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This year's senior railpass picture for Europe hasn't changed much since last year—same coverage, minor price adjustments. Overall, even with senior discounts, railpasses are expensive, but some can be good buys. Although available in only a few countries, those few senior passes can be good deals. In all cases, senior status starts at age 60.
Throughout Europe, most railpasses come in up to three flavors:
- "Flexi" passes—usually the best choice for most of you—provide for unlimited travel on a set number of days during a one- or two-month period.
- "Consecutive" passes provide unlimited rail travel on a set number of consecutive days.
- "Saver" passes provide discounts to two or more people traveling together—provided they always travel together.
France's senior pass is, again, the one you're most likely to use. All French passes are flexible; senior passes, in first class only, provide a 13 percent discount below any-age first class. They cost only 8 percent more than second class, and the extra room and comfort are probably worth this small premium. Rates start at $281 for three days of travel during a month with up to six extra days at $39 to $42 a day.
If you're a frequent or extended visitor or plan lots of short trips, however, you might be better off buying a "carte senior" that provides 50 percent discounts on most trains and 25 percent discounts on almost all trains. It costs 56 euros (about $79); buy online (if you can navigate the French) or after you arrive.
Prices are a bit down this year. Senior passes are available only in first class, flexible or consecutive, where they provide a 15 percent reduction from any-age rates. Samples run from $229 for three days consecutive to $789 for 15 days over two months. But any-age second-class passes are another 22 percent less than senior first-class passes, and second class is perfectly adequate for most travelers.
As in France, 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 $42); buy online after you arrive.
Senior first-class passes for travel in the Balkans (Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Turkey) start at $222 for three days during a month and in Romania start at $167 for five days over two months. In both cases, all passes are first class only, and senior discounts are 18 to 20 percent. Senior passes in Ireland are available in both first and second class, at 20 percent off any-age prices.
Railpasses are great if you can arrange your train travel to concentrate your long-distance trips into a few days. But they're not such good deals for many travelers, especially those who want to make frequent relatively short train trips. Those travelers are generally better off buying individual trip tickets at local discount prices. For the first time this year, RailEurope is selling locally-priced British tickets. But for many other countries, you can find the best prices only on each country's individual website. For links to those websites, try Seat 61, a good overall source of information on worldwide rail travel.
I suggest buying railpasses here in the United States before you leave. Several online agencies specialize in selling European railpasses, including Rail Europe, BritRail, Eurail, and Railpass. Although prices are nominally competitive, individual agencies often offer sales with extra travel days or discounts and some may offer free shipping or other inducements.