Is Eurail Worth It? A Cost Evaluation on Whether It Works For You!

Posted By Jeremy in Europe, Planning | 4 comments

Top 100 Experiences

RailyardWhen planning a trip to Europe, you may hear about rail passes from companies like Eurail that offer multiple regional segments or full unlimited use passes on many rail networks throughout most of the countries in Europe.  I know from experience that many travelers are hesitant on purchasing a rail pass for a number of reasons, with rigidity and limitations being a few of the biggest.  But for all those who can get past these minor details, a lot of effort is required in identifying the best pass and even if a rail pass is worth the money at all!  To help, we’ve put together this post as a result of our years of research on Europe’s ultimate travel question: to Eurail or not to Eurail?  (Photo “Railway Tracks” by fcl1971)

Pass Types, Prices, and What It Means For You

Several different types of Eurail passes exist, and in many cases choosing the right one for you could make the difference between an amazing trip that saves tons of cash and a ticket that ends up costing more than the individual tickets put together.  How do you know which one is right for you?  Research, of course!

Before we begin this guide, we need make a quick warning.  To summarize the passes that are available on the Eurail network in one word, it would be this: tons.

There are tons of passes available.  Country Specific Passes, Regional Passes, Maximum Country Passes, Global Passes.  Passes discounted for young adults, passes discounted for children, passes discounted for adults with 2 or more per group if traveling together on all routes.  It goes even further, many of these passes can be purchased both on validity period (that is, the number of months the pass is good for), as well as the number of times you can use it for a trip (defined as a period of 24 hours of train travel).

With so many options, you may even consider just looking into flights for each route instead as cheap flights to Nice and other destinations on your route may look more cost effective when put side by side.  But I’ll let you in on a little secret – this is exactly what you need to do when looking at transit costs in Europe!  It is time to research!

The prices listed below are an example of just a few of the pass types that are available, and are the Global and Select passes for travel after March 2013 in a 1st class saver for a group of 2 adults over the age of 26.  If you are an adult looking for a rail pass but traveling solo, unfortunately you will be paying almost 18% more for the same ticket!  The trade off for the groups (up to 5 per group) is that you must all be present on each transit day to have the discount as only one group pass is issued.   (Note: all prices featured in this post are per person and are only accurate at the time of publishing.  We have been informed that prices and pass types have since changed.)

3 country (5/6/8/10 days in 2 months) – $396/$438/$518/$600
4 country (5/6/8/10 days in 2 months) – $443/$485/$564/$644
5 country (5/6/8/10/15 days in 2 months) – $489/$529/$611/$688/$872

10 days in 2 months – $738
15 days in 2 months – $968
15 continuous days – $625
21 continuous days – $808
1/2/3 continuous months – $994/$1402/$1729

If these aren’t enough to confuse anyone, you’re not alone.  These are just a few of the many passes available, and begs the question: How do you pick the right one?!

A Case Study

Trains Around the World

The answer to the question above is simply this – research thoroughly.

Lets look at a case study on an itinerary a reader sent to us with a question about this very topic (and what inspired this post).  The reader wanted to visit France, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy in a period of about two months.  In those countries they wanted to visit four cities in France, four in Switzerland, one or two in Austria, and four or five in Italy.  (Photo “Train Station” by sher371)

These countries are all touching, so a limited country regional pass is likely the best fit compared to a global pass that covers the entire Euro zone.  This itinerary covers four countries and 13 to 15 cities with a few long-haul trips in France and Italy respectively.  In addition to the countries, the reader is of adult age and traveling with their spouse, so they qualify for a group discount of 15% per pass and the prices we listed above.

What are the options?
2 month Global Pass – $1,402 with service every day
4 country Select Pass (10 days) – $644
5 country Select Pass (15 days) – $872

A swing of $800 per person could be a big chunk of your travel money, so making the right choice upfront is quite the important one.  While a Global Pass would cover all the day trips our reader may want to take, it is unlikely that the total cost of all transit for those would swing up $600+.  So lets cross that option off outright due to being on the expensive end.

In this case, the best pass that suits this itinerary would either be the 5 country, 15 stop region pass or the 4 country, 10 stop region pass in a period of two months.  With 13 to 15 transit days, our reader may be not using a few stops in the 15 day pass, but would then have the benefit of using these remaining days for expensive day trips at last minute. If our reader chooses the 10 transit day pass, they will then be responsible for buying the extra rides as they go, contributing added cost on top of the price of the pass.

