Although Amtrak is relatively quiet, the Canadians and Europeans are offering some good deals on rail travel this fall.
Via Rail Canada: Depending on where you read this, you might still be able to get in on Via Rail's half-off sale. Buy through October 9; travel October 16 through December 12. The discount applies to most long-haul trains, in economy class only. Sample one-way fares range from $78 CAD for Montreal to Toronto, $119 CAD for Montreal to Halifax and $296 CAD for Toronto to Vancouver.
But Via Rail's purchase windows are often pretty short: This sale was just announced on October 4. If you're interested in Canadian rail travel, you should probably keep tabs on the Via Rail website.
Fortunately, Canada's best rail promotions are the ongoing "Express Deals" that generally repeat every month for travel within that month. Fares are typically at least half off, and often more. Current deals include $315 CAD for Toronto to Vancouver in economy, and—even better—$823 CAD for a single or double private-room sleeper cabin, including all meals, for North America's best "land cruise" four-night rail trip; the regular rate is $2,057 CAD.
Europe: For better or worse—maybe better and worse—European railroads these days tend to imitate airline pricing with advance-purchase, capacity-controlled fares much lower than last-minute rates. Also, contrary to conventional wisdom, city-to-city rail fares are often higher than early-purchase airfares on EasyJet, Ryanair, and other low-fare airlines. But when you factor in the various airline fees and the high costs of getting to some airports ($37 from London to Stansted, for example) and the hassles of airport access and security, those rail fares look pretty good.
Rail Europe continues to feature a range of promotions and discounts for travel within Europe. Typically, the company provides either an extra day of validity on a rail pass or special fares in first class. Among the current offers:
- Eurostar discount: Get 20 percent off Eurostar Standard Premier or Comfort Class tickets linking London with Brussels or Paris. Buy by October 24 and travel between October 15 and February 14, with some blackout dates. Standard Premier is the option that provides first-class seating, but without all the other first-class bells and whistles. It's often a good alternative to economy even when it isn't on sale; the extra 20 percent off makes it an almost irresistible choice.
- British Railways discount: Get 15 percent off first-class tickets in Britain. Book by October 24 for travel through February 14 with some blackout dates; enter booking code "BritFirst15" at checkout. Even at 15 percent off, first class is still more expensive than standard (economy) class, but the discount narrows the gap enough to make first class attractive for a longer trip.
- Trenitalia discounts: Get 20 percent off first-class tickets aboard Trenitalia (the main national operator). Book by October 28; enter booking code "ItalyBliss20" at checkout. The deal applies to all trains, including high-speed Frecciarossa and Frecciargento trains (but not the competitive high-speed trains on the "open access" operator Italia). With the discount, the upgrade is attractive on long trips.
- German rail-pass discount: Get 20 percent off German rail passes for unlimited rail travel for seven, eight, nine, or 10 days of your choosing in a one-month period. This deal applies to first- and second-class passes, including passes for children and youth. Book by December 5 for travel through January 31.
There's one item of bad news for European train travelers: After 140 years of publication, Thomas Cook decided to discontinue its long-time printed schedule reference, the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable. Industry sources say that some of the folks involved in compiling the schedules are trying to set up a separate company to keep publishing, but nothing has been announced yet.
Meanwhile, you can buy individual tickets and check schedules on Rail Europe, Britrail, and Eurail's websites. But many long-time European rail travelers prefer the German rail site for checking schedules and journey details.
Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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