Is the Eurail pass a good deal?

Is the Eurail pass a good deal? Five hundred bucks seems a lot for a fifteen day pass. Especially since it’s not a free ride once you get it, you still have reservation fees for every train ticket. I just checked train ticket prices, and to get from Pisa to Florence in the middle of the day is just five euro. How much train riding would I need to do in that 15 days to really make getting the eurail pass worth it?

It depends on how you use it and where you want to go. If you are going to be mostly travelling short distances like from Florence to Pisa, then you would need to make about 8 of these trips per day to be worthwhile. If you are planning on mostly longer distances, like from Paris to Budapest, you would need fewer trips to break even.

Basically, I suggest you decide where you want to go, then comparison shop. On the whole, it is hard to make them cost effective, but there is the convenience factor in there too.

It has been a long time since I travelled through Europe by train. Also, I had an Inter-Rail pass, which is cheaper and has broader coverage, but which is only available to European residents. So my information may be less than perfectly accurate for you.

I travelled around Europe this summer (Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland). The Eurail pass would have cost something like £200. We booked train and coach tickets while we were there, saving well over £100.

It isn’t worth it.

One reason the Eurail pass is so expensive is that it’s for first-class passage, and the fare you looked up was likely a second-class ticket. It’s been ages since I was in Europe, but second class railcars are more than comfortable; you shouldn’t think in terms of coach on an airplane.

In America, with Amtrak, ‘first class’ means you get a sleeping compartment and all your meals on the train; I don’t know what it means on a European train. It might be worth it if you get enough value for it, and you could plan a farther ranging itinerary by taking night trains across the continent.

Seconded. And might I add: *if * you are comfortable sleeping in trains (bring earplugs!) they are a great way of travelling. Very “Murder in the Orient-Express”-like. Don’t eat in the train restaurant though; that’s very expensive, but have a picknick in your traincompartment all you like.
Socializing is great in trains, and it is often possible to shower in the train. And the view when you wake at dawn and see the Alps move past your window from your bed is something you will never forget.
Hotels, even cheap ones, in the centers of Euwopean cities (and that is where you as backpacker will usually want to stay) are rather expensive, so you should substract the saved cost of room and board from the train-ticket.

IIRC, the beauty of an Interrail-card (the Eural’s predecessor) was that it allowed you to go everywhere on a whim during your teenage backpacking trips. “Hey ! Let’s leave this dull Budapest and follow those cool chicks back to Prague tonight!”
But if you have to reserve trains anyway, and if you want to follow an itinerary so you will get more out of your trip, I doubt an Eurail pass is worth it.
IMHO, it will lead to spending most of your trip in trains. And while that can be a nice way of seeing the countryside, my recoomendation would be to choose less cities and explore them more in-depth, on foot or by local public transport.

The “official site” is rather sparse on information. Do these passes cover only intercity transportation, or do they work for the subways and busses and other intra-city modes of transport, too? That’s where I’d expect to realize the most convenience and savings.

I have the airline miles for a trip to Europe, but don’t want to spend more on trains than on plane tickets. The tip about arranging travel to sleep on the train is a good one, though – it’d more than offset the price of a hotel.

The standard one is usually a poor choice, mainly because it allows you to travel any day within that day range and you’re paying for that. It means that if you aren’t taking the train on one of those 15 days, you’re not getting the most of the pass.

The EurailPass Flexi is better, since you have a set number of travel days (like 10) in a two month period. But unless you’re actually traveling for that long, it’s probably not worth it.

First Class as such usually means more space (e.g. more foot room, in non-compartment cars often 1 seat + corridor + 2 seats seating instead of 2 seats + corridor + 2 seats) and a somewhat nicer environment, but does not include sleeping accomodation unless that’s booked additionally (some kinds of sleeper compartments do require a first class ticket as a precondition, though). Mainly it’s more space to stretch, a better staff/passenger ratio, less crowded especially at commute time or on Friday/Sunday when the weekend commuters travel, and the higher prices (roughly on the order of 2nd class times 1.5, depending on the railway system) keep most of the loutish element out.

You don’t HAVE to have a reservation to ride on the train, as long as there is an open space still… 90% of the time we were in europe we didn’t use reservations, but there were a few trains that were quite full. We bought a Eurail pass, but we were there for seven weeks and travelled extensively.

The pass only covers rail travel. It does not cover subways, busses, or other city transportation.