But to truly understand the cost savings possible, it is best to look at prices individually.  There are two cases to consider when doing this as we said, which includes looking at the full fare ticket for last minute purchases as well as the early bird discounts available when tickets first go on sale.  You may not always get an early bird discount, especially if traveling last minute, but it is always worth a peak to see if you’ll be getting your moneys worth.

Here is what we found when looking at prices on Rail Europe.  We could not find a very good approximation on what a “discounted” rate would be, but found a range of full fare prices for the economy seat as well as the premium seat.  For the sake of analysis, lets call these prices the max for both classes when available:

Economy Premium
1 – Paris to Bordeaux $85 $190
2 – Bordeaux to Avignon $102
3 – Avignon to Nice $70 $140
4 – Nice to Geneva $120 $221
5 – Geneva to Zermatt $99 $170
6 – Zermatt to Lauterbrunnen (Lucerne) $163 $275
7 – Lauterbrunnen to Zurich $28 $48
8 – Zurich to Austrian Alps $96 $154
9 – Austrian Alps to Venice $66 $120
10 – Venice to Cinque Terre $85 $115
11 – Cinque Terre to Florence $9 $12
12 – Florence to Rome $60 $88
13 – Rome to Naples $32
14 – Naples to Rome $32

Total                    $1,047 / $1,699
Average                    $75 / $121

For a five country, 15 day pass, our reader would have to spend $872 to buy the pass (per person) and could save anywhere from $175 to $827 if purchasing a rail pass minus any reservation fees.  For a four country, 10 day pass, our reader would have to spend $644 but spend an additional $101-$124 for the extra four cheapest rides, or $768 total.

Join our weekly newsletter to stay up-to-date with our newest posts!

Which is better of the two? Well, it is still hard to say.

The extra use on the 15 day pass can be used for an expensive day trip, and may even cover the cost of the difference from the 10 day pass, but it is hard to say without knowing more about our reader’s plans on the ground.  This could make the biggest difference of the whole experience.  Likewise, a few good early booking deals may eat up the difference of the pass if all of the economy prices are available.  In this itinerary in particular, the multiple short distance segments offset the cost of the long-distance segments, but balance pretty favorably for a pass in most cases. (Photo “Station 1” by jnichols)

Trains Around the World

How About Airfare Alternatives?

As you can see, a few of the individual prices above are quite expensive in terms of individual one way prices.  A few in particular include the Paris to Bordeaux and Nice to Geneva routes which are rather high for what you get.  The France route is higher in price due to being on the high speed network, while the rather short Nice to Geneva route requires several transfers and is quite costly and time consuming for all that is involved.  So if our reader was wanting to consider booking tickets individually, it may be best to consider what other options are available to get around?

Airfare in Europe can be quite cheap, and when considering transit times will be far shorter than a 4-6 hour train ride for a very minimal distance.  That Paris to Bordeaux trip may not have any discounted flight, but cheap flights to Geneva on Swiss Air could be cut to as little as $60!  A cost savings of anywhere from $30 to $110 per ticket when bought individually.  Many booking companies even have smart phone apps to help fine great last minute deals that are otherwise unpublished and hard to find too, bringing the booking cost down even further!

These budget flights may exist for 2-3 more of the rather pricey transits on our reader’s itinerary, and could add up fast if they decide to avoid using a rail pass altogether. On the other hand, if our reader finds a few more routes with cheap airfare, they could also easily drop into the 10 transit Eurail pass and save a fair bit of time on travel days, or balance a lower use pass (6/8 days) while paying as they go with cheaper rail routes (Rome to Naples, for example) and even save a bit of money too!

So, To Eurail or Not To Eurail?

Traveling Soon? Book Your Trip Today at:

*The above links contain affiliate information.

Based on the case study above, we would recommend to our reader to definitely check out a rail pass but also consider budget flights when feasible.  But while a rail pass looks great for our reader’s itinerary, this may not be true for everybody.  For all decisions between Eurail and non-Eurail travel, you must look at your own specific scenario, travel dates, and most importantly what level of flexibility you would be interested in having.  Those with multiple long-haul train rides will certainly benefit from a pass, as these rail prices can have quite the sticker shock.  But on the other hand, when considering long-haul travel, a cheap budget flight may exist and cut the cost by a factor of four or five.  The only way to figure out what works best is to do the research.  In this one instance, your time will most certainly be rewarded.

