Hot! When Eurail Isn’t A Deal


When I spent 6 weeks in Switzerland in 2007, one of my splurges was a SwissPass. It gave me unlimited travel on all Swiss trains, buses, cable cars, you name it. I didn’t save much money on big tickets because I mostly stayed put, but where I did save money was on my constant bus rides and cable cars once I was in the Lauterbrunnen valley. While I was living in Gimmelwald, I had to take a cable car to go to the closest grocery store (seriously!), and that would have cost me $15 every time without my SwissPass. I went into Interlaken from Gimmelwald several times as well, and without my pass, each trip would have cost me around $100 (because I had to take a cable car, a bus, a train, and then another bus to get there). It was definitely a bargain.

However, when I looked at getting even just a 3-4 day pass for France, I was shocked that it was going to run me $425. I can’t really afford that kind of expense up front, so I decided to just wing it and hope for the best when it comes to rail travel.

That has turned out be a very good decision. I had tried searching for fares on Rail Europe, the English-language site for train travel in Europe, but many of my searches turned up empty. I was searching for routes that I knew existed, so I got frustrated and eventually decided to get Marc to help me look directly at the SNCF (the French train system) site. What a difference! It was actually far easier to use than Rail Europe, and I found all my fares, even between minor towns.

The best news is that all four of my train tickets will cost me a grand total of $247!

Now, it’s entirely possible that the prices I’ve seen will change by the time I get there or will be different in the station, but if they’re anywhere near what I’ve seen so far, I will be saving a bundle by not going with a Eurail pass. So, the moral of the story is that if you know even roughly where you’re going to be traveling between, check the fares before you go with a pass! It might just be cheaper!

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  1. I’ve found that the passes that offer unlimited travel are becoming less and less of a better deal as rail and bus companies start to use the type of yield management practices airlines do in order to maximize their revenue.

    • Yep. I was really surprised at how expensive the passes are! Unless you’re taking tons of really expensive trains, they’re not really that great of a deal.

  2. The JR pass is still a good deal, but I wouldn’t bother with it for around Europe unless I was on a hardcore trainspotting vacation.

  3. Just for the record… Switzerland may be expensive, but a return ticket Gimmelwald – Interlaken only costs about $20 (unless the $ dropped again, and in that case I should go shopping!).

    • That’s the price for Swiss citizens. The same thing goes for most countries. For instance, if I were a French citizen, my tickets would be costing me half what they do. When I was in Gimmelwald, a trip from Gimmelwald to Murren was 6CHF, which worked out to about $$8.50USD when I was there.

      Interlaken-Lauterbrunnen was about 20CHF, then a bus (can’t remember the cost, I think about 2-3CHF) from Lauterbrunnen to the village where the cable car to Gimmelwald was, then a 6CHF ticket up to Gimmelwald. Since I used to go back and forth in one day, that added up to about 70CHF roundtrip, which worked out to about $90USD.

      • It does not matter what kind of citizenship one has to buy a ticket.

        Stechelberg – Interlaken – Stechelberg is today CHF 22.80

        Gimmelwald – Stechelberg – Gimmelwald is today CHF 11.60

        And fares did not get cheaper in the last few years. This makes together little more than CHF 30. (I first calculated a half price fare for the Stechelberg Interlaken leg of the journey).