and Kent, who don't specialize in any area, but just general hold this site together. Sorry if I forgot anyone; I'm writing this off the cuff, so to speak. Many will, I'm sure, be willing to help. You don't need a PhD in European websites, just the willingness to ask.

Posted by
17682 posts

I have almost never booked in advance (even when I was a "newbie"). I've traveled on over 160 trains in Germany in the last 9 years, usually buying my tickets just before train time.

One exception was a trip I took last November from Cochem to Bad Harzburg (Cochem via IC to Köln, then via ICE to Hannover, then by RE to Bad Harzburg). German Rail's price at the counter would have been $121.60 at the exchange rate then.

RailEurope does not sell a single ticket for the whole route, but I could have booked Cochem to Hannover for $167 and Hannover to Bad Harzburg for $37, $204 for the whole trip, $82.40 (68%) more than DB.

This was one of the few times I booked in advance, not to assure a place, but to save money. I booked online from German Rail and got a Dauer-Spezial fare of €29. With seat reservation and a 3% exchange rate fee using my credit card, the ticket was $45, a savings of $76.60 (63%) vs a full fare ticket from DB, and $159 vs. RailEurope.

So, by knowing how to use the Bahn website, I saved almost $160, just on that one trip. It does sometimes pay to purchase your tickets ahead of time, just not from RailEurope.

Posted by
421 posts

these are good points and everyone has different views
to me it seems if you want convience and to do it not worry about it when you are there then book rail europe and be done with it.

If budget is an issue and lets face it for most of us it still is an issue even if we are spending a fortune on our trip, every bit of savings helps it is good to know the options.

If it is only 25 bucks more per ticket then maybe I would suck it up and pay it just so I don't hve to worry I guess it would depend on how much difference it was. But it is good to know that you won't risk not getting on the train you want by not prebooking.

The one train I will book in advance with is the eurostar but I will do it through eurostar's web site not rail europe.

Posted by
12 posts

I bought a railpass from RailEurope for my upcoming month long trip and calculated that I easily saved at least $150 compared to buying point to point tickets, even at advance fares from bahn.de. Then again, Lee did point out RailEurope was one of the cheaper places to buy railpasses.
I did notice the reservation fees for passholders were much higher than when buying them on location, but I did book the couchette for the first train leg of my trip, a night train from Munich to Venice. For $32 a person, I felt it wasn't bad, and I didn't want to deal with the hassle of trying to reserve a train as soon as I arrived in Germany.

Posted by
17682 posts

The four longest days of my last trip took me from FRA to Cochem, from Cochem to the Harz area (near Goslar), from the Harz area to Karlsruhe, and back to Mainz. I used two Länder tickets and two Dauer-Spezial tickets for $141, including the 3% exchange rate "fee" for using a credit card for advance purchases. Using a four day German Rail pass plus REs advance reservations (that I got from the Bahn with the Dauer-Spezial tickets) would have cost me $293.

But every situation is different. You have to compare the fares on a case by case basis. I do that before every trip, and I have always found point-point tickets purchased there along with discounts purchased in advance to beat a rail pass. You would have to have a lot of long days of travel, on legs for which the lowest discount fares were not available, to spend less with a rail pass.

Using a railpass, with reservations purchased over there just before train time, would give you more flexibility, albeit for a still much higher price.

However, that's Germany. That might not be true in other countries.

Posted by
327 posts

Everyone has their way of traveling,their level of comfort and their own travel budget. If going through Rail Europe works for you, Jodi, then you use them. Sometimes peace of mind is more important. I have used Rail Europe in the past when I was just starting to travel to Europe and felt quite comfortable having everything taken care of. Now that I am on my 10th or 12th trip I don't worry too much about it. With time and experience you will come to understand the European rail system and may eventually feel comfortable enough to do it without Rail Europe's help. Have a great trip.

Posted by
1 posts

Thanks to all for posting to this question. I too looked at Rail Europe and thought...hmmm, seems a little high. So now I'll buy my tickets at the station.

Americans don't have a great rail system like Europeans do, and we tend to think of it like the airline system. Prices that fluctuate, and skyrocket the day of travel. A mass transit system like the trains is, of course, different. Anyway, as has been said RE capitalizes on Americans lack of experience and overcharges.

