Rail pass or train tickets
The best choice between whether to purchase a pass or individual tickets, and when to do so should depend on what journeys you want to do - How many? How far? How many weeks and which part of Europe?
A rail pass price is fixed no matter what journeys you make with it, but point-to-point prices vary enormously in price; some are cheap, others expensive, depending on the distance, the country, when you buy them, and whether you book a cheap ticket in advance or a more expensive ticket on the day.
To help, here are some "rules of thumb" in making your decision:
- Planning a few short journeys or a pre-planned fixed-itinerary trip around Europe?
You are almost certainly better off buying ordinary point-to-point train tickets (as far in advance as possible).
- Taking numerous long-distance, spontaneous and/or flexible trips around Europe?
Then it is most likely that a rail pass is best (especially for Eastern Europe). Read more on choosing a rail pass.
- Travelling in Western Europe?
Do not forget to book seat / sleeper reservations, which in many cases are compulsory and are at an extra cost. You should book these as far in advance as possible to get the cheapest fare. A rail pass gives you the flexibility to change your mind and your plans as you go, buying new reservations locally based on your new plans.
- Travelling during peak season (May to September)?
Trains on popular routes are often fully booked so securing your seat / sleeper reservations early are a must!
- Visiting Italy?
Rail passes for Italy only make sense if you plan to do the equivalent of Rome-Venice every time you step onto a train. They do not make financial sense if you're only going Rome-Florence (day 1), Florence-Venice (day 2), Venice-Verona (day 3), etc. Instant purchase sale fares for point to point journeys such as these are available on our website up to 120 days prior to travel, and represent great value for money.
- Visiting France/Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg)?
Many of the high-speed train services within these regions (TGV, Thalys) charge supplements when travelling in conjunction with a rail pass. If you are planning on travelling on a number of these services, it may make more sense to look at point to point train tickets as far in advance as possible to secure the cheapest fares.
- Visiting Germany/Austria?
If you are planning one or more long-distance journeys within these countries, a rail pass is likely the best value for your travels. The average cost of a fare for a point to point journey such as Berlin to Munich in 1st class can cost upwards of $420* per person, compared to a 3-day 1st class Adult Twin German rail pass valued at $349* per person. (* subject to price changes)
- Visiting Switzerland?
If you are planning on taking a number of scenic train journeys offered in Switzerland, the best option is to purchase a rail pass. Passes will cover the ticket value of the journey and then you just need to secure a seat reservation for these special trains. Passes also entitle travellers to a number of other special discounts and offers within the country.
Don't be afraid to mix & match a rail pass with one or more point to point tickets.
For example; if you are planning 11 days of train travel in Europe, it's cheaper to buy a 10-day Eurail Global pass plus one point-to-point ticket for the shortest/cheapest of all your train rides, than to buy the next pass size up (the15-day Eurail Global pass). If the start of your trip is known and fixed, the rest flexible, you could buy a cheap ticket for the first one or two journeys, and then proceed to start using a rail pass.