How do rail passes work?

Old May 23rd, 2006, 05:12 AM
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How do rail passes work?

We're going to be travelling to Germany and Holland in September and decided to get a rail pass. Neither of us have purchased one before, so we're not exactly sure how it works.

Do you have to go to the train station and reserve a seat or can you just show up and get on the train? Is there a cost to reserve a seat? We would only be travelling a few hours in the day during the week, if that makes a difference for availability.

Thanks to anyone who can enlighten me on this!
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 05:23 AM
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The rail pass has nothing to do with the seat. It is only instead train tickets.
On most of the trains you can travel without a reserved seat: you can stay on any free seat. However, if you travel on long distances and with luggages and at pick hours, I suggest to reserve seats.
You can make the seat reservation at railway station, or by internet.
I made all seats reservation by internet, before my trip, from my home (in www.bahn.de I selected the trains, then press <buy ticket - buy seat only>). I gave my credit card details and I printed the reservation.
I paid 1.5 Euro ,or sometime 3 Euro per reservation (I do not know why sometime 1.5 and sometime 3).
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 05:43 AM
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ira
 
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Hi P,

Before you buy any railpasses, enter your itinerary at www.railsver.com and click "only if it saves money".

If it turns out that a railpass is what you need, you use it as follows.

Day of arrival, have railpass validated at train station. From then on, you can get on any train you wish (even more than one) as long as it doesn't require seat reservations.

The high-speed trains (THALYS, TGV, ES*) require that you get a seat reservation before boarding. This can be done online, at a TA or a train station.

If you want a reserved seat, you will have to get them as above.

Hope this helps.



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Old May 23rd, 2006, 06:10 AM
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Thanks for the information. So if I understand correctly, it's just a train ticket. We won't be doing popular routes, just between smaller cities, but perhaps we'll reserve when we travel from Bremen to Amsterdam.

Ira, that site is fantastic! It confirmed the type of ticket I thought would best suit our itinerary.

Thanks again!
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Old May 23rd, 2006, 07:27 AM
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ira
 
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Hi P,

You're welcome.

>if I understand correctly, it's just a train ticket.

Yes. Be sure to write the date that you are using your pass before you board the train.

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Old May 23rd, 2006, 07:31 AM
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Make that railsaver.com/railsaver.asp to save some clicking. The home page isn't very clear about where to go.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 07:40 AM
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Thanks again everyone. This site is really great!
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Old May 24th, 2006, 10:05 AM
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Rail Saver

I have found that Rail Saver is a poor substitute for comparing actual point to point tickets cost to the cost of a rail pass. I input to Rail Saver an itinerary I am actually planning. First, Rail Saver did not recognize 4 destinations out of 6. I had to substitute the closest major city, which changed the routing and the costs somewhat. The actual cost of point to point tickets for that route, as obtained from DB, amounted to $193. Rail Saver told me to buy individual tickets for $150 (at least they didnít try to push a rail pass on me). Rail Saver gives you the option to purchase tickets. When I went to their ticket purchase page, the tickets for that route were $237 instead of $150.

I think the only valid way to compare ticket prices to a rail pass is to find the national rail websites and get your point to point prices there. It is more work, but it is the only way to get accurate prices.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 10:11 AM
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pavfec: what are your train plans - often just by quickly scanning it is enough to tell you whether a pass is warranted or not.
If just going to Amsterdam and railing around Germany more the German Railpass Twin at $150 p.p. plus a pt-pt from the German border to Amsterdam may be best.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 10:17 AM
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PalQ, here's our plan (there will be 2 of us):

- Fly into Berlin, spend 5 days

- Train Berlin-Bad Harzburg (Harz Mountains), spent 2 days

- Train Bad Harzburg-Achim (south of Bremen), spend 3 days

- Train Achim-Amsterdam (from which we'll fly home)

I'll have to have another look at the point-to-point to see whether it is really worth it. Thanks!
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Old May 24th, 2006, 11:07 AM
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If you insist on 1st Cl., it looks like your best rail pass deal would be $200 pP for a German Rail twin pass plus €45,40 from the border to Amsterdam or $257 at a $1.25/€ exch rate. The same thing in 2nd Cl looks like $188.

Point to point tickets 1st Cl. are €222 or $277. For 1st Cl., a rail pass looks like the best deal. However, for 2nd Cl., point to point would cost €144 or $180 - less than a rail pass at that exchange rate.

Lastly, if you book one of the ICs from Hannover (6:40, 10:40, 14:40, or 18:40) to Amsterdam, you can get that leg for €19 on a Europa-Spezial fare. Then the total 2nd Cl. point to point is €115,20, or about $144 - BEST PRICE.

