Is an Inter Rail pass worth it?

With such an extensive rail network throughout Europe in comparison to other continents, it’s no wonder train travel is a popular option for travel here. Depending upon where and when you are going, it can also be quicker and/or more comfortable than taking a plane. The question is, if you select travel by rail as you main mode of transport in Europe, should you book your ticket independently with each country’s rail provider, or do you go for something like an Inter Rail Europe train pass?

Will you save money opting for the pass? Will it be more convenient? Does it suit every type of Euro trip? Are there any hidden costs, and will it cover you for all the places you want to travel to? These are all questions that I had been asking myself before I headed out on my Inter Rail journey across Europe to review the product. I’m pleased to say through completing this trip, and travelling from Spain to Romania in the process via Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia, I was able to find answers to all of these questions.

Through this post I want to give you my conclusions on the above questions. That way if you are thinking of purchasing an Inter Rail pass or something similar, e.g. an EuRail pass if you are non-European, then you’ll have a better idea as to whether it will benefit you on your trip.

Information Overload?

The main problem travellers can find with a Euro trip in general is that with 50 countries spanning over approximately 9,938,000 km, each with their own language, customs, laws, and varying standards of transport, planning your trip can become something of a headache. You’re trying to decide where you want to go, during what time, and also make decisions that will make it the most cost-effective way for you to travel. If you don’t know the country in depth that you are travelling to, it can require a lot of research just to find out the most basic of details. Even with an Inter Rail pass, there is still research needed if you want to make the most of your pass. For a start, you have to look at what passes there are, and which would benefit you most.

To simplfy the process I thought I would list the 3 main types of pass here, a summary of what each entails, pros/cons etc, but more importantly, which type of traveller would suit what. Most people will find that they fit well with at least one type of Inter Rail pass. If you pick the right pass to suit your travels you could save a lot of money. I know I did. Pick the wrong pass to suit your trip however, and you could find you’re splashing out more than you anticipated, so it’s important to do a little ground work first to make sure you get the most out of your travel cash.

Please note: For simplicity, all prices quoted here are for youth 25 or under passes (I was travelling on a youth pass as I’m 23.) If you do not fall within this category, please check InterRailNet.com for more information.

1 month Global Pass – €409 – Unlimited train travel within or between 30 European countriessuits the traveller who doesn’t like to plan ahead, and wants to visit lots of countries.

  • This is the pass I had, and is for the no fuss style traveller who likes to go with the flow, chop/change plans as they go, and not have to worry about losing money should they change their itinerary or plans last minute.
  • You can travel on as many trains as you like, on any day (during the time your pass is valid of course), and in or between any of the 30 selected countries. You just go to the train station, make your reservation if applicable, and get on the train. It’s that simple.
  • With some trains you have to pay reservation fees. In particular, most international and night trains charge a reservation fee. In general I found that Eastern European countries tended not to have so many reservation fees, whereas popular western countries did, and they could be quite expensive too. For instance, I had to pay a €50 reservation for a 2nd class seat to travel by Elipsos train hotel from Barcelona to Milan, but from Ljubljana to Zagreb, Zagreb to Belgrade, and Belgrade to Bucharest I paid no reservation fees at all with each local train provider. I just got on and showed my pass.
  • If you chose your countries well you could easily get away with covering long distances on this trip by paying no extra. By choosing the wrong countries you could be paying hefty reservation fees, so chose wisely. If I’d have done more research before hand, I wouldn’t have been stuck with the trenhotel as my only option, so learn from my mistakes! 🙂
  • Definitely suited to those who like to country hop, and see as many places as they can over a short(ish) period of time.

– Similar types of pass to the 1 month Global Pass include the “Every day within 22 days pass” (€319) , and the “Every day within 15 days pass” (€289). They are basically the same as the 1 month global pass except you get less days. You may want to consider these if you have less time to travel, your budget doesn’t quite stretch to the 1 month pass, or you’d maybe like to do part of your trip with a rail pass, and the latter part without for instance.

