Wisdom of Rail Travel
Dubbed the “Great Unifier of Europe” after World War II, Europe’s rail network might once again be at the top of agents’ lists of products they proffer this year. Well-traveled clients can easily manage rail rides over astronomical fuel prices this summer; and for newbies, rail tickets offer a far less stressful option compared to taking to the open road.
The Eurail Group, owner of the popular Eurail Pass for European announced a 5% increase in passenger numbers for 2007. Passenger numbers exceeded 468,000 for the year, setting a new record since sales began nearly 50 years ago.
Changing travel behavior has impacted Eurail’s sales. Overseas visitors are becoming more sophisticated, and their desire to visit as much of Europe as possible has been replaced by a wish to explore just one or two selected destinations. Eurail reports booming sales of one- and two-country passes. With the addition of the very popular Eurail Italy Pass in 2007, sales of single country passes have sky-rocketed by nearly 500% and now account for 16% of all Eurail’s sales (compared to a mere 3% in 2006). But so have regional passes such as the ScanRail Pass. And as high as the euro may go, the Swiss Travel Pass may very well be one of this year’s top bargains.
Product lines, much like the rail network themselves, are crisscrossing corporate lines this summer more than ever. Agents can choose from purchasing tickets and passes from the ACP Rail and Britrail (which sells a wide variety of passes throughout the U.K. and beyond) the Eurail Group, which sells passes within 20 countries.
Rail Europe, which also sells rail products to 31 countries, is the top seller for the Eurostar, the high-speed passenger train operator between Britain and mainland Europe, which reported a 21.3% rise in traveler numbers to 2.17 million between January and March 2008, compared to the same period last year. Ticket revenues increased by 25.2% during the first full three-months of carbon neutral journeys on High Speed 1, the new 186 mph line between St Pancras International and the Channel Tunnel.
ACP Rail and Britrail are offering travelers aged 16 to 25 who purchase any Eurail Pass a 50% discount on the regular adult price of a standard-class BritRail Consecutive Pass, BritRail FlexiPass, BritRail England Consecutive Pass or BritRail England FlexiPass. The discount offer is valid throughout 2008. With the discount, the all-access, standard-class, four-day BritRail Consecutive Pass costs $130; the FlexiPass, $165. The discounted cost for a four-day BritRail England Consecutive Pass is $105; the FlexiPass, $133. Visit www.britrail.com
Additionally, ACP is selling the Eurail Scandinavia Pass for rail travel in all four Scandinavian countries for as few as four days or as many as 10 days within two months. Adult second class prices start at a $344. New Eurail Regional dual-country passes allow clients to pair Sweden with Denmark (from $307), Finland (starting at $308), or Norway (from $326) for four days of adult second class travel within a two-month period.
Eurail Passes are available from the direct sales website, www.Eurail.com, and all sales agents worldwide; ACP Rail International (www.eurail-acprail.com); Flight Centre (www.flightcentre.com); www.OctopusTravel.com; Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com) and STA Travel (www.statravel.com).
Earlier this year the Eurail Group unveiled its new branding with a new logo and tagline. The pass range was updated with new participating countries, such as the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. The Eurail Group manages the famous Eurail Passes that allow unlimited train travel in Europe for non-European visitors worldwide. Additionally, this year Eurail Group took over management of the InterRail product range aimed at the European domestic market, a move that prompted the new, more inclusive branding.
Now passengers can travel throughout the region’s excellent rail systems using just a single pass – the Eurail Scandinavia Pass, which replaces the former ScanRail Pass.
The new pass enables unlimited 2nd class rail travel in all four participating countries and is available throughout a range of validity periods. Discounts are offered to groups of two or more and to young people under the age of 26. Prices start from just 50 euros or $76 a day for a four-day Saver Pass making cross border connections easy and efficient. Traveling from Oslo to Stockholm takes just over six hours, while Stockholm to Copenhagen is a five-hour ride. Connections between Helsinki and Stockholm are by ships operated by Tallink Silja Oy, which gives Eurail Pass holders a 50% reduction on the full fare of the crossing.
The Eurail Group offers a wide range of passes from single country options to the classic Eurail Global Pass, valid in 20 countries. Visit www.EurailGroup.com
Unlike other travel products purchased in Europe that have become more expensive as the dollar falls against European currencies, the dollar prices of all Swiss Travel System products sold in North America by Rail Europe are fixed for the entire year. Because the dollar has fallen 15% against the Swiss franc recently, a traveler buying here in North America saves considerably over purchasing the pass in francs in Switzerland.
The Swiss Pass in 2008 starts at $174 (2nd class) or $261 (1st class) per adult for 4 consecutive days of travel on Swiss trains, postal buses, city transit systems and lake steamers, and the price is guaranteed for the whole year. Swiss Passes are also available for non-consecutive days within a longer time frame (Flexipass). Among the bonuses of a Swiss Pass: free admission to more than 400 museums throughout Switzerland, 50% discount on most mountaintop excursions by special trains or cable cars, as well as discounts on high-speed and overnight trains to France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Austria. Children under 16 travel free when accompanied by a parent with a paid Swiss Pass.Agent commission on Swiss Passes starts at 5% for electronic bookings.
To book individual or group travel on Swiss trains, and trains throughout Europe, log on to Rail Europe’s agent site, call 888-382-7245; http://agent.raileurope.com
November 2007 Feature
When Rail is the Only Way to Go
With the dollar worth less and less each passing week, European railroads are also positioning themselves as “low-cost carriers,” trying to keep fares down by using airline-style pricing strategies like charging less for tickets bought well in advance. On this side of the Atlantic, however, rail travel is not just a way to get around, it offers a vantage point for sightseeing incredible vistas that travelers could never see from the seat of a bus.
