When I first moved to Germany, one of the things I was most excited about was being able to take the train to different countries at will. Much cheaper than the British National Rail and with Paris, Basel, Prague, Brussels and Amsterdam all within easy reach of Frankfurt it was an exciting prospect, particularly coming from a country like Australia where any trains crossing the border would end up in the sea.
The Bahn can be a rather complicated system for first-time travellers and when my mother came to Europe for the first time her local travel agent quoted her prices five times the amount I could see on my computer screen for the train. Through German friends and those who had been expats longer than myself I was able to discover loads of tricks in the German train system to get cheaper deals.
Here’s seven tips for you first-timers in the land of the lederhosen:
- Get a Bahn card. If you move to Germany or plan to spend 12 months here it’s a great idea to get the Bahn card – you’ll get your money back within a couple of trips. I always thought that it was like a credit card or beauty shop discount card where you need to rack up a million points to get one euro off, but it’s actually 25, 50 or 100 per cent off all your trips for a year. A friend also gave me the advice that the 25 (around 60 euro) is often better than the 50 one (a few hundred euro) because you get a lot more discount deals, making it cheaper again, and you might not use the 50 one enough to justify the price.
- Tick that pesky savings option – when booking your train online, after you’ve selected the English option on the top right corner, you’ll see two tabs at the top of where you enter the details of your trip. One is ‘information and booking’ and the other ‘saver fare finder’. Always check the saver tab first so you can see a list of the cheapest deals and times available for your trip. You might not be able to get a cheap fare for the time you want but it’s always good to compare.
- Untick the ICE option – If you’re travelling somewhere that’s not too far away (like less than 4-5 hours) you can try the option of unticking ‘ICE’ trains in the connections section. Just go to ‘more search options’ on the homepage and where it says connections tick ‘all without ICE’. The trip will be longer but possibly a lot cheaper and if you have the time to travel at a slower pace you’ll be thankful for the saving.
- Travel with friends – Getting a group ticket in Germany will save you a ton of money. They’re an environmental bunch in this country and like the idea of rewarding groups of people who take public transport over a car, so if you have three to five people check out if it’s cheaper to go for the group option (and if the ticket machines aren’t easy to use they normally speak English in the Bahn customer service).
- Buy a state-wide ticket – there’s an option with Bahn to buy a state-wide ticket and you can use it an unlimited amount of times anywhere in the state for a day or weekend. If you have a group and want to travel around the countryside of Bavaria, for example, this would be a very cheap way to do it as it doesn’t include ICE trains. You can also get this option for the whole of Germany.
- Only reserve a seat in peak times – this is from my own experience. I never spend the extra 4 euro on a reserved seat if I’m travelling during the week in the day or late at night. Friday and Sunday night is a different story but especially if you’re travelling alone, there’s no point reserving a seat if you can get there on time and be one of the first on the train.
- Check Mitfahrgelegenheit – we always check this website before booking our train and compare both bus times and prices and car pooling times and prices. I haven’t been brave enough to car pool on my own, only doing it with my boyfriend, but every time it’s been fine for us and cut the cost of travel considerably. The great thing about this website is it compares all the available buses at the time you want and you can crosscheck that with your train prices and work out what’s best for you.