Help us out!  Have you used a rail pass before?  Do you think our assessment touches all the topics our reader needs to know in planning their trip?  Let us know your recommendations by commenting below!

Need inspiration on where to visit while in Europe? Check out our favorite spots like Poznan, Poland, the Seven Rila Lakes of Bulgaria, or Budapest!


Jeremy founded Living the Dream in 2008 to chronicle his long-term trip around Asia. Since then he has been on two long-term trips, visited 68 countries, and is just getting started. He is now on a Lifestyle Design quest to build businesses to pursue a life of travel.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookPinterestGoogle PlusFlickr

First Time Here?

Check out our Top 100 travel experiences from two long-term trips and over two years on the road!

Travel Store


Build a Better Travel Blog

Check out the services we personally use to help our blogs grow and succeed!

Performance Foundry Hosting   Elegant Themes   Travel Blog Success

Viral Tag Social Media Scheduling   Professional Travel Bloggers Association   OIO Publisher Ad Billing

Opt-In Monster Newsletter Pop-Ups   King Sumo Giveaway Plugin   Bluehost Hosting

*Contains affiliate links.


  1. LOL Jeremy – well no, I doubt that my budget is much larger than yours, for I am but a dodderin’ lass on a very fixed income (one of the reasons I live here in sweetly cheapo Asia to begin with). 😉

    Plus – I dare say that no matter one’s budget these choices are ever a trade-off – the more I can save by taking a chance on ever-changing transport fares (and you yourself said that you can “always get cheaper flights…”) – the further/more often/more places in this wondrous world I can visit.

    As I said, I too have made exceptions for pricey locations that demand it (see “Oz bus” above – indeed, turns out that Australia is even MORE expensive than Europe!) so it’s ever a YMMV situation.

    The point is, my own travel mantra isn’t driven by some pre-contrived itinerary to see X number of countries and/or this gottasee sight or that. But rather, were I to find myself stuck in place Y ‘cuz all the trains were full (and I couldn’t otherwise grab a cheapo air fare), why I’d just rethink my (ever loose) “plan”, and go with whatever (usually happily serendipitous) options present themselves. Shoot, maybe an oxcart to the next village would work. 😉

    Post a Reply
  2. I agree in the freedom aspect, especially in the case of RTW air tickets, but I think Europe needs a special distinction if looking to go on a budget. With air I can always get cheaper flights on my own if I try hard enough, but the same is not true about last minute train tickets in high season (good luck even finding a seat). In that respect, and because Europe is expensive), I am often of the mindset of being less flexible just because of the nature of the location almost demands it – unless you have a budget much larger than mine!

    Post a Reply
  3. Before we left for Europe for two months, I calculated out the cost of every single destination we thought we would be going to. The only one that made sense was the Global Pass which was outrageously expensive, so we decided to not get passes. Especially since the train from London to Paris is NOT covered and that’s one of the most expensive ones.

    Post a Reply
  4. LOL Jermey – I now have a HEADACHE just from breezing though the options! 😉

    But seriously. Given my penchant for “spontaneity” in my travels, imho it is coupleoftravels’ “…we THOUGHT we would be going to.” comment that is the operative phrase here.

    In short, unless you have very limited time and/or an extremely tight/concrete itinerary in mind, there would have to be a HUGE difference in the pass cost vs. ala carte to get me to buy a pass.

    IOW, for but what? 15 – 20% savings – you want me to put my entire itinerary into a box? Sorry, but I’ll take my chances with cheap budget flights and/or ala carte train fares, thankyouverymuch.

    True, YMMV and I must admit – I bought a hop on/off Greyhound bus pass to wander up the loooooong coast of Oz just recently (unlimited stops for up to 3 months and I was only there for a month) and it worked out quite nicely.

    Still, I’ve long been skeptical of the trade-off between such rail passes, RTW air tickets, etc. and the flexibility to stray from some set itinerary that I was forced to devise whilst seated at my computer in [insert your hometown here] weeks/months in advance.

    Indeed, flexibility and spontaneity (a.k.a. F.R.E.E.D.O.M.) are a large part of the reason I travel at all, so any restriction on such better have mighty sweet ruble savings if they even hope to get my attention.

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *