Uncovering Europe's best budget hotels since 2001.

Home > Travel Blog > Train > European Rail Tickets: Deutsche Bahn fares better than rail agents

European Rail Tickets: Deutsche Bahn fares better than rail agents

Posted in: Train

61 comments

A Deutsche Bahn train in Berlin's main station. Photo by hidden europe.
A Deutsche Bahn train in Berlin's main station. Photo by hidden europe.

Okay, we’ve said it before, but we’ll gladly say it again. Have Cheapos realised just how much rail fares in Europe can vary according to where you purchase your tickets?

We took a day out from our regular work with hidden europe magazine last week and conjured up a tempting palette of trips criss-crossing the continent. And then we compared the ticket prices on a national rail website (that of the Deutsche Bahn) with the prices offered for those journeys by rail ticketing agents based in Britain and North America. We took care to ensure that the tickets we purchased were in every case for exactly the same trains.

So a straight comparison, comparing like-with-like. Same class of travel, same comfy seat, same scenery slipping by outside the window – for all five routes in our basket of European rail trips.

The five routes we tested
1. Berlin to London single (by day, depart after 9:00 AM, any route) on September 3: one adult, 2nd class.
2. Amsterdam to Salzburg single (by day, no more than one change of train) on July 14: one adult, 1st class.
3. London to Cologne via Brussels single (depart at 8:00 AM or later) on September 10: one adult, 2nd class.
4. Berlin to Zagreb single via Hamburg (2 night stop) and Munich (2 night stop) on August 20: one adult, any class.
5. Nuremberg to Dresden same day return (direct trains only) on June 20 for a family of five, 2nd class.

For each of these five journeys, we thought that the German Railways (viz. Deutsche Bahn) website at www.bahn.de would offer some reasonable fare advice, and so it did. Indeed, all five journeys could be booked online through their website.

Then we turned to agents selling rail tickets in North America and Britain to get quotes for precisely the same journeys. This was done first by online research, often followed up by telephone calls to check precise details.

The results

And guess what? The leading agencies specializing in European rail tickets always charged at least twice as much as would the Deutsche Bahn for exactly the same journey.

The key point here is that in most of Europe, rail operators have a whole raft of special promotional fares that massively undercut the regular tariffs (often with discount of more than 80% on the standard fare). But agents rarely offer those discounted fares, preferring to safeguard their hefty commission fees by selling only the full fare.

Comparing the fares

Now take a look at how those fares compared. Listed below are the Deutsche Bahn (DB) fares that were available for purchase around midday of Friday, June 12, 2009 followed by the cheapest fare quoted the same day by a leading North American or British agent (all sterling and dollar fares have been converted to euros just to make things clearer).

1. Berlin to London (2nd class) DB: €49 / Agent Fare: €209
2. Amsterdam to Salzburg (1st class) DB: €79 / Agent Fare: €255
3. London to Cologne (2nd class) DB: €49 / Agent Fare: €106
4. Berlin to Zagreb with stops in Hamburg and Munich (2nd class) DB: €29 / Agent Fare: €322
5. Nuremberg to Dresden day return for family of 5 (2nd class) DB: €37 / Agent Fare: €705

Helpful advice?

We found one leading British agent who was extremely helpful on the phone, going to some lengths to suggest that for certain routes it might be wiser to get the tickets from a German source (but declining to give the specific name of the company or website).

A well-known North American agent emphasized that their dollar fares on offer would undercut anything we might purchase in Europe – a claim which is patently undermined by the results of our survey. The North American agent suggested that a rail pass might be a better bet for some of our journeys, and hinted that we would encounter a range of problems if we attempted to purchase directly from the Deutsche Bahn website.

Booking tickets in advance

The reality is that booking train tickets on www.bahn.de is pretty easy, even without a knowledge of German. The site has a decent English language interface, though in some instances you will find additional functionality on the German language website.

Also, it really helps to have a good knowledge of European patterns of service and railway geography. A good place to start is by studying the latest edition of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable and the same company’s Rail Map of Europe.

Booking well in advance is often the key to finding cheap fares, but our research found that plenty of discounted promotional fares are still available for travel this summer. And we did not cast around trying to dig up the cheapest possible travel dates, having fixed our palette of routes and travel dates before embarking on our research. If you would like the see the full results of our survey, just click here.

And, oh yes, just in case you were wondering, we were paid not a cent by the Deutsche Bahn to publish this!

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

Leave a comment

61 Responses to “European Rail Tickets: Deutsche Bahn fares better than rail agents”

Ellen says:

Deutsche Bahn has a really bad customer service. I was planning to book a trip with my friends from Munich to Budapest with them. I called them several times but there wasn’t ANY English speaker available.

I think if you translate your website into English you should be able to deal with international requests!

Hello Ellen

We fear you misjudge the Deutsche Bahn. They have a first class English language call centre, for which the telephone number is +44 8718 80 80 66. This is based in Britain and is staffed by a crack team of English speakers who know the German rail network inside out. They will mail tickets direct to non-European addresses.

