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I am deciding between

  1. Benelux railpass
  2. Purchasing point-to-point tickets in advance, which I assume commits us to a specific dates and times
  3. Buying shortly before use, which is mid-August

The itinerary is (likely) Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp-Ghent-Brussels. (Then Brussels to London by Eurostar. That date I can probably commit to.)

Buying tickets now is clearly cheaper than a 4-day in a month railpass, not even close, even using Rail Europe which is not the best source. But buying tickets then? (The railpass also means I don't have to worry about those pesky Dutch ticket kiosks versus my USA credit card.)

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    If you are from the UK, you may be surprised that there is no advance purchase discount at all (at least on local trains in the Netherlands, not sure about Thalys). So there is no difference between 2 and 3. I can't help you on the other options though. – Bernhard Jun 4 '15 at 18:53
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    A quick search on international train website for Netherlands trains showed that Amsterdam-Antwerp is worth 30 euros (if you except Thalys) if you travel tomorrow, and a similar price for a travel in August, I back up @Bernhard. Most likely it will cost you a total of about 50 euros if you buy tickets at the last minute. It is up to you to decide which is the best solution. – Vince Jun 4 '15 at 18:58
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    I am from the USA, and many of our long-distance trains have advance-purchase discounts. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 4 '15 at 21:03
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    France, Germany, Italy, Spain all have some form of advance-purchase discount as well so it's really the Benelux that stands out nowadays. Arguably, there is no such thing as a long-distance train in the Netherlands, though. – Relaxed Jun 4 '15 at 21:23
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    I think that generally speaking the long term idea is to make Dutch trains resemble subways as much as possible, e.g. there is a plan to do away with scheduled times and just have Intercity trains roughly every 10 minutes on the busiest stretches. Things like seat reservations and advance purchase discounts are from another age. – RemcoGerlich Jun 5 '15 at 9:25
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I am not sure whether you want to do all in one go, Amsterdam to London within 24 hours or so, or step by step, stopping for a couple of days in each location mentioned.

If traveling Amsterdam to London in a short period of time, look into the 'Each Dutch station to London' option on the Eurostar site. I think you get 24 hours before the Eurostar train to make use of the first leg of the ticket.

If you have a stop of several days in Belgium, you might consider the 'Each station in Belgium to London'.

Tickets bought within the Netherlands costs the same whenever you buy, except Thalys trains, and for the Dutch leg, I would not bother with looking for cheaper options. You might see if you (by then) can buy online, otherwise, if you have the time to collect coins, you can still pay for the tickets by coins in many of the machines. Or pay the €0.50 extra and buy from a ticket window.

For Amsterdam or Rotterdam to Antwerp or Brussels, I would try to buy online from the Dutch site, or the Belgian site. Ticket prices might be cheaper online but a recent check did not proof that. You need to print the ticket, as far as I know, but new technology is introduced.

If buying online is difficult, the company is not known for being tourist friendly, you might want to wait till you are in the Netherlands. As said in the comments, you do not pay less when you book early. And while in the Netherlands you might find they updated the system or you might find a Dutch person willing to help you with the payments.

I am not as familiar with the Belgium system, but as far as I know you still get service, without extra costs, at the ticket windows in Belgium. And there as well, buying early will not be cheaper. But they do have several tickets that work for repeat or group travels, worth asking at the station if no answer here shows up. And they do have a good website as well. Keep in mind that buying your ticket in the train will cost you 7€ extra. If you forget to tell the train conductor, a minimal fine of 75€ is added.

And one last site that is always more helpful than Rail Europe, the Man in Seat Sixty-One, in this case the link to the Netherlands page. You can use the instructions 'the other way around' and there will help for buying tickets in the country. (In this case they send you to the same Belgian site I mentioned above.)

You might see that I did ignore the 'buy railpass' option. I did not mention it as you found already that it is more expensive for this kind of travel. The same goes for the 'discounted one day' passes for the Netherlands, for sale in some shops, they are not cheaper compared to the Amsterdam to Antwerp (Dutch part thereof) tickets. And the 'discount prices' you find on the website of the Dutch railways, they are only available if you buy a year pass, no use for you. And they do not give discount on the international tickets.

For the Amsterdam to Rotterdam leg, also see this question.

The front hall of Rotterdam Centraal station

The new hall of Rotterdam centraal station, the location of a tourist information office as well as of shops, but the main activity is still travel related.

  • +1 but I don't think buying online is generally cheaper, even on Rotterdam-Antwerpen or Rotterdam-Brussels, at least as long as you avoid the Thalys. – Relaxed Jun 4 '15 at 20:50
  • Thank you. I imagine stopping one day in each of the mentioned cities, probably arriving one evening and leaving the following evening. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 4 '15 at 21:32
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    @AndrewLazarus In that case, I would buy the Amsterdam - Rotterdam leg at the station (+1.50 from the ticket window) or from the Belgium website (I think print needed but might be 'smart phone' instead. Rotterdam to Antwerp, same website. and from Antwerp to Brussels, include it in the Eurostar ticket or ask at the station. – Willeke Jun 4 '15 at 21:41
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    @AndrewLazarus all the main railway stations have left luggage options, mostly as lockers, might be handy when leaving town in the evening. – Willeke Jun 4 '15 at 21:45
  • @Willeke I was going to ask about lockers as the next question. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 5 '15 at 19:39
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Except for Thalys or trains to Germany, there are no advance-purchase discounts at all in the Netherlands (and, I think, Belgium), the Dutch railway network is one of the last ones in Western Europe using almost exclusively a “traditional” distance-based pricing model. The price you see today will therefore still be available in August.

Thalys or Eurostar fares on the other hand vary a lot so definitely buy that one as soon as possible. Note that on Amsterdam-Brussels (but not, I think, on Rotterdam-Antwerpen), an advance fare on Thalys can actually be slightly cheaper than the regular fare on other trains. The latter won't change and will always be available, even after the cheap tickets on Thalys have sold out.

Whether you buy online, at the counter or from a vending machine, you don't have to commit to specific times or to a given train either, you only specify a date (besides, seat reservation is not even available except, again, on international trains to Germany and, of course, Thalys, where it is mandatory). You could therefore buy several tickets at once if you wish, paying the credit card surcharge only once.

3

There is no need to buy the Benelux Railpass. If you travel on InterCity (IC) trains, the trip will cost 53.30 EUR or 47 EUR if you are less than 26 years old.

For IC trains in the Netherlands and Belgium, there is no advance purchase discount. Just buy the tickets as you go. There is even no need to commit to schedules in advance. Trains run very frequently on each of these legs. Just go to the station, buy a ticket and hop on the next train ...

Thalys highspeed trains, on the other hand, do have an airline-style pricing system. But there is no point in using Thalys for your trip, which is composed of relatively short legs. Even if price were the same, the time saving that you would get from Thalys is outweighed by the increased flexibility you have with IC trains.

However, there are significant advance purchase discounts for the Eurostar to London. Booking early, as well as flexibility regarding the schedules, pay off.

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