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Understanding Eurorail passes vs individual train tickets

We will be traveling for 4 days on our own afer a RS tour later this fall. I want to make sure I understand train travel as that appears to be our mode of transportation those 4 days. I cannot purchase tickets yet so my $$ estimates are based on earlier fall prices.

We will spend one extra night in Vienna then travel to Strasbourg for 2 nights and Cologne for our last night in Europe. I've checked out individual train reservations for all legs of travel and come out spending just a little more for the 3 country pass than the individual tickets. I did not include our transportation to/from airports, though so that may even up the price a bit.

First of all, if we go from Vienna to Strasbourg to Cologne we would still need a 3 country pass, right? Even if the Vienna to Strasbourg leg travels through Zurich to Mulhouse to Strasbourg? It's the destinations that count and not the countries you pass through, is that correct? I count Austria as the first country because that is where we are starting out from.....then Germany (Cologne) and France (Strasbourg). Also, if we are using passes I understand we STILL need to reserve tickets for certain legs (the ICE and TVG legs)? So there would be reservation fees not included in the price of the passes themselves.

I do like the idea of not having to stress over missed trains/connections....if we had reservations/pre-purchased tickets that would mean losing the price of the tickets if we missed the train or got held up doing something else.

Posted by
27502 posts

It's the destinations that count and not the countries you pass through, is that correct?

I'm sorry, that is just the opposite of how it works.

If you are using the Eurail Pass (no "o" in the middle - the Euro is the money, Eurail is much older and is a contraction of European Rail) you must count all the countries that you pass through. Switzerland and Liechtenstein (both of which you will likely transit, even though Liechtenstein is a very short distance indeed) count together as one. So Austria (one), Switzerland (two), France (three), Germany (four).

You will only have to reserve any TGV legs within or to/from France. No others.

I'll be back after dinner to talk prices unless Russ gets here first.

Posted by
18245 posts

If you skip Switzerland and go across Germany from Salzburg to Strasbourg, you can get to Cologne with just a three country pass (Austria, Germany, & France).

Or, if you insist on Switzerland, you could still do it with just a 3 country pass. You could go from Austria to Innsbruck, then through the Tyrol to Switzerland, across Switzerland to Basel, then down the right bank of the Rhein to Offenburg (Kehl, actually). It's a short, inexpensive local ticket (4,10€/pers) from Kehl across the river to Strasbourg. Come back to Kehl with a local ticket and use the rail pass to go from there through Germany to Cologne. Countries: Austia, Switzerland, and Germany.

The trip from Salzburg to Innsbruck goes across Germany (Freilassing, Rosenheim, Kufstein), but it is on an Austrian train and doesn't stop at any station in Germany, so you don't need Germany as a country on your pass. Or, you could take the longer, more scenic route via Bischofshofen to Innsbruck and avoid Germany altogether.

The trip from Vienna to Strasbourg is over 9 hours if you go through Germany or about 11 hours if you go through Switzerland. Do you really want to do that in one day? Or are you going to break it up with a stopover somewhere for a night?

However, point-point tickets could be less than a rail pass. Wien to Salzburg could be 38€ for both of you from Austrian Rail. You can get an advance purchase SparPreis ticket from Salzburg to Strasbourg, across Germany, for as low as 59€/person. Or, you can get an advance purchase ticket from Salzburg to Kehl for as low as 48€ for both of you and buy local tickets across the river to Strasbourg for 8,20€ for both of you. Similarly, you can get an advance purchase ticket for two from Offenburg to Cologne for 48€ (you'd still have Strasbourg to Offenburg for 8,20€ for two).

That's 169€ for both of you from Vienna to Cologne with a stop in Strasbourg. I don't think you can get close to that with rail passes.

I do like the idea of not having to stress over missed

What kind of air tickets do you buy. I'll bet they are non-refundable. Considering how much you save with pre-paid rail tickets, I'd think you make the effort to make the train.

Posted by
2353 posts

where are you looking at tickets? when are you traveling?

