A German train pulls into station. Photo by Francois Roche.
It is that time of year when many travellers start sketching out their plans for 2009 trips to Europe. And for travel within Europe, many of the continent’s budget airlines will unveil their summer 2009 schedules in the coming weeks. Book early for the best discounts.
Plan ahead: Rail travel for next year
Rail travelers can still take a while refining their travel plans for summer 2009, for although many of the schedules are now becoming available, tickets do not generally go on sale until two to four months prior to travel.
The extension of the Europa-Spezial scheme to encompass many more countries means that canny travellers can now plan long treks across Europe with rail fares that greatly undercut even the lowest air fares.
Europa-Spezial: Great value for money
Europa-Spezial fares can be booked online at the German Railways website. Tickets generally go on sale 90 days prior to travel, so bookings can already be made for January 2009.
Choose your trains carefully and you can travel from Budapest to Cologne for just €39 one way – and you can include stopovers on the way (each for a maximum of 48 hours). We chose a Budapest – Prague – Berlin – Cologne routing, with en route stops for two nights in both Prague and Berlin, and found plenty of availability for mid-January 2009 at the lead-in €39 fare.
Other gems there for the taking are €29 one-way from Hamburg to Vienna (via Prague), €39 from Paris or Copenhagen to any station in Germany, and a €39 fare that will take you from any station in Belgium or the Netherlands to Basel on the Swiss border or to Salzburg in Austria.
First class options: Worth considering, even for Cheapos
If the lowest fare for your selected route is already sold out, you can still buy a Europa-Spezial ticket, but it will be priced at a higher tariff tier (e.g. €49, €69, and up). Europa-Spezial fares are also available for first class, and these are really worth checking.
Berlin to Vienna (either direct or with a one or two night stopover in Dresden) for €49 first class sounds almost too good to be true. If you find little availability for Europa-Spezial fares in second class, just have a look to see if the cheapest first class option is still available. First class sells out less quickly, and we have found many examples of journeys where remaining first class availability is cheaper than heavily-booked second class.
The great thing about these Europa-Spezial fares is that, subject to availability at the time of booking, you really can use them on the fast express services. The only real snag is that you must commit yourself to date and time of travel, but at such rock bottom fares that is scarcely a burden.
The new Europa-Spezial fares, along with long-standing promotions like discounted TGV fares in France, might really tip the balance as you weigh up whether it is worth buying a rail pass for 2009.