It obviously depends on how you plan to use it. It can be a good deal, certainly, and it can also be a poor deal. A friend of mine used to go to a city and look for a cheap hotel and if he didn’t find it, he would get on an overnight train for somewhere else. In those days, at least, one good deal was getting a sleeping shelf (I can’t think of the name, but you got what it sounds like). The first class one cost the same as the second class one, but was wider and you were stacked only two high instead of three. The price was almost nominal; I think it was SFr11 per night. But my experience is 30 years old. I got a three month pass because I was spending the year in Zurich and had to make 4 round trips to Belgium (Louvain-la-Neuve, about the same distance as Brussels) over a seven week period and the cost of that on a TEE paid for a three month, which I then had the use of the rest of the time. FWIW, I never bothered to make a reservation and none was ever necessary. Then we got one month SwissRail vacation passes for my wife and three kids and we spent that last month tootling around Switzerland. The fact that I was using a pass available only to non-Europeans and the rest of my family using one available only to Swiss residents was never remarked on by any conductor.

They do not work for intra-city trnsportation. No buses, subways, or trams. The pass was set up by the national railways of several, now 18, countries, and only work on their trains. IIRC, non-participating transportation sometimes offer a discount, (BritRail, many ferries) but not ‘free’ travel, and I don’t believe any cities public transportation signed on.

Oh, also - a lot of the first class cars have small rooms with three seats facing three seats… it is possible to sleep two people in these rooms, provided you don’t have any company - you can raise the armrests, and the seats are quite padded. A few of the second class trains we road on were hard plastic seats with unmovable armrests- one night of trying to grab a little bit of sleep on these types of seats will wear you out…

When we went we were on a “shoestring” budget. We tried to do most of our travel overnight - it saved us “daylight” for exploring, and saved us the cost of a hostel / campground for the night. If you have the cash, reserving an actual sleeping coach might be a more comforatable option.

Since the OP is doing Italy…My wife and I toured Italy for 3 weeks about a year ago. After a lot of look at budgeting for rail, we still chose the Eurorail pass even though it ended up being a bit more expensive.

Reasons:

  1. We were hitting many cities, and the ease of being able to jump on and off of trains without ticketing or reservations cut down on a lot of travel hassle.

  2. First-class bump priveledge was great. Over 50% of the time, first class was under capacity so we could use it without reservation. When you are tired, weary, or just generally stressed-out, the little extra room and comfort is invaluable.

  3. We noticed that the ticket conductors tended to be a bit more flexible and forgiving with us “ignorant tourists” using Eurorail, than others that were using standard ticketing.

If asking, “Is it a good deal” from a pure budget standpoint, then no it isn’t. If asking “Is it worth it”, then I think it’s an enthusiastic yes, due to the intangible factors of hassle-reduction and general ease-of-use.

A couchette (French, roughly meaning “little lying-down place”). Bench seats during the day, sleeping shelves (usually triple-decked) at night.

[I’ve probably spent more than a hundred nights in *couchettes*; when I lived in France, I had free no-questions-asked travel on trains *within* France any time I wanted, so many of my weekend vacation trips started out on a Friday night *couchette* train from Paris, and I’d only be on my own dime once I’d left France. I spent many an almost-free vacation weekend in northeast Spain (Basque Country, Barcelona), Italy, etc, and still be back in the lab on Monday morning. Sweet!]

You could always just hitchhike! :smiley: I’m actually kidding but you’d be surprised how commonplace it is over there. It doesn’t quite have the same rape, murder and mayhem stigma that it does stateside.

My bolding, and to make a slightly tangential comment - ‘Britrail’ is to British railways what Ticketmaster is to live music. It’s just a company which sells expensive tickets to foreigners, when they could buy much cheaper ones here. Or before they leave home, because you can pay by credit card and collect them on the day of travel. (I do understand the easy confusion, given that the nationalised industry was ‘British Rail’, but this no longer exists, and trains are operated by a bewildering number of companies, all operating under an even more bewildering ticketing system.)

When I last needed to know anything about European trains British Rail were still the national railway, but I was aware of the change. Is there any term used to refer to the individual companies, as a group, other than Britrail? If there is, that would be the term that I meant.

Actually, on some of the lines there is a big fine if you don’t have a reservation. I was just there and we confirmed this at train stations in both Italy and France

Has that changed? When I was over there (mumble-mumble years ago) the Inter-Rail pass was sold only to legal residents in one of the participating countries, while the Eurail Pass could only be purchased by travelers visiting Europe. Also, the Inter-Rail was second class.

First of all, lemme give a big THANK YOU, to everyone’s input. I’ve actually decided to buy the eurail pass after much soul-searching/input (thanks GargoyleWB). But I was just curious about a couple of specific regarding this reservation policy. I already have a number of parking tickets over here on the states regarding street cleaning, the last thing I need are tickets overseas too.