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Rick Steves vs. Rail Europe(rail passes)

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May 30th, 2009, 06:47 AM
  #1
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Rick Steves vs. Rail Europe(rail passes)

I have gone back & forth with this for quite some time, & I've finally decided to purchase our 4 day rail passes from either Rail Europe or the Rick Steves site. After reading about the problems another poster encountered with Rail Europe, I was leaning toward purchasing through the Rick Steves site. Has anyone done this? If so, what was your experience, & how long did it take to receive the passes?

Thanks!
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May 30th, 2009, 06:56 AM
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I purchased BritRail passes on the Rick Steves site in 2002. No problems and good service. I think the passes arrived in about a week.

However, since then I've done my research and from experience have learned than railpasses aren't always a bargain. Point-to-point tickets can be cheaper, especially if you can commit to travel dates and times well in advance and can get discount fares on a country's national rail site.

When and where will you be traveling? How many people?
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May 30th, 2009, 07:00 AM
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Are you sure you even need a pass? Enter your itinerary on http://www.railsaver.com/railsaver.asp and be sure to click "only if a pass saves me money".
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May 30th, 2009, 07:08 AM
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You probably don't even need a pass. Go to the railsaver website and check.
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May 30th, 2009, 07:24 AM
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The Railsaver site only compares the price of FULL fare tickets to the price of a railpass, thus making a railpass look like a better deal than it actually is. Discount fares booked well in advance online will be even less.
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May 30th, 2009, 07:50 AM
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I have checked the bahn site. It looks like point to point would be more expensive. We are traveling from Frankfurt to Hamburg, Hamburg to Bremen, Hamburg to Berlin, & then Berlin back to Frankfurt. The Bremen trip is a day trip only from Hamburg. We want to travel first class, & we don't want to be tied into any specific times to travel. I've promised my family that I wouldn't schedule everything for this trip...I know that there are discount tickets, but since we aren't purchasing in advance, I don't see how we'd get the discount unless they happen to be available the exact day & time that we are there. From what I've researched, there would only be "anytime" tickets available if we don't pre-book. Any suggestions?
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May 30th, 2009, 08:59 AM
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I've bought two passes from Budget Europe Travel Service in Ann Arbor in the past six months. Delivery takes about 3 days. Call 800-441-2387 and discuss your plans with Byron or Linda. They are both very helpful. The website is http://www.budgeteuropetravel.com/.
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May 30th, 2009, 09:16 AM
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Yes, for traveling 1st class and not being committed to specific departure dates and times, point-to-point tickets would be more expensive than a railpass.
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Jun 1st, 2009, 11:50 AM
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We buy first class rail passes for those same reasons and for us, they are well worth the convenience. We do book seat reservations a day or two before as we prefer to know which carriage to board and that we can sit together - especially when traveling with a small group.
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Jun 1st, 2009, 12:09 PM
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I bought railpasses from Rick Steves a few years ago. They threw in some extras then--a free book, etc. that tipped the scale. Passes arrived as advertised.

In fact, that may be the last time I bought railpasses. The folks on this site have taught me so much about advance purchases (won't work for you this time), regional tickets good for 2-4 people, etc. in Europe that I've changed my ways and traded flexibility (in most cases) and first class carriages for savings.
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Jun 1st, 2009, 12:13 PM
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Another vote for speaking to Byron at BETS..great informtion and service and he'll automatically compare the costs of point-to-points with passes or a combo of the two.
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Jun 1st, 2009, 12:17 PM
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kfusto - I don't understand your comment about worth the convenience. If you still are having to make seat reservations (and pay extra for them in most cases) where's the convenience? It seems to me it's less convenient requiring two steps (1. Buy a pass - 2. Make/buy reservations) when you could simply buy your ticket there.
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Jun 1st, 2009, 12:33 PM
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One does not have to make seat reservations but we do - for the longer segments. Hotel will often take care of this for us so it requires little effort on our part. I have also made seat reservations online and at the station for times when the trains are busy.

For day trips when we do not have bags we just decide where to go and then hop a train and return when we feel like it.

Some people have an issue with the cost of passes but it is an individual choice and we prefer it. We have used Flexipasses on our last 4 trips to Europe.

Last year we traveled with two people who had purchased discounted point to point tickets to save money. They ended up throwing them away when we cut our trip short to Vienna and headed elsewhere and the replacement tickets were pricey. The only cost to us was a 3E seat reservation.

