Last week, I wrote about the benefits of buying a Eurail Pass rather than buying point-to point tickets. I promised to follow up this week with some information about buying individual train tickets in Germany.
Why Germany? Because the German rail system, Deutsche Bahn, and their website is fantastic – if you know how to use it. One of the things that I really like about the website is that it lists schedules for trains all over Europe. Although you usually cannot buy tickets for non-German trains, you can begin to plan by finding out when the trains run.
First, though, a bit about German trains. The trains are clean and comfortable – and I’ve only ridden in second class. Well, except for the time my daughter and I sat in first class by accident. Luckily, we figured it out before anyone came to check our tickets and we moved back to second class at the next stop. There is very little difference between first and second class, so I don’t recommend spending the extra money to upgrade.
Most cars have room to store your luggage – either on a luggage rack near the door, on a rack above the seats or between two seats that are back to back. Some of the seats are in rows that all face the same direction, but others are set in groups of four – two seats facing the other two. The groups of four seats may have a pull-up table hinged to the wall. If you are traveling with a group, the sets of four seats can be very nice.
The train station may have several platforms. In order to access the ones that are further away from the station, you usually have to go down the stairs, under the track, and then back up the stairs. (Another good reason to pack light). Occasionally there will be an elevator or an escalator. Look for the “Gleis” number – the platform number – on your ticket and at the station.
Stations usually have bathrooms (ask for the toilette). The larger ones have luggage checks or lockers and snack shops. Some have ATMs and even a variety of shops.
If you want to get a good deal on a German ticket, it is wise to plan and purchase in advance. Tickets are available ninety days in advance and the “saver” tickets sell out first.
The website for buying German train tickets is www.bahn.de – it’s in German, though. On the top right of the website, you will see the word “Deutschland” with a small arrow next to it. If you click on the word or the arrow, a drop-down box appears with “English version” at the top of a list of languages. Once you click there, the English website comes up.
If this is your first time at this site, you may want to explore a little bit – the site has a lot of information. If you are eager to buy your tickets, though, I’ll walk you through it.
Start by filling out the “Information and Tickets” box at the left on the site. It can be helpful to know the German names for the places you are looking for, although the site recognizes the English translation of larger cities. In my example, I’d like to go one way (a single journey) from Cologne, Germany, to Munich, Germany, on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. I was able to choose the day from the pop-up calendar. Take note, though, the calendar starts on Monday, not Sunday, and European dates are written day, month, year. On the next line, choose the time you’d like to leave – use a 24-hour clock. The default choices of one adult passenger riding in second class can be changed by clicking “change.”
When you have made your choices, click the search button to be taken to the next screen. Here are my options. I am immediately drawn to the cheapest fare. I can make the entire journey for only €45. However, after looking a little closer, I see that for an additional €8, I can shave an hour and forty minutes off the trip. I think it’s worth it, so I’ll choose the train that leaves at 8:55.
When I click the large red arrow next to the city names, (notice, they are now listed with their German names) I am able to see more details about this route. I see that will have seven minutes to change trains in Mannheim, but I will be going from Platform 4 to Platform 5 – they will probably be across the platform from each other.
Am I concerned about missing my connection with only seven minutes? No. German trains are usually very punctual, so I trust that my train from Cologne will be on time. Since the ticket is bought as one journey, the system computes that seven minutes is sufficient. I’ve found that even if I don’t rush to get to my connection, I’ll wait five minutes before the train leaves. I’ve always had plenty of time.
After I have chosen my ticket, I have to buy it. I have to click through several screens… I click on the purchase button and am taken to a page where I have to choose if I want the saver price or regular price. The saver ticket is good for a specific journey, while the regular ticket can be used on a different train or connection. I’m planning to take the morning train, so I’d rather save the money in this case. If my plans change, I can exchange the saver ticket for one at a different time with a fee of €17.50. At this point, I can also choose first class for an extra €10 – no, thanks.
The next screen offers me the Bahn discount card. Since I am only buying one ticket today, I’ll pass on it. “Continue” brings me to a page with three options – “Log in,” “Register as a new customer and book,” or “Book without registering.” I’ll choose the last option. Although there are a couple of advantages for registering, for someone who does not use the German rail system often, it isn’t really worth it. Then on the next page, I am asked how I want to receive the ticket. I choose to purchase an “Online-Ticket,” so I can just print it on my own computer.
I click past the screen that offers to help me book my hotel and finally arrive at the screen where I will put in my personal information. I’ll choose to use my credit card as my ID, then enter my name and address and accept the terms. On the next page, I’ll pay, using the same credit card I chose to use as my ID. (I didn’t do that today, since this is an example.)
Your ticket will come in an email that needs to be printed. If you used your credit card for your ID you will need to make sure you have that credit card with you. If you used a different credit card to pay, make sure you have that one along to, as you may be asked to show it.
Here are a couple other examples:
From Frankfurt to Stuttgart – the lowest price is €19 but it doesn’t leave until 10:50 in the morning. That might work in my schedule, but if I’d rather travel closer to 9, there is a 9:05 for €23, only €4 more.
From Nuremberg to Berlin – the cheapest option is €39. I can take a train at 8:33 or 10:33 for that price. The train at 9:33 is €20 more. In this case, I would try to make the earlier or later one work so I could save money.
As you can see, these tickets can cost much less than the average per-ride prices of the Eurail Pass. I was looking at prices for journeys that were three months from now, but the prices for this same journey a week from now are only a few euros more. This isn’t always the case, though; saver tickets in the high season may sell out more quickly. I would suggest purchasing your tickets as soon as you have decided on your itinerary. (Although, it cannot be more than three months in advance).
If you are traveling from Germany to another country, it makes sense to check the Deutsche Bahn website. Some journeys are available; some are not. On the website, I can buy a ticket from Munich to Venice, Italy, but I cannot buy a ticket from Frankfurt to Lyon, France. (If I were in Germany, I would be able to buy this ticket from the DB office).
There are some special deals that I have to mention. The Bahn Card is something new since the last time I purchased German train tickets. For €19 you can get a trial subscription to the card which will give you 25 percent off the price of your tickets (even saver priced ones). The trial subscription lasts for three months but has to be canceled so it does not automatically renew. It might be a bit of a hassle, but if you are making several train trips in Germany, it might be worth it.
Near the bottom of the Deutsche Bahn’s website is a list of offers. The Schönes-Wochenende (loosely translated as Happy Weekend) and Länder tickets are listed there. These two ticket types are great for two people traveling together, but even better for up to five people in a group.
With the Happy Weekend ticket, the first person pays €40; each additional person, up to five total, pays just €4. The ticket entitles the users to unlimited travel in Germany for one weekend day. The clock starts at 12 am on Saturday or Sunday and stops at 3 am the following day.
The Länder ticket allows travel throughout one region in Germany on a day during the week. Most Länder tickets start at €23 for the first person, with an additional €5 per person, up to a total of five people. However, not all the regions cost the same, so be sure to check the website for details.
With planning, it’s easy to save a lot of money on train tickets. Check out the Deutsche Bahn website as you are planning your trip. If you have any questions, I’ll try to answer them.
Enjoy the ride!