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Rail Passes vs. Point-to-point Tickets

Rail Passes vs. Point-to-point Tickets

Ah, the great debate: to buy a pass or to buy point-to-point tickets?

That depends on what kind of traveller you are. If you’re on a tight budget, are staying in only a few cities, or if you plan out your trip in advance and travel second class, you may find that point-to-point tickets are cheaper. But if you plan to cover a lot of territory, love the freedom of travelling on a whim, crave convenience, or want to know with come certainty how much your European adventure is going to cost you, you’ll find railpasses will likely save you more money and time. Rail Europe’s website has an interactive railpass finder that will help you compare point-to-point tickets up against a pass.

Pass Pluses

  • Passes allow for spontaneity. Many itineraries are cheaper if you buy point-to-point tickets rather than a pass. Buy what a pass gives you is the flexibility to dodge ticket lines and vending machines, and often to ignore schedules, you simple show up at the station to hop onto the next train to anywhere.If you’re a peripatetic traveller who wants to see every new day in a different city, or a spontaneous traveller who wants to follow your whims, railpasses are for you. You’ll still have to make reservations for high-speed or overnight trains, but if you choose to avoid the reservation counter entirely, you may find your trip made more spontaneous on a slower train that stops in fascinating small towns along the way.

    Consider also that a single full fare TGV round-trip between Paris and Avignon can cost up to $220. That’s only $50 less than a full fare 3-day France Railpass, and only $7 less than a second-class France Railpass, either of which will allow you 3 days of unlimited travel throughout the country within a 30-day period. Clearly, the pass is the way to go if you’re going first class over long distances.

  • Speedy trains mean big savings for passholders. Generally, if you’re travelling several long-distance legs on high-speed trains, especially within large countries such as France or Germany, a single-country pass will pay off. The triangular route of Berlin-Munich-Frankfurt-Berlin will cost you $369 for point-to-point tickets in second class. But a 4-day second-class German Rail Pass for the same trip will only run $234, a big cost savings, and you’ll have an extra rail day left on the pass.
  • If you’re staying in one or two countries and talking long trips, passes are winners. The France-Italy Pass is a good deal, because it reduces the huge face on overnight trains between those two countries to a cool $36 (if you’re sleeping in a couchette). Even if you’re just going from Paris to Rome and Venice and back, you end up savings $6 by getting a France Italy Pass over buying point-to-point tickets. Not a high cost savings, but enough to buy lunch, and you enjoy the added flexibility that a railpass offers.
  • Railpasses are usually discounted if you buy in volume. BritRail offers a Party Pass for adult passengers travelling together. The third through ninth passholders travelling together receive a 50% pass discount. Many Eurail passes offer “saver” varieties for two or more people travelling together; these discount the per-person rate.
  • Railpasses lock in your transportation costs. If you’re waffling between buying point-to-point tickets or railpasses, consider this: you can purchase a railpass up to 6 months in advance of your trip, while most European trains won’t sell tickets sooner than 30 to 60 days prior to travel. Buying in advance means you can firm up your budget early and head off currency fluctuations down the road.

Point to Point Advantages

Rail Passes vs. Point-to-point Tickets

  • If you’re not travelling far, don’t bother with a pass. It’s almost impossible to make the Benelux Pass pay off because trips in Belgium and the Netherlands are so short and cheap. Even if you cram Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden, Delft, The Hague, Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels into your trip, you’ll only have spend around $87 on point-to-point tickets if you buy them in Europe, well short of the $207 you’d pay for Benelux Pass.In Italy, 3-day Italy Pass starts at $196 (plus reservation fees if you’re taking Eurostar Italia trains). But if you plan to travel between only two or three cities (say Rome to Florence to Venice, an itinerary that costs only $90 in point-to-point tickets), you’re not covering enough ground to warrant the purchase of a pass.
  • A quick trip across a border is best done point-to-point. If you’re just slipping from the Benelux into Germany, a Eurail Benelux-Germany Pass is overkill. Get a single country pass for the country you’re spending most time in, and supplement it with a point to point ticket or two. Look into getting two one-country passes (or tow-country combo passes such as the France-Italy or France-Spain passes) only if you’re spending considerable time in two countries. Some international high-speed trains offer pass 2 rates that are valid when only one of the countries you’re travelling through is covered by a railpass.
  • Eastern Europe is really cheap. Point to point tickets in Eastern Europe are so inexpensive that raillpasses become difficult to justify unless you’re continually hopping on and off trains or travelling very long distances.
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