The Deutsche Bahn office mentioned above is open from 9am to 8pm (UK time) from Mondays thru Fridays, and then also on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

The fact that you could not get an English speaker when you called a German train station is perhaps unsurprising. Turkish, French, Russian or Polish perhaps! Even German on a good day. But it is precisely to meet the needs of English speakers such as yourself that the Deutsche Bahn has that call centre at Surbiton in England.

You mention that you’d like to travel München to Budapest. Hope you still manage it. There’s a decent overnight train, called the Kálmán Imre, and also two direct daytime trains each day. The journey time is 7 to 9 hours.
Susanne and Nicky

Jovana Jankovic says:

This English-speaking customer service phone number costs $0.30 CAD per minute (approximately 0.20 Euros per minute), and they ALWAYS put you on hold for at least 8 or 10 minutes before answering, so you end up spending like three Canadian dollars, or two Euros, just to have your simple questions answered. That is totally unacceptable! Customer service for ticket-purchasing customers should be FREE!

Ksenia says:

I just wrote an extensive blog post, using your findings, on my decision to not purchase a Eurail pass this summer. Hopefully it could be helpful to other travellers in the same quandary.

Find it here:
http://russianvegan.blogspot.com/2009/06/to-eurail-or-not-to-eurail.html

john edelen says:

Are the standard fares listed on the Bahn website what you’d expect to see if you were to buy the tickets at the train station? Debating whether or not to buy the tickets in advance online or to wait and buy at the station?

Bradley says:

Does purchasing rail tickets through DB’s English-language call centre entail any additional fees, or are the prices on offer the same as those one would pay at a German train station?

If you call the Deutsche Bahn (UK), based at Surbiton just south of London, you will pay the same price for a journey as if that exact same journey were booked online on the DB website. Curiously, for many journeys, this might work out a little cheaper than if you buy those same tickets in person at a Reisezentrum (that is, travel centre) at a German train station. For many categories of ticket you will pay an extra fee to queue at the Reisezentrum and get personal advice. These differences will be but slight – no more than a few euros. I have found the English language call centre staff infallibly helpful. You do however really need to know exactly what you want. They will cast around a bit to find the cheapest deals, but only within the parameters that you clearly specify.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
editors / hidden europe magazine

Joan Young says:

Hi: My husband and I will be traveling from Passau to Luxemborg April 10th, maybe stopping a day or two along the way to visit towns and/or friends. I’m trying to discover which routes will take us there, but can’t find “train routes” on line, so far. Any clues?

Passau to Luxembourg offers so many wonderful options, each route taking in some fabulous scenery. The one way fare per person will be €29 if you book now on the Deutche Bahn website. Stopovers (which can be up to 48 hours) needs to be specified when booking.

Routes you might consider are:
Passau-Munich-Augsburg-Mainz-Koblenz-Trier-Luxembourg
Passau-Wuerzburg-Mainz-Koblenz-Trier-Luxembourg

I would strongly recommend that, whatever route you take, you end with the Mainz-Koblenz-Trier-Luxembourg stretch, which takes in the finest part of the Rhine Valley gorge and then the beautiful Moselle valley upstream from Koblenz.

If time is no object, and you have a week to spare, you could travel Passau to Trier on slow trains and boat, a superb transect across southern Germany, that might look as follows:

Passau-Muehldorf-Munich-Crailheim-Wertheim-Aschaffenburg-Mainz-Wiesbaden-Rudesheim-Koblenz-Cochem-Trier-Luxembourg. The Rhine and Mosel sections here could be done by boat. We described the Mosel boat routes in a feature published in hidden europe magazine issue 22. To get get the best of it, allow four days for the Rudesheim to Trier run by boat with overnight stops along the way.
Nicky

maria says:

I have found trying to get someone to answer the phone at Deutsche Bahn UK impossible. I have wasted many pounds waiting and then I have been cut off. When I rang their German number, the same happened. I have had no customer service from the call centre whatever and I am extremely disappointed in what is supposed to be German efficiency.

owdawg says:

I have worked in Germany for several months, as an American it can be pretty frustrating dealing with an extensive public transit system as the European rail system. The BD rail system will let you print out tickets only routes to and from neighboring countries to Germany otherwise they will have to mail you the tickets. Book at least 3 days in advance will get you cheaper rates, select 2nd class for cheaper fares, user slower trains for even cheaper fares as follows….. ICE fastes and most expensive, IC/EC faster but cheaper, RB/RE/S-Bahn cheapest and slowest. There are also special discounts for students and those travelling in groups(on the weekends you can travel with up to 5 people for only 54 euros all day using the slower trains). If you plan on staying in a single area for a while you can get regional passes for a few days, week or a month.

Be forwarned you are using public transit and there are often no direct routes from one place to another, one journey I had to transfer between 4 trains oftentimes with 5 minutes between when one train arrives and the other departs.

Howard Barnett says:

Interesting, Owdawg. You seem to have found a different Deutsche Bahn from the one I use every day. I have 5 comments on what you say.

1. If you book last minute a pay the regular kilometer tariff, then yes you are correct that there are three prices classes. A journey that might cost €70 on an ICE would cost only €60 if taken on an IC or EC train and only €50 if taken on an RE or RB train. But I think few Germans pay those fares. And nor do I. Book the Dauer-Spezial which costs from €29 for one person ( €49 for two people travelling together) for a one way journey across Germany, and that is independent of distance or class of train. Best booked three months in advance, but if you are flexible you can still snap up the €29 fare even just a week prior to travel (for example by choosing a very early morning departure).

