How To Save Money on an InterRail or Eurail Trip

Interrail
Used correctly Eurail and InterRail Passes can be money savers, particularly if you've booked last minute, but these tips will help you make savings on your entire itinerary.

And yes there are other more obvious means of making savings when heading off on a Eurail or InterRail itinerary, but we've left out the likes of 'stay in hostels instead of hotels'.

Instead most of this advice below only became apparent (at least to me) when using rail passes in the past 18 months.

So it seemed worthwhile to pass them on - 10 minutes of reading should save you 10s of €s!


How To Save When Booking Accommodation

How to Save When When You DO Want To Pay Reservation Fees

How To Make Savings While On Your Trip


Also follow Eurail or InterRail on social media, as both passes run intermittent promotions which can enable savings of up to 15% on all pass prices!

BEFORE YOU SET OFF:

Choosing your optimum pass:

The free-wheeling aspect of using rail passes is the core appeal for many, but dedicating time to sketching out an itinerary or at least a wish-list of destinations, before you buy a pass can be a big money saver.

That's because in addition to the various period of time which a rail pass can be used for, Eurail and InterRail both offer two types of pass;

(1) Those that give you the freedom to travel on any number of days during a set period of time - the consecutive days passes
(2)
Passes which only allow for a specific number of days of travel within periods of time.

This matters because the passes which only allow for a specific number of travel days are cheaper.


Meaning that if you can work out in advance how many days of travelling you'll need, in order to go to all the places at the top of your wish list, you can hone in on those cheaper types of pass.

If your optimum itinerary involves a couple of days of extra travel than these set-days passes allow for, those alternative consecutive day passes may not give you better value for money, particularly if these journeys are on your wish list:

London ↔ Bruxelles/Lille/Paris by Eurostar trains

Paris ↔ Amsterdam/Rotterdam by Thalys trains

Paris ↔ Switzerland by Lyria trains

France ↔ Italy by TGV France-Italy trains

France ↔ Spain by RENFE-SNCF trains

These journeys require Eurail and InterRail users to pay exceptionally high reservation fees, so using a pass on these trains isn't such good value for money.

Therefore a money saving option can be to use the days that your pass will be valid for to make other journeys and then, if you can book ahead, buy discounted tickets for these more expensive trains instead

This advice also applies if you can't squeeze your number of travel days into the limits of a set number of days pass*, but also want to travel in a couchette or sleeping cabin on an overnight train during your itinerary.

Your overall train travel costs are likely to be lower, if you use a set number of days pass for your daytime journeys and then book separate tickets for your overnight journeys.

Four Tips For Saving Money When Booking Accommodation:

1: There are plenty of online articles suggesting that 7 – 10 weeks ahead is the optimum booking window for getting the best rates on hotel rooms, and my experience backs this up.


I started the planning of my most recent itinerary only 6 weeks ahead, but pushing back the entire trip by two weeks saved more than €300 on accommodation fees.

2: The order in which you spend the night(s) in each of your locations can be a big money saver.

When special events are being staged in a city, accommodation becomes particularly pricey.

I was perplexed as to why I couldn’t find a hotel room in Berlin for less than €100, but when I arrived I discovered it was the weekend of the Berlin marathon.

So compare room rates with care – it could be much cheaper to follow an itinerary in an OPPOSITE direction, to that which you originally had in mind.

 

3: Fabulous cities are likely to be on your must see list, but a big plus of using a rail pass is that you don’t have to STAY in them – instead you can travel to/from them by train.
 

Alternative cities worth considering for overnight stays:

(i) Amersfoort, Haarlem or Rotterdam – instead of Amsterdam
(ii) Freiburg or Mulhouse - instead of Basel
(iii) Olten - instead of Bern/Basel/Zurich
(iv) Padua – instead of Venice

(v) Malmo – instead of Copenhagen
(vi) Winterthur – instead of Zurich
(vii) Girona – instead of Barcelona
(viii) Reading – instead of London
(ix) Nyon - instead of Geneva and Lausanne


Adopt a mind-set that where you go is more important than where you stay.

Also on the morning of your next long journey, you can often also rise later - if the train will be departing from your chosen location after it has commenced its journey elsewhere.


4: Quality accommodation at a good price in city centres AND with easy station access is the exception and not the norm.

Stations tend not to be located in the smartest part of town - so room rates near stations can be particularly expensive when the station also happens to be in a nice neighbourhood.

So the better option can be to stay in the suburbs, choosing places to stay near stations served by the local trains from and to the city centre – and NOT the metro/subway.

Your rail pass will be valid on the local trains - and not metros/subways

Also if that place in the city centre you were considering is a 15 min or more walk from the main station - then staying somewhere adjacent to a station on a local line can also be a big stress-saver.