Thanks again for posting advice!

Posted by
350 posts

Eurostar tickets are very easy to purchase through their website. I have done that twice, 4 and 6 years ago. I see a place on their homepage that says you can now print your tickets at home. I suspect that you could get a better price purchasing those in advance.

I have not bought point to point tickets in Italy, but I have heard that train tickets in Italy are fairly inexpensive, so you can probably wait on those.

That being said, I know I have saved a lot of money in the past buying tickets early for the TGV, three times now, and this year for a Sweden to Olso trip.

One tip I would give is that if you wait to buy your tickets in Italy, you might want to buy them as soon as you get to Pisa, or at least buy your departure ticket when you arrive in each town, while you are still at the train station. It may not matter for those routes, I don't know, but on popular routes, if you want a seat reservation, it can help to at least purchase a few days ahead.

Posted by
273 posts

I used the Bahn website to figure out what I wanted but since I am an extreme control freak, paid the money and got all my tickets before I left the states. Yes I did pay a premium but it gave me piece of mind to have those tickets in hand. After my trip to France & Spain I would probably not do that again, I would just get a rail pass from Rick's website and get my tickets as soon as I arrived in Europe.

Posted by
32 posts

I'm sure I'm missing something obvious here - how else can I purchase tickets ahead of time for Venice -> Rome? I assume I should buy the tickets before I arrive in Venice (in mid-June).

Thank you!

Posted by
156 posts

I agree with the "experienced" posters that RailEurope is extremely overpriced except in one area which works for us and that is the German Twin Pass for 2 people travelling together although I would add that the cost has taken such a jump in the past two years that we may have to reconsider in future. Todays debacle with the anniversary sale has only added to my great aggravation with RailEurope....

Posted by
39 posts

I booked our plane tickets to Italy over 3 months ago but am now kicking myself as I'm now seeing that if I had booked my train tickets 30 or 60 days ahead on Trenitalia, I could have saved up to 60%. Now I can book for next week's Rome to Florence, Florence to Venice, etc. for 15% off. Should I? Or should I just get it when I'm there? It's a busy time so I was nervous about availability and whether this is a good discount. Please let me know if you've had any experiences or advice. Thanks!

Posted by
10295 posts

Jeanette: As has been explained on the other topic where this is being discussed, the big question is whether your US credit card will be accepted on the Trenitalia website. Most US credit cards are rejected. If that's what happens to you, you don't have a choice: you won't be able to buy train tickets until you get to Italy.

Posted by
990 posts

Everyone has there own style of traveling. Some prefer the convenience of a package tour where all the arrangments are made for you. Some prefer using a travel agent despite the agency fee for the peace of mind of knowing that if anything goes wrong with the flight itinerary, you can have the agent take care of it. (That's me, for example.) Some prefer to stay in chain hotels where the rooms and amenities are predictable. Some prefer not to make any plans at all but to wing it and "go with the flow." All of these are viable travel options for some and terrible options for others. This website tends to skew towards a particular style of travel--travel inexpensively but not rock bottom (like eating top ramen in your hostel bunk!) emphasizing planning in advance to maximize interesting experiences and minimize unnecessary costs. It's pretty congruent with Rick Steves' own travel philosophy in his books.

That said, if your travel style is different from the Rick Steves "back door" style, you will probably find better tips and greater appreciation of your tips on a travel website that promotes a style of travel closer to your own. Not that you aren't welcome here, but you will likely find people replying that they disagree with your advice or perspectives. (That doesn't bother me personally, so I keep posting here regardless.)

Posted by
1 posts

I am traveling to Italy for the first time in August for my honeymoon. We are trying to figure out if we should book a pass, book advanced tickets now, or wait until we get there. We are traveling from Rome to Venice, Venice to Florence, Florence to Pisa and Pisa back to Rome. People have been telling me it is busy in August and we should book the pass? But when I look up point to point tickets it is over 100 dollars cheaper. Should we book our tickets now? Or should we book a pass? Or should we wait and book the tickets when we show up the day of our planned travels? Please help! This is our first trip anywhere really and we want to do it right, but on a budget. Thanks all! :)

Posted by
1291 posts

The general consensus is that you do not need the pass. Even during crowded times, you will be able to get reservations for the trains a day or two before. Wait till you are in Italy and then book your train tickets. It will save you money and also give you flexibility by not being locked into a specific train months ahead.

