An Introduction To Using Eurail and InterRail Passes


How to travel with Eurail and InterRail Passes
Welcome to ShowMeTheJourney's guide to using Eurail and InterRail passes, which will help you to have fabulous experiences when travelling around Europe by train.


As you're about to discover, ShowMeTheJourney has a LOT of insights and info to share about using rail passes - after all the founder has spent 78 days InterRailing around Europe!

Paid for out of his pocket, because like the rest of SMTJ's info, this guide is 100% independent.

It may take some time to read (ahem), but it will help you save money and be less confused, so that you'll have an easier and hopefully more wonderful rail adventure!

Or you could just buy a pass and head off - you'll still have the experience of a lifetime.

OUR SATISFYING MENU OF DELIGHTS :

Who Can Use A Pass

Four Good Reasons for Using Rail Passes:

(1) The potential to save money:

(2) Time-saving

(3) The scope for spontaneity

(4) Making Train Travel Easier


What's new for 2019

Our Additional Rail Pass Guides

Five Rail Pass Itineraries for 2019


So grab a coffee and take 10mins (ish) to absorb all the insights, or use the quick links above to jump to what you want to know.

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WHO CAN USE RAIL PASSES:

Whenever, I return from a rail pass adventure people will express surprise at my exploits, some wonder why on earth I wanted to do it (ahem), but a more common reaction is 'but, you're not a student'?

(i) However, anyone can buy a Eurail or InterRail pass, special prices are available to family groups, seniors and those aged 27* and under.

*Good news if you are 26 or 27 - the cut off age for the cheaper youth rate had been 25 until a few years ago..

(ii) Those fortunate enough to be aged 60 and over can purchase passes at a permanently discounted rate!

(iii) Children aged 4-11 need their own passes, but they're free!

 It takes less than five minutes to buy a pass that suits you – though before you do so, we unsurprisingly recommend taking a look at our rail pass holiday planning GUIDE

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FOUR GOOD REASONS FOR USING RAIL PASSES:
 

We’re not going to sit on the fence here, ShowMeTheJourney is a big fan of Eurail and InterRail rail passes, if InterRail passes didn’t exist then neither would ShowMeTheJourney.

If the founder Simon, hadn’t been able to travel to hundreds of stations on dozens of trains across Europe, he’d have bought a beach bar on Barbados instead – maybe he should have?

But he didn’t and because he has travelled more than 30,000 kms using rail passes over the past 18 months, you can trust his impartial guide..


1. The potential to save money:

Headlines such as 'Avoid Rail Passes' can be misleading - it's true that Eurail and InterRail passes aren't guaranteed to save you money, but you CAN also make big savings.


Be wary of articles and comments with a subject of ‘I travelled to these 5 cities and I could have saved €100 if I’d bought tickets for each of my five journeys instead’.
It will be 100% correct, but it’s possible that the author could have saved money, if they had travelled to 5 other cities that are further apart from each other..

So here’s some necessarily broad advice from a writer that has travelled to more than 130 cities using different types of InterRail pass in the past two years.

At the risk of stating the obvious, whether you will or won’t save, depends on how use your pass - and NOW that Eurail prices have been significantly reduced for 2019, you'll also be more likely to save with a Eurail pass!

These factors come into play:

(1) How far you will be travelling - on average, on each day you use your pass.

(2) How long your pass is valid for – the longer the period of time your pass is valid for, the less distance you have to travel per day, on average, for a pass to become value for money.

(3) The trains you will be taking – you’re actually more LIKELY to make savings if you mainly travel on the express trains, including SOME of those on which rail pass users also have to pay reservation fees.

Paying those reservation fees can be good value for LONG journeys on AVE trains, Frecce trains and TGV (InOui) trains.

Rail passes aren’t typically good value for money on journeys by Lyria, Thalys, DB-SNCF and RENFE-SNCF trains and services – and the reservation fees on the TGV France-Italy trains are actually more expensive than buying tickets.

But you can still use a pass to take these trains and make an overall saving, compared to buying tickets for your itinerary – it depends how far you will be travelling and what trains you will be taking, on your OTHER.travel days.

Though if you mainly want to travel around Europe in the SLEEPING CABINS on overnight trains, you’ll be less likely to save money – rail passes only cover the journeys costs on any overnight train – and this can be a small percentage of the overall costs of travelling in sleeping cabins.

(4) Where you will be travelling – train travel costs are cheaper in Eastern Europe, so rail passes are less likely to save you money if your trip MAINLY involves travelling through countries such as Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Romania.