Back to the questions.

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How to save when you DO want to pay reservation fees - four ideas:
 

1: We’re huge fans of InterRail (and Eurail too) it wouldn’t have been possible to produce ShowMeTheJourney without it, but there are cheaper alternatives to using the InterRail and Eurail online reservation services.

Primarily because they both charge fees per reservation and not per booking, so costs can soon add up.

However, many rail pass reservations can now be booked online, with NO booking fees:

These are:


(1) In Germany and from Germany on DB (not Thalys trains and don’t book the Germany – Italy EC trains on DB)

(2) For journeys within France on Oui-Sncf (InterRail) and RailEurope (Eurail)

(3) International journeys by Thalys and Eurostar trains on B-Europe

(4) In Sweden on Snaabtag trains - including international journeys on SJ

(5) For train journeys within Italy and on diect trains to and from Italy - book on the Trenitalia website, the step-by-step instructions are here.

(6) For train journeys within Austria (reservations are optional) and on daytime trains to from Austria - book on the OBB website, the step-by-step instructions are here.

2: The sooner you book reservations on Oui-SNCF the more you will save - that's because a sliding scale of rail pass reservations fees applies in France.

3: Or plan your itinerary so that you pass through a major German station, a hauptbahnhof, towards the beginning of your trip.

At a Reisezentrum travel desk you can book reservations on nearly any train in Europe, including those that don’t travel to or from Germany – and you won’t be charged any booking fees.


4: If you want to use a pass restricted to a set number of days of travel - taking an overnight train can now help you travel further with your pass.

You'll now only use up one day of your travel allowance when making an overnight journey.

Back to the questions.

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ON YOUR TRIP:

Here's five ideas for how to save when planning and taking your trip.

1: Avoid the countries in which you HAVE to reserve on express trains:

‘Eurail and InterRail passes are a rip off because of all those extra charges you have to pay these days’ is a re-occurring theme of multiple articles and comments that you can easily find online.


Our counter-argument to that that is - if you have an InterRail or Eurail  pass you don’t have to pay additional fees on ANY domestic train in Austria, Belgium, Demark, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and The Netherlands.

So you don’t have to pay any additional charges in central Europe – handy!
 

You also don’t have to pay any fees on more than around 95% of trains in Slovakia, Sweden and the The Czech Republic.
 

Reservation fees aren’t required on all or MOST of the international express/high speed daytime trains to and from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary and The Netherlands – and that includes the very wonderful international ICE trains.

We've got a lot more info about which European trains don't and do have to be reserved HERE

This GUIDE includes info on how to avoid reservation fees, when travelling in the countries most popular with Eurail and InterRail pass users.


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2: Take the more expensive trains at the start or end of your trip:

Avoid using a rail pass on the trains with particularly expensive fees* such as the TGV France/Italy and Lyria trains.

On these trains, the cheapest discounted tickets can cost LESS than the rail pass reservation fees – so once you have also factored in the cost per day of using the rail pass, it’s best to take the hint and not use a rail pass for these journeys.

But there’s no need avoid these journeys/routes completely, after all a train journey between Paris and Italy or Switzerland, is likely to be on the must do list of many itineraries.

The trick is to put these journeys with high reservation fees at the beginning or end of an itinerary.

Book separate tickets a minimum of couple of weeks in advance, for the trains with the high fees, then make the start or end date of your pass, the day before or after you have made these journeys..

Or opt for a pass with a set number of travel days, but don't use one of the pass days to travel on these trains.

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3: Go 1st class:

Yes it will be cheaper to use 2nd class passes, but the amount you SAVE will be greater with 1st class passes.
 

Compare the cost of 1st class tickets with the price of 1st class Eurail and InterRail passes and it soon becomes clear, that 1st class passes can be big money savers - IF you will travelling far enough to make a pass worthwhile.


Make a journey of 4 hours or more and we estimate that you’ll save typically be saving €50 compared to the cost of a standard price 1st class ticket.
 

In France 1st class passes are particularly good value if you want to take high speed or other express trains that have reservation fees.
 

The reservations are the same on TGV (InOui) trains for journeys within France irrespective of whether you have a 1st or 2nd class pass.

In Italy if you travel with a 1st class pass you pay the same reservation fees as 2nd class pass users to travel on the fabulous Frecce trains.

Book your 1st class reservation and you'll be travelling in Business Class - on my two most recent 1st class rail pass journeys in Italy I saved a total of more than €150, compared to the ticket price.