2. The question of whether you can print out your own ticket has nothing to do as to whether it is to a neighbouring country. You cannot print out tickets for many local journeys within Germany. You cannot print out tickets even for some simple cross-border journeys to neighbouring countries. I always say that, if you are doing a complicated journey, get a proper ticket mailed. If you a travelling on a complicated itinerary (eg. Hamburg to Zagreb with several detours and lots of stops on route), a paper ticket is really essential. Foreign railway administrations are often reluctant to endorse or alter e-tickets and the paper ticket is a big asset if you are delayed or diverted.

3. There are no special student discounts on the Deutsche Bahn. There are certain tickets for which younger travellers secure a reduced fare. For example, people aged 26 or less get a €30 discount on the 175 hour Jubiläaums-Pass this summer, so bringing the price down from €175 to €145. But nothing special for students, I’m afraid.

4. I do not know what the €54 for five people fare is. Are you referring to the old Quer-durchs-Land tariff? That was a brief offer in 2009, but was quickly scrapped. The best weekend offer for small groups is the Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket which was well covered here on Eurocheapo a couple of weeks back. See http://www.eurocheapo.com/blog/exploring-germany-rail-passes-for-local-train-services.html. It costs €37 for one person or a small group (up to 5) to travel anywhere on RE / RB trains on either a Saturday or Sunday.

5. The regional passes to which you refer are I think the Länder Tickets (well explained in the same Eurocheapo article as the weekend ticket). These tickets are all one day tickets. Despite what you say there are no extended versions of those tickets valid for ‘a few days, a week or a month’. Some Verkehrsverbund or city transport areas do offer weekly or monthly area ticket (essentially for commuters).

bob and sandy harris says:

having trouble with the db bahn site. not traveling till nov/2011 but want to start making some kind of an itinerary. we are going from vienna to koscie,slovakia and it appears the trip will take 20+ hours and then from koscie to munich,germany and that trip appears will take 24+ hours. i know this has to be wrong. please advise. thanks bob and sandy harris

It is merely that you are searching too far ahead. Some schedules for late 2011 are already loaded, but so far not the internal Slovak Railway services that link Bratislava with Kosice. So the system is struggling to give you an itinerary´, by relying on the limited services that are already loaded in the HAFAS system. HAFAS is the name of the underpinning database that powers the timetable enquiry search. You may have more luck with the ÖBB SCOTTY system (but we’ve not checked).

But you can already check times for January 2011 and those will give you a good idea of the pattern of service. Wien to Kosice is an easy journey with just one change. Generally hourly departures and a journey time of 7 to 7.5 hrs.

JJ Groenewald says:

I will be part of a group of about 16 South Africans that will be on course in Mannheim for 5 weeks. Al of us got Schegen visums, my question is what is the cheapst way to explore europa during the weekends. Please keep in mind the exchange ratio Rand to Euro (10 to 1).
We was thinking of going to France, Switzerland, Belguim, Holland and Poland.

Ashley says:

Hi! We are heading over to Europe on July 14. Looking to take the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Stuttgart HBF. I understand I can’t book our fares until 90 days in advance, but wondering what sort of ballpark I am looking at for a fare?

Right now I can fine a fare on April 11 for 69 euros per person. Does this seem fare?

Ashley (above): If you book your tickets on the day they go on sale (generally 92 days prior to travel), Amsterdam to Stuttgart will generally be €39 one way. Leave it till a few days later and, once all the €39 cheapos have gone, the fare will creep up to €69. Buy it on the day of travel and the fare will be between €100 and €140, depending upon exactly which route you take.

Ling says:

Planning to visit Austria and Germany in March and was tempted to purchase the Eurorail Pass. Luckily, I didn’t as the DB provided much much better prices. The travel plans are Vienna – Salzburg – Munich – Fussen – Vienna for 2 persons.

The total point-to-point tickets came up to €120 per person (including reservation fees) while the cost of one Eurorail Pass for Austria and Germany is € 259 per person, excluding reservation fee.

Also noted in my research is that the DB offers better prices than OBB (Austrian Rail) for the Salzburg to Munich stretch. OBB’s price is nearly doubled what I had to pay DB. And OBB does not allow online purchase earlier than 30 days. The most expensive ticket was for the Vienna to Salzburg journey (> € 45 per person).

I was reading about the bad services and delays by DB, especially during the winter period. Do I need to be worried? I did not purchase the rail insurance, but I do have the over-riding travel insurance.

Julie says:

Does DB provide train service from Venice to Salzburg

.
DB have a overnight service, Julie, but to be honest the timings are not great, as the train arrives Salzburg at four in the morning. Far better to take a daytime train, for its a really lovely journey. You can book at http://www.oebb.at. The regular one-way fare, if you don’t book in advance is about €80, but no sane traveller should pay that much. Book well in advance, at least a couple of months, and you’ll easily get tickets for €29 one way. Some routings are entirely by train (via Verona and Innsbruck), others involve taking the ÖBB express bus from Venice to Villach.