Posted by
17682 posts

Lisa, a rail pass won't help you with crowded trains. You would still have to have a reservation to ensure a seat. You can get those just as easily at the station before you leave with either a point-point ticket or a railpass. In all cases, if you are concerned, you should buy your ticket from that town when you arrive in the town, rather than the day of travel. In Italy, point-point tickets are usually less expensive than a railpass.

Posted by
6898 posts

Lisa, you are correct that August is a very busy travel month in Italy. It's the month when many Italians take their vacations. However, you have selected the train routes with the most train runs. These are where the Eurostars run (except Florence to Pisa). Point-to-point is less expensive than a railpass in Italy. Did you know that Italy adds a 15E-20E supplemental fee on top of a Eurail pass to ride the Eurostars? They do. You will most likely be on Eurostars for all of your journeys except for Florence to Pisa. Unfortunately, U.S. citizens cannot purchase tickets on Trenitalia as they don't accept our credit cards. They may accept Candadian credit cards but I doubt. Thus, if you want tickets in your hand, you are left with no choice but to pay higher prices on RailEurope or ItaliaRail. On these webistes, you can buy the point-to-point ticket without buying the railpass. Note also that their prices are in US$. Trenitalia is listed in Euros. You'll need to covert everything to Canadian dollars. A railpass will be more expensive in Italy.

Posted by
156 posts

No way Rail Europe......treat the trip as an adventure, and save money.... buy locally.

Posted by
121 posts

Let me ask these questions.
1. I thought that the rail passes such as Global Saver Pass (and the like) could not be bought in Europe since they were meant for tourists. Am I wrong (wouldn't be the first time)?

  1. If you do have to buy them prior to visiting Europe, are there significant pricing differences? I tried visiting the EurAide site but their pricing info is woefully outdated (from 2006). I did a quick comparison from this site and Eurorail and saw minimal differences (~$20) which could be due to exchange rates, shipping, etc. differences.

  2. I'm guessing that the pricing differences you are talking about refer primarily to point to point tickets and not the passes?

Thanks.

Posted by
300 posts

Richard:
1. In most cases rail passes must be bought before arriving in Europe. Don't quote me but I think a Swiss Pass can be bought in-country by foreign visitors.

  1. It's been a few years since I looked into EurAide, but what I recall is that EurAide charges the actual European reservation fee plus a fixed service fee per order. This makes it very economical compared to RE if you need several reservations (but I've never needed a reservation other than on trains that cross national borders or for sleeper compartments). Single reservations are still a bit pricy through EurAide.

  2. The passes on RE are cheap (The rail passes you buy on RickSteves.com are actually supplied by RE, but there are some extras when you buy here). Whether passes are cheaper than p-to-p depends on your specific itinerary, whether you'd use any extras included in the pass (e.g., city transport and museum admissions with the Swiss Pass) and how much value you personally place on having your transport paid and tickets in hand before beginning your trip.

Posted by
300 posts

Following up:

The Swiss Pass can be purchased at Swiss train stations if you don't already have one when you arrive.

Posted by
1 posts

Rail Europe double booked me for a significant amount of money just this week. I'll have to contact their head office and they may refund just part of my booking. Not recommend anyone to book through them. It's been a nightmare.

Posted by
80 posts

Rail Europe are the worst. They make a lot of false promises that will cost you A LOT of money once you arrive into Europe.

The lies that they tell will taint your image of Europe and your vacation.

I wish I had never came in contact with them.

Speaking from personal experience.

ps. I used Eurostar to make my purchases RT London/Paris. A lot of similar sounding names, eh? This one I trust. Be careful with your selection :)

Posted by
3580 posts

I used the Eurostar website to buy channel tunnel tix a couple of days ago. I was invited to print my own tix or pick them up in London. I held my breath and chose to print them myself. It worked quickly and perfectly. If I lose them I can re-print them. Prices were in USD and were comparable to prices on the RS site, but with no delivery fee.