Cheapest Source for Point-to-Point European Rail Tickets

North Americans can now purchase city-to-city rail tickets at the websites of several national European railroads, including Germany and Switzerland. No doubt protecting U.S. rail sellers, these sites previously would not accept orders from North America. Now, however, they have chosen to compete directly in this country with such rail purveyors as Rail Europe, Wandrian, and, of course, Gemut.com.

For most rail travelers, a single or multi-country rail pass is the most economical way to travel-and such passes are still best purchased in the U.S. (You can order all passes online at Gemut.com.) But for those who will take just one or two trips, buying individual tickets may be less expensive. And nowhere are they sold cheaper than at the websites of the national railroads. Feeling the competitive heat from the proliferation of low-fare airlines, European railroads have scrapped the old one-fare-fits-all rate structure in favor of a more complex, airline-style model that incorporates lower fares based on advance purchases, nonrefundable, non-changeable tickets, and other restrictions.

We recently did a quick comparison on a second-class, Hamburg to Munich trip at two websites:

* Gemut.com

* Deutsche Bahn

The price at Gemut.com was $138 and $234 at Rail Europe. Though the DB's normal fare was listed at €119 (about $155), for those willing to purchase in advance and accept the restrictions, it also offered $29, $39, $49, and $59 fares. The two lowest fares were not available, but we could have booked the five-hour, 33-minute trip for €49 ($77) and printed the ticket ourselves-a feature not yet available from rail sellers in the U.S. A Munich-Prague ticket was $81 at Gemut.com, $128 at Rail Europe, and €51 (about $66) at the DB site. Again, buying from DB would have saved the shipping charges assessed by the other sellers.

We still believe most travelers are best served by a rail pass purchased prior to U.S. departure, but for those who need to buy just one, or perhaps two, point-to-point tickets, our recommendation is to begin your search at the website of the railroad of the country in which your trip will commence.