Sir: Daughter and I looking for fare on night train from Munchen to Roma and back, four days later. Are couchettes acceptable? What kind of fares would we expect for this travel? Since we will be in Italia for four full days, should we still book a R/T? Tks for any help. Our travel dates are: April 10 to Roma and April 14 to Munchen (2011).

The Sensible Traveler says:

As my tag implies, I try to be a sensible traveller. So I have to advise that couchettes are not a great option. Why share a 4 or 6 berth couchette when for just slightly more you can have the comfort of a proper sleeper? A couchette is rarely the sensible option, unless price is the overriding consideration.

You are booking at quite short notice now, for these night trains fill up quickly. No longer will you travel for €50 apiece. Couchettes for two will probably cost €180 (so about €90 each). Far better to trade up to a sleeping company for two, which will be about €120 each. Buy both outward and return trips soon, for prices will only hike up more with each day that passes.

KMuell says:

Hello there,

My family of 5 (2 adults, 3 young children) are looking to travel by train from Copenhagen to Cologne at the end of June. I’m not sure what kind of ticket to purchase? First or Second class? If we were to take the “night train”, what would be the best option for sleeping? Thanks for your help as I understand I need to purchase these tickets within the next week to get the best fare (92 days prior)

Chico says:

If the book the Europa-Spezial Danemark ticket, your three children travel for free, provided they are entered on the ticket at time of booking. So book for 2 adults and 3 kids. Book 92 days in advance, as you say, and it should be €78 one way for all five of you. If €78 is sold out, then it may be €118 or higher. Definitely reserve seats for all five of you. There is one family compartment on the train which is good for five. You can book on the Deutsche Bahn website.

If you opt for the night train from CPH to Cologne, then the best option for sleeping is of course the sleeping berth option.

If you are in the US, you can buy the same tickets from North American agents such as Rail Europe. They will charge more of course. For a family of five, booked in the US, the going rate on day trains is about $800 to $930. So you could up paying seven times as much as if you book on the DB German website.

kiciaski says:

I was looking at DBahn for a trip from Barcelona, Spain to Avignon, France on June 3 for two people (one over 60) and can find the trains but there is a note that the tickets cannot be purchased online and there is no price listed. How can I purchase the tickets? I am in the US.

Wonderful though the Deutsche Bahn website may be, it is only for booking journeys to, from or through Germany. Your best bet for your proposed journey would be the SNCF Voyages site, RENFE or TGV-Europe. The Estrella fare of €49.90 is still available for both the obvious daytime connections on 3 June. Those two obvious departures are at 0900 and 1300.

If you want first class luxury, you get it for little more with the Estrella fare. Just about €6 more per person.

If you decide not to take advantage of the pre-purchase fares, a regular one way ticket on this route is €79.80 one way per person second class.

kiciaski says:

Thank you for you response to my question but now I need more informtion.
On the renfe site I can only get Barcelona to Girona to Montpellier and the times are not good. The tgv-europe site is very good and I found a trip Barcdelona to Avignon for 108.60 euros with good timing. The problem is I cannot purchase the ticket. If I put my country in as US I get transferred to RailEurope and I get a message that it is too early to book tickets and I can’t even get prices. If I put my country as Great Britain everything is fine except I cannot purchase the ticket. How do I get around this?

Thank you!

The Booking Gnome says:

Kiciaski: As suggested to you earlier this week, just book the Estrella fare, which is still less than €50. You can do this on the SNCF Voyages site as has been suggested. In French of course. You will need to ensure that your US credit card issuer allows you to book on such sites. Of on TGV-Europe at very similar prices.

For comfortable English-language booking, and tickets mailed to an US address, of course you’ll need to pay more. I guess perhaps twice as much, possibly very much more.

Rachel says:

Help! Please advice what train to take from Paris to Munich? Hopefully a cheaper one.

.
Rachel (above)
There are twice daily direct trains from Paris to Munich, one daytime and one overnight service. in addition, there are about half a dozen other daytime trains which are just as fast, but require one easy change of train along the way – at either Mannheim or Stuttgart. The cheapest one-way fare is €39 for daytime trains, or €43 for the overnight service. These fares would need booking some weeks in advance. They go on sale 3 months in advance. The full fare, if you just turn up and pay on the day of travel, is €137. The fares are broadly the same on the indirect services via Stuttgart or Mannheim. In other words, you could get the €39 ticket on those too.
Susanne and Nicky
editors
hidden europe magazine

McDeeInTX says:

Visiting Germany in October 2011. Flying out of States as stand-by, so can’t pin down dates as yet. Would love to buy advance tkts on DB, but unsure of their cancellation/change fee. What if my flight is cancelled or delayed and I end up at FRA a day later? Do I loose my round trip ticket to Berlin and have to purchase a brand new one? I tried to call call center, but no answer…
Thanks for any help in understanding the 15 Euro change fee “excluded from the first day of validity.
Dan and Mirka

.
I guess this is a case where you really cannot buy DB’s Advance Purchase tickets. If you do not know on what day you will fly from the USA to Frankfurt, then clearly you cannot take advantage of the Sparpreise.

