By Rick Steves
Are Eurail Select Passes generally a good value?
The Select Pass is often a good value, and lets travelers customize their pass for a multi-country trip. Choose four of the countries connected by a direct line in the diagram at right (the Select Pass does not cover Great Britain or Poland). Some countries are grouped to count as one country for the sake of this pass: "Benelux" (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), Croatia/Slovenia, and Serbia/Montenegro.
A few multi-country passes for certain regions work out to be even cheaper — see below for details.
How do I see whether a Select Pass makes sense for my trip in particular?
Use these maps to add up approximate pay-as-you-go fares for your itinerary, and compare that cost to the price of a rail pass for the number of days you expect to spend on the train and for the specific countries you're visiting (Select Pass prices vary according to which countries you choose). Also, follow the links below for:
- More tips for figuring out whether a pass makes sense for your trip
- The basics on choosing among rail passes
- More tips on how to save money by fine-tuning your rail pass
- Advice on deciding between first and second class
- Answers to frequently asked rail-pass questions
You can get a pass for any of the four Select Pass countries shown above, for either 5, 6, 8, or 10 travel days within a two-month window.
Select Passes now come in three price tiers according to which four countries you choose. Choosing at least two of the five most popular countries for this pass (shown in the dark bubbles in the schematic above) will most likely land you in the highest price tier. While the lowest price tier (white bubbles) is indeed quite low — about 60 percent less than the highest price tier — that's only available to travelers choosing either all four of the least popular pass options or three of them and one mid-range country (shaded bubbles).
Sale: If you'll be wrapping up your train trip before next April, take advantage of the off-peak sale's 20 percent discount. This discount isn't automatic — be sure to click sale link below (book before 5pm Eastern Time on December 30, 2015; an off-peak sale pass can't be used for travel after March 31, 2016, even if its validity period extends beyond that).
- European East Pass: This four-country pass is much cheaper than the Select Pass for the same countries; it covers train travel in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia (albeit within a one-month window, whereas the Select Pass allows a two-month window), and also allows adults, not just youths, to save even more by opting for second class.
- Scandinavia Eurail Pass: This four-country pass is cheaper than the Select Pass for the same countries; it covers train travel in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden (albeit in second class, whereas the Select Pass isn't available in second class to anyone 26 or older — but second class on Scandinavian trains is as comfortable as first class on southern European trains).
- Eurail Global Pass: The price difference between the highest-priced Select Pass and a 24-country Global Pass is about $10 per day. If you expect to cover lots of ground and want to keep your options open, you may prefer to pay a little extra for the full-blown Global Pass.
What does the Select Pass cover?
While the Select Pass covers the full cost of your ticket on the overwhelming majority of trains in your selected countries, plus a range of non-train "bonuses," it's important to know what's not covered:
- The Eurostar London–Paris/Brussels train
- Paris–Italy night trains
- Accommodations on overnight trains
- Seat-reservation fees (required on certain trains)
- A few privately operated routes (listed on each country's page — see list of countries in sidebar)
What if I wind up on a train traveling through a country not covered by my pass?
If your train crosses through a country not covered by your rail pass, you must buy a separate train ticket for that stretch (even if you have no plans of getting off the train in that country). Get your ticket before boarding, to avoid the extra fee (or possibly a heavier fine) for purchasing the ticket on board. Online train schedules show the route of each train, including connection points and stops on the way. Examples of routes to consider:
- Paris–Italy trains: Direct day trains on this route (unlike the direct night trains) do accept rail passes, but the "reservation fee" is substantial, and can sell out quickly. See my tips for booking Paris–Italy trains.
- Munich–Venice: If Austria isn't included among your four countries, it costs about $25 extra to cross through Austria on this route (in second class; about $40 in first class).
- Budapest–Prague: If Slovakia isn't included among your four countries, it costs about $30 extra to get a point-to-point ticket to cross through Slovakia on this route (in second class).
- Between Greece or Turkey and...anywhere: Greece is currently connected by train only to Serbia and Bulgaria; Turkey is connected by train to Bulgaria, but service is sparse. Flying is the best way to reach Athens, Thessaloniki, or Istanbul from any major city in Europe. Ferries also connect Greece to Italy and Turkey. Within Greece and Turkey, buses are generally your best option for getting around (but they aren't covered by rail passes).