One of the most frequent questions people ask when planning train travel in Europe is whether they should consider buying a Eurail Pass (or InterRail Pass for European Residents) or train tickets. Here, we compare the two options and highlight the main features in order to help you decide which one is best for you.
Choosing a rail pass
- Rail Passes offer a host of different discounts. There are discounts on child passes, youth passes and senior passes. Furthermore, groups that travel together can realize savings when buying a Eurail Saver Pass.
- Several high speed and night trains require that you book seat/sleeper reservations for your journeys. Reservations are not required everywhere, but when they are compulsory they add an additional cost which should be taken into account when planning your trip.
- Rail passes are either valid for a consecutive number of days or a flexible number of days within a period of time. With that said, you can enjoy unlimited train trips on each rail travel day. This means, you can hop on and off trains en route.
- With a rail pass you are not restricted to a specific seat/train/time so you can keep a flexible schedule. Choose to stay an extra day or leave town on an earlier departure. A rail pass lets you make these last minute changes.
- You can buy your rail pass prior to departure, paying in your local currency and arriving prepared.
- Once your rail pass is validated, you no longer need to go to a ticket counter the next time you take the train.
- Carry only one travel document throughout your journey. A valid rail pass acts as your ticket for all trains.
- You can personalize your rail experience and select a pass that covers only the countries you will visit.
- Rail passes include all sorts of benefits for pass holders. Common offers include free and discounted admission into museums and tourist attractions, access to public transport in select cities, discounts on hotel bookings, free and discounted ferry trips, reduced fares on night trains and more.
- When purchased, most rail passes will come with a travel guide that includes practical information on how to use your rail pass and get the most out of it.
Choosing train tickets
- Trains tickets in Europe will vary in price depending on several factors, including how early you book, how many seats are still available on the train and whether the tickets are exchangeable or not (among other factors). In short, you can sometimes find bargains by buying in advance, but keep in mind that if your travel plans change, you will likely end up having to buy new tickets altogether.
- Train tickets are valid for travel on the date and time marked on the tickets, offering little to no flexibility. Refund and exchange rules vary depending on the fare and railway booked.
- You can buy your train tickets before you travel ensuring seat availability and the convenience of arriving prepared. Some train tickets will be shipped to you, whereas some are available as e-tickets. The following e-tickets are currently available:
- Spain: RENFE e-tickets can be printed at home or picked up at a station’s ticket collection machine in Spain.
- Italy: To use a Trenitalia e-ticket (ticketless booking), simply go directly to the train with your order’s email confirmation. On board, you will have to show your PNR identification number as proof of purchase.
- UK: Trainline’s e-tickets are called “Ticket on Departure.” Use the PNR identification number from your order’s email confirmation to retrieve your ticket at a station’s ticket collection machine in the UK.
- Some train tickets include the cost of seat reservations.
The main selling points for rail passes include their flexibility, allowing you to hop on and off trains, the different discounts and pass holder benefits. Depending on your destination, you can book convenient e-tickets or find advantageous fares when you plan early. For long distance trains, several days of travel and group or family trips, it’s easy to recommend a rail pass. However, if you plan sufficiently ahead and will only board the occasional train, then you will find train tickets to be a good solution.