Hey traveling friends — today one of Rail Europe’s most well-traveled experts, Ben H., is going to help you sort out your European vacation budget. Ben took his first train trip at age 23 and has been hooked ever since (two of his favorite countries are France & Germany), so he’s definitely got the scoop on the top money saving tips for European train travel. Take it away, Ben!
Money Saving Tips for European Train Travel
1. Plan your itinerary.
If you are traveling with a Rail Pass, sticking to a set itinerary allows you to purchase the sometimes mandatory seat reservations and lock down the price of your travel right from the start.
Keep in mind: Last minute changes can result in change fees, cancellation penalties and limited availability of passholder reservations, which could result in higher last minute ticket prices. So make sure you only book reservations for trips you know you want to take for sure — if you want to be more flexible, you can wait to purchase reservations at the train station (but keep in mind trains often sell out in the summertime).
2. Book Early.
Some routes offer significant discounts when purchased in advance. If you are traveling with a pass, reservations (also known as passholder fares) have a limited availability and may quickly become unavailable for your train if you wait too long.
Keep in mind: Discounted rates may be restrictive when it comes to refunds or changes allowing less flexibility than a full fare ticket. This is the same drill with plane tickets, event tickets — pretty much a common thing with tickets, so this probably isn’t a shocker.
3. Compare Rail Pass vs. Point-to-Point Tickets.
Depending on the itinerary and the price of seat reservations for each leg of your journey, point-to-point tickets may be a better option than traveling with a pass and reservations.
Keep in mind: If you are traveling with a pass, some routes such as Eurostar between London and Paris or Brussels and Thalys between Paris and Brussels or Amsterdam can charge more than the average $11 for seat reservations. When traveling with tickets, you don’t have to purchase a seat reservation as this cost is included in the price of your ticket.
4. Take an overnight train.
Why spend money on a hotel stay when you can just chug along through the night, lulled by the sounds of the train? When you wake, you’ll have an entire day to see the sights. Save even more by booking a couchette, which is a shared compartment with six beds. Think of it as a hostel on the train. (There’s private cabins too if this isn’t your thing.)
Keep in mind: While overnight trains can save precious travel time, you’ll miss the gorgeous scenery outside the train window. But the scenery at your arrival destination the next day will be worth it!
5. Travel with a friend.
Many passes offer a Saver rate, which offers a discount for groups of two to five passengers who are traveling together at all times.
Keep in mind: All names will be printed on a single pass. If one of traveler on the pass decides to take a trip on his own, the whole traveling party will lose a rail day. You’d better stick together. If you’re on a trip with someone to “save a relationship” – this may not be your best bet (fiscal advice + relationship advice… we do it all!)
6. Using a rail pass? Take a day trip: leave in the morning and return in the evening, and you will only be using one travel day on your pass…
There are so many incredible towns right outside big cities. In anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours, you could be soaking in another travel experience when you’ve got a rail pass. Plus, day trips help you save days on your pass. A rail day is a 24-hour period from midnight to midnight. You could hop on and off all day if you wanted to! (And I have. It’s awesome.)
Keep in mind: Is one day enough time to spend in any European city? (The answer, both yes and no.)
7. Or if you don’t want to do a whole day trip, make a stopover.
Most rail stations have lockers allowing travelers to stop for several hours on the way to their destination. If traveling a long distance – say between Berlin and Prague, why not stop in Dresden? Or Strasbourg if heading to Munich from Paris? Can’t do that from 30,000 feet up, can you? Just be sure to book reservations for both segments of the journey and check the closing time of the luggage consignment office while at the station. If using a rail pass this will only use one day of travel.
Keep in mind: This can make for a fast paced vacation and is not recommended for everyone. Larger cities such as Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Berlin – you know – the cultural icons – require far more than a few hours to explore. But we also get it if you want to try to cover as much ground as possible.
8. Take advantage of bonuses that come with rail passes.
Most rail passes offer bonuses – including discounts on travel cards, museums, restaurants and shopping. Sometimes even river and lake excursions and ferry crossings. You can view an example of the Bonuses that come with the Eurail Global Pass here, and they will also be listed in the rail pass booklet you receive with your pass.
Keep in mind: Some passes require the use of a day on your rail pass, some don’t. The general rule is this: if the bonus offers you something for “free,” then it uses a travel day. If it offers you a discount on something, then you don’t have to use a day on the pass.
We hope you enjoyed Ben’s top money saving tips for European train travel. All that’s left is for you is to pick a destination and get traveling!
PS: Like this post? Save it to Pinterest so you don’t lose track of it!