The Europa-Spezial tickets have to be purchased online from Bahn.de and are non refundable. The tickets can be printed out at home.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 11:23 AM
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The Germany-Benelux pass is a minimum of five days of unlimited travel in a 2-month period - a flexipass - and though a pass is iffy in 2nd class as you have only three days of rail travel scheduled, the pass could become more viable if you used the other two days you automatically get with it - such as day trips from Berlin to Dresden (or even Potsdam though that is a small fare) or from Amsterdam (say to Delft) - but RailEurope also tacks on a $15 mailing fee though some of their agents do not (like BETS, www.budgeteuropetravel.com) who i have used for years) - the pass to the best of my knowledge cannot be bought in Germany - none of the trains you're taking requires reservations but can be crowded, esp in 2nd class - i'd pay the bit extra for a first class pass where you'll usually have ample empty seats onboard and the level of comfort is nicer (though as Larry hints at 2nd class in these countries is pretty nice too - major difference is 2nd class is much more full in my experience. If you can get the special ticket to Amsterdam online, not always possible, then that would probably tip the decision against a pass - no doubt it would. www.bahn.de for schedules and pricing such as Larry got for you. the pass can be used on any train on a walk up basis.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 11:23 AM
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In Germany on weekends, there's a discounted ticket that's good for 5 people traveling together.

I don't know the exact rules. Someone local told us that when we were trying to figure out how to buy tickets at a kiosk. If someone here knows this for sure, hopefully it can be explained better.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 11:51 AM
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"2nd class is much more full in my experience"

That should tell you something. The Germans are pretty practical people. They obviously feel 2nd class is a better deal.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 11:57 AM
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mmyk72

The pass to which you refer is the Schönes Wochenende (beautiful weekend) ticket. It costs €30 and is good for travel by up to 5 people together on their choice of regional trains all day long on a weekend day (until 3 AM the following day). It is a great deal, but probably doesn't apply in this case.

The are also "Länder" tickets. Most states (Länder is the plural of Land, the German word for state) have a ticket good for travel by up to 5 people on regional trains throughout the state. Price is generally €23-25. Some Länder have single tickets at a lower price. Länder tickets are good for travel after 9 AM on weekdays, and in some states, all day on weekends.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 12:02 PM
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And German trains are amongst the finest in the world so second class is not like roughing it - but if i had a railpass for five days and the price differential were only $50 i'd take the first class because i have a much better chance of just hopping on a train and finding seats - indeed in first class i inevitably have empty seats next to me for luggage, etc. If i were buying tickets as i went along where the price differential for a fairly long trip would be much more than $10 i'd take second class.
I say apply the same criteria to train travel as you would to a hotel room - pay a bit more and the stay on the train is much more leisurely. Well that's just my opinion - it depends on the price differential which i find in the pass to be rather little compared to what you get - in this case i do not think it to be a better deal to go second class where you risk standing - i've seen many German trains SRO in 2nd class - not typically but not uncommon at peak periods - have never not seen empty seats in first class though i'm sure it happens.
Respectfully, that's my take on it. (But if you reserve a deeply discounted ticket such as the Europa-Spezial tickets Larry talks of you'll have a reserved seat so it negates the advantage somewhat of first class - it's the spontaneous travel i like just hopping on. You can of course always reserve seats in 2nd class for a few euros.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 12:03 PM
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PalQ,

I am not necessarily a fan of Rail Europe, but, for the record, they do have free shipping on rail pass orders of $200 or more.

BETS, if believe, charges something for shipping on orders of less than $250.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 12:10 PM
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PalQ,

for the Europa-Spezial ticket, the reservation for the part of the trip within Germany is free, but you still must pay €1,50 for the part of the reservation outside of Germany.

I have been on about 150 train connections in Germany in the last five years, all in 2nd class. I have only had to stand on 2 occasions. One was a regional train - no reservations possible. I have no idea of what it was like in 1st class. The second time was on an ICE from FRA to Mannheim. Every seat was occupied, but few were reserved. Had I known, and reserved a seat that day when I bought my ticket, I would have had a seat.
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Old May 24th, 2006, 12:51 PM
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Well since you've ridden about 100 more trains in Germany than i have in the past five years i'll defer to your experience - though i still like lots of empty seats around me as i usually find in first class - but i inevitably have a first class Eurailpass as i'm over 25 and that's all that's available - if i were buying tickets i no doubt would go 2nd class.
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Old May 25th, 2006, 06:42 AM
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Larry and PalQ, thank you so much for the advice!! I had a look at the Bahn.de site yesterday and my German is a little rusty, so it's the perfect opportunity to brush it up

We'll be travelling on a Wednesday, Friday and Monday. It's still too early to input our dates (mid-September), but I did put in some fake dates and found the 19 Euro ticket from Hannover to Amsterdam. I'll wait until our dates are available, then do some hard research. I also have relatives in Germany who are familiar with the train network, so perhaps they can help me find good tickets.

Thanks again
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