In contrast, you will be more likely to make savings if you travel extensively in western European countries where train travel is comparatively expensive.

Including journeys on Swiss mountain railways, on which Eurail and InterRail passes can travel for free, can help tip the balance towards a rail pass being good value.

(5) Whether discounted tickets are available on most of the routes you will be taking.

Rail passes MAY not be such good value for money, if

(i) You’ll be planning a trip 2 – 3 months ahead*

(ii) AND will mainly* be travelling on a combination of;

- long distance international express daytime trains,

- on trains in countries in which discounted express train tickets can typically be less than 60% of the standard/last-minute price – Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Scandinavia and Spain,

- on trains in Eastern Europe (train tickets are not typically heavily discounted, but they’re also comparatively inexpensive).

(iii) AND are prepared to make multiple bookings to cover your trip?

(iv) AND can accept that the cheapest discounted tickets will be specific to the departure you selected when booking and can’t be refunded if you subsequently change your travel plans?

*We’re using broad criteria, the cheapest ticket for some journeys can still be available only a few days ahead of the travel date, but on other routes they typically sell out months in advance.

Also consider:

An often overlooked plus of rail passes is that the prices of most European express train tickets will be rising between when they are placed on sale and the travel date, but the prices of rail passes stay flat.

The prices of holidays rise when you most want or need to take them, but rail pass prices aren't seasonal - so they don’t rise in the summer, during school holidays, over Easter etc.

You might be thinking ‘rail ticket prices don’t go up at holidays either?’

Broadly true, but the very cheapest tickets can be a lot harder to track down when people want to travel most.

If you want to travel over Christmas and New Year, then rail passes can be exceptional value for money.

 

So before you commit to a pass, work out the COST PER DAY of using it and then look up the prices of some of the journeys you’re considering, by using the ticket booking links on our journey guides.

Check the advance ticket prices for when you’re thinking of making the journey AND the prices only a few days ahead

If you’ll be travelling far enough per day, it’s almost certain that a rail pass will enable you to make big savings compared to the cost of purchasing LAST MINUTE tickets.


Cost comparison:

SMTJ has put together six rail pass itineraries ('Direct Trains' has two itineraries) for Eurail and InterRail passes valid for 10 DAYS and to be honest, aside from the itinerary based on paying no additional reservation fees, the cost consideration wasn’t a primary factor in putting these itineraries together.

Instead the focus was on the destinations and making the train journeys between them as easy or as spectacular as possible.

Each journey on those itineraries was then looked up to check the cheapest possible adult ticket price that could be found for sale - AND the price if an adult was to book those journeys a couple of days ahead.

The total ticket costs across the six itineraries (1) cheapest and (2) booked only a few days in advance was then calculated

Then these were compared with the total rail pass costs of taking each itinerary = the standard non-sale price of the pass + the reservation fees for the trains we included (+ the costs of taking some additional journeys not covered by a rail pass).

On AVERAGE over the six itineraries:

Compared to booking discounted tickets, the types of rail pass are
1st Class Adult = 10% cheaper
2nd Class Adult = 11% more expensive
1st Class Youth = 27% cheaper
2nd Class Youth = 9% cheaper

Compared to booking tickets only a couple of days ahead, the types of rail pass are:
1st Class Adult = 43% cheaper
2nd Class Adult = 37% cheaper
1st Class Youth = 54% cheaper
2nd Class Youth = 50% cheaper

Adult passes are the passes that can be purchased by 28 – 59 year olds, Youth Passes can be used by those aged 12 - 27.

Arguably not the most comprehensive of surveys, but IF you’ll be travelling for 10 days, the four broad conclusions are evidently:

(1) If you are 28-59 and want to travel 2nd class AND are able to track down the cheapest tickets AND are prepared not to be able to change your travel plans, you can make a comparatively minor saving by booking tickets instead of using an InterRail Passes.

Though an InterRail or Eurail pass will definitely save you money if you follow this itinerary

(2) You will likely save money, compared to the price of tickets, if you meet the Youth Pass criteria.

(3) 1st class InterRail and Eurail passes are particularly good value for money

(4) If you book a rail pass only a couple of days ahead of your travel dates, you WILL be making a substantial saving.

Not yet convinced? Well SMTJ has some further money saving tips HERE.

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2: Using A Rail Pass Can Save Time:

There are multiple instances in which using rail passes will save you time and I'm not talking about using trains that are faster than others.

Before you set off:


So you’ve worked out that you can save money by booking separate tickets per journey, you’ve even discovered this fantastic website (ahem), which directs you to all the optimum websites on which you can book each ticket(s) – without paying a booking fee!