RailAgent.com recently announced a 20% discount on select BritRail passes purchased until February 15th, 2008 at RailAgent.com for travel between November 1st, 2007 and February 29th, 2008.
“Travel agents that are booking the UK for winter holidays know it is a wonderful time to visit Great Britain and take advantage of incredible pricing, less travel congestion, and a very festive holiday atmosphere,” said Bret Gordon, president and CEO of Wandrian, the developer of RailAgent.com. Special off-peak pricing is valid for the BritRail Consecutive Pass and Flexipass and the BritRail England Consecutive Pass and Flexipasses.
The Passes and Pricing
The BritRail Consecutive Pass: The Consecutive Pass provides unlimited, consecutive travel throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. Pass holders have a choice of 8 days, 15 days, 22 days, or one month of consecutive-day travel. Sample prices for the four-day 2nd class adult BritRail Consecutive Pass, costs $232; youths (ages 16-25) pay $116.
The BritRail England Flexipasses can be purchased for 4, 8 or 15 days of non-consecutive travel within a two-month period. Sample discounted price: 4-day 2nd class adult BritRail England Consecutive Pass starts at $235; Youths pay $188. Visit www.railagent.com
For Warmer Climes
If clients prefer to go someplace a tad warmer and sunnier than Europe in winter, take a closer look at Caravan Tours’ perennial favorite: Copper Canyon Tours that wend their way through Mexican vistas.
Caravan has reserved an entire first class train car on the Chihuahua-Pacifico Railway operated by Ferrocaril Mexicano for its descent into Copper Canyon. The Copper Canyon Train Tour departs from El Paso, Texas and includes hotel, courtesy airport shuttle, border crossing by private bus, travel through the canyon in a first class chartered train car, all meals (except for dinner the first night) and sightseeing. It also includes seven nights' accommodations beginning with the Hilton El Paso Airport Hotel in El Paso, Parador de la Montana in Creel, Posada del Hidalgo (a 19th century colonial mansion) in El Fuerte, Posada Barrancas Mirador (with rooms overlooking the edge of the canyon) in Barrancas and Palacio del Sol in Chihuahua. There are regular departures throughout the year but Super Value departures are in Nov. and Dec. 2007; January, February, May 17 to Sept. 15 and Nov. 2 to Dec. 12, 2008. Super Value date tours are priced at $995 per person double, $975 for triple and $1,295 single. At other times of the year, the Great Value prices are $1,195 per person double, $1,145 for triple and $1,495 for single. Call 800-227-282; www.caravantours.com
Northern Rail Rides
Although most rail tours through Canada cease operations in late fall, a couple of companies offer tours that capitalize on the beauty of the cold and proximity to skiing and snowboarding activities, while keeping travelers safely ensconced in a comfy, heated coach. Rocky Mountaineer offers Canadian Rockies winter rail vacations but clients must act quickly because it only departs in December.
The 10-day “Winter in the Canadian Rockies” takes visitors to Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise and two days on board the Rocky Mountaineer. The trip covers nine nights' accommodations, seven meals, transfers, admission to the Whyte Museum, tour of Banff, and admission to the Lookout in Vancouver and Calgary. Priced at $2,349 per person double in Red Leaf service. The start dates from Calgary are December 15 and 22 if you're traveling from Vancouver December 19 and 26.
There is also a shorter version of this trip, called “Canadian Rockies Winter Excursion” for four nights and five days, starting at $999 for adults, based on double occupancy, with stops in Vancouver, Kamloops, Banff and Calgary. And shorter still is the two-day “Winter Train Getaway,” with a mountaineer train dressed up for the holidays. Prices start at $789 one way per person double. Included are wo breakfasts and lunches, one dinner and an overnight hotel accommodation along with rail transfers. Call 877-460-3200; www.winterrailvacations.com
VIA Rail Canada has teamed up with ski area Marmot Basin in Jasper, Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies in Jasper National Park, for a new departure from Edmonton to Jasper in the VIA panorama, a fully domed observation car. Starting January 12 and running through April 22, 2008, travelers can take this train through all manner of weather and head to the skiing, snowboarding and other outdoor activities without braving the icy roads. Called the Snow Train Express, the schedule designed for weekend trips. One-way trips, with meal included, for the Snow Train Express are priced at $109 for adults, with discounts for seniors ($98), Youth 18-25 ($82), Students aged 12-17, $71 and children aged 2-11, $55. Call 888-VIA-RAIL; www.viarail.ca
Holiday Romance on the Orient-Express
Orient-Express offers A Yuletide daytrip aboard an antique train of the 1920s and 1930s, which is one way to indulge in the magic of an English Christmas. Whether passengers opt for a Christmas lunch or dinner excursion, every ride aboard the British Pullman and Northern Belle routes will enjoy sweeping views of the English countryside, guests indulge in fine wine and a festive Christmas menu, available on board from December 1 to 22.
In addition to lunch and dinner departures, Orient-Express Trains & Cruises offers tailored daytrips throughout the month of December. Guests can hop aboard Christmas carol trips from Bath or Bristol to Chester on the Northern Belle, or from London to Canterbury or Salisbury on the British Pullman - all of which feature a delicious brunch served on the outbound journey, entrance to a carol recital at the city's historic Cathedral and a five-course dinner with champagne and wine on the inbound journey. Or if the Christmas lights of London beckon, travelers can book the West End Show trip aboard the Northern Belle, which combines tickets to a top musical and free time to visit the sights. Prices for British Pullman begin at $530 per person; prices for Northern Belle departures begin at $385 per person. Visit www.orientexpress.com.