The Voordeelurenabonnement is the NS “Off-peak discount pass”: it’s good for 40% off the price of all Dutch rail travel during off-peak periods. It costs 55 euro and is good for a year; apply at the NS desk at the train station, bringing a passport photo and cash. In about three weeks, the permanent pass arrives and you’re good to go.
It took me a few tries to understand that “off-peak” is not the same as “not during rush hours”. In the US there would be morning and afternoon restrictions: in the Netherlands you simply can’t use it before 9 am (except weekends and in July and August, when the discount is good all day). I shaved it too close on one trip up to Endhoven and the conductor asked me to leave the train at Weert, 15 minutes shy of the stop, to purchase a new ticket (he relented as I stood, sniffling, at the door).
40% off really adds up over the course of the year, and the discount can be applied to two friends traveling with you. For an extra 15 euro, the card can be extended to RailPlus, securing a 25% discount on rail trips throughout Europe. However, as I found when I showed it baffled UK and Belgian ticket agents, it’s only good for trains originating and terminating in the Netherlands, and not the Thayles or Eurostar. A pity.
When the Voordeelurenabonnement arrives, it is embedded in a personal OV-chipcard, the paperless ticketing system coming online throughout the Netherlands. Similar to an Oyster card in the UK, it’s a swipe-and-go pass for paying for public transportation, whether by tram, metro, train, or bus. Load money onto the card, then wave it over the kiosk at the journey’s start, and again at the destination. The sensor lights up as the card is read successfully, and the fare is deducted from the card balance with the discount applied.
The card has to be registered online (not at the station) before starting to use it. First go to Mijn NS to register the card, then to Mijn OV to connect it to a bank card. Finally, once it’s set up, you need to back through the OV site to approve the privacy policies before it starts logging your travel. The registration sites are entirely in Dutch; I enlisted my bookkeeper to walk through it with me. The information is useful if you want to print transaction histories for reimbursement and recharge the card online.
Overall, the Voordeelurenabonnement is a great deal and getting an OV is a nice side benefit.