But now you have to look up all your journeys up to make the bookings – which will take a while, particularly if you want to hunt down those best deals.

The point being that it will take a lot longer to look up and buy separate tickets than it would to buy a rail pass online.

At the station:

There is a counter-argument that if you’ve booked in advance for a ticket to travel by a train on which rail pass users have to reserve, then at the station you can breeze pass the Eurail or InterRail pass users, queuing at the ticket counters to make their reservations.


Trust me, this will be the exception rather than the rule – in fact I’ve only spent more than 15 mins in a queue to book a rail pass reservation twice (in Bern and Milan for EC trains between Switzerland and Italy - and now those reservations can be booked online)

See SMTJ's advice HERE for how you can also minimize the time you’ll take to book your rail pass reservation fees.


And when you’re using an InterRail or Eurail pass to hop around multiple places per day in smaller countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland or The Netherlands – my favourite method of putting a rail pass to good use, the reverse scenario is true.
 

You’ll be the ones breezing on to the trains, while those without passes are in the ticket counter queue, or trying to figure out the machines.

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3: The Scope For Spontaneity

Arguably the biggest tick in the box for using a rail pass isn’t whether it will or won’t save you money, it's the freedom to undertake spontaneous journeys.

Despite being amongst life's planners, every time I've ever travelled with a rail pass, I have made a last minute change to an itinerary - primarily to take advantage of better weather.

Because some of the most prestigious European daytime trains and all overnight trains, require reservations before boarding, there is now a school of thought that the care-free spirit of adventure, which used to be synonymous with rail passes, has been diminished.


However, tens of thousands of train journeys are possible every day in Europe and my best guess is Eurail and InterRail pass users HAVE to make reservations on around 0.3% of them.

It's also true that travelling by express trains in certain countries isn't compatible with spontaneity, in France you'll save by booking reservations in advance and in Spain, the trains can be particularly prone to selling out.


However, with an InterRail or Eurail pass you can still hop on and off virtually ANY domestic train in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and The Netherlands.

And if you will be travelling will be travelling on a route, on which the trains that require reservations are departing fairly FREQUENTLY, you can book your reservations last minute at the station.


Yes rail pass reservations are required on all Italian express trains, but they don’t cost any more if you book last minute, you can even buy them from Trenitalia’s ticket machines.

Having taken more than 350 European trains with a 1st class rail pass I've only ever encountered one sold out train on a route with fairly frequent trains, but it wasn't the end of the world, I had to take an alternative train departing two hours later.

Though being entirely spontaneous isn't recommended - you'll save money by booking ahead for compulsory reservations for French journeys at the earliest opportunity - and one of my 'golden rules' is to always book at least a couple of days ahead on routes in western Europe, with three or less trains per day.


If you don't want to bother with making reservations, alternative, slower trains and routes are often an option - particularly in Italy

A note about trains on which you have to reserve:

The deal with most of the daytime trains on which Eurail and InterRail pass users have to reserve is that they’re fast and fabulous.


To make the unfortunates travelling without a rail pass feel extra special, they have complimentary seat reservations included when they book tickets to travel by certain trains.
The train operators can’t then risk rail pass users sitting in their seats, so you need an assigned seat too.

Hence rail pass users have to pay a fee for the reservation, these fees aren't a penalty because you want to use a pass - guaranteeing a seat will also go a long way to ensuring a long journey will be pleasurable.

And travelling long distance by such trains can be good value for money - the daily cost of using a pass + the reservation fee can be more than 60% less than the cost of last-minute tickets.


Additional seat reservation info:

Take a look at our reservations GUIDE to using your Eurail and InterRail pass, so you can see at a glance when you do have to reserve and when you don’t.

Eurail's guide to these reservation fee charges.

InterRail's guide to these reservation fee charges.

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4: It can make train travel easier:

Aside from the scope to enhance your adventures by choosing beautiful journeys and destinations, there are two often overlooked practical considerations for using Eurail and InterRail passes that can make your travels more pleasurable.

(1) If you opt for booking discounted tickets, they will be train departure specific, and it will be your responsibility to be at the station on time.

Having to reach a station against the clock time and time again, in cities you don't know that well, isn’t fun when you are supposed to be on holiday.

But if you have a rail pass and will be taking a route with frequent trains, you can simply turn up at the station when it suits you.


(2) The opportunities to take alternative trains can be a big plus when the trains aren't running smoothly on your travel dates.