But there is a credible alterative. Using fast trains from Frankfurt Airport to Berlin it is about a five hour journey. But there are plenty of slow train options from Frankfurt Airport to Berlin. Using slower trains (called Nahverkehr in German), it is a nine hour journey. The most obvious routing is with four changes at:

Frankfurt-am-Main Hauptbahnhof
Kassel-Wilhelmshohe
Sangerhausen
Magdeburg

Departures on this routing are from Frankfurt Airport Regionalbahnhof at 08.36, 10.36, 12.36 and 14.36.

The one way fare will vary by day of week. For the two of you, it will cost €39 for the entire journey on a Saturday or Sunday (effectively you’ll pay €19.50 each). This is using the Schoenes-Wochenende Ticket (SWT)

On weekdays (ie. Monday to Friday), the same journey will cost €48 (effectively €24 each) using the QuerDurchsLand Ticket (QDL).

You can buy the SWT and QDL at the ticket machines at Frankfurt Airport station. No need to pre-book. Just turn up, buy and ride.

One tiny proviso, the QDL option (the best buy for travel on a weekday) is not valid till 09.00. So if you take the departure that leaves before 09.00, you ‘ll need ALSO to buy one-way tickets from Frankfurt Airport to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (and by the time you reach the latter, it’ll be past 09.00 so QDL will be valid). This will add €3.90 per person onto the fare.

Nicky and Susanne
editors
hidden europe magazine

McDeeInTX says:

Nicky and Susanne, thank you so very much.
Had no idea there was a slow train option. You gave us a whole new world of possibilities. Our trip just became more flexible, and I’m sure will turn out even better.
You are doing a great job!
Thanks again, and best regards,
Dan and Mirka

Aus Arizona says:

This QDL option, though slower, is truly amazing. And with my extensive train travels throughout Europe, I thought I was well versed in finding the best fares through local train operator websites, but this … is a great option. Thanks, EuroCheapo and Hidden Europe!

Judy says:

Most horrible experience in Cologne DB train!
7th Dec 2011 13:21 train from Cologne Central station to Bonn airport.
We bought the right ticket and got on the train. I Saw 3 people sat in the area with glass door thought must be quite zone, so I walked in and sat. Literally 2 mins later the woman I guess was“ Ticket inspector” in her late 30 thirties walked straight towards me and asked for ticket ( again guess as I dont speak any german) showed what I got, she said one word “40euro”. I was too shocked to even ask her show her ID, My husband tried to argue why. She just keeping saying NO, NO and print the receipt. Came back home, tried to send email to complain, no luck. Will try to sent to Germany tourism board! Is this the way the BH Bahn scribbing money from tourists who dont speak German?

Polo says:

Usually the ticket checkers are pretty polite. Quiet but very efficient. It certainly will not have been a rip-off. It was surely justified. Hard to say. Could be you bought the wrong ticket. Or more likely you opted for a second class ticket but then sat in the first class area of the train. The rules are clear. If you have a 2nd class ticket and decide to travel 1st class, that costs €40 extra as the penalty fare. I cannot see why you think that, because you do not speak the language, you should so,ehow be exempt fro, the €40 payment. The €40 excess rule is posted on the door of every train in those areas where it applies.

Traveler says:

Going to Germany on Tuesday with my friend. I wanted to buy 2 online train tickets for us but now after registration both tickets are booked on my name and my ID card. Since I entered 2 adults but DB online booking system did not offer to enter another persons name for the second ticket, now I am not sure if I did something wrong during registration and bought both tickets for me, or one ticket is valid for me and the other one for the person traveling with me no matter who that person is?

.
Traveler (above)

Yes, you are precisely correct. It is just as you describe. In the case of online tickets, the first ticket is linked specifically to the person named (and to that person’s specified ID). But the second and subsequent travellers are not named, and require no ID.

No such rules apply to paper tickets which are not tied to individuals.

liam says:

Hi

I am very confused. Many people say bahn.de will supply cheapest fare from berlin to prague. But when using the site, my 2 tickets one way no stops ends up being 200+ euros?! Also, what is railplus? I just want to get from berlin to prague via rail, pref no stops or change overs. Seems simple,but i just can’t figure it out. Please advise.

-confused

miall says:

Surely some problem, Liam. Just go to the Deutche Bahn website, book well in advance, and you’ll snap up Berlin to Prague tickets for €29 or €39 one-way, sometimes even for €19 if you book 10 to 12 weeks in advance and travel off-peak. The real top-off-the-range second class fare is €63.80, and more than that you’ll never pay, even if you book on the day or departure. Stick the German site, under ‘Verkehrsmittel’ click the option ‘Direktverbindungen’ and then the booking option will show only the direct EC trains with the cheaper fares.

Railplus will get you a 25% discount on all journeys – including these Prague tickets , thus knocking more off those prices. You get discounts on both the regular fare and on discounted fares. It’s normally 25% across the board, but there are exceptions. For journeys to and from London, for example, it is a fixed discount of €5). You can buy a Railplus card in all participating countries across Europe. In Germany, ask for a 2nd Class Bahncard 25 (which includes Railplus). The current best offer on a Bahncard 25 is for a card, valid for 4 months from date of issue, that costs €25.

