Buy Point-to Point Rail Tickets in Europe
When purchasing point-to-point rail tickets your main decision is whether to buy them here in the U.S. from Rail Europe/Gemütlichkeit or wait until you get to Europe. In our experience, many travelers overpay for the sake of convenience. They like the security of having their rail ticket and seat reservation in hand prior to leaving the U.S. As you'll see, that can be expensive. Let's take the example of two persons traveling Munich to Berlin. Let's also assume it will be their only train trip in Europe; thus a point-to-point ticket rather than a rail pass is the obvious choice.
The savings can be considerable if you buy your tickets in Germany. Not only are fares generally lower from Deutsche Bahn (DB), discounts are offered for two or more persons traveling together under DBs "Plan & Save" program. The table above compares U.S. vs Germany fares on the Berlin-Munich route. As you can see, buying in Germany is substantially less expensive.
Comparing international point-to-point prices—Germany to Italy, for example—is more complicated. First, find the U.S. price at Rail Europe's website or phone 800-438-7245 to access REs 24-hour automated travel information service. Next, you'll need the price if purchased in Europe. The best place for that information (and as far as we know the only place) is the Website of the French National Railways. Unlike the Swiss, German and Austrian rail sites, the French site computes fares between major cities throughout Europe. The prices quoted are in euros if purchased from SNCF. A Brussels to Copenhagen ticket may be less expensive if purchased from the Belgian railway than from the SNCF, but the SNCF website provides a good idea of what that ticket might cost in Europe.
We recently compared a Paris-Milan trip for two persons purchased from SNCF vs the same tickets in the U.S. from Rail Europe/Gemütlichkeit. Tickets bought in the U.S. ranged from $254 to $370 first-class for two; second-class was $168 to $246.
The same trip for two persons, priced on the SNCF website, was €296 ($325) adult first-class and €202 ($222) senior (over 60) first class. When we sought a second-class fare the computer came up with an amazing €50 ($55) for two persons if purchased online. The regular second-class fares for two persons were €196 ($215) adult and €134 ($147) senior.
But even taking advantage of discounts available in Europe, those who plan to see a lot of one country will find rail passes purchased in the U.S. prior to departure are usually the better value.
Berlin-Munich One Way Rail Fares*
Purchase tickets in U.S. Germany**
1st Cl Highest Price $172 $135
1st Cl Lowest Price $132 $92
2nd Cl Highest Price $117 $90
2nd Cl Lowest Price $91 $62
*Based on two persons traveling together
** Based on exchange rate of 1 euro = $1.09