European rail systems have held the line on senior deals for 2010—extensive deals in the UK; very few anywhere else. Again this year, most senior passes are limited to first class and are therefore more expensive than second-class passes available in most countries to travelers of any age. This year's current prices are down for BritRail; up for others. Throughout Europe, senior status starts at age 60.
BritRail continues its lead in senior passes:
- "Flexipass" options—probably the best choice for most travelers—provide unlimited first-class train travel on a specified number of days during a two-month total validity period. The travel days need not be consecutive. The "Britain" version, covering England, Scotland, and Wales, costs $305 for unlimited travel on any of three days, $379 for four days, $555 for eight days, and $829 for 15 days. If you confine your travels just to England, the "England" versions cost $249 for three days, $305 for four days, $445 for eight days, and $665 for 15 days.
- "Consecutive" passes allow unlimited first-class train travel on all days during the validity period. Senior first class "Britain" rates are $249 for three days, $305 for four days, $435 for eight days, $649 for 15 days, $819 for 22 days, and $965 for a month. "England" rates are $195 for three days, $245 for four days, $349 for eight days, $525 for 15 days, $665 for 22 days, and $775 for 1 month.
- If you enjoy first-class travel, these passes are good deals at about 15 percent less than any-age passes. But senior passes are not available in second class, and any-age second-class passes cost about 20 percent less than the first-class senior passes—and most travelers will tell you that second class is perfectly adequate in the UK.
If you're a frequent or extended visitor, or if you plan lots of one-day short trips, you might be better off with a Senior Railcard, which provides 33 percent discounts on virtually all British train tickets in either class for a full year. It costs 26 pounds (about $41). Check it out at Railcard; buy after you arrive.
Balkan. Senior passes for travel in Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Turkey cover first-class travel during a one-month period: $222 for five days, $386 for 10 days, and $465 for 30 days. Because any-age Balkan passes are also limited to first class, the senior version is your best option.
France. The French senior pass, in first class only, costs $294 for travel on any three days out of a one-month period, plus up to six additional days for $41 to $45 each. Because the any-age second-class pass is only $20 cheaper, the extra comfort of first class is probably worth the difference.
As an alternative to a pass, you can buy a Senior Card, at 56 euros (about $76) for a year of validity that provides 50 percent discounts on many trains, with limited seating, or 25 percent on almost all other trains, including trains that connect France with other European countries. Check it out at Senior-SNCF (website in French); buy after you arrive.
Ireland. The Ireland Seniorpass provides travel on any five days out of a month for $247 in second class or $308 in first class—both about 25 percent less than any age passes.
Romania. The Eurail Romania Pass provides unlimited first class travel on any five days over a two-month period, for $163 or $287 for 10 days.
Senior discounts are not available for the many other individual-country and multi-country passes. However, in many cases, two adults traveling together can enjoy significant reductions from one-person passes.
I suggest you buy rail passes here in the United States before you leave. Several online agencies specialize in selling European rail passes, including Rail Europe (800-622-8600 US, 800-361-7245 Canada), Britrail (UK passes only, 866-274-8724), Eurail, Rail Connection, and Railpass (877-724-5727). Although prices are nominally competitive, individual agencies may offer "free" shipping or other inducements and short-term promotions.
Have you ever successfully traveled by rail through Europe? What pass or passes did you find most useful? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below!