If money is an issue, there are plenty of cheap express coach options on the Berlin to Prague route. Bus or train both take just under five hours. The train offers much the more scenic route.

Lynn says:

We will be travelling from the UK to Berlin in July 2012 with bicycles(not in bike bags)can you recommend how to book the bikes on the train and which trains to take.I know how to book my bike on the Euro Star , but finding it very difficult to book onward trip.Possibly returning Vienna to London, same problem

.
Lynn
Bikes not in bike bags are a no-go on many premium services on the continent. So the most obvious express services, such as the ICE or Thalys trains from Bruxelles on the Köln (for the onward connection to Berlin) will not take unbagged bikes (and Thalys, if we recall correctly, require you to remove the front wheel, but you may want to check that).

This is not a huge problem though. It simply means you need to stick to slower services. So IC / EC trains, regional services and night trains. The DB website allows you to identify which trains do allow bikes (click on ‘weitere Suchoptionen’ and then click on ‘Fahrradmitnahme’). Think creatively, be prepared to take slower trains (and sometimes a less-than-direct route) and there are few places you cannot reach on a train that allows bikes to be taken.

We do hope this help, and please do contact us directly if you think we can help further.
Nicky and Susanne
editors of hidden europe magazine
and
editors of Europe by Rail: the Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers

liam says:

Thanks for the responses.

Very quick question, i hope i am not repeating. Is there much of a difference between the 1st and 2nd class carriages? Being a guy, I prob wouldn’t have much a problem if the 2nd class carriage was slightly more uncomfortable. However, my partner may not be so accommodating. I haven’t been able to find any photos of the inside of the carriages. Can anyone advise if the price difference is worth it? And what the difference between 1st and 2nd class is?

Regards,
liam

A comment for Liam above. On the direct Berlin to Prague route, the carriages are variously Hungarian, Czech or Austrian (oddly enough, never German). These Hungarian, Czech or Austrian carriages are always very comfortable, be they in first class or second class. We almost always travel second class, and generally feel that first class is not worth the extra. On these trains 80% of the accommodation is second class. You can see pictures of the carriages if you go to http://www.vagonweb.cz and then click on ‘razeni’ then in the row labelled (at left) ‘nemecko’ click on the letters ‘EC’. That will lead you to a list of trains (at left). Trains EC170 thru EC179 are on the Berlin to Prague route. Click on each number in turn to see the train composition. You’ll see an image of the outside of each carriage on any given train. Click on the photo icon below to bring up a gallery of images shot inside each carriage. Wonderful system, eh?
Nicky and Susanne
editors of Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers

liam says:

awesome. Thanks a bunch!

Very quick question, i hope i am not repeating. Is there much of a difference between the 1st and 2nd class carriages? Being a guy, I prob wouldn’t have much a problem if the 2nd class carriage was slightly more uncomfortable.

Wing says:

Hello,
Two adults and myself(over 70years) are considering a rail journey from London to Fussen to see the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles in Bavaria. We would want to return via Nurnberg and/or any other historic and cultural places of interest and am considering the end of July for about 7 to 10 days.
Could you let me have a approximate idea of the journey time and an approximate cost.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Regards, Wing.

.
Hello Wing
London to Füssen by rail takes anything from 10hrs 30mins to 12hrs. The fastest route is via Paris, but the route via Brussels is only slightly slower. The latter has two advantages. It does not require a change of station in Brussels (that via Paris does mean changing stations in the French capital). And you can get the convenient DB London-Spezial Ticket which is only valid via Brussels, not via Paris.

We think London to Füssen is quite a long haul for one day, and would advise making a break en route. Why not Day One from London to the Rhine Valley (eg. Boppard, St Goar or Lorch – or Cologne or Bonn for a more urban stay), continuing on Day Two to Füssen.

The first class one-way fare from London to Füssen, allowing for a stopover in the Rhine Valley costs from €99 single or €198 return. Second class is cheaper of course. To get these fares, you’d need to book just as soon as the tickets go on sale, ie. 92 days in advance of your departure date. They do go up in price quite quickly, and the first class return booked closer to your travel date can easily be €400 or more. the return ticket is valid for a month and allows two stopovers of two nights each on the outward journey and also on the homeward journey. Returning via Nürnberg is perfectly possible.

DB require that you specify which trains you’ll use at the time of booking and then stick to those services.

For days out in Bavaria, the Bayern Ticket is just €29 and will allow all three of you unlimited travel for a day on most trains in Bavaria (and on a small number of cross-border routes into Austria and those nearby German Länder that border Bavaria).

