Getting a Eurail pass in a jiffy
April 9, 2008 12:12 PM   Subscribe

How can I get a eurail pass before I leave for Spain tomorrow?

I'm flying from home (Washington DC area) to Spain tomorrow and plan to do a lot of travel by train using a Eurail pass for Spain. Only when starting to buy the pass today on the RailEurope website, however, did I learn that the pass is a paper document which must be sent from Europe to the U.S., and which cannot be easily purchased in Europe.

Can I buy the pass today or tomorrow from an actual store (i.e. not via mail) in the Washington DC area?

If not, is there a listing of vendors in Europe somewhere? Or should I have the pass sent overnight to a friend in DC and have him forward it to me in Spain?

Please help!
posted by Sar HaPanim to Travel & Transportation around Spain (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure how it works these days, but when I backpacked around Europe, I bought my eurail pass in England, but couldn't use it in the country in which I purchased it. So maybe skip over to Andorra or France while you're there and pick one up there? Or see if there are any STA Travel places nearby, they might be able to help you as well...
posted by Grither at 12:16 PM on April 9, 2008

You could take buses instead. There are several websites with schedules, rates, etc.
posted by cog_nate at 12:32 PM on April 9, 2008

A EuRail pass is a TREMENDOUS waste of money. Sincerely, peruse the renfe site and check prices. You'd have to stay on the train about 23 hours a day, every day, for the duration of your pass, to make a single-country EuRail pass worth it.

It's slightly less of a waste of money if you're planning to travel in Spain and a few other countries, but it's still a bad idea.
posted by Viomeda at 12:36 PM on April 9, 2008

Also, please note: the train is the cheapest way to get around Spain most times, and the prices don't get any better than when you buy them at the Renfe ticket counter at any train station.
posted by Viomeda at 12:38 PM on April 9, 2008

You can buy them at an STA travel agency. It takes about 20 minutes to get one. Search Google maps - there's at least one in D.C., at GWU.

Also, you can go to Eurail to find out how much it's going to cost - to see if it's worth it.
posted by helios at 12:48 PM on April 9, 2008

why is it such a waste of money if you plan on traveling around Europe?
posted by stratastar at 12:49 PM on April 9, 2008

More information:

My itinerary is Madrid, Grenada, Cordoba, Seville, Valencia, and Barcelona. There's high-speed rail linking most of these cities together - e.g. AVE between Madrid and Andalucia. Without a pass, one-way tickets are around $100 US. With a pass, they are $15-30. I was planning on buying the 5-day youth (under 26) pass for about $280, which looks like it would save me some money.

I would definitely be interested in alternative means of transportation that aren't unpleasant or far more expensive. If anyone has any experience with normal-speed trains, buses, or renting a cars in Spain, I would love to hear about it.

posted by Sar HaPanim at 12:57 PM on April 9, 2008

It costs $216+ for 3+ days. Whereas, to pull an example out of the air, if you travel back and forth from Barcelona to Madrid for three days straight on the night train, you'd spend all of 114,3, or $180.85. You're not likely to do that, so it's not likely to be a good buy.

If you're going to odd places, you're going to be traveling a heck of a lot and making connections, or you'd rather not travel at night, sometimes there will be instances where a Eurail will make sense. For example, if you take the Barcelona-Madrid train during the day, you'll be spending 102,1, or $161.54, and doing that even twice in those three days won't be worth it. But that's the most expensive ticket I know of; I can't find any others that are more than 50 euro, searching around a bit.

Here's my advice: search that site for connections between all the cities you're likely to want to go to. I have a feeling that, tallied up, you won't be able to think of a way to spend more than 136,51 euro ($216) in three days. Heck, I can't even get close to that with the cities I'm trying.
posted by Viomeda at 1:01 PM on April 9, 2008

Because it's almost always cheaper to buy tickets at the ticket window individually when you buy your reservation.

Check to make sure you can use the Eurail on those high speed trains. Check also to see how much the "reservation" is. There may be $40 in just the reservation fee alone for high speed service.
posted by yeti at 1:03 PM on April 9, 2008

Yeah, in person at STA is the way to go.

However, seconding Viomeda that for single-country travel, especially in Spain where trains are cheap, a Pass is a tremendous waste of money. If the pass you are looking at is the single country Spain pass, which is $277, don't buy it. You only get three days of travel for that amount of money and it just goes up from there. A ticket from Madrid to Salamanca, for example, is only €16.50.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:07 PM on April 9, 2008

Last year my wife and I did almost the same itinerary you are doing. We did Madrid --> Cordoba --> Granada --> Valencia --> Barcelona --> Madrid. We did the entire trip via bus. We showed up at the bus station early the day we left Madrid and got the first bus leaving Cordoba. Once we arrived in Cordoba, we located the ticket booth for the carrier to Granada and got a schedule. Then we knew when we were to arrive for the next leg of the trip. We repeated this throughout our trip, and it served us well.

