Rail passes

Why does anyone buy these things? With minor planning you get from one point to another for next to nothing. And certainly for less than a pass. I have been to Europe 3 times in 3 years. Each time, a rail pass was recommended by a travel agent, a web site, a travel guide. Each time I was able to take 4 people through out the continent for far less than the cost of one pass! RESEARCH and plan! i used east coast trains website direct via National rail and scored seats from Edinburgh to London for $100 for 4 seats! Tours to Paris on the high speed train? $19 each! London to Portsmouth 8 euro each! Travel all over Bavaria? 25 euro for our party of 4! For 24 hours unlimited travel! I am no expert, I found all of these deals online and via phone apps! Our total train cost were less than $250-300 for a three week trip!

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9097 posts

"Why does anyone buy these things?" Here's one big reason why. Let's say you're just begining your research for your first European trip. You head to Google and type in "rail" or "trains" plus "Europe". Your first couple of hits are all sites owned either by Rail Europe or EUrail. Or, let's say you type "Germany" and "trains". The first hit is Deutsche Bahn, but it's displayed as "Bahn.com". Would any first time traveler automatically know that's the name of the German passenger rail company and that they sell tickets directly? But look a little further down in the search results. Now, you have more novice-friendly headings like "German Train Travel", "German Rail Pass", "Trains in Germany" etc. Guess who operates those websites? "Each time, a rail pass was recommended by a travel agent, a web site, a travel guide." They get a commission for the sales. Of course they'll recommend rail passes!

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1964 posts

Passes are leftover from a time before the internet, before the Euro, before English became widespread, and when few people traveled into the Soviet Bloc. They used to be very handy, a good deal, and developed a reputation as the way to get around Europe. Maybe that answers your question as to why some people still buy them. And as Tom said, they are "suggested" today by those who will make money off their sale.

Posted by michele
virginia beach
6 posts

Which is why I posted this. I hoped it would make more novice travelers aware of what they can find with minimal effort. Bahn.com is NOT Bahn.de. I read that in Ricks book. And I found better and better deals just by revisiting sites. If you have even a rough itinerary ( England for 5 days, Paris for 4 then Loire for 5) you can knock out great fares!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8735 posts

Bahn.com is NOT Bahn.de It always has been for me. I use them interchangeably. I use bahn.co.uk too. If you wind up on bahn.de you can easily change the language.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1964 posts

Oh that was a rhetorical question, not a real question. Silly me.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9097 posts

"Which is why I posted this." We apprectiate the effort. But unfortunately, unless you can publish your own webpage and pay to have it show up at the top of a Google search, it's a losing battle. But, if you hang around this website often enough, particularly the Transportation subsection, you can steer people in the right direction before they blow money on a rail pass. And yes, Bahn.com is simply Bahn.de in English. Both domains use the same exact time tables and offer the same deals.

Posted by stan
Kansas City, Missouri
215 posts

In defense of rail passes. I think they still make sense if you want to have max flexibility. My best trips were unplanned so that I could get on and off wherever sounded good or stay longer in an place I liked. Now I realize that people here on helpline skew away from the old traditional ETBD way of travel - people here plan museum tours to the minute, make hotel reservations, buy train tickets, book airlines - all months ahead of travel. But not everyone does and there is still something to be said for just winging it.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9097 posts

Here's the problem, though... you can have that same level of flexibility for much less than the cost of a 3rd party railpass, at least in the countries whose rail systems I am familiar with.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2375 posts

Railpasses can still make sense for those who either will be traveling without prior planning (and thus unable to take advantage of early discounts), or students/young people roaming Europe. But those types of travelers are relatively rare. Most visitors are on a tightly scheduled, short stay (about 2 weeks) and are only visiting a few cities. Pre-purchased tickets make FAR more sense. The railpass companies have aggressively marketed their services even to those who are better served by P2P tickets. And the national rail systems have restricted passholders more and more. Frankly, until travel guides like RS make a more concerted effort to better educate novice travelers, they will continue to buy passes and waste money. But RS makes money off selling the passes too, so don't expect that soon. Another major competitor to railpasses will be discount airlines. It can be incredibly cheap to fly and often makes more sense than the train for trips above 4 hours.

Posted by Emily
Vienna, Austria
303 posts

The problem extends even beyond railpasses. My parents, for example, are planning a trip from Salzburg to Vienna by rail. My dad called me with the "good news" that he had found fares online for this journey for $90. I asked him where he found those fares...and (wait for it) he said RailEurope. He thought these rates were really good until I explained to him that this journey should only cost 19-25 Euros. He couldn't believe that he, a quite savvy traveler, had been almost hood-winked. I then pointed him in the direction of www.oebb.at and www.westbahn.at where he can easily buy tickets from the source for the correct price.