I have arrived at stations to discover that trains are being delayed due to technical problems on a route.

Because discounted tickets are only valid on specific trains, the travellers with such tickets usually had to wait it out, until the train they are booked on to departs at its revised time.

But with a rail pass, I've been able hop on the next train that's leaving, or make a last minute reservation on a train that hasn't been delayed, or taken an alternative route avoiding the disruption.


Looking for more tips on how to take the stress out of a rail pass adventure? They’re right HERE!

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NEW FOR 2019:

Eurail Passes:


The major new development for 2019 mainly applies to Eurail passes - what's broadly happened is that Eurail passes availability and prices now more closely resemble those of InterRail passes.

As a result there are two highly welcome developments:

(1)The standard (non sale) prices of many Eurail passes have been significantly reduced.

For example, the 2018 price of a 2nd Class Adult 10 Days in 2 Months 'Global' pass had been €563, but it is now €399.

(2) Eurail Global Passes can now be used in three additional countries, bringing the total to 31 - and they are Great Britain, Lithuania and Macedonia!


New Types of Pass Introduced:

Three new types of multi-country 'Global' Eurail and Interail passes have become available:

(i) A pass for 3 days travel within one month
(ii) A pass that's valid for 2 months of continuous travel
(iii) A pass that's valid for 3 months of continuous travel

Also the passes which allow for 10 or 15 days of flexi-travel, on which the user can specify their dates of travel, are now valid for 2 months instead of a month.

And the type of flexi-passes which allow for 5 days of travel are now valid for one month, instead of 15 days.


Using Eurail AND InterRail Passes:

The other particularly welcome news for 2019 is that that how both Eurail and InterRail passes has been made simpler.

The key take-away from this is that if you travel on any overnight train, it only uses one day of your travel pass allowance and not two - you only have to enter your arrival date on the pass.
Particularly welcome news if you're interested in the types of flexi- pass that are valid for a set number of travel days

Previously this only applied to journeys which commenced after 7pm - it was known as the '7pm rule'.
It's now been dropped, but despite that, some of the info relating to this rule has yet to be updated on the Eurail website.


Also virtually all of the reservation fees for the daytime and overnight trains are unchanged.

Other changes in recent years:

Previously decided against using a Eurail or InterRail pass? Well here are the headline benefits of using these passes that have been introduced fairly recently.

(1) If you're aged 26 and 27 then some good news is that Eurail and InterRail have changed their price plans in your favour!

'Youth' prices are cheaper than the 'Adult' rates and the age at which 'Adult' passes have to be used was raised from 26 to 28.


(2) Some very welcome news for 'Adults' (aged 28+) who meet the Eurail Pass criteria - you can now save by booking 2nd class passes.

For most Eurail Passes, Eurail has abandoned what WAS its long-standing Adults must purchase 1st class passes rule.

(3) A relatively new type of InterRail 'Global Pass' is available which allows for '7 days of train travel within a period of 1 month'.

You don't have to use this type of pass over an entire month, you could use up the allocation of 7 days of travel within a week.

(4) Eurail and InterRail pass now allow 'free' travel on MGB trains in Switzerland - very welcome if you want to travel across southern Switzerland

(5) Linked to this is that Eurail and InterRail pass users now only have to pay the reservation fees on the fabulous Glacier Express - a saving of around 65% on total ticket prices!


(6) Similarly Eurail and InterRail pass users can travel on The Bernina Express by only paying the reservation fees.

(7) Flat rate rail pass reservations fees are now available on Eurostar trains; 2nd class = €30/38; 1st class = €38/43, this is usually cheaper than buying discounted tickets and can be 4 x less expensive than full price tickets

(8) Eurail and Interrail pass users had to pay comparatively expensive fees in either direction when travelling on the Vienna/Wien - Venezia/Venice route.

However, now Railjet trains are being used on this service, the reservation fees are now optional.

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OUR ADDITIONAL RAIL PASS GUIDES:

What! There's even more content to read? Yep.

Trust me, this is all good to know before you go stuff, which you can pick and choose from.

Taking the time out to read it will help you - save time when booking and planning your trip, save money and avoid confusion.

Some ideas to make your trip easier, cheaper, even more fabulous:

Our money saving tips:

Ideas for planning your journey around Europe:

Ideas for making your trip easier and more fabulous!:

Some practical info that can be good to know:

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

What are the routes taken by international trains in Europe:

Using rail passes in Belgium:

Using rail passes in France:

Using rail passes in Germany:

Using rail passes in Italy:

Using rail passes in Switzerland:


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