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Eurail Pass Review — Is A Rail Pass A Good Value?

We do the math to see if the Eurail Pass is worth the money — including advice to getting the most value out Europe rail passes.

Transportation

Ahh, the Eurail pass. Broke travelers have been slumming around Europe with rail passes in-hand for decades.

But, thanks to extra fees and restrictions, Europe rail passes have started to lose their luster over the past few years. On the other hand, many travelers still find a lot of value in their rail pass. That’s why we created this Eurail Pass review to help take the confusion out of rail passes and to help you determine if you should (or shouldn’t) buy a rail pass.

So Is The Eurail Pass A Good Deal?

Unfortunately, the only way to determine if rail passes are a better deal than buying single train tickets is to sit down and do the math. It’s kind of tedious and confusing process but we tried to structure this article as a step-by-step guide to make it as easy as possible.

Let’s get started!

Eurail Pass Breakdown

Eurail Pass Review
Love riding trains in Europe

First, let’s look at the various Eurail pass options. We recommend checking out RailEurope because they have a handy Rail Pass Finder for exploring each pass option. 

It’s a little confusing since there are multiple passes but they generally break down into three main categories — Global Passes, Select Passes, and Single-Country Passes:

  1. Global Pass
    • Continuous: You get unlimited travel to any Eurail participant country for between 15 days and 3 months.
    • Flexi: You get 10 or 15 days of travel to any Eurail participant country within a 2-month period.
  2. Select Pass:
    • You get between 5 and 15 travel days in a two-month period, but you’re limited to traveling to 3, 4, or 5 bordering countries (depending on the pass). These passes are good if you have a group of countries you’re interested in visiting.
      • For example, one pass could be 8 days of train travel between France, Germany, and the Czech Republic. You have a two-month window to use of your 8 travel days. Each day you travel by train counts as one travel day.
  3. Single-Country Pass:
    • Eight travel days in a single country that must be used within a month.

Prices and Rail Pass Finder

Eurail Pass Review | Rail Pass Finder
An Example Of Rail Europe’s Rail Pass Finder. Note the helpful price per day at the bottom.

There are too many rail pass prices to list here but Rail Europe has a nice Rail Pass Finder that will show all the various pass options and prices. All you gotta do is plug in your destinations and it will tell you the price. It also shows the price per day cost — which is great for comparing the pass price vs single tickets (which we’ll get to later).

So play around with the Rail Pass Finder to get an idea of the options and prices.

Comparing Single Tickets vs Rail Pass

Ok, so now you have an idea of the rail pass prices.

Now it’s time to get an idea how much single tickets cost.

Of course, this isn’t a straightforward process… so let’s dive in.

Estimating Train Ticket Prices

Single train tickets are priced in two different ways:

  • Variable-Price Fares: Variable Fares, much like airline tickets, are always changing based on demand and departure date. Essentially all high-speed trains operate on this pricing model.
    • Therefore, to get the best price on high-speed train tickets it’s best to pre-book your tickets early — often one to three months in advance. In general, the prices will continue to creep up as the departure date approaches — you’ll pay a fortune if you buy last-minute.
    • Of course, you lose flexibility if you have to buy tickets in advance because the cheapest tickets are normally non-refundable/unchangeable
  • Fixed-Price Fares: With Fixed Fares, the price is solely determined by distance traveled. This is most common on regional and slower trains. With this type of ticket, it doesn’t matter when you buy your tickets because the price never changes.
Resources To Find Train Ticket Prices

The best way to estimate train ticket prices is by plugging in your travel dates to see ticket prices. Remember that ticket prices change based on when you book them so use this as an estimate (i.e. looking up tickets for a train that leaves tomorrow will give different prices results than tickets for trains that leave two months from now).

Eurail Rail Review | Trainline.eu
Example search result from Trainline.eu

We like using trainline.eu to find ticket prices. TrainLine is a train ticket search engine that lists the actual train prices (they don’t add a markup). You can also look at each country’s National Rail Service website if you want to ensure you’re getting the absolute best price.

You can also check RailEurope.com to check train ticket prices but sometimes single ticket prices are a little more expensive here.

Calculate Daily Price of Rail Pass

Now you know how to find the single ticket price so let’s compare that to the daily price using a rail pass.

The simplest way to estimate the value of a rail pass is to divide the cost of the rail pass by the number of days/rides the pass offers.

For example, a Youth Global Pass that offers 15 travel days within a 2-month period costs €850.

That means that every travel day costs about €57. Therefore, if you were to buy single tickets, you’d want them to all cost, on average, over €57 each.

At this point, you just have to plug in the numbers and compare.

More Factors To Consider

Eurail Pass Review | Backpacking Europe
Looking for our train

There are other factors to consider when looking at rail passes.

Are You Under 28-Years-Old?

Travelers under 28-years-old qualify for a discounted Youth pass — which can save you a bit of money.

Travelers over 27 pay full price, which means you’re forced to purchase a first-class ticket. True, you’ll get to ride in comfort away from those young whippersnappers in second class, but you’ll also be paying 50% more for a first-class pass.

Therefore, if you’re over 27, a rail pass might not be the most affordable option (unless you were already planning on riding in first class).

Do You Want The Absolute Cheapest Option?

Is a rail pass the absolute cheapest option? Probably not. 

Buying individual train tickets months in advance is the cheapest way to buy train tickets. However, these cheap tickets are normally nonrefundable and can’t be changed — this means you also lose out on spontaneity since your travel plans are locked in.

