By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency
Eurail Pass just announced the biggest overhaul in its 60 years of existence. Among the key features:
— Eurail Select Passes Discontinued: Most passes valid for travel in contiguous sets of two, three or four countries are gone. Most one-country passes are retained, but if you want to travel in more than one country, your best option now is a 31-country Global pass. Fortunately, the Global pass options have been expanded substantially, to the point that they can pretty much replace the older Select passes at competitive — and often even lower — prices. Only Benelux, Balkans, and a few other multi-country passes remain.
— Second-class Global Pass: Select passes were formerly available in first and second class, while Global was first-only for adults, and the second-class options were extremely popular. To accommodate the need to replace Select passes, the 31-country pass is now available in second class, as well as first.
— Shorter-term Global passes: Global passes were originally limited to relatively long periods of validity, compared with short-term Select passes. But Global now offers a range of much shorter options than previously available, including three, five and seven days of travel within a month. Three-day pass prices start at $257 in second class, $343 in first class.
— Senior Discount: Over the last decade, senior Eurail passes had just about disappeared. Now, however, both Global and one-country passes offer 10 percent senior discounts to travelers age 60 or over. Brit Rail retains its senior passes, but in first class only and more expensive than any-age second-class passes.
— Youth Discounts: The new Eurail family of passes retains the traditional discounted passes for travelers age 12 to 27, providing a roughly 27 percent discount.
— Eurostar Added: The Global pass now includes Eurostar travel between the London area, Ashford and the continent. It does not, however, cover other trains in Britain, where your only option remains the wide variety of BritRail and regional passes.
— Two New Countries: Eurail now includes Lithuania and Macedonia.
— Open-access Rail Operators: Eurail passes now include two open-access operators in Czechia, Leo Express and RegioJet. It does not, however, cover any other large open-access operators, and this is likely to be a challenge in coming years, as European rules require national railways to provide open access to qualified independent operators. Already, Italo maintains a highly competitive schedule of high-speed trains on the Italian high-speed network and Westbahn operates a robust schedule on the Vienna-Salzburg-Innsbruck corridor in Austria. In the next few years, open-access operators are likely to offer an increasing number of schedules throughout the Eurail region, often with unique schedules and routes, including some high-speed trains. Eurail must figure out how to incorporate them.
— Greek Islands: New Greek Islands passes cover either five trips in a month entirely within Greece or six trips in a month, including one round-trip between Greece and Italy. The all-Greek passes are second class only, like the Greek interisland ferries, but the six-trip pass is also available in a first-class version that includes a cabin berth on the mostly overnight trips to and from Italy.
If you plan train travel in Europe, however, even the new passes may not be your lowest-cost option. On my last two rail trips in Europe, I found, in England and France, that I could arrange my itinerary for less than the cost of a pass by buying individual-trip tickets at discounted advance-purchase fares. The downside is that buying discounted tickets for individual trips means locking yourself into a fixed itinerary weeks or even months in advance. But if you can live with that, you can buy individual tickets from RailEurope or the national rail websites.
Still, you can’t beat a railpass for maximum flexibility. And, all in all, these new options make Eurail Pass more attractive than ever to lots of visitors. The expanded options on the Global Pass pretty well compensate for the discontinued multi-country Select passes. You can buy the new passes at Eurail.com, RailEurope.com or any other railpass or general travel agency.
(c) 2018 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.– January 8, 2019