Trouble with Euro Rail Pass
Prepared to Travel Europe
If you happened across my Hub on planning a trip to Europe, you know that I was fully prepared before I went with my fancy Eurorail pass. I knew that I would only be needing the train in France and Italy, so I purchased the the two country, 4 trip pass. It was advertised that this pass would allow me to travel between any major French or Italian city on 4 separate occasions within a two month period. I needed to get from Paris to Florence, then from Florence to Rome within a one week period, so this pass seemed to be the perfect fit for me. I spent $350 for the pass, and I was ready for Europe!
The First Sign
The first signal I received that something was amiss was when my Euro rail pass arrived in the mail. It came with a booklet full of instructions, and a few quick pointers. Being an average young American, I quickly discarded the instruction booklet, and read the quick tips.
The most important tip was that you need to reserve the train ticket before the trip. I guess that makes sense, the pass can't guarantee that there will be space available on the exact train that I need. No biggie. Then I read the fine print. Each train only reserved a small number of spaces for Euro rail pass holders. Maybe I could deal with that. I'll just make sure I reserve my seat far enough in advance. More fine print...there might be a reservation fee. Ok, that doesn't make a lot of sense, I just paid $350 and now I will have to pay a reservation fee? But I already had the pass, so I figured I would go with it. The reservation fee couldn't be too much right, and it would be worth it to know that I could travel to all the cities that I needed.
Once in Europe
It wasn't until I actually tried to use the Euro rail pass that I realized how much of a rip-off it really was. I had just arrived in Paris, and was at the train station trying to reserve a seat to Florence. This is when I realized that the Euro rail is not a company that has railways throughout Europe, like the American Amtrak. The best way to describe it is as an organization in which SOME of the European railway companies are part. The individual railway companies all make their own rules in regards to whether they will accept the Euro rail pass, and under what conditions.
So back to being in Paris. I learned at the Parisian train station that France's railway company no longer traveled from Paris to Florence (this was not clear on the Euro rail map that I used prior to purchasing my ticket). I would have to try the Italian train company.
The Italian train company only ran trains from Paris to Milan, and then Milan to Florence. This would be an overnight train, and the Eurorail pass would not be accepted. It would cost me $200 for the ticket.
So I realized when I was in Paris that my $350 Euro rail pass would be useless in my travels from Paris to Florence. I quickly went to Travelocity.com and booked a plane ticket for $150. I already had all my hotels booked, I wasn't about to take a detour and spend a night on the streets on Milan!
When I arrived in Florence, the first thing I did was head to the train station to attempt to book a train to Rome. I was in luck, the Italian railway company had trips between the two countries every 3 hours, every day! Whew! Then I learned that they charged a E10 (about $20 at the time) reservation fee for using the Euro rail pass. I paid the fee, and had my reservation! I made it to Rome without any further incident.
All in all, I paid about $370 for a $45 train ticket from Florence to Rome. If I had to do it again, I would book individual tickets for each city I wanted to go to. That would be much cheaper and much more efficient.
I think the Euro rail pass might be a good idea for people who do not have a set itinery; who are just going with the flow, getting on a train when the wind takes them. This way they would only have to pay a few bucks each time they were ready to travel. However, for those of us with set itineraries, this pass does not make any sense.
I wish I had this information available before I purchased the pass, and I hope that my experiences can help save someone the trouble. I would also be interested in hearing comments from others who have used the pass, good and bad, to see what mistakes I made and how to avoid them.