The only thing I'd change is to take overnight buses from Granada to Valencia and Valencia to Barcelona -- they're very long rides. We took an overnighter for the Barcelona to Madrid leg and it went really well.
posted by cog_nate at 1:08 PM on April 9, 2008

I have called STA and a few travel agencies in DC, and all have told me that the only way to get the pass is by mail from Europe.
posted by Sar HaPanim at 1:15 PM on April 9, 2008

...and, seeing your itinerary, those trains will run you (taking the cheap routes, which are still quite comfortable):

Madrid-Granada - 59,4
Grenada-Cordoba - 30,5
Cordoba-Sevilla - 8,2
Sevilla-Valencia - 47
Valencia-Barcelona - 22

For a grand total of $264.36.

I assume, of course, that you're going to those places in order.

Buying the Eurail pass you're talking about, $287 for five days, means assuming that you're going to spend an average of at least 36,27 Euro per day on travel. My experience is that that isn't the case - only the very long routes (i.e. Sevilla to Valencia) or those with less train coverage (i.e. Madrid to Granada) average over 36,27. You'll have to decide for yourself, but I'd be willing to bet that most routes won't go that high.

At the very worst, buying at the ticket counter probably won't cost but a few Euro more than the Eurail pass. And buying at the counter means you don't have to cram all of your travel into specific days; you have a bit more freedom to spread it out and travel as you wish. Also, I have no idea how the Eurail works when it's redeemed, but it can't be as easy as walking up to a window and buying a ticket.
posted by Viomeda at 1:19 PM on April 9, 2008

Stratastar: why is it such a waste of money if you plan on traveling around Europe?

Because this is the twenty-first century, and nearly every nation in Europe has an affordable rail system that can be connected to without too much trouble. Eurail passes, in my experience, cost more than daily tickets in many countries in Europe. I believe they exist mainly in order to take advantage of foreign travelers.
posted by Viomeda at 1:26 PM on April 9, 2008

OK so you can't actually buy the pass before you go and it won't save you much, if any money, so don't sweat it. The cheap trains are, by the way, both perfectly comfortable and a nice way to actually see some really lovely scenery.

Damn, now you've made me want to go back to Spain. That classic route is so fabulous, I want to do it all again.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:27 PM on April 9, 2008

As Helios said, STA Travel will be your best bet. While you're there, you might consider an ISIC card as well if you think you might go to museums or attractions. I think it's around $22. And I believe (someone can correct me if I'm wrong) that you cannot buy the eurail pass while in Europe. Have fun in Hispania!
Here's the address/tel
George Washington University
800 21st Street NW
Marvin Center Ground Floor
Washington DC
Tel: +1 202 747 9772
posted by palionex at 1:29 PM on April 9, 2008

I was just in Spain last month, and got quite familiar with the train system. You can actually buy and print your tickets from their web site, in the US, and then just show up. Renfe also has advance purchase discounts on the web site: 40% (called Estrella) for a week in advance, and 60% (Web) for two weeks. And even w/o the discount, Valencia - Barcelona was only 38 Euro ($60). I'm not sure how long you're traveling for, but if you can lock in some of these rates for the trips nearer the end, it may be very worth it.

The guide at Seat 61 is quite useful, although it's not that hard once you figure out how to change it to English. Random tip: they repeatedly say "you can show up 2 minutes before the train". But the high-speed trains have x-ray luggage screening, and I inevitably had to wait in line. So... don't push it.

If the pass you are looking at is the single country Spain pass, which is $277, don't buy it.

That's the First Class, which no one buys. Second Class is $287 for five days.
posted by smackfu at 1:43 PM on April 9, 2008

OK, you've all convinced me that the Eurail pass is a bad idea anyhow, which makes me feel a heck of a lot better about not being able to get one easily. It will be nice to be able to improvise a bit in buying tickets. Thanks!
posted by Sar HaPanim at 1:47 PM on April 9, 2008

If you have a computer during your trip, you may also want to look at low-cost airlines. While I had a terrible, terrible experience with Vueling, I cannot deny that their tickets were hilariously cheap. Also, yes, the bus. You may get the added bonus of watching bad movies in Spanish as you ride. I got to see "Ice Princess"!
posted by crinklebat at 7:00 PM on April 9, 2008

Ah, the bus movies. Let me assure you, White Chicks makes even less sense in Spanish.
posted by Viomeda at 7:35 AM on April 10, 2008

That's the First Class, which no one buys. Second Class is $287 for five days.

I just reread what I wrote here... and actually it may be worth it to buy first-class passes in Spain, moreso than some other countries. On the high speed trains, you generally get a meal in first class, and you get access to the first-class lounge in the stations at the larger cities. Is this worth 30 euros on an individual one-way ticket? Probably not. But it may be worth the relatively low incremental charge between a first-class pass and a second-class one.
posted by smackfu at 9:57 AM on April 12, 2008

« Older I want Internet Explorer to remember how far down...   |   Blogs about remodeling? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.