How to decide whether to buy a rail pass or point-to-point train tickets in Italy

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Italian train ticket — Creative Commons photo by jayneandd

After you have read the Eurail Italy Pass options, you can decide if a rail pass is better for you itineraries to Italy.

There’s math involved, unfortunately. (I know. I’m sorry.)

A rail pass can help travelers save significant money. Some will be able to save time and avoid planning headaches. This benefit can be worth its weight. Some of you may be more comfortable booking individual tickets and reservations for your train travels in Italy.

Two things are necessary to determine whether you should get a rail pass, or purchase point-to-point tickets.

  • How many days of train travel do you have in your itinerary? Day trips by train that you take when you go there and back in a single day. Rail passes are not about the number or length of your train trips. It is the number of days you travel by train that counts. You can use your rail pass for one or seven train trips in a single day – it’s the same day.
  • How much does a train ticket cost for each of these train trips? Just search each route on Trenitalia to get an idea. But, keep in mind that the schedule is only valid for a few months so you don’t have to worry about getting them right. You can choose the same day of week you will take your train journey, which is approximately a month from today. (Here’s a link to the English Trenitalia website. Here’s my article on how to read an Italian train schedule.
  • You can instantly see which option is more cost-effective when you add up train ticket prices (number two).

    Are you still with me?

    Okay, math-challenged (I am one of them, trust me), let us add real numbers to these equations so that they make more sense.

    These samples are important:

      • In all cases, I am using the Trenitalia website’s “base” fare for the route. Although these fares sell out quicker than the base fares, there are sometimes “economy” or “super economy” fares. You can save quite a bit if you do your research enough ahead of time and get one of these “economy”, or “super-economy” tickets.
      • I choose the fastest train option in all cases – a Frecce train, if available. You may find cheaper, but slower trains that cover the same route. This is something you should consider when researching your itinerary.
      • If you travel with a group, there are “Saver” rail passes that will make it much more affordable per-person. So if you don’t plan to travel solo, be sure to check out the “Saver”, option instead of paying for individual rail passes.
    • Based on the prices that I see, I am declaring one option better than the others – point-to-point tickets and/or a rail pass for each itinerary. However, this does not necessarily mean that the answer will always be the same. To make the best decision about your trip budget, you’ll need to do the same thing I did.

    Italy Train Tickets

    Get your tickets from ItaliaRail before you leave the USA. This US-based company partners with Trenitalia in order to provide real-time connectivity to Italy’s rail reservation system. This allows you to get the lowest fares and the most current availability without needing to translate your itinerary into English. ItaliaRail offers online customer support and most tickets can be downloaded instantly.

    Italy Explained is an ItaliaRail affiliate partner. This means that if I refer you to ItalyRail for tickets, I will get a small commission. It doesn’t cost anything extra. We appreciate your support.

    Sample Italy Itinerary 1: Venice-Florence-(Pisa-Bologna)-Rome

    This itinerary will take you to Venice, Florence, Bologna, Pisa, Bologna, and Rome.

    What is the number of train days? Venice-Florence takes one day. One day equals one trip. Florence-Rome takes one day. That’s four total train days.

    Next, we need to know how much each ticket would cost.

    Here are the prices I found using the Trenitalia website and dates approximately a month apart from the date I am writing this guide:

      • Venice-Florence 2nd Class = EUR45 one way; 1st class = EUR63 one way
      • Florence-Pisa-Florence – 2nd Class – EUR15.80 round-trip (remember to double the one-way prices quoted on the site)
      • Florence-Bologna-Florence – 2nd Class = EUR48 round-trip; 1st Class = EUR72 round-trip (remember to double the one-way prices quoted on the site)
    • Florence-Rome: 2nd Class = EUR43 one way; 1st class = EUR63 one way

    This adds up to:

    • EUR151.8 for 2nd Class
    • EUR213.80 for the 1st Class

    Tickets or rail pass?

    A four-day Eurail Italy Pass costs EUR350 for 1st class and EUR284 in 2nd class. It is cheaper to book point–to-point tickets than a rail pass.

    Sample Italy Itinerary 2: Rome-Naples-Florence-(Pisa)-Venice-(Verona)-Milan

    You might find the best flights to your itinerary were those that fly into Rome and out to Milan. So you have created a route from Rome to Naples to Florence, then on to Florence (with a trip to Pisa), then on to Venice (with Verona) and finally to Milan.

    What is the number of train days? Rome-Naples takes one day. Naples-Florence takes one day. One day is required to complete the Pisa day trip. Florence-Venice takes one day. One day is required to complete the Verona day trip. Venice-Milan takes one day. This is six train days total.

    Next, we need to know how much each ticket would cost.

