20% EuroRail vs. Discount Airlines

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I don’t know about you, but Drew and I have 3 mistake-fares coming up, all taking us to or through Europe.  Somewhat accidentally, we are going to be spending the holidays in Europe.  Family time still wins out as my favorite way to celebrate holidays but Vienna’s Christmas markets will be a good plan B I think.

Perhaps some of you caught the mistake-fare too.

Well, let’s pretend for a moment that you didn’t want to use miles for your intra-Europe travels.  (For instance, if you need to close the gap created by a Milan to Prague open-jaw…just to pick a “random” example.)

Why wouldn’t you want to use miles?

Since Drew and I are constantly traveling, there are some times that we really would rather pay for a train or cheap flight for a short distance if it will save our miles for a more valuable use later on.  People who do more earning of miles than they actually do burning of them won’t need to worry about this.  But if some of you do budget your miles and save them for the long-haul flights that would be super-expensive otherwise, then maybe you want to know what your non-miles options are for intra-Europe travel.

For instance you may be interested to know that the EuroRail Global Pass and EuroRail Select Pass are both 20% off for winter-trips purchased by December 31st.

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Don’t get too excited…

Unfortunately, Eurorail passes are still really expensive.  Especially for those of us who are used to paying for flights with miles instead of money.  But if you want to save your miles and are looking forward to the Europe-by-train experience, let’s look at what you might find.

The EuroRail pass that interests me the most is, of course, the “global” one because it includes 24 of any of the following countries:

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Let’s keep investigating the global plan.

If you happen to be under 26, you’re in luck because you’re considered “youth”.

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Otherwise, the rest of us oldies have to look at this adult chart:

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Most of these prices are ridiculous.  But I could kind of see how you might be convinced to go for one or two of the options.  It’s a bit confusing though.  So let’s explain some terms.

X days within Y months means that you can have X number of “travel days” within the Y months that your EuroRail is given validity.  Apparently most train rides will not take up more than one of your travel-days.

X days continuous means that for your allotted validity, you can use the train as often as you want.

So, in certain cases, I could see the Eurorail being a neat experience.  For instance the 15 days continuous for $518 could be tempting if you cover a lot with your 15 days.

Otherwise, you could use the Select Pass to see just one major site within 4 neighboring countries if you pay $281 for the 5 days within 2 months plan.

But really…you would have to be a train-ride kind of person to favor this option over discount airlines.  Because discount airline tickets probably wouldn’t cost much more, and possibly even less.

A few domestic airlines in Europe

So let’s say you would prefer that option.  What airlines might you want to check out?  I’ll give you just a quick profile-type view of a few that come to mind…just to give you an idea of the trends…

For the most part, these discount airlines will excel in flights from their main hubs and the areas around that specific region, but occasionally Ryanair will throw a curve-ball and offer a cheap flight to a random place.

1.) Ryanair

Headquarters: Ryanair is an Irish airline headquartered in Swords, Dublin, Ireland.  I’ve always confused it for a London-based airline but as a matter of fact, its largest base is indeed London-Stansted.

Price Examples:  Ryanair has crazy low prices.  No…suspiciously low prices.  Frequently you can find intra-Europe flights for around $30 or less.

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Specific allowances…or lack there of: Ryanair is notorious for “nickel-and-diming.”  Let’s just say they have so many fees that they have a handy page on their website with “consolidated table of fees.

You’ll get charged for everything here.  Pretty much the only thing other than the actual seat that’s included in your ticket price are the following carry-on items: “One cabin bag weighing up to 10 kg with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm, plus 1 small bag up to 35 x 20 x 20 cms may be carried per passenger*.” (courtesy of Ryanair.com)  Other than that, you get fined for everything else.  For instance if you don’t check in online, or if you don’t remember to print your boarding pass on the accurate size of paper (A4), etc etc, you will be fined.

2.) EasyJet

Headquarters: London-Luton Airport

Price-Examples: These flights will not be as cheap as Ryanair.  More like $50 for a one-way.

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Specific allowances…or lack there of:  Specific baggage allowances can be found here, but in general you are allowed one carry-on and will have to pay a fee for a checked bag.  You can pick your own seat for a fee, or let the airline assign a seat for you.