10 days within 22 days Global Pass – €249 – Choose your own flexi travel days – suits the traveller who wants to country hop, but have days off in between. Also good for travellers who want flexibility.

  • For me the best pass after the 1 month global pass has to be this one. You have 10 days that you can travel on over a 22 day period. You choose which days, when, and in or between which of the 30 European countries available that you’d like to travel as you go along.
  • There is still the flexibility of the being able to decide on the day, but you don’t have the pressure of feeling like you have to travel everyday on a train to get the most value of your pass.
  • It’s also just cheaper than the consecutive travel global passes.
  • Again, reservation fees apply, so check before you get on the train if you need to make a reservation.
  • The most important thing with this pass is that you need to record on the form what train you are getting on, where to, when etc before you get on the train. If you don’t do this, and you get caught, you could be liable to pay a hefty fee or made to pay for a full-fare ticket amongst other things. With the consecutive passes you can travel everyday so you don’t have to bother about counting how many days of travel you have left.

– Alternatively, if you are only in Europe for a short time, there is another pass which gives you 5 days of travel within 10 days, costing €169.

One country passes – for the traveller who wants to focus on one country at a time, and see more of each destination.

If your trip is going to be focused a lot within one country, you may actually be better off getting a one country pass. Particularly with more expensive countries to travel by rail, such as Spain or France, this could save you a lot of money. Italy is also a popular option to purchase a one country pass as you often don’t have to pay reservation fees for travel within most parts of the country provided you have a pass.

  • To give you an example, if you are planning to travel Spain (which is for the record quite an expensive place to travel by rail), you can pay €119 for a one country pass that allows 3 days of travel within one month. This may seem like a lot for 3 days of travel, but when you consider it costs around €117 to get from Barcelona to Madrid by rail without a pass (and this price doesn’t really change at any point across the year) then it starts look worth it.
  • If you choose cheaper countries however, you can get a similar pass for as little as €49 in Croatia or Romania.
  • Reservation fees still apply on some journey’s, e.g. night trains.

Does the Inter Rail Pass save you money?

I’ve heard a lot of people gripe about Inter Rail passes in the past. I think the main problem however for most of these people was that they didn’t do their research before hand, pick the right pass for themselves, or the best countries to travel in with that pass. I think you also have to look at the bigger picture.

When you’re forking out hundreds of Euros for a pass, having to pay reservation fees on top can at first seem like you’re paying too much, but you have to look at the price that ticket would have cost you without the pass you begin to see the value.

For instance, when I travelled from Sevilla to Barcelona I had to pay a €10 reservation fee. This seemed like a lot just to reserve a seat, considering the pass on it’s own costs €409. However, to take that same journey without the pass would have cost me €142.30 booked online. It’s around a Euro more if you book it at the station. With Renfe, the Spanish rail company, there never seems to be any discount on trains for booking in advance. Prices tend to stay the same there. So in one journey I’ve already recuperated €132.30 of my pass, and I still had another 29 days of potential travel left to go at that point. Make a lot of journeys like that, and you will more than get your monies worth out of a Inter Rail pass. The key is to stick to popular routes, or cover long distances. This is where you will see the value in the pass.

Please note: The folks at InterRailNet.com/EuRail.com very kindly gave me a 1 month Inter Rail Gobal Pass for free in exchange for an honest review of the pass.

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9 Responses to “Is an Inter Rail pass worth it?”

  1. Jools Stone says:

    Very thorough and honest analysis Jane, good stuff. I guess the other thing to say – though it may be obvious to many travellers – is that, once you’ve worked out your route, it’s always worth comparing the price of indiv journeys to the pass cost itself, totting these up, as in much of eastern Europe it’s possibly cheaper to do it that way. Of course you lose the flexibility that way though, so perhaps it’s worth a few extras euros in the long run.

  2. Andy Jarosz says:

    As Jools says, a very thorough breakdown Jane. I made a similar analysis earlier in the year when we chose to travel by train from Lisbon to London. In our case it was cheaper to travel without the pass and to book individual tickets – some on the train companies’ sites (RENFE and SNCF) and others we bought at the station.

