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Tips for best prices on Deutsche Bahn?

For our upcoming trip, my husband and I will be flying roundtrip to Frankfurt, On the day we arrive, we would like to take the train from the FRA airport to Munich. The day that we leave, we will be taking the train from Cologne to FRA. I have heard that there are better rates with the "Rail & Fly" option. Is it possible to access these rates if the plane tickets are already booked (can't get the train included). I've looked all over the DB website the rates for our train trips seem to jump all over the place. I just don't want my unfamiliarity/ignorance to keep us from getting the best price possible for our 4 train trips: FRA to Munich Munich to Salzburg Salzburg to Prague Cologne to FRA Thanks in advance for your advice & expertise!
Kristen

Posted by
2297 posts

to my knowledge the "Rail & Fly" tickets can only be bought in conjunction with flights originating in Germany

Posted by
19147 posts

And I don't know that Rain & Fly is a special low price, just that they will issue a full fare ticket as part of your flight coupons. I once called Lufthansa to inquire about Rail & Fly, and they knew nothing about it. The information on the Bahn website says to contact you travel agent. My travel agent wants $50 to book a flight. By the fact that they are flying to Frankfurt when they want to go to Munich, I suspect that they are using Frequent Flier miles and MUC is not an option. There are Sparpreis tickets from FRA direct to Munich, by ICE in as little as 3¾-4 hrs for as low as €29, but these are train specific, non-refundable tickets, not advisable for someone to use right after arrival. You could spend the first night in Mainz or Frankfurt and travel to Munich the next day. If you try to use the Sparpreis ticket to Munich and your flight is late you lose the ticket and have to buy another at full price. You might be tempted to book your Sparpreis ticket for several extra hours after your scheduled arrival, but how much extra time do you allow (2 of my eight flights to Germany have arrived an hour late). If you are going to allow two hours as a buffer, you might as well just go to Munich by regional trains. It costs as little and you'll get to Munich as quickly.

Posted by
19147 posts

To go by regional train from FRA to Munich, take the S-Bahn (4/hr) from the close-in Regionalbhf to Frankfurt Hbf, then one of the hourly REs from there to Würzburg, change there to an RE to Nürnberg, then change to another RE to Munich. It will take about 6 hours, depending on the connection, which is the ICE time plus a 2 hour buffer. You can purchase your tickets after you arrive at FRA. Get an RMV (Frankfurt metro) ticket from Frankfurt Flughafen to Kahl am Main from a ticket automat or counter for €7,30 pP. Then get a Bayern-Ticket from a ticket automat (it's €2 more at a counter) for €29 (valid for up to 5 travelers). That's €21,80 total pP. The RMV ticket covers the S-Bahn to the Hbf and the portion of the RE from Frankfurt to Kahl. In Kahl, the Bayern-Ticket "takes over". As for Köln to FRA, you can go by ICE direct or one change from Köln for €64 full fare or as low as €19 with a non-refundable, advance purchase (3-92 days) Sparpreis ticket. That route is faster but not very scenic. The scenic route would be by regional train from Köln to Koblenz and then along the Mittelrhein via St. Goar, Bacharach, and Mainz. You can do that route with a €24 Rheinland-Pfalz-Ticket, which would cover 2 from Bonn to Mainz, a local VRS ticket from Köln to Bonn for €6,80 pP, and an RMV ticket from Mainz to the airport for €3,90 ea. ETA: Just looked at my FF miles, and I have enough miles to fly RT to FRA or MUC but open jaws to MUC and back from FRA takes more miles than I have.

Posted by
524 posts

You mentioned that you will be taking the train from Cologne to Frankfurt on the day of your return flight home. Make sure you include plenty of time to get to the airport, also. There is the ICE fast train from Cologne which takes 1 hr. to 1.5 hrs or the slow more scenic route in the Rhine Valley for 2.5 hours. Check to see if there is a train that goes directly to the Frankfurt Airport. Otherwise, you will need to go the main Frankfurt Train Station and then to the airport. Remember to be at the airport 3 or so hours in advance. As you will see when you arrive, FRA is huge. Think you will be able to do all of the above and still leave the same day?

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19147 posts

If you go to the Austrian Rail website (www.oebb.at) you can purchase, online in advance, Sparschiene tickets from Salzburg to Prague to as low as €39 pP. These are for 2nd class. Or, you can purchase a Bayern-Böhmen-Ticket in Salzburg from Bahn for €33 (automat price). This will allow you to go by regional trains from Salzburg directly into Bavaria and then by regional trains in Bavaria and the Czech Republic to Pilsen. In Pilsen you will need to purchase a CR ticket to Praque for about €6 pP. So you can do the entire trip, from Salzburg to Prague through Germany for €22-23. This route requires no advance purchase. You could also from Salzburg to Munich to Nürnberg by RailJet and ICE and then take the Bahn Intercity bus to Prague for as low as €29 pP with advance purchase.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks for all of this information. It is a little daunting, but I feel better prepared for all of your expertise. Is it possible to book a particular train at the savings rate & then pay a change fee if needed? How significant a cost would that be?

Posted by
19147 posts

The Sparpreis ticket can not be changed after purchase. It can be refunded up to the day BEFORE travel for, I believe, a €15 fee, but it cannot be refunded after that. Once refunded, you would have to buy the replacement ticket at full price.

Posted by
19147 posts

"Is it possible to book a particular train at the savings rate & then pay a change fee if needed?" Pay a change fee, if needed? You mean like if the flight were late. Nice try. If you could have done that, I would have suggested it to you. There are no exchanges on Sparpreis tickets and the only refunds are up to the day before travel. If you can get the lowest fare (€49 for 2), you might book one train for shortly after you arrive, and another for, say, 4-6 hours later. That would still be only €98 for 