Europe has long been a continent whose tourism industry has catered to the young backpacker crowd. From pub crawls to Hostel franchises, everyone’s trying to court the young traveler. But what about those of us with a bit more miles on the luggage? Eurail is one of those companies which provides steep discounts for students under the age of 26. And at first glance, the discount is insanely lopsided in favor of those under 26. So I partnered with Eurail to determine just how practical the Eurail Global Pass is for someone over 26.
Let’s start with my route, cost, and brief travel notes. Quick note, I removed a lot of my personal notes which included a few reservation fees. If you want to know about any certain route, shoot me a message. I found that the reservation fees were pretty universal at 9 Euro.
Budapest-Milan (170 euros)
- Budapest Keleti- Wien Austria (39euro 1st Class Free w/Pass)
- Wien Austria- Milan (9 Euro reservation in hard seat. 49 Euro in 6 Bed) (Night Train)
- Mishap Vienna-Venice (9 euro reservation in hard)
- Venice-Milan (10 euros would cost 35 euros)
- Milan to Locate (2.50 Euro)
- Direct train cost 9 Euro
Venice to Wien (Night Train) (69)
- 9 Euro W/Pass
Wien to Prague (90)
- Free with Pass (RailJet)
Cologne to Amsterdam (101)
- Free. No reservation. Just get on train and show Pass
Amsterdam to Brussels (110)
- Free for me. Needed no reservation
Antwerp to Amsterdam (30)
- Free on the ICC train
Amsterdam to Berlin (40)
- Free on ICC
Berlin to Prague (4.5 hours) (30)
- Free in First Class
Prague to Switzerland (Night Train)
- 18 Euro for Seat. 29 Euro for six people berth. 39 Euro for three people berths W/Pass
Zurich to Rome (Night Train) (120)
- 25 w/Pass
Rome to Milan (27)
- 10 euro W/Pass
Lisbon to Porto (26)
- 5 euro W/Pass
Porto to Madrid (Night Train) (74 euros in 4-bed sleeper)
- 7 EURO SEAT 29 Euro sleeper
Madrid to Barcelona
- 11 euro second class 21 euro first
Rome to Bologna (81)
- 10 Euro 81 regular
Bologna to and From RIMINI (12 Euro Each Way)
Bologna to Wien 89 euro without (Night Train)
Wien to Prague (90)
Prague to Krakow (Night Train) (64 euros)
Krakow to Budapest (50)
REAL COST: 1368
Eurail COST: 293.5 (903 Euro for Pass)
So. According to these numbers. Had I just paid for tickets it would have been 1368 Euros. Purchasing the pass for 903 Euro and paying 293.50 in reservation fees brings it to 1,196.50. Which on the face means I saved 171.50 Euro. However, you have to add in the extra 200 Euro I saved on Ferries, Buses, Lounges, Tour Discounts, Museums, and other small things. And honestly, I’m being conservative with that estimate. So the savings come in at about 371 Euros.
A few points to add context to this most recent experience
1. This itinerary was from a Eurail Global Pass. 15 Days within two months’ version. This is what I’m basing my evaluation on.
2. I supplemented my travels with flights to see as many countries as possible in the time I had. So this isn’t based on a consistent two months of train travel. Which if I’m honest, would have been exhausting.
3. Some of the information and advice will also be based on my previous trip with the ten days in 2 Months Pass version.
4. My most recent 15 Days pass was given to me by Eurail to write this piece.
What Counts as a Eurail Travel Day?
Technically this should be based on a 24-hour calendar. If you take a train at 1201 am, that’s the beginning of a new travel day. In that 24 hours you can take as many trains as you want without using another “day” of your pass. Now things get complicated when doing night trains. There’s something called the 7 PM Rule. Pay very close attention to this point as I had several arguments with train staff about this and even had to help two guys get out of paying a fat fine.
According to Eurail, If you board a direct night train that departs after seven p.m. (19:00) and arrives at its final stop after four a.m. (04:00) then only the day of arrival needs to be entered into the travel calendar. Meaning you only lose one day. In reality……mehhhhhh……
For example, Bucharest-Budapest. The train leaves Bucharest Nord at 17:35 (5:35 pm) and arrives in Budapest at 08:50 (8:50 am). So technically, this should count as two days as it starts before 7 pm. Period. Having taken this route three times, it only counts as one. As not one official questioned it at all. And so the arbitrary nature of this “rule” is exposed. Part of the confusion regarding this rule comes from the fact many of the staff working night trains in Central and Eastern Europe are “old school”. And honestly, they don’t care that much from my observation.
So this was my experience. Pretty much whenever I took a night train I put the day of departure as my travel day. Even if it started before 7 pm and I was never question or admonished. They looked at the pass and kept it moving. I wouldn’t dare try this in Germany, Switzerland, France, or Austria. They are STRICT on the pass, and I saw them drop the hammer on people. Even hitting a couple with fines on the spot.
When does your Pass Begin?
Your pass begins the day you tell them it does by activating it. You have to go to a European Train station to “Activate” it. Remember, there are two dates. The issuing date and activation date. The issuing date is when the pass was processed and created for you. You have 11 months from THAT date to activate it. And then your two calendar months begin. The railway official will fill in the start and end date of your pass so make sure you check it. Confirm the dates BEFORE they’re filled in.
