I recently traveled through Western Europe with a group of my friends. All of us are college students and don't have much money to spare, so we looked into (and ended up purchasing) Eurail Youth Passes. We ordered them well in advance and received them in plenty of time and good condition. Our travel included a mix of airline flights and train trips, so we were not going to use them until about a week into our trip.
When we went to the Barcelona, Spain main train station to have our passes validated and get seat reservations, the agent told us that the French train workers were striking and they had no idea when it would end. Absolutely every train into France was canceled, with the exception of one to Paris (we had just come from Paris and were trying to get to Nice). Fortunately, we had gone to the station the day before we planned to depart (and when our hostel reservation ended), so with some scrambling we secured a place to spend the night.
As soon as we left the train station, I got on a computer to look up what kind of accommodations Eurail made for strikes. I Googled "Eurail refunds" and clicked on the first link, which took me to eurailnet.com, a website that sells Eurail passes. On the first page Google linked me to, it specifically stated that a full refund would be made for passes that went unused due to strikes. Although inconvenienced and forced to incur additional expenses, my friends and I ended up fine--we took a ferry to our next stop. We did not use our Eurail passes at all and had them endorsed "not used" by an Italian railway official, as the Eurail website instructed.
I eventually made it home to the United States, where I promptly mailed off my unused pass to the Eurail refund processing center. I included a letter explaining what had happened, providing my phone number and requesting that the refund administrator call me if for any reason I would not be receiving a full refund, as their website said I would. Over a month later, a credit finally posted to my bank account--but it was only for 85% of the pass price.
After a significant amount of searching-- their website says that the company no longer offers customer service via telephone and only accepts requests via its website (which one of my travel companions did and despite their guarantee of a response within three days, never received a reply)--I found a phone number where I could reach one. Over the course of four days (and a weekend; they are completely closed Saturdays and Sundays) I was passed around from agent to agent, each of whom would promise me a call back once they had a chance to research the matter and NONE--I repeat not a single one--EVER called me back.
I spoke with four different agents (one each day, each referring me to the next after I would call them back because they never called me), the last of whom promised me a phone call from yet another agent (which also never happened) and told me that I had looked on the wrong website. Apparently, there are many different distributors of Eurail passes and even though there is only one distribution and customer service center, they would not honor the strike guarantee of the website Google pulled up (despite the fact that it listed their phone number and address as its own and is a licensed distributor of the passes).
Anyway, I know this is a long review, but here is WHAT I'VE LEARNED from my experience: unless for some reason you really have your heart set on using a Eurail pass, skip it. It is not worth the headache and frustration of dealing with them if for any reason something happens with your pass. Their employees are completely unhelpful, unresponsive, and really couldn't care less about your problem.
If you must buy a Eurail pass, understand that you will be screwed if the European rail workers decide to strike--something that the Eurail website describes as "rare" but in reality is quite common, as I was told by the Spanish railway official who informed me of the strike. Apparently, the French especially strike a lot. Their website paints a very different picture than the reality of traveling using Eurail, and if you're hoping for help from their US operations center, don't hold your breath.
I had the misfortune of taking the NIGHT TRAIN from Budapest to Venice. it was a NIGHTMARE!!! Eurail brochure implied a pleasant uninterrupted journey, overnight sleep/rest wonderful service. The Eurail Train 240 EN Coach 424, two-bed sleeper, 10 May 2009, cost us two days fare in Eurail.
The only time the train leaves is exactly 4.35pm Budapest Keleti, so that you are forced to use two days, that was EUR 200, then we had to purchase an extra bed/crossing fee of EUR 140,on top of that. Which would have been OK had the train been even remotely decent, but it was gross, we had no showers in our coach 424, exposed pipes and awful toilet, no floor covering, dry detergent for hand wash, steel antiquated grosser than the worst public toilet that you were too scared to go into, dirty and unfriendly, NIGHTMARE.
That train should be banned from Eurail, and the staff, especially the kitchen staff, shame on you! The excuse of a breakfast which was supposed to be included, was the most disgusting excuse of a meal I have ever had put in front of me. One traveller asked for milk for her tea, and they hunted her down for payment as it wasn't included with her breakfast.
Brochure says we were supposed to enjoy a pleasurable journey without sleep interruption, instead, we had the worst accommodation imaginable, disgusting, then every border crossing we were woken up for passport checks, by nasty loud and very rude "POLIZIA" that woke us up, flashed lights in our eyes, had sniffer dogs, wanted to know if we had alcohol or cigarettes to declare?! What the?
We will fly across the world, spend a fortune on eating out, accommodation, EURAIL PASSES and then what, they thought we might traffic in TOBACCO? Very unpleasant I do NOT recommend this journey. Have had many pleasant Eurail trips, but this one, DO NOT DO IT. There were two other couples, the US ones were supposed to train back to Budapest, they cashed in their return trip and caught a flight back, we were only going one way, thank the Lord!
PARIS, FRANCE -- I was foolish enough to buy a 4 country Eurail pass to make a journey from Switzerland to Portugal. There is effectively no capacity made available on french long distance trains (TGV) for the Eurail pass. I was unable to book a direct train from Geneva to Paris on a Monday afternoon over a week in advance or any connection from Paris to Irun on the Spanish border for a Wednesday/Thursday. I was ultimately forced to buy another ticket--full fare ticket for the train I wanted to travel on--but was denied with a pass.
The SNCF knowingly creates this situation and locks out capacity while continuing to promote the pass for sale--leaving pass travelers stranded, frustrated and out of pocket. Attempts to get appropriate action or a refund fall on deaf ears. Don't waste your money on a Eurail pass if your journey involves France.