    Here are the prices I found using the Trenitalia website and dates approximately a month apart from the date I am writing this guide:

      • Rome-Naples 2nd Class – EUR43 one way; 1st class = EUR58 one way
      • Naples-Florence 2nd Class – EUR68 One-way; 1st class = EUR103 One-way
      • Florence-Pisa-Florence – 2nd Class – EUR15.80 round-trip (remember to double the one-way prices quoted on the site)
      • Florence-Venice 2nd Class – EUR45 one way; 1st class = EUR63 one way
      • Venice-Verona – Venice – 2nd class – EUR46 roundtrip; 1st class = EUR69 roundtrip (remember that you must double the one-way price quoted on the site).
    • Venice-Milan 2nd Class – EUR37.50 for one-way; 1st class = EUR51.50 for one-way

    This adds up to:

      • EUR255.30 2nd Class
    • EUR360.30 for the 1st Class

    Tickets or rail pass?

    A six-day Eurail Italy Pass costs EUR424 in 1st class and EUR344 in 2nd class for an adult. It is cheaper to book point–to-point tickets than a rail pass.

    What if I don’t have a plan?

    My friend, you are a consummate traveler. I owe you a lot. It is often the way we make the most of our travel experiences, even if there is no plan. You can also skip a costly town to save money. How do you decide if an itinerary-free trip is better?

    You won’t be able to know the truth, but you can make educated guesses. As I mentioned, people with more money can travel slower and are usually cheaper. In this case, I would recommend buying tickets rather than a rail pass.

    If you have a general idea of where you want to go but not in the order you would like, and all your planned train trips are to big cities, it is likely that you will be using high-speed trains more often, which is always more costly. In this case, I would recommend purchasing a rail pass rather than buying tickets.

    Remember that a rail pass has the advantage of having your ticket in the form of a rail card so you don’t have to wait in line each time you go to a ticket window. This convenience factor will be diminished if your train is high-speed or requires reservations. You’ll still need tickets.

    If I hate math, is there a general rule that I can follow?

    I don’t like numbers either so these are my general rules to guide you. These are general rules and not based on numbers. If you want to determine which one is more affordable, you will have to do the math.

    If you are:

      • You already know how many trains you’ll take AND
      • High-speed trains will make up the majority of your train journeys.
    • You will be traveling by overnight and long-distance trains, especially if you cross into other countries.

    A Eurail Italy Pass is generally not worth the cost if:

      • Your itinerary consists primarily of short train rides OR
      • You plan to use the slower trains more often OR
    • There is no set itinerary or number of train trips that you can take.
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    13 Responses to “How to Choose Whether to Purchase a Rail Pass or Point to-Point Train Tickets in Italy”

  • John says:

    Itinerary 1 is the same trip I took to Italy last June. Is it still worth renting a car if you have 4 people?

    • Jess has the following:

      John, thank you for your question. It all comes down to math. I would follow the steps that I have outlined and then compare it with the estimate I received for a car hire for the same period. You can save money by purchasing four passes instead of buying four.

  • Gary Leung:

    This is a great explanation of both the tactics! The point-to-point booking option would be better than the railpass option in Italy.

    • Jess has the following:

      Gary, thanks for your kind words. While it all depends on the individual’s travel plans, and their budget, many people find that city-to-city tickets work best.

  • Tomas:

    Excellent comparison. It was something I tried, but I wondered if there were Eurail Italy Pass benefits. It’s not as magical as I thought! Point to point, RULES!

    My only question is how to get from Salerno and Capo Vaticano. I’m still researching and trying not to change trains too often! We are four adults and two children with LUGAGGE.

    Thanks for your time.

    • Jess has the following:

      For wanderers who don’t have any plans but want to be able to hop on any train whenever they like, Eurail Passes are a great option. Point-to-point tickets are usually better for me as a planner.

  • Teresa Grow

    We are a 6 person family. We have 2 teenage children – 14 and 16. We will be there for 2 weeks. Rimini is our home base. On June 14, we will travel from Rome to Rimini. We will be visiting Venice, cinqueterre and Florence during the 10 days remaining. The fast trains are best for longer trips. Which type of train pass should I buy?

  • Gulba Gal explains:

    Your article was very helpful, Hi. We are a four-person family, 2 adults and 2 youth aged 21 and 17 who will be visiting Italy. Our plan is to land in Milan on August 16th and travel to Italy from there. We will be traveling for 5 days. Would you recommend a pass, point to point, or a combination? We appreciate your assistance.

    • Jessica says:

      You’ll find the answer if you follow the steps in this article – which uses current prices for rail passes and tickets – to get the information you need. It was once the case that a rail pass saved you money. But that is no longer true.

  • Laura Ganza says:

    Hello!

    I am currently planning a solo trip to Italy for September. However, I am unable to find information regarding how to book tickets on high-speed trains using the railpass. Is there an additional charge for this? ?

    Thank you so much for this wonderful article! !

    Laura

    • Jessica says:

      Reservations and tickets are required for high-speed trains. You will still need reservations to be able to use high-speed trains. A railpass is equivalent to a ticket. That should help! Are you familiar with your railpass?

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