What Are Eurail Reservation Fees (VERY IMPORTANT)
Possibly the most important thing to understand when using the Eurail Pass is that it’s not a hop on/hop off system anymore. Many trains, mainly the frequented backpacker routes, have a reservation fee that must be paid before you get a seat. Expect to pay a reservation for all night trains and “high speed” trains. I mainly used these in Italy, and the reservation fees tended to be about $9. Currently, the trains that require reservations are TGV, Thalys, Frecciarossa (FR), Frecciaargento (FA), Frecciabianca (FB), Ice Sprinter, EIC, AVE, and Swedish High-Speed trains.
The Eurail App is an excellent place to find out if your train requires a reservation. Be sure to check because sometimes the train will leave after the office closes and you may not be able to get one in time. Also, I’ve found the Eurail reservation system to be functional but not perfect. Go to the station and pay the reservation fee. Often you’ll be leaving from the same station you arrived at. Just get the reservation upon arrival for your departure to save some hassle.
Don’t Waste Days if You Don’t Have To
Sometimes it’s not worth it to waste a day of your pass. Europe still has amazingly cheap train fares. For example, the train from Berlin to Prague costs about 30 Euro. At today’s price, a Eurail Global Pass (as mentioned above 15day/2month) for someone over 26 like myself costs 903 euros. That’s about 60 Euro a day. So if you aren’t cracking at least the 45 Euro mark it’s not worth wasting a day.
Now if you’re under 26, it becomes a tougher decision. 589 Euro is the current price which brings the daily worth to about 40 Euro. Tougher choice. The key is to not only research your route beforehand but at the train stations as well.
Another alternative which is sometimes cheaper and faster, take a bus. The bus from Krakow to Budapest is far faster and less expensive than the train.
Pass Security isn’t Tight But Don’t Risk It
I said it above, the officials who are supposed to check your pass are random at best. Half the time no one checked my pass and the other half, they looked it over like it was a Calculus problem. I found the pass checks were far more frequent during the Syrian refugee surge. Especially for those of us that are of color. I noticed this in Switzerland and Austria.
You must keep the Eurail Pass, AND the pass cover as both must be presented with your ticket/reservation. So Pass, Pass Cover, and Reservation ticket if applicable. Of course, if the train doesn’t require a reservation or ticket you only need to show your pass and cover. The fine for any “mistake” while using the pass is a max of 200 Euro depending on the rail line you’re on. I saw it happen. Western European officials don’t mess around. They will take you right off the train wherever you are and make you pay. If the train office or Eurail app said I didn’t need a reservation, I spoke with the train attendant anyway. Let me be clear. The conductor and train attendants are the bosses. It’s their train, and they decide who stays and goes. So getting an answer directly from the person that will let you on or kick you off is probably your best bet.
Also, remember that the pass in non-transferable under any circumstances. You can’t give it to a friend or relative. Not even through official channels. Once your pass is activated, that’s it.
Don’t Skip on the Lounges
Part of the drawback of being an over 26-year-old Eurail rider is you HAVE to purchase a first class pass. The cool thing about having first class tickets is access to the lounges. And the lounges in Wien and Zurich are outstanding. Be sure to utilize train station lounges as much as possible. Free food and wifi abound.
Added Benefits Are Where The Savings Live
This is probably the biggest thing people forget about when using the Eurail Pass. In the Eurail app, go to “Benefits & Travel Info”. Here you’ll find a ton of discounts and offers in 28 European countries that Eurail covers. I think THIS is where a lot of the value for the Eurail Global pass is found, but many just don’t look. I would say I saved around 200 eurousing the various services. And remember, you don’t lose any time from your pass. Also, even if you’ve used all of your pass travel days, you can still use these services. (http://www.eurail.com/eurail-passes/pass-benefits/benefits-spain)
Here are a few examples.
Free ferries from Bari-Corfu, Bari-Igoumenitsa, and Bari-Patras
Free OBB Intercity Bus
RENFE Bus (Valencia) Free Transfer between Valencia train stations when you have train reservation.
Free Crossings on Lake Van between Tatvan and Van on Tuesdays and Fridays
20% SNAV Ferry Discount
10% Chill Out Hostel Discount
Is the Eurail Pass Worth Buying?
I hate to say this but, it depends. If I’m completely honest, I would say if you’re a fan of trains, don’t like to fly, and are traveling to several countries, then the Global Pass is worth it. If you’re under 26 then absolutely. Also, take into account that I likely would have used far more planes had I not been working on this project. Especially the long distance trains. No article can give you a definitive answer and the Eurail Pass vs. non-Pass relies on a lot of individual factors.
In my opinion, if you have two months and are traveling through several countries, then a combination of a Eurail pass and low-cost flights will be the best option for you. The Eurail pass is best for long day trips but start losing their appeal on long overnights. It’s best if you have a set itinerary and price out the cost of individual routes vs using a pass.
Website You Need to Know:
https://forum.rail.cc/prague-krakow-night-train-t4027.html (some routes spell out the standard vs. rail pass cost. Admin Pete and others are doing a great job keeping these up to date. Unfortunately not available for all routes.
http://www.priceoftravel.com/2794/should-you-buy-a-eurail-pass-heres-how-to-decide/ (for the record I disagree with pretty much everything he says regarding flights vs. trains, but this is a very very well researched and written piece on the Eurail Pass)