Get up to speed with what's new in the E.U.
A question many travelers ask themselves before embarking on a cross-European journey is “Should I buy the Eurail Pass?” Starting in 2019, changes to the pass in regard to pricing, flexibility, and the addition of new partner countries means that now might be a good time to get on board.
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How Does the Eurail Pass Work?
The Eurail Pass functions as a ticket for all train routes run by participating operators throughout Europe. The pass makes it possible for travelers to move freely around the continent over a chosen period of time with the ability to hop on any train at any time and without the need to have plans made in advance. The pass is for visitors who reside outside of Europe (Europeans must purchase the Interrail pass which functions in the same way as the Eurail pass).
The pass is only available for purchase prior to arriving in Europe and is a paper ticket that must be presented every time you use it. The purchase options for the pass vary according to the time frame and frequency of use, but the pass is good for all national, regional, intercity, and overnight train routes (it’s not valid for use on a city’s metro or bus system).
The Eurail Pass makes it easier and more convenient to travel along Europe’s comprehensive rail system and, if used wisely, can save both time and money.
In 2019, after 60 years in operation, Eurail has made significant changes to the pass that aim to provide more options for budget-conscious travelers.
So, what’s new in 2019?
Up until this year, the pass structure required travelers to choose between access to either one, two, three, or four countries. Now, Eurail has narrowed the options to only two choices — the One Country Pass or the Global Pass, the latter of which is valid in all 31 partner countries.
This simplifies the purchasing process for travelers who do not know exactly which countries they plan to visit. The validity options have also increased, making it easier to purchase a pass that covers the exact amount of time or trips desired.
INSIDER TIPIn some cases, One Country Passes encompass a group of countries within a larger region, such as Scandinavia or Benelux.
Flexible Pass Types
In addition to the number of countries, travelers must also choose the range of time or number of trips for which the pass is valid. The Continuous Pass allows for unlimited travel over a period of time that can range from 15 days to three months. The Flexi Pass is valid for a specified number of days within a selected time frame, and in 2019 the range of selections has expanded.
The Continuous Pass is ideal for those who want to see a lot in a short period of time, while the Flexi Pass accommodates who prefer to take it slower. Determine which pass options are right for your trip here.
Explore the Greek Islands With a Rail Pass
A lesser-known option is the Greek Islands Pass, which in 2019 increased access from 28 islands all the way up to 53 islands across six island groups. The pass is valid for use on all domestic ferries that are operated by Blue Star Ferries and Hellenic Seaways, the primary ferry companies serving the Greek Isles. Point-to-point ferry tickets don’t come cheap in the height of travel season, especially last minute. This pass is ideal for travelers who plan to visit more than one group of islands or those who want to hop on a whim.
The price of the pass may have deterred some travelers in the past, but this year the price of the adult pass has come down 37% and the addition of senior and youth passes has brought the cost down further for travelers who fall within the relevant age groups. The Youth Pass is available to all travelers between the ages of 12 to 27, and offers a 20% discount on the adult fare.
The Eurail pass also extends discounts on popular tourist attractions such as Disneyland Paris, museums throughout Europe, city cards, and ferry travel.
Ride First or Second Class
Another new perk is the option to purchase either first or 2second class travel on all passes, regardless of age. The 2nd class option can lower the cost another 25%, helping budget travelers to save their money for other endeavors.
For those who want comfort and a few extras, the 1st class option is well within the range of affordability. The perks of 1st class are predictable enough—extra legroom, quieter cars, and roomier, abundant seating. Second class has its advantages despite its implications. Many second class cars have similar amenities (electrical outlets, tables, WiFi) but at a lower price point, and travelers looking to meet kindred spirits are more likely to do so in 2nd class.
The exact specifications of first and second class differ between country and rail operator, and some trains do not even offer a 1st class option. Travelers who know the countries they plan to visit in advance can view Eurail’s Partner Railways to find out if a first-class option is available.
New Partner Countries
Starting in 2019, Macedonia, Lithuania, and Great Britain have all partnered with Eurail, bringing the total number of accessible countries up to 31. The addition of Great Britain means the pass can now be used (with a seat reservation) on the high-speed Eurostar train that connects London to Europe via Avignon, Brussels, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Paris, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam.
The complete list of partner countries is Austria, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, FYR Macedonia, Germany, Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales), Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.
Purchasing Seat Reservations
Reservations are necessary for certain trains, such as overnight routes that require a seat in a sleeper car, popular high-speed routes that travel through multiple countries such as the Eurostar, or exceptionally long or highly-traveled scenic routes like the Golden Pass in Switzerland. Reservations are recommended (but not required) during peak travel periods such as the summer months, the December holiday season, or on popular routes between major cities.
Seat reservations are an additional cost which can range from €1 to over €100, depending on the route. Seats can be reserved on any train up to three months in advance and can be purchased at the train station before departure or through Eurail’s Rail Planner app.
INSIDER TIPWhen using the pass, it is crucial to follow the directions. Before the very first trip using the pass, the pass must be activated at the train station before boarding. Prior to each boarding, the travel diary section must be filled out with the details of the journey—the date and time of the train, the travel route (from/to) and the transport type. If the pass is not filled out properly, it is within the ticket agent’s authority to invalidate the entire pass.
In lieu of printouts and paperwork, most travelers nowadays use their smartphone to manage their itineraries, reservations, and trip details when they are on the go. Eurail’s Rail Planner app makes it easy to search and book Eurail network routes, access the itinerary, and find out if a train requires a seat reservation and then subsequently purchase it through the app.
When to Buy the Eurail Pass vs. Point-to-Point Tickets
When a travel itinerary is set ahead of time and is not expected to change, purchasing point-to-point tickets is generally more economical than buying the rail pass. Ticket prices for trains are similar to airlines in that the prices are lower when a ticket is bought well in advance.
There are a few travel styles that make the Eurail Pass a time and money saver:
- Ambitious travelers who want to cover distances and make many stops in a shorter period of time.
- Spontaneous travelers who do not have a set itinerary and plan to buy tickets on the day of their desired journey will avoid paying the higher last-minute ticket prices.
- Touring the Greek Islands and wanting the freedom to stay or to go whoever you want rather than planning it all in advance makes the Eurail Pass a great option, especially in the high season and due to the comprehensive coverage now offered across the islands.
Those who are willing to spend more time crunching the numbers can take a more strategic approach. By purchasing a pass that includes less time or number of trips, the pass can be supplemented with point-to-point tickets when the price is nice.