3.) Norwegien

Headquarters: Oslo, Norway

Price-Examples: Intra-Europe one-ways can be anywhere from ~$50-$150 when starting from their Oslo hub (as pictured below) or more around ~$100-$200 for intra Europe flights not from that hub.

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Specific allowances…or lack there of:  Like many of the others, “LowFare” flights allow one piece of carry-on luggage and all other pieces of luggage will require paying a fee, as will selecting your seat, receiving food, etc.  The specific baggage fees for additional baggage will depend on your flight and that information can be found here.

4.) Wizzair

Headquarters: Budapest, Hungary

Price-Examples: Wizzair’s prices are going to be closer to the $100 mark, but they do have some cheaper routes too.

Specific allowances…or lack there of: Again, WizzAir will let you carry on 1 small bag for free.  Specifically, “If your cabin baggage is of size 42x32x25cm or smaller it can be taken onboard free of charge. It must fit under the seat in front of you.” (courtesy of Wizzair’s Website).  Like RyanAir, if you don’t check in online, you’ll get charged.  In WizzAir’s case, the fee for checking in at the airport (sounds crazy already) is 10 Euro.

 

Some other discount European airlines include Flybe (hub in Manchester), Jet2 (headquarters in Leeds), Monarch Airlines (headquarters in London-Luton), Smart Wings (headquarters in Prague), and Meridiana, (headquarters in Olbia, Italy).  

 

An important note about discount airlines:

You may notice that a lot of the discount airline websites have little messages about your cookies.  Like the one below from Wizz Air’s site.

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We tested this once (not on Wizz Air, but some other discount site) and sometimes you will see different prices if you have visited the site before than you would as a first-time visitor.  Sometimes the price will mysteriously go up if you aren’t a first time visitor.

So I recommend either clearing your cookies before checking discount airline prices, or visit the sites on a cookie-less browser like Chrome’s “incognito” option.

 

Conclusion

Obviously miles would still likely be the favored option for crossing even short distances for most of us.  But if you  can’t or would rather not use miles for whatever reason, domestic airlines will not only offer some pretty competitive prices, they’ll also give you infinitely more flexibility than your Eurorail Pass, even with 20% off.  If you’re under the age of 26 and want the EuroRail experience though, I could definitely see it being a fun way to cross some ground.

I mean…these aren’t deals to call home about.  But you might find yourself needing these random airlines one day and they don’t always show up in aggregator’s search results.

18 Comments on “20% EuroRail vs. Discount Airlines

  1. I think most, if not all of the low cost carriers you mentioned are searchable on skyscanner.com.

  2. Are buses out of the question? Intra-country or even from one country to an adjacent one, they should offer some great value. Maybe not for the long-hauls though.

    • Sure! Buses can be a great option though it doesn’t have to be a very long trip for it to feel like a very long one on a bus. I think more so than with the train. Just my opinion though.

  3. Folks should read up on Ryan Air before going for those cheap fares. For example, there are a reports that they serve Paris from a small airport with few other flights and few options for transportation out and back to Paris. Lots of others reports on really bad experiences.

    Better reports on some of the budget airlines recently set up and run my majors in Europe. One is Veuiling, a subsidiary of Iberia, which we flew from FCO-Orly with good success.

    • Yes I kind of hate Ryanair lol. That’s why I say their prices are “suspiciously low”. Many discount airlines have the issue of transport from a random, outside-of-town airport though.

  4. In Germany you can pay significantly less for a ticket if you purchase it 90 days in advance. There are only a set number of these tickets so they sell out pretty quickly. I just set a calendar appointment 90 days in advance to your February 2014 trip to Germany and purchased the cheaper tickets. There may be local/regional type train deals. There is a really good one in Bavaria. I have found the folks on TripAdvisor to be very helpful with this type of information.

  5. EuroRail passes are usually a rip-off. They are not allowed to sell any discounted train tickets to people in the US. So, I booked our Brussels to Paris train ticket on the Thalys website much cheaper than on EuroRail. I was even able to book on the Spanish website for Barcelona to Madrid, but it took quite a bit of work. I think that I ended up paying about $25/person instead of the $100 that EuroRail was quoting me.

