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On a Budget

New European Pass Combines Rail and Car Rentals

July 01, 2001|ARTHUR FROMMER

The options for booking train travel in Europe were once confined to two: the Eurailpass and point-to-point tickets. No longer. Today there's Flexipass, Europass, BritRail, Iberic Rail, ScanRail, European East pass and dozens of others. Lately that assortment of cut-rate plans has been joined by a new pass combining rail travel with a rental car, responding to the frequently expressed desire, "I'd like to ride the train for a few scattered days and then drive a car for a few more."

What achieves that goal is the Selectpass, introduced this year. It allows unlimited rail travel within three adjoining European countries for three days (they need not be consecutive days), followed by two days (again, nonconsecutive) spent meandering through Europe in a Hertz or Avis car. In each instance, whether by train or by car, you can spread your travel days out up to two months, so there's no need to rush around.

The price: $305 if you're going it alone, $258 per person if you're a twosome. Things get even less expensive the more people you have sharing the car (but some economy cars in Europe are just slightly bigger than a matchbox).

Basically, the Selectpass makes sense for the traveler who plans to tour just a couple of countries rather than a vast swatch of Europe. You choose the ones you want to visit beforehand, but the three of them have to be connected; for instance, you can't pick Ireland, Germany and Greece because they don't share a border.

For a complete list of the countries you can choose--and Ireland and Greece are possibilities because certain ferries are included in Selectpass--log on to http://www.raileurope.com.

Once you've chosen your itinerary and ordered your tickets, all you need to do is have your pass validated at any rail ticket office in Europe, and stamped by the conductor on the travel days you choose.

As for the car rental, it's recommended that you make a reservation at least a week in advance. If you're still in North America, you can call Avis at (800) 331-1084 or Hertz at (800) 654-3001, or go to http://www.hertz.com, to make the reservation.

Apart from Selectpass, which is valid for three countries in Europe, most of the train passes confined to a particular country can be bought with an auto option. Great Britain, France, Scandinavia, Germany, Spain and Italy rail lines all offer this. For example, a France rail-and-drive pass, good for any three days on the French railways and two days' car rental in France, costs $239 for an individual in second class and only $169 per person for two people traveling together in second class.

Selectpass and single-country rail-and-drive packages can be bought at several travel agencies and services in the U.S. Among them: Rail Europe, telephone (877) 456-RAIL (456-7245) or Internet http://www.raileurope.com; DER Travel, tel. (800) 549-3737, http://www.dertravel.com; Rail Connection, http://www.railconnection.com; or Council Travel, tel. (800) 226-8624.

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