Buying a European rail pass is an excellent way to explore Europe – it may not be the cheapest option but it certainly is the handiest and the most comfortable way to do it.
For most people, the prices are not actually that outrageous and there is good value for money to be had if you are planning a 2 or 3 month trip and want to move around a lot and travel some decent distances.
So which one is cheaper and better? How much do these passes ACTUALLY cost? I thought I would do some of the heavy lifting research for you, that way you’re educated and ready to go for that next Eurotrip without having to fiddle around comparing all your rail pass options.
Let’s cover off some basic questions first…
What countries are covered and can be used to travel around with a European rail pass?
I investigated passes offered by both sites, and both are for the same 23 countries as tabbed below:
Are you a European citizen? Uh oh!
RailEurope states: “Residents of Europe, the Russian Federation or Turkey are not eligible to purchase or use this rail pass.”
EURail states: “Only non-European residents can use a Eurail pass.” (Note from me: I checked their T&C’s and this ALSO applies to Russia & Turkey – sorry guys!).
For European Residents there are InterRail passes available – we won’t be looking into those today in this post. RailEurope and EURail are both designed for NON-EU citizens.
We will do this all in USD to keep things easy.
What is a global rail pass? – It allows you to travel as much as you want for the duration of the pass. The same passes are offered by both websites, so who has the better deal? Let’s begin the price showdown.
Please note these prices are correct as of October, 2012.
Global rail passes come in two forms, one for “Youth” and one for the “Adult”. I’ve compiled them both into separate tables below for a comprehensive table comparison.
Youth passes are available for those under the age of 26.
Those aged 26 and over need to book an adult pass.
Let’s take a look at some of the Select Pass options from both websites and see who offers the better deal. All of these passes need to be used within a 2 month period (pretty standard for the Select passes) and have a set amount of travel days. You can also only use them between bordering countries (eg Germany/Austria/Italy or Italy/France/Spain).
– RailEurope: $297
– EURail: $298
– RailEurope: $454
– EURail: $455
– RailEurope: $421
– EURail: $423
– RailEurope: $645
– EURail: $648
– RailEurope: $650
– EURail: $653
– RailEurope: $998
– EURail: $1,003
What is a travel day? A travel day lasts 24 hours, in which you can take as many trains as you wish (from midnight to midnight).
Let’s do this as a Q&A conversation, shall we?
Do you want total freedom?
If the answer to this question is yes, then there is only one pass for you: the global pass.
This allows you to travel as much as you like, for as many days as you like for the period of the pass. If you plan to do a lot of travelling this can be a huge savings in transport costs. However, if you only catch the train 5 or 6 times, then this is not going to give you enough value for money.
Global passes are relatively expensive (see tables above), but the advantage is… total freedom to explore Europe with the extensive and awesome train system!
Are you on a bit of a tight budget?
If you have a solid idea of where you’re going and how many days you want to catch the train, the select pass can be the perfect solution for both convenience and budget.
Remember it only applies to bordering countries and you have a set amount of travel days. Still, with one travel day lasting literally the whole day – you can get the train anywhere, Europe
is not is THAT big!
The choice is yours…It all depends on how you like to travel and how many countries you plan on visiting. It’s possible to do a mix of a select pass, buses & planes as well but this means a bit more research and on-the-fly travel (booking bus tickets at locations, that sort of thing). A global pass means your transport is completely taken care of for the whole trip.
Winner: No-one, I just added this information in to help you choose a rail pass
Further reading: 5 Reasons To Travel By Train In Europe
When it comes to the websites, I much prefer the structure and layout of the EURail site. It’s way more user friendly when you’re researching prices and has a cleaner, more modern look and appeal.
However I do prefer the “Help” section on the RailEurope site, it’s quite comprehensive and explains things clearly.
Winner: EURail takes the prize for the better website. The way they display the pricing for tickets is superb and makes for easy comparisons between your options.
Both websites offer 15% discount for booking 2 or more passes at the same time. So if you’re going with a friend or two, make sure you book your passes together!
Shipping actually raises a few interesting points as both sites do it a little differently.
RailEurope offers free shipping based on the cost of the pass that you’re going to buy;
EURail always offers free economy shipping (but via registered mail, just will take a bit longer to arrive) or a standard track and trace shipping for $9 USD.
Depending on what time of year it is and what’s on offer, both sites will often have coupon codes available. Whether it’s free shipping for RailEurope or literally cash or a percentage off the total – it’s worth looking! The coupons are not evergreen so I won’t list any here and there are not always some available, but a quick Google search will give you a few to try and see if you can shave some dollars off.
Interestingly enough, the overall winner actually depends on which type of pass you’re going to purchase.
In terms of pricing, RailEurope always beats EURail even if it’s only for a few dollars. The best budget choice is actually determined by their difference in shipping structure.
Please note that the below link for RailEurope is my affiliate link. If you decide to use it I get a small commission of any sale at no cost to yourself. As always, for anyone who uses the link I really appreciate your support!
For those buying a global pass worth over $499, it’s cheaper to go with RailEurope.
For those purchasing a select pass under the value of $499, it’s better to go with EURail.
So there we have it, this post took me way longer then I thought it would – hope you found it useful! Overland travel for the win!
If you’re planning an upcoming backpacking adventure, you might like to check out my super guide on the matter.