And there are tons of super cheap flights that can be cheaper and faster than rail travel. Personally, I’d rather take the train, but it’s an option to consider.

Do You Value Flexibility?

Flexibility is where a Eurail pass shines. It’s the main reason people buy one — it’s why we bought them.

Simply hop on the train and away you go. For example, let’s say that you planned on staying in Paris for three nights, but you fell in love with the city and want to stay longer. That’s no problem with a rail pass because you can change your plans.

Furthermore, prices for individual tickets are expensive if you buy them last minute so being spontaneous with normal tickets can be very pricey.

Traveling in Eastern Europe

Trains in much of Eastern Europe are already fairly cheap so the Eurail pass doesn’t make much financial sense if you’re spending much time in those countries. Furthermore, the train service in much of the southern part of Eastern Europe is slow, infrequent, and not very widespread. Driving or taking a long distance coach are both much better options.

Group Travel

The Saver Pass was created for groups of 2-5 people. Basically, you save 15% per person off individual passes. However, it’s only valid on first-class passes so people under 27 won’t save anything — but it’s good for adult passes. Additionally, all travelers must travel on the same ticket, so your party can’t split up. This deal isn’t valid for every pass type, so check RailEurope.com for all the details.

High-Speed Trains

Most long journeys between major cities use express/high-speed trains. These are the most expensive tickets so this is where you’ll save the most with a rail pass. Most high-speed trains also use the airline pricing model where tickets are cheaper a few months before departure and get more expensive as time goes on.

Short little trips between small towns will probably use local trains — which are normally fairly inexpensive and therefore might not be a good use of your pass.

High-Speed Trains & Seat Reservations

Most high-speed trains require a seat reservation — which is kind of a pain for travelers using a rail pass because there is an extra fee. Knowing when a reservation is required and how much it costs can be a little confusing — but don’t worry ’cause we got you covered.

How Do You Know If You Need a Reservation? It’s easy. Simply go to Bahn.com, enter your travel date/time, and find your desired journey. To the right, you’ll see an “R” symbol if that train requires a reservation (see image below).

rail-erservation
This train requires a reservation.

For example, all Thalys high-speed trains (which notably go between Amsterdam and Paris) require a reservation, and all high-speed trains in France, Italy, Spain, and Sweden require reservations.

How Much Do Seat Reservations Cost?

Most reservations cost around 5€-10€ but on some lines can cost as much as 30€.

How Do You Make A Seat Reservation?

You can make reservations at just about any train station. Just go to the ticket window and tell them when what train you want (they’ll need the time and date). You can also make a reservation online via RailEurope.com, but we find that making it at the station is just as easy.

Reservations can be made months in advance or up to 30 minutes before the train departs — we try to make them a few days in advance so we don’t have to deal with it at the last minute (you never know how long the ticket line at the service window might be).

Note: Some trains (notably in France) have a limited number of reservations available for riders using rail passes. It is smart to make your reservations in advance to ensure you get your desired journey.

Overnight Trains

Eurail pass holders are still required to purchase seat reservations on overnight trains, and they still have to pay extra if they want a reserve a bed. Read more about taking night trains in Europe.

Eurostar

The Eurostar is the high-speed train between London and Paris/Brussels. This route is not covered by the Eurail pass. There are special fares for pass holders, but this is often more expensive than a regular ticket (it makes no sense).

Buy Eurostar tickets as early as possible. A one-way Eurostar ticket starts out around $60 if you buy it months in advance — but wait until the last minute and it will cost you well over $250.

Short Trips and Extra Long Trips May Not Be A Good Value

Short train rides are usually fairly cheap, so using the rail pass doesn’t make financial sense.

Extra long trips eat up a lot of travel time. I usually limit my train trips to 8 hours before I start looking at flights. For example, a train from Paris to Copenhagen takes over 13 hours, but a flight takes less than two hours and costs around $100. Personally, I’d rather save the time.

For most people, their train rides will be anywhere from 2-6 hours, which is the sweet spot for train travel.

Southern & Eastern Europe

Trains in southern Europe are kept affordable by their governments so rail passes aren’t always a good value. There are still regional passes you can check out but we suggest buying tickets as you go (maybe book a few days/weeks ahead on longer-distance routes). Additionally, as mentioned previously, train service in Eastern Europe is affordable, but in some countries, the train service is very limited — so a rail pass may not be a good value.

Taking A Whirlwind Journey?

Trying to see everything in Europe? First of all, it’s impossible. But if you’re trying to see as much as possible, a rail pass could be a good value. But if you’re just taking a few trips, you’re better off buying individual tickets.

Conclusion

After traveling throughout Europe with and without a Eurail pass all comes down to your travel style.

Do You Value Convenience and Flexibility? Go for a rail pass. The ability to hop on just about any train on a whim is a great feeling. You also don’t have to deal with searching for ticket prices and building your full itinerary before your trip  — which is a bit of a hassle that can take hours of work.

Can You Plan Ahead? Buying single tickets in advance will be cheaper in just about all cases. But these cheap tickets are often non-refindable/unchangeable so that could lead to a costly mistake if you miss a train (plus you’ll have to buy a last-minute ticket in addition to losing the money for the first ticket).

See All Eurail Pass Options

If you’re considering purchasing a rail pass we I suggest poking around Rail Europe’s Rail Passes to see which pass best fits your travel needs.

More Train Travel Resources

Complete Guide To Train Travel In Europe

How To Purchase European Train Tickets

Guide To Using Rail Passes in Europe

How To Choose The Right Rail Pass For Your Travel Style

Guide to Night Trains and Sleeping on Trains

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