    Here’s my post if you’re interested:
    http://www.501places.com/2011/04/europe-rail-pass-value-for-money/

    Whether the pass is worth it does depend very much on the countries you visit (Spain in particular does clobber you with the reservations). We did find Renfe had some really good deals on their site for advanced, although the site is poorly designed in that you don’t actually see the discounts when you’re first shown the fares. Just checked Seville – Barcelona and found fares from €85, although not immediately obvious.

    If I was doing a big trip around Europe I’m pretty sure the pass would pay for itself, and the peace of mind of not worrying about fares is worth something too. But as you’ve pointed out and as Jools says, if you have a route planned it’s worth checking the fares to see whether it works for you.

    Very useful information for rail travellers. Thanks Jane.

  3. Wanda says:

    Couldn’t have found your post at a better time. We are heading off to Europe in a couple of weeks and have free days where we don’t have anything booked or planned. We looked at getting a rail pass and it does look like a sensible thing to do. We are going to France, Spain, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands so it looks like a little planning is in order. thanks Jane.

  4. Leigh says:

    Hi! My husband and I are just moving to Europe as U.S. Citizens for work over here. Do we look into eurorail passes because we have not been here more than six months or are we immediately considered residents within the first few days and therefore need to purchase inter rail passes? Finally….are eurorail passes cheaper or inter rail? If one of them is significantly cheaper and we should delay travel until we become residents and do inter rail or hasten it and travel upon arriving so we still qualify for eurorail then we will do that…i have google search this question and can’t seem to find an answer online so am hoping you can help me out.
    Thanks!

  5. Rikkert says:

    Good review, these are our experiences:

    I would love to tell you something about my first interrail trip back in 2011 but I want to focus on my last trip a few days ago. Anyway I want to compare them so here I go:

    My railroad trip in 2011 travelling with 2 persons was great.
    we visited Rome, Florence, Venice, Budapest, Vienna, Praque and Berlin.

    The DB Deutsche Bahn trains are well maintained good and fast, running on time. And even bring you outside of Germany! In Italy it’s not that easy to notice what trains are legit for the interrail pass and we did get a fine. (the fine was not that high).

    My railroad trip in 2014 (couple days ago) was heading al little more to the south-eastern part of “Europe”. travelling with 3 persons. We didn’t planned to much this time. We got our smartphones(with internet) and experience ready to go!

    We would have loved to see more city’s in the eastern part of Romania etc.
    The extensiveness of the rail network is not that good so we decided not to go that far. (some short distances trips would ‘ve cost us 30 hours)
    So we visited Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Ljubljana, Zagreb and Belgrade. We took a cheap flight back home (Amsterdam).

    Our trip from Belgrade to Budapest (to go to the Sziget festival) took a while because the Serbian train derailed. We had to walk to the next station, the conductor and railway crew were chilling and drinking some beer and told us just ‘ve a look outside.
    no guidance at all, quite dangerous.

    One more thing that we didn’t really like:
    a couple times we went to the railway station to catch a train, the train didn’t show up. So the schedules on the internet just sucks! Even in Vienna/Budapest some trains didn’t go while the internet sites told us a different story.

    The costs of the tickets in the Eastern parts are way lower than the eastern western part of Europe. So think about buying a cheap ticket to fly out there and get rid of the inter-rail.

    To make a reservation for a Night train was quite easy in Germany on the day itself.
    But on the Vienna main stations the ticket offices were closed really early.
    On internet it’s not possible to make a reservation for a night train in combination with the interrail ticket.

    So after all, trains in Germany are perfect (hard to say for a Dutchman), all the countries should copy their way of rollin’.

    Next time we do not travel by train anymore. We lost to many hours, speed of the trains is way to slow in some countries and I don’t even want to talk about the toilets.
    Don’t get me wrong I am a die hard Backpacker but next time it will be a cheap van!

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