EURAIL PASSES: How to save money by train in Europe

Do Eurail passes save you cash, or are they a waste of time? This is the frequently asked question that travelers and backpackers to Europe encounter. Everyone wonders if they will save money by purchasing a rail pass or if it’s more affordable to buy tickets as they go.

Note: Eurail passes, and prices have changed significantly over the years.

You could buy a rail pass, hop on a train, and go wherever you wanted. And, if you needed a reservation for a seat, it didn’t matter whether you had a pass or not — if there was a seat on the train, you got it. The train pass really was ultimate freedom.

Now, things are different. Pass costs have gone up. Restrictions on when you can use them, there are often only a set number of seats available for pass holders on any given train. Many countries have instituted high-priced reservation fees.

Additionally, as railways have had to deal with the rise of budget airlines, they have changed their pricing model to more closely imitate airlines. They now tend to offer low early-bird prices and expensive last-minute fares, so depending on when you book, you may get a better deal by booking a single ticket than using a Eurail pass.

Things you need to know about Eurail Pass

Eurail passes are one of the most popular travel products in the world. The passes give you a set number of stops in a set period where you can get continent-wide passes, country-specific passes, or regional passes. Just as trains go everywhere in Europe, everyone has a pass. Passes come in two varieties: first-class and second-class tickets.

Eurail Pass is a train ticket that allows you to travel in and through up to 33 European countries on trains and some ferries. The product was first launched in 1959 and is a product of a consortium of 35 European railway and shipping companies. They all banded together to create this company that then sold this pass.

The pass is a hassle-free way to travel Europe by train and encourages people to visit various countries. It’s important to note that Eurail passes only work on intercity train lines and not local trains such as subways or trams!

How Does the Eurail Pass Work?

Eurail passes are easy to use as they act as one global ticket. You can purchase a mobile pass for most countries, and passes are instantly delivered to your phone. You’ll need to keep your phone charged to use it on the train, but you only need WiFi access every 3 days to keep the pass active.

For some countries (such as Estonia, the Greek Islands, Ireland, and Latvia), you’ll need to buy your pass before you visit Europe, as it is a paper ticket that must be mailed to you. Check which option is available for the passes/countries you want to visit.

You’ll need to activate your pass before using it. This can be done either at the ticket office of any large train station (an official will enter your dates and passport number and stamp it) or online when ordering your pass if you already know your travel dates.

Once your pass is activated, on most trains, you can simply show up on the train, present the conductor with your pass, and keep going on with your journey. However, some countries require you to book a seat ahead of time, and reservations are often required on most high-speed and overnight trains.

For the most part, Germany and Central European countries allow you to hop on almost any train. You’ll need a seat reservation in France, Italy, and Spain — you can book it at the train station. Never do it online or the pass providers directly, as it’s more expensive than going directly to the station. Seat reservations are required on night trains.

If you get a paper rail pass, you’ll get a small book that lets you know the specific reservation rules for each country the pass covers. The Eurail Rail Planner app can filter for “Trains without compulsory reservation.” This can help you avoid seat reservation fees.

The Thalys train has a limited number of pass holder seats, and since I didn’t pre-book a ticket, instead of traveling direct, I had to make two stops. It made the journey cheaper but also a lot longer than it needed to be.