Posted by Emily
Vienna, Austria
303 posts

The fact that this website heavily promotes Rail Passes (just look at the top of this page!) doesn't really help either. If Rick gives anything his seal of approval, people seem to flock to it. Travel vests, rail passes, neck wallets, etc. This practice seems unethical to me, especially when it preys on the naïve/inexperienced/those prone to fear.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

Rick doesn't write the opinions on the helpline. He does sell rail passes, but most folks writing on the helpline stress that they often are not the best deal. It's just us regular old traveelers who write here, and we often don't agree on much.

Posted by michele
virginia beach
6 posts

Raileurope does have some horrid prices, ut ii scores tgv tickets for 18 euro through them by calling direct. Saw the fare on the site, but couldn't get it to go through.

Posted by Emily
Vienna, Austria
303 posts

Swan - obviously Rick doesn't write directly on the Helpline. When I said look at the top of the page, I was referring to the menu in blue at the top of your screen...Plan Your Trip, News & Events, Rail Passes!!!!, etc.

Posted by Steve
Chilliwack, Canada
20 posts

For most, who have time to research and are planners, a rail pass is more expensive. We did 14 days from Italy to Denmark. We did the 10 days usage in a row route after Rome. Aside from three B&B's, we did not have a set itinerary. Perhaps 30% of the time we would say, "let's go this way instead." Don't get me wrong, we researched the entire area but we picked and chose the items that we would spend a bit of time vs lots of time. E.G. If you're in Switzerland and it's socked in, why bother sticking around? Go North to S Germany or S to Italy (lower areas), and SEE something. That's what we did. Skipped the Eiger as it was crap weather for 4 days in the forecast. There are exceptions to when it makes sense to make the cost of your ticket the prime motivator. These are 1)convenience and 2)spontaneity (plus first class riding helps on hot days, where there's crowded coaches with questionable and sometimes no A/C). Why be stuck in an itinerary when you find something better that's just over there, and you can get there right now? I feel sad for those who have to brag about the few dollars they saved on rail travel. Enjoy your trip, however you take it.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9097 posts

But the problem still remains... the per day cost of rail passes is usually higher than many 2nd class tickets bought on the day of travel at the station, and far more than you would pay to use regional or commuter trains, particularly if you purchase a regional pass. Unless you're the type who would consider "Hmm, I'm in Frankfurt now, should I go to Munich or Berlin today?". But how many people really travel that spontaneously? And with the restrictions that the national rail companies increasingly place on pass holders, requiring supplements and reservations to use the premium high speed trains, doesn't that effectively kill off most of the supposed "spontaneity advantage"?

Posted by Carol
Honolulu
18 posts

Thank you for sharing about this! I will not buy a railpass!

Posted by Therese
Daphne, Alabama, United States
1 posts

My husband and I are novice international travelers. We purchased rail passes. We are retired so flexible with our time. We also flew over space available and found ourselves in Germany 14 days ahead of our Rick Steves Tour of France. The rail pass gave us the flexibility to make our travel schedule on our terms. We were able to use the rail pass for the ICE trains on long hauls, and then purchased regional tickets. We based ourselves in Bavaria and took day trips. We decided, often at the last minute, which way we were going. So the rail pass did work for us.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2685 posts

@ Therese...Good, the whole idea is to use a rail pass on the ICE "on the long hauls." It's a waste using it on regional trains unless it's the last ride on the last day.

Posted by Emily
Vienna, Austria
303 posts

Therese - no one questions or doubts that the rail pass gives you flexibility. Unfortunately, you end up getting ripped off for that flexibility every time. Point to point tickets with the national rail carriers are the way to go. Rail Europe is definitely not the way to go.

Posted by Reynard
Jakarta, Indonesia
4 posts

I think the youth pass still has some value because they get the second class pass but the rest of us are forced to get the first class pass which is why it's expensive. If we compare first class p2p tickets and first class rail pass, they're about the same but we generally agree that second class travel is just fine.

Posted by Kimberly
Snohomish, WA, United States
14 posts

Now if there were Eurail Passes that are a twin to the InterRail Passes, then any of the Eurail Passes would be worth the money. But alas, the Eurail Passes are only gouching you for money in exchange for some flexibility. One can only wish Eurail would produce second class passes as an option and not force us to purchase only first class passes once one is over the age of 26.