    The best website to get all of the train information is The Man in Seat 61 (seat61.com)

    We just did flights from OSL-LHR (BA), LHR-FCO (BA), FCO-CPH (EasyJet) and CPH-OSL (SAS). Here was the problem:

    Each Leg was about $100 each way. Of that, about $30-$50 was taxes. The only airline that it would have made sense to spend miles was AirBerlin. They have really cheap sales – think 1,500 miles. (Choice transfer partner, plus sometimes there is a 3x or 5x promo for a one night stay)

    Here are some of the luggage requirements that we found:

    BA has handbaggage only ticket – one carryon luggage and one handbag
    SAS – one checked bag and one carryon bag.

    • Wow thanks for all this info.
      Drew has always thought of Euro-pass as being way too expensive but definitely interesting to hear that they’re marked up so high compared to other trains! Will have to check out the seat61.com website.
      We are finding blablacar.com to be quite useful while we’re here for folks who don’t mind car-sharing. (Read more about that here: http://freakinflyers.com/cutting-costs-with-car-pooling-sites/)

  6. bahn.de has some cool deals for people who aren’t in a hurry and appreciate the trip as much as the destination. Many are on routes that do not compete for business or high-value leisure travelers. There are great saver rates that kill Eurail pass fares, including for long-haul international travel. In terms of gonzo, performance-art deal-mongering, that’s relatively boring, though. If you have a few friends, check out the Schoenes Wockenende rates. A single price (44 EUR) for travel for up to five people on regional trains on a single weekend day (in theory, a 27-hour day) throughout all of Germany. Most use them for pretty short trips, but I reckon you and Drew could go much, much bigger than average. Make a big picnic with a bunch of wine, 3 friends, and it’s theoretically possible to cross the entire country in a day with plenty of time to spare. Or go to one city on the completely opposite side of the country for lunch and then go somewhere entirely different, perhaps a border town. In college, I took a few friends from Berlin to Frankfurt (Oder) to walk to Poland for lunch. In theory, one could go to Poland for lunch and then end up in virtually any German city. English link: http://www.bahn.com/i/view/overseas/en/prices/germany/schoenes-wochenende-ticket.shtml

    • Wow, thanks so much for all of this! Funny you mention it as just yesterday Drew was desperately trying to remember the name of this site. I guess someone had pointed it out to him before and he couldn’t remember it. Now we’ve got it archived here in the comments! Thanks!

  7. Another fun Germany option that I haven’t used since high school is Bundesland-specific (province-specific) tickets. These can be also be used on weekdays and scale according to the number of people on the ticket. I haven’t played with this much imagine that Niedersachsen, which includes independent city states of Hamburg and Bremen, and Bavaria, which is enormous, and Baden-Wuertenberg, quite big and home to major tourist destinations and university towns, are of greatest interest to most. So, in theory, two people start in Hamburg, go to beautiful Hameln, of pied piper fame, for lunch and to explore the Medieval and highly walkable city center, then hop a train returning to Bremen to catch a LCC flight (sorry, it’s likely Ryanair and a lot of time on a train) or Hanover (super close to Hameln with flights on both LCCs and real airlines like Air France and Iberia) that evening or the next day. The cost is 27 EUR, for two. One-way Hamburg to Bremen tickets for a 1-1.5-hour trip for one person are usually at least 20 EUR, but on non-regional trains. For tourists who aren’t in a hurry, I think these are awesome deals. http://www.bahn.com/i/view/overseas/en/prices/germany-regional/hamburg-ticket.shtml

    • wow, great suggestions! Sounds like an awesome trip! If we make it to Germany this time around, maybe we’ll test that out! I’d like to see Hameln.

  8. hi carrie, big fan of you and drew’s blog.
    do you know any twitter feeds that monitor euruope LCC sales? I know airlines have fake sales all the time so it’s good to follow folks who are pros at this

    • Ooo that’s a great question. Most of the ones I know of include these “fake sales” that you’re referring to and you kinda just have to weed through it. :-/ If I think of anything I’ll let you know- and i’ll tap some of my European friends on the shoulder about this too.

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