Are InterRail and EuRail passes worth it?

Most bloggers who review EuRail and InterRrail Passes are sponsored by them, so of course the internet is full of positive reviews. Truth is: the tickets are overpriced and targeted at people who have no idea about European train prices. Here are my thoughts on whether these rail passes are worth purchasing for your next trip around Europe or not.

EuRail is a train pass that let's you take any train on a fixed amount of days for a certain price - it is aimed at  travelers who are not from Europe. If you live in one of the European countries you can buy the InterRail pass. The idea is cool - you can take a train whenever you want and not worry about purchasing anything in advance. But do these tickets have good price value? There is an upside: you don't have to think about booking tickets in advance, but it is certainly not a budget friendly way to travel, let's take a look at prices.

A lot of times people compare the price of Rail passes to what a ticket would cost if you buy it last minute. While it is true that in most European countries purchasing it last minute is extremely expensive, it is only one side of the coin - compared to what the ticket would cost if you buy it in advance rail passes are overpriced.

Being Spontaneous
Yes, you have your freedom with the Rail Passes - you can decide when and where you go without having to plan everything 3 months in advance. If you miss your train you can just take the next one. Sounds good right? But a lot of train tickets in Europe are not bound on any particular time either. If you don't insist on riding high speed trains all the time, you have a lot of options of spontaneously traveling on trains without spending a fortune in a lot of countries.

There is another downside of deciding where you want to travel on a whim - if you don't have a general plan and don't keep track of your itinerary you might end up riding trains that would cost less if you just bough a regular ticket or not using up your travel days wisely. For Rail passes to be a really good bang for your buck you need to plan in advance to take the most expensive routes and ride the longest journeys. Wouldn't it be more convenient to actually spontaneously buy a ticket if you feel like going to another city and not have a limitation of days on which you can ride trains?

Seat Reservations
The official website is a little misleading when it comes to the real cost of the rail pass - most high speed and overnight trains require a seat reservation. It will cost around 4-5€ pro journey. Add a seat reservation fee a couple of times and the rail pass is more expensive than advertised. Plus if your night train ride is longer than between 7pm and 4 am you use up two travel days instead of one.

Realistic Itineraries
Let's say you are going to buy the rail pass because you are planning to travel long distances in high speed trains that are normally expensive. This is a good way of thinking, but you have to keep in mind how you really want to travel. Do you only want to stay in one big city in a country and then move on to the next capital city, or are you planning to discover the cities in between? You probably want to see more of every country, otherwise you wouldn't bother buying a rail pass. If you want to move to the next city nearby every couple of days you will be better off simply buying the cheap regional ticket.

Wasting your EuRail travel days on short regional trips is not good value. A lot of countries have really cool regional rail passes. For example with the Spanish Galicia Rail Pass you can travel in Galicia for 3 days for only 15€. In Germany you can travel anywhere in the country on the Weekend Ticket for 44€ in a group of 5 or less people. If you find 4 fellow travelers you will pay 8.80€ per person to travel to the other end of a big country. None of these tickets require a reservation and can be bought right before your departure. Local cheap tickets have way better value than the rail pass.

If you re planning to visit Greece you will probably end up hopping between islands, which you obviously can't do on a train. A country like Austria is not even big enough to have a rail pass - you can always find cheap tickets and return to your home base on the same day. When you think about purchasing a EuRail pass, think about what kind of itinerary you want - maybe you won't need the pass.

Age restrictions
Most Rail Passes have different prices for travelers under 25 and over 26 - if you just buy regular tickets from the local train company it doesn't matter how old you are. Somehow EuRail penalizes you for your age and doesn't let you travel in the second class on some tickets, although it would be cheaper. There is no need to buy first class tickets in Europe, all trains are modern and comfortable. If you are older than 25 EuRail and InterRail have horrible price-value ratio.

Traveling with other means of transportation
Another thing you need to factor in is that even if you found a train journey that is cheaper with the rail pass, there is probably a cheaper bus ride available. Europe is modern and developed, you can still use ferries, rent a car, book bus tickets, fly big distances with budget airlines and safely hitchhike - trains are only one option and a lot of times the most expensive one.

While InterRail, the the ticket for Europeans is slightly cheaper than the EuRail version, you can't use it in your country of residence. This makes the ticket useless if you want to travel by train all the time - you will either have to buy an extra ticket out of the country and back in or fly - not so cheap anymore.

InterRail Global Youth Pass

What EuRail doesn't include is seat reservation - you have to pay extra every time you want to enter a high speed train. The amount of available passes is much lager and more interesting compared to InterRail. The cheapest Global Pass option lets you travel for 15 days contentiously for 375€. That means per day you are paying 25€. Maybe you will ride trains that are more expensive a couple of times, but on most days you will probably ride short distances. Also keep in mind that you need to ride a train every day. Do you really want to spend all your time in a train so it is worth the price? The expensive version let's you travel for 3 months for 1034€. This equals approximately 11,50€ per day. You will need to ride trains for 90 days though. Every day you don't use makes your tickets more expensive. Short distances are cheap anyway.

One Country Pass
Let's look at Finland Pass an an example. The cheapest ticket is the second class 10 days within a month pass. 


Now let's lake a look at how much train tickets in Finland cost if you simply buy them, depending on how much in advance you purchase. If you plan in advance you will pay less than with the Eurail pass. Also keep in mind that Onnibus, a Finnish bus company is even cheaper than trains - there you can buy tickets for 1-5€ for the same routes.

   one week       2 weeks      4-5 weeks
Helsinki - Rovaniemi      87€       48€    43€
Tampere - Helsinki      36€       17€     13€
Helsinki - Oulu         71€       41€    38€
Turku - Tampere      20€       12€    12€

Are rail passes a good idea?
You can purchase a EuRail or InteRail pass if you think it is more convenient, but I wouldn't advise it if you are looking for a way to save money on the road. Take the extra day or two to read about local tickets - you will spend less money that way. Use the combination of budget airlines, trains and cheap buses to find the best deals.

What are your thoughts? Do you think rail passes are a bargain or a waste of money? have you ever used one?