Looking at routes from DB you go Austria, Germany, France - 3 countries BUT

here are 3 ticket options price per traveler:

changes trains savings fare flex fare
DEP Wien Hbf 08:50 8:37 2 ICE, IC 129,00 EUR   152,50 EUR

ARR Offenburg 17:27

DEP Wien Hbf 08:50 9:37 1 ICE 119,00 EUR  158,50 EUR

ARR Offenburg 18:27

DEP Wien Hbf 09:30 8:43 2 RJ, EC, IC 99,00 EUR  145,70 EUR

ARR Offenburg 18:13

To each of these add a 30 minute 8,80 EUR trip on the regional train from Offenburg to Strasbourg - purchase ahead or at station

The flexfare you can change trains on the day of travel for 17,50 Euro

Posted by
16883 posts

You must pay for each country you cross. Crossing Lichtenstein is covered by the Austria part of this pass (not the Switzerland part). It's pretty rare for a 5-day pass to be cheaper than 2 or 3 days of travel, especially crossing this many borders. The 4-country Select pass costs $410 per person for 5 days of 1st class travel (and allows hop-on flexibility for all your routes) or the 3-country version is $380.

Are comparing 1st- or 2nd-class point-to-point ticket prices? You should include travel to the German airport (Frankfurt?) in your calculations. Also, the simplest connection that I see from Vienna to Strasbourg has one connection at Frankfurt and does not cross Switzerland. Tickets may still come out cheaper than the pass, especially if you're ready to lock in dates and times when advance-discount tickets become available. Most legs are sold through the DB schedule link at How to Look Up Train Schedules and Routes Online. For the route below, try booking each leg separately.

Wien Hbf We, 05.10.16 dep 08:50 5A-C ICE 28

Frankfurt(Main)Hbf We, 05.10.16 arr 15:36 4

Transfer time 1:21 h

Frankfurt(Main)Hbf We, 05.10.16 dep 16:57 19 TGV 9560

Subject to compulsory reservation (Karlsruhe Hbf --> Strasbourg)

Strasbourg We, 05.10.16 arr 19:11

Posted by
2353 posts

If you want to go 1st class then a 3 country pass would be cheapest Austria, Germany, France

Use the route I previously posted for Vienna to Strasbourg
For Srtasbourg to Cologne do the same regional train to Offenburg the ICE Offenburg to Cologne

No reservations are required with either of those methods

!st Class on the Vienna - Strasbourg route is over 500 Euro for 2 so that would cover the pass and your 2nd trip would not cost at all - plus it is valid on the regional train

1st class Saver
Get up to 15% off per person with a Saver Pass, valid for 2 to 5 travelers. All traveler names are printed on a single pass, so you need to travel together. If your group is larger than 5 people, simply order multiple Saver Passes.

Travel in 1st class coaches and expect wider seats with more leg and elbow room. These coaches are less crowded than 2nd class, meaning extra luggage space and a more peaceful experience. Some trains offer extra facilities, such as a complimentary drink and snack. A 1st class pass allows you to also travel in 2nd class coaches.
Total price for 2 Adults
5 days within 2 months
USD$ 778

Posted by
4645 posts

I don't understand why you would miss a train or get held up? Have you ever just missed a flight or got held up and not made a flight? Why would a train be any different?

Anyway, you can travel from Vienna to Strasbourg for 39 Euro per person from

How much is that rail pass?

I'd also add that you can cheaply fly from Vienna to Cologne - would be much faster and vastly less expensive than all this train time.

Posted by
2353 posts

Emily - my oebb site would not work earlier

The 39 Euro rate is Vienna to Offenburg where you take the regional train on to Strasbourg. It is the early purchase non-refundable 2nd class

add 9 Euro for seat reservation if you want

Posted by
724 posts

Thank you all for your input.

Perhaps I used the wrong wording....I meant having a rail pass could free us up to be more spontaneous in arriving in each city. I don't know who I'm kidding, though.....I'm more of a planner so spontaneous really isn't in my wheelhouse.

I know it is a faster connection from Vienna to Strasbourg via Frankfurt but the train ride via Zurich looks so beautiful for the first week in December. We would leave Vienna on the 5th of December. We have NO experience with trains in Europe and it's hard to really gauge prices since we aren't within the 90 day booking window.

The prices I used in my calculations were taken from the Rail Europe site and not from dbahn or obb. I am not seeing the cheaper pricing that was quoted here.

Edited to add: I do see the 39 euro tickets from Vienna to Offenburg (sp?). The same price applies to the Vienna to Zurich leg, which I may still do depending on what the Zurich to Strasbourg leg costs. Again, those prices are not posted from what I can see.