It works for us.
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Jun 1st, 2009, 01:42 PM
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I would think that would be an exception. Most people don't have enough vacation to reschedule their itinerary at whim. It really depends on the country. In Italy, I can't see any advantage to a pass since seats are required on any of the faster trains and the seats cost 15-20E. I think it's the same in other countries for the popular faster trains. In some countries, for some trains, the access of passholders are limited so even if you have a pass, you might not get on that particular train.
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Jun 1st, 2009, 02:17 PM
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We used passes for Italy in 2007 and 2008. Never had issues with reservations and the reservations were less than the cost to buy them on Rail Europe. Also used them for Germany and Austria in 2008, the same ones in fact that we used for Italy so we saved quite a bit by purchasing Flexipasses and using the remaining days. We were also able to choose semi private compartments which we prefer as opposed to general seating. Never encountered a limitation that affected us in any way.

As for scheduling on a "whim" I book our main locations and hotels about a year ahead to get the hotels I prefer. I book our seat reservations for the longer segments upon arrival in Italy - through the hotel concierge as a rule. It required no special effort on my part. We were a group of 8 and wanted to be seated together in Italy, and a group of 4 in Germany and Austria.

I can think of several occasions when we changed day trip locations at the last minute due to weather or other and the passes made it simple. We had planned a trip to Lucca from Rome for example but it was raining there so we looked at what was available and went to Orvieto instead.

It is clear from your comments that you do not believe passes are not a good fit for your style of travel but they work for us - just bought my Flexipasses this morning for our upcoming trip, in 6 months, to Germany and Austria.
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Jun 1st, 2009, 02:25 PM
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You don't need to "pre-book" on 99% of German trains. Just go to the station, get on board, and grab a seat. Seat reservations cost €3. So does a beer.
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Jun 1st, 2009, 02:27 PM
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We got our rail passes through Rick Steves when we went to France, Italy and Greece in 2002. If I remember correctly, our passes were for five days of travel over a 1 or 2 month period. They were $299 each and I ordered them online. Then I received an email from Rick's office saying that the passes were on sale for $199, so we ended up saving $200. With the passes we also received a Thomas Cook Rail Map of Europe and a Eurail Timetable book.
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Jun 1st, 2009, 02:34 PM
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"You don't need to "pre-book" on 99% of German trains."

I just do not think there is a one size fits all answer. We traveled with my senior citizen mother last year in Germany and Austria at the height of the market season. Some of the trains (like Vienna to Salzburg and back) were very full.

We had to worry about her getting on and off the trains as well as handling her luggage in addition to our own. Having a reservation made it easy for us to board in the right door, closest to the seats we had reserved, and get her and the luggage settled with the least amount of hassle. And we did not have to worry about getting everyone situated and then having someone come along who had a reservations for the seats we had chosen and move everyone and every thing to find seats together, perhaps in different carriages.

So those of you who prefer not to book reservations, save your Euro and buy a beer - but there are situations where having a reservation makes life easier for those of us who choose to do so.
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Jun 1st, 2009, 03:03 PM
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>>>We had to worry about her getting on and off the trains as well as handling her luggage in addition to our own. Having a reservation made it easy for us to board in the right door, closest to the seats we had reserved, and get her and the luggage settled with the least amount of hassle. And we did not have to worry about getting everyone situated and then having someone come along who had a reservations for the seats we had chosen and move everyone and every thing to find seats together, perhaps in different carriages.<<<
>>>>but there are situations where having a reservation makes life easier>>>>

A seat reservation yes, but a pass is not a seat reservation. You can easily buy a ticket with a seat reservation without a pass.

>>>I can think of several occasions when we changed day trip locations at the last minute due to weather or other and the passes made it simple.<<<

How would this be any better than walking up and buying your ticket to Orvieto instead of Lucca? It was actually more trouble for you because you had the pass. You had to contact your hotel and request seat reservations and arrange payment, then when you changed your mind you had to request refund of your seats (if you can get a refund since there are deadline issues about reservations) and make other reservations for your new route. Wouldn't it have been much simpler (not to mention cheaper) to just purchase the ticket for where you wanted to go that day?
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Jun 1st, 2009, 03:30 PM
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"It was actually more trouble for you because you had the pass. You had to contact your hotel and request seat reservations and arrange payment, then when you changed your mind you had to request refund of your seats "

First of all, we never have had to "arrange payment". The cost of any train related services are added to the hotel bill IME and settled at checkout. It is not cumbersome as you imply. As for having to contact the hotel, we stop by the concierge when we need a reservation and ask for them to take care of it for us. It is far from being a time consuming task.

No, it was not more trouble in the Lucca versus Orvieto scenario. We did not book seat reservations for the Lucca trip - as I said earlier "I book our seat reservations for the longer segments upon arrival in Italy" We simply went to the station and got on a train to Orvieto. No waiting in line at kiosks or at the window since we did not have to purchase anything. So, no, not simpler to have to stop and buy a ticket. We got on and showed our pass to the conductor when she/he came by.

"A seat reservation yes, but a pass is not a seat reservation. You can easily buy a ticket with a seat reservation without a pass. "

Thank you but I am well aware of the difference.
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