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4: Go long distance:

We were conflicted about whether to include this as it is perhaps a little too obvious, but the majority of ‘my rail pass wasn’t worth it’ comments we’ve seen online, arise from simply NOT travelling far enough to make a Eurail or InterRail pass value for money

Rail passes are intended for travellers embarking on multiple long distance journeys to opposite ends of Europe, or to every corner of a country when using a single country pass.

A very rough-guide is that if you will be using a 10 day ‘Global Pass’, for example, then to make savings against discounted tickets, your average length of journey should be at least around 5 hours in western Europe and 7+ hours in eastern Europe.

Though if you’re happy to compare the cost per day of using a pass with last minute tickets, this distance drops to around 2.5 hours in western Europe and 4 -5 hours in eastern Europe.

This advice comes with the caveat that there are dozens of variables that come into play when comparing the cost of using a rail passes with train tickets – and maths isn’t our strong point.

But here are TWO examples drawn from recent experiences - comparing 1st class tickets for these journeys, with a 5 day 1st class ‘Global’ InterRail pass

Example itinerary one:

(i) Day trip to Hallstat from Salzburg

(ii) Salzburg – Zagreb via Villach
(ii) Zagreb – Budapest via Wien/Vienna
(iv) Budapest - Krakow via Katowice
(v) Krakow – Berlin via Warsaw


Booking two weeks ahead - tickets were the equivalent of €25 cheaper compared to the pass plus the required reservations.

So despite these distances the rail pass didn't save money, but despite that a pass was purchased, in order to provide the freedom to:

(1) Choose a last minute destination a day trip from Salzburg.
(2) The potential to stop off in Wien/Vienna on the way to Budapest.
(3) Because of works on the line in Poland, it was good to have options for travelling on to Krakow.
(4) Explore Berlin by local (S-Bahn0 trains when arriving there in the evening.

Having a pass provided the freedom to make these decisions at the last minute.

Example itinerary two:

(i) Bruxelles – Berlin via Koln
(ii) Berlin – Prague/Praha
(iii) Prague – Wien/Vienna
(iv) Wien/Vienna – Koln/Cologne
(v) Koln/Cologne – Bruxelles on ICE trains


Booking six weeks ahead - tickets were the equivalent of €40 cheaper compared to the pass (no reservations were required on this itinerary).

So despite these distances the rail pass didn't save money, but despite that a pass was purchased, in order to provide the freedom to:

(1) To stop off in more than one location on the way to Berlin.
(2) Stop over in Dresden on the way to Prague
(3) There was also the possibility of stopping over on the way to Koln to see a friend.


In other words a €40 ticket price saving was traded for the ability to be spontaneous.

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5: Trains with compulsory reservations can be good value:
 

If you want to save as much as you can by using a rail pass there is a school of thought that you should treat the trains, on which Eurail and InterRail pass users have to pay reservation fees as, though they are contagious.

The logic being that that there are nearly always slower, alternative trains on routes, on which no fees are charged.

 

There is also the value for money perception - paying €11 to use a rail pass on a journey that can cost as little as €19.90 can seem eccentric, when you also factor in the average cost per day of using a pass.
 

If the journey that you’re HAVING to reserve is under 3 hours, then yes, taking the slower, alternative trains - which don’t require reservation, is usually a better option.
 

However, if you will be travelling long distance there is another way of looking at this equation.

If when paying for the rail pass reservation fee at the station, just before jumping on the train, you had booked a ticket instead, you could have been typically charged €49.90 instead of €10 for the same journey.
This ticket price examples are based on Rome – Bologna journey by Frecce train.


On journeys by TGV, Frecce, Eurostar and Thalys trains, those seemingly expensive reservation fees can be 4 x less expensive than the cost of ordinary, NON-discounted, last minute 2nd class tickets – so the balance tips even further if you target paying the reservation fees for your longest journeys.

If you have a 1st class pass and will be travelling long distances in France and Italy, the reservations fees can be particularly good value – you can save more than 5 x times the cost of buying a non-discounted, last minute ticket - even when factoring in the cost per day of using a pass!


The fact that trains with reservation fees can be particularly good if you have a 1st class rail pass is illustrated by this itinerary

It includes taking multiple trains with compulsory reservations, in order to travel as simply as possible between 10 of Europe's most popular cities - but despite that, a 1st Class Adult Pass proves to be good value for money, even when compared to booking the cheapest possible tickets!

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Maximise the Pleasure Of Using A Eurail Pass and Minimize The Stress:

Which DAYTIME train services require reservations for rail pass users AND which don't:

How to use Eurail and InterRail passes in most European countries including on which trains you do and don't have to reserve:

Tips for planning your journey around Europe - make your trip as easy as possible:

Other reasons why using Eurail and InterRail passes is a great idea: