Rail Passes Explained.

Rail Pass

Unlike individual train tickets that are valid for a single or round trip journey between two cities, a rail pass is a travel document that allows you to take an unlimited number of trips within a specific geographical area (country/countries) and for a certain number of days. Let’s use Italy as an example. If you buy a three-day Eurail Italy Pass you can take as many train trips in Italy as you like during three days of your choice, within a two-month period. Depending on the kind of rail pass you buy, you can pick and choose the days you want to travel (known as travel days) within a certain timeframe (known as the validity period), or you can travel every day during the entire validity period.

There are two main advantages of traveling with a rail pass. First, a rail pass is usually more cost effective when you plan on taking three trips or more compared to individual train tickets. And the more you travel, the better the value since the cost of the rail pass is fixed regardless of how many trips you take. The second benefit to a rail pass is flexibility. With most train  tickets you have to decide on your train, date and time of travel in advance. You can buy a rail pass with only a vague idea of your overall itinerary. Just define the boundary of the geographical area you plan on visiting and roughly how many trips you’ll be taking to pick the right rail pass. You can then decide your final itinerary as you go, while you’re in Europe, without being bound to the specific trains and travel times of train tickets. It’s important to note that in some cases, rail carriers require travelers with a rail pass to purchase a reservation in order to board specific train.

This is the case for many high speed trains and all overnight and international trains. We have a detailed article about reservations that we encourage you to read. It will give you a comprehensive understanding of the reservation requirements when traveling with a rail pass.

If you do plan on traveling on a train that requires reservations, you will have to pay a surcharge in addition to the cost of your rail pass in order to travel. Generally, reservation fees are much lower than the cost of a regular ticket, but this is not always the case. So, we recommend you do research when choosing between a rail pass or tickets.

Once you’ve chosen a rail pass, here’s how it works. Before boarding your first train, you need to activate your rail pass. This means a railway official has to stamp it, which marks the start of your pass validity period.

When you plan on using your rail pass, research the train schedules for the route you plan on taking to determine which train you want to board. Visit our site  to determine if this train is “reservation required”, “reservation recommended” or “non-reservable”.

If your train is “non-reservable” or “reservation recommended”, you can simply go to the station and hop on your train. If your train is “reservation required”, then you have to buy a reservation prior to boarding the train. This can be done from our website if e-tickets are available for the train you’d like, or from a ticket window at the train station.

If you’re traveling with a flexi pass, you also need to write down the date of travel in the rail pass travel calendar prior to boarding the train, regardless whether you travel with a reservation or not. And it’s important to also note that many rail passes offer additional benefits, also known as pass bonuses. Bonuses include discounted shopping, preferential rates on other modes of transportation like ferry or bus, rebates on hotel nights, reduced admission in museums and attractions, and more. You can review a detailed list of pass bonuses on our website by clicking the bonus tab on any rail pass page.