Posted by
8889 posts

Kathy, many many other people have said never buy from Rail Europe. Buy from the company running the trains, or one of a few European ticketing sites. For this trip that would be ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railways ) or DB (German Railways ).
Prices for long distance train tickets do not go up and down. They start low, as soon as the tickets are made available, usually 90 days before, and always go up. The starting price is always the same, and the *buy on the day" price is always the same. So the price for 90 days from now is the same price you will get as soon as tickets become available, 90 days before your travel date. But get in fast, or you will miss the cheap tickets.

I just did a test for 19th September (~90 days), and found many trains at €39 Vienna to Offenburg, for example departing 08:30 arriving 17:04. As others have said, you would have to buy the ticket from Offenburg to Strasbourg at Offenburg.

Posted by
2353 posts

So - you can buy the Vienna to Zurich at OEBB Austrian Rail- the early bird price is 39 Euro each


Zurich to Strasbourg at SNCFFrench Rail - the cheapest ticket are gone for as far out as I check now but the ones I can see are 56 Euro each

So both legs for two people would be $225ish

For the Strasbourg to Cologne I would take the regional train to Offenburg then book Offenburg to Cologne on the DB site German Rail - that ticket can be as low as 19 Euro

Posted by
724 posts

Got it! Now to wait for the 90 day mark!

Another question. Which airport would be most convenient to fly out of given Cologne is our final destination? I'm guessing Dusseldorf? Haven't purchased airfare yet but both Dusseldorf and Frankfurt are doable, each has flights convenient for our flight home.

Posted by
2353 posts

If all things are equal (fares, connections) then Dusseldorf would be easiest from Cologne.

Posted by
18245 posts

Dusseldorf would be easiest from Cologne

Frankfurt (FRA) probably has far more flights in a day and is easily accessible in about an hour by direct high speed ICE from Cologne.

Posted by
2353 posts

As OP posted

" both Dusseldorf and Frankfurt are doable, each has flights convenient for our flight home."

My complete post:

"If all things are equal (fares, connections) then Dusseldorf would be easiest from Cologne."

I am confused why you quoted only part of my post.

Dusseldorf airport is about 40 minutes for 15 Euro or less , FRA is an hour and 29 or 39 Euro - I am not sure if there is a less expensive Regional solution for this trip.

Posted by
11280 posts

Cologne has its own airport (code CGN); look at flights from there, as well as from Dusseldorf (DUS) and Frankfurt (FRA). As said above, none of them are hard to get to from Cologne, so choose based on price, number of connections, departure times, etc.

Posted by
724 posts

I shouldn't discount ANY airport.....but I'd like to avoid more than 1 stop for our trip home. It looks like if we fly out of Cologne we'd have another stop in Munich before getting to the Americas (we'd still have a stop in Toronto, too).

If we fly Delta we'd be flying out of Frankfurt......other airlines would fly out of Dusseldorf. I suppose Dusseldorf is a much smaller airport with fewer flights out compared to Frankfurt.

Posted by
12804 posts


If you transfer at Offenburg, that ticket to Strasbourg is ca 7 Euro on the S-Bahn, runs very frequently, one per half hour. True, if you lock yourself into an adv. discount ticket 92 days out, you've sacrificed all flexibility for savings since that ticket is train specific and date specific, which holds more importance is up to you.

Posted by
12804 posts


Frankfurt is the major hub in Europe next to London Heathrow. Obviously, a lot more choices if you want to make a connection in Frankfurt. But Düsseldorf is also an airport which is connected to Calif by the LAX to DUS connection.

Posted by
18245 posts

It looks like if we fly out of Cologne we'd have another stop in

That's going the wrong direction!

Düsseldorf is also an airport which is connected to Calif by the
LAX to DUS connection.

I think she wants to go to St. Louis.

Posted by
12804 posts

That could be info for her to choose since she is not discounting any airport, or info for next time.

@ Kathy....If you're riding the TGV, the reservation is mandatory, which is an extra expense on top of the rail pass. That's what I've done in France. The reservation is not mandatory on ICE trains but it's good to get one anyway since these ICE trains can be packed, where the people are standing next to the WC and hallway for the whole 2-3 hrs trip. I was on one route like that a few weeks ago.