Hope this all helps. Could be an amazing trip. Rail travel like this is so much more fun than flying. You might find our book helpful. It is called Europe by Rail: The Definitive guide for Independent Travellers. The latest edition (from Thomas Cook Publishing) was published in mid-March 2012.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries

puneet says:

hi,

me and my gf are looking for the cheapest possible option to get to copenhagen from germany (we are from slovenia, so hopping on to train anywhere from stutgart to Munich is possible for us). german rail website is confusing though i did see options for one day unlimited travel for 42 euros (but that will still leave us within germany somewhere near Danish border)

so any other possible ways? I know we shouldnt be emphasising it but we are as broke as Greece and yet it is important for us to get there and then return so the cheapest possible suggestions, regardless of time taken in journey or seat comfort or any possible combinations.:) our dates are somewhere around 18th of june and 21st – 2012 for return.

thanks in advance

Trish says:

Hello,

I’m wondering if anyone has any information on how long it takes for rail tickets purchased from Deutsche Bahn online to be mailed to Canada or North America? There is no option to print the tickets at home and we will be leaving on June 16. Is this enough time for the tickets to arrive if I book asap? All the website says is that the tickets will be sent within 2 days at a cost of 3.50E, but I am nervous that they will be sent via surface mail (aka boat) and will take weeks to arrive.

Thanks so much!
Trish

.
For Trish
Why not just phone and ask the folks at Deutsche Bahn? Our experience is that DB tickets mailed to Germany arrive the day after you make the booking. I doubt they are really geared up to ship to North America, but worth asking. Why is an online ticket not available?

For Puneet
Would suggest the following options:

1. The overnight train from Karlsruhe to Copenhagen is available and still reasonably price. Out 18th, back 21st (so precisely the dates you want). The return fare is €106. You can purchase a through ticket from Stuttgart, Munich (or indeed anywhere else in Germany), using local (ie. RE and RB) trains from your chosen departure station to Karlsruhe at the same price (ie. €106 return per person).

2. For the same nights the return fare on the City Night Line train from Basel SBB to Copenhagen is €58 return per person. You could use a local Länder Ticket to reach Basel SBB (the BW Land Tkt is valid over the border to Basel SBB station which is in Switzerland).

3. Or, as you imply, in your query, use the Quer Durchs Land ticket with slow trains from your departure point to Puttgarden. This will cost €48 for two people travelling together and will take an age. Then buy a Europa-Spezial Dänemark tkt Puttgarden to Copenhagen, presently available on your preferred dates for €19 per person per direction. For two people, this option would thus cost €172 return. Bear in mind that the QdL ticket cannot be used before 9am.

David Gan says:

We are a family of 3 adults and 1 seniot age 87 2nd class, traveling round trip Munich to Bad Gastein July 20,2012 and return July 28, 2012. Would it be cheaper to buy the ticketst at the Munich BH the day before or should I order them now? What is the cost on DB>

.
No discounts for seniors, sadly, on this route. You have three options:

1. Pay the full fare which is €51 single or €102 return per person. So, for four of you, a total of €408 return. Totally flexible. Travel on any train.

2. Book now online and take advantage of the DB Europa-Spezial tariff. For the fastest direct trains, branded EuroCity, the lead-in one-way fare is €19 or €38 return. So, for the four of you, €156 return. This fare is still available on selected trains on your preferred travel dates. For example out from Munich on July 20 at 08.27 and back from Bad Gastein on July 28 at 18.17 (possibly others, but those were the ones we checked). Not flexible. You MUST travel on the train you book.

3. There is a great cheapo alternative that preserves flexibility. All five of you could travel Munich to Salzburg with a Bayern Ticket (using the Regional Express service). This costs €29, so €7.25 per person one way. Then in Salzburg just buy a regular onward ticket to Bad Gastein. This is €17.60 per person valid on any train. This brings the one-way fare from Munich (or indeed anywhere else in Bavaria) to Bad Gastein down to €24.85 per person. No need to pre-book and totally flexible. For all four of you, the return fare will be under €200, so saving over 50% on the full price. There are two things to bear in mind. With this ticket combination, you MUST use the Regional Express to Salzburg and only there change on to the fast train. Because of this need to change in Salzburg, you’d leave Munich a little earlier and this increases the overall journey time by 45 minutes. But it’s a great deal and the option we’d choose. Why not break your journey in Salzburg, leaves you bags in the left luggage lockers and have lunch in Salzburg? It’s a chance to make an occasion out of a slightly slower journey and the enforced change of train.

Have fun. Why not report back here on what you decide? Please say if we can help further.

Nicky and Susanne
editors of hidden europe magazine

Kaitlyn says:

Hello,

I was reading the above post about buying a train ticket from Berlin to Zagreb via bahn.de costing 29 Euro. Every time i try and search for a ticket on their site, it says pricing not available. Was there a certain time of the year it was only 29 euro? Or how can i see the prices?

If you do know, I’d love help,

Thank you,
Kaitlyn

Jon R says:

Hi, Kaitlyn — Special fares obtainable through Deutsche Bahn come and go. Yes, from time to time they have Europa Spezial fares, and it’s my guess that this reflects what DB offered at the time the article was published, over three years ago. Also, my impression is that the research for the article and its fares was done at least several weeks before its June 2009 publication. In the spring one can frequently see a number of bargain fares (with limited seats) on country-specific national rail sites, such as DB. Now that it’s mid-summer and getting to be the height of the travel season, there’s no need for DB to offer bargain fares. And when they do during this time, available seats will likely sell out quickly.

In the six months or so there has been a reduction of direct trains to Slovenia and Croatia, with one formerly direct train now requiring an across platform quick change of trains in Villach, Austria. And DB’s website can rarely display fares of any kind for foreign journeys from Germany that involve one and especially more than one change of trains.

The significance of the article was that agencies, such as Rail Europe, essentially never have fares that are as good as the ones shown on national rail sites and are usually much higher. But the agencies’ advertising is geared toward those, especially from outside Europe, who don’t venture in to the national rail sites. And sometimes those national rail sites can be a little tricky to navigate, or they might have a hard time accepting foreign credit cards, or their bargain fares can be non-refundable.

What I might suggest for this journey, Berlin to Zagreb, is to break it down into its constituent parts, checking to see if DB has a good fare for the leg going in to Austria, then checking the Austrian Federal Railway’s site for on in to Slovenia or even all the way to Zagreb. And it wouldn’t hurt to check the Slovenian site too. That’s what I would do myself.

I hope this helps!

For Jon R and Kaitlin (above)

Jon R:
The article was researched on Friday 12 June 2009, five days before it was published. We say that very clearly in the article, so cannot quite understand why you are so sure it was researched much earlier.

Kaitlin:
The DB Europa-Spezial fares do not come and go. They have been a regular part of the DB offering for some years now and the DB Europa-Spezial-Kroatien has been very much a mainstay. It books up very quickly. So the issue is merely to book well in advance.

We have repeated the exercise on a number of occasions since the original 2009 research. For for of the five routes cited above, the lead-in fare is unchanged. The exception is the Europa-Spezial Kroatien fare where the lead-in fare has gone up from €29 to €39.

We have just taken a look again, and the DB online booking system still shows Berlin to Zagreb available for €39 on many dates in the 4-week period which we examined, viz. in September and October. To book it, enter Berlin Hbf and Zagreb Gavni Kolod under “von” and “nach” respectively. The best routing is via München, so under “Zwischenhalt” enter München Hbf. For the timing choose 21:00 as “Ankunftszeit” (that’s just after the EC113 / 213 day train from Munich arrives in Zagreb). Under “Verkehrsmittel” select Direktverbindungen (in place of Umsteige zulassen) in the second sector (ie. Munich to Zagreb).

And, hey presto…. up come the fares. It’s a long day trip, Berlin to Zagreb, but do-able with just that one change in Munich.

The full fare for this routing is over €200, but looking just now there are still cheap tickets every day in the 4-week spell we examined. And the €39 fare is available on 12 of those 28 days.

There has been no reduction in the number of direct trains to Zagreb in the last six months. all still there, and waiting to be booked. Of course there are plentiful other routings and options (including overnight trains). It would just take a while to explain them all here. And we have written extensively about this sort of booking in our various publications.

Hope this helps.
Nicky and Susanne
editors
Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers
(Thomas Cook Publishing)

LeeL says:

I encountered a problem with rail e-tickets issued by the SNCF but boarding in Germany. I bought a cheap ticket online from Stuttgart to Strasbourg using the SNCF site as the train was a TGV operated by the SNCF. I expected to get a paper ticket in Stuttgart from a kiosk or a station agent. To my surprise the SNCF had no representation in Stuttgart and the DB agent I spoke with threw his hands up and said you’ll just have to show them this printout that you have. Upon departure the DB conductor came to the seat and I showed her what I had and of course she would not accept it. I asked if there was a SNCF manager aboard and he came by. After much discussion he begrudgingly agreed to take it.

What’s odd about all this is that European railroads don’t use an interline ticket “lift” system as do airlines. If you have a paper ticket the conductor just looks at it and punches it. There is no pulling of coupons for presentation to the issuing railroad for reimbursement, so it strikes me as odd that they are so picky about e-ticket printouts.

This occured in 2009 and I have since been careful to buy tickets only from the originating railroad, ie the one that you ride at the beginning of the journey.

I am wary of the advice to buy all tickets for international rail travel from one railroad for this reason. Has anything changed to make this more user-friendly? Are the European railroads going to a universal e-ticket system as have the airlines since day 1 of e-ticketing?

Claire says:

Hi

I have read in many places that it is cheaper to book direct on the DB Bahn website rather than with agents. However, doing a search for a 2 people in a standard (economy) Double Sleeper carriage, 14th March 2013, overnight on the CNL from Paris to Berlin via DB Bahn and Rail Europe, I seem to get offered 158 euro on Rail Europe (plus 12 euro ticket delivery charge), and 208 Euro on DB Bahn.

Am I missing something, or does it seem correct that Rail Europe looks to be cheaper?

LeeL says:

For Claire…..
This is a case where you should not be using the DB website since your travel begins in Paris. For this you should use the SNCF boutique website to purchase your ticket. Probably the reason you’re getting a higher fare from DB is that you’re using multiple railroads through multiple countries.

In your case, you won’t be able to use an e-ticket and if you bought the ticket from DB you’d have to pick it up in person at a DB office, which is most likely only in Germany. If you buy it from the SNCF, you’ll still pick it up at their ticket windows at the Gare d’Est in Paris. You show your credit card used for purchase and they give you a paper ticket.

The situation where online website ticketing saves money is when you’re using the same railroad for the entire ticket. If you’re going, say Cologne to Berlin, you’d get a special online fare because it’s all the same railroad and country.

See my comment above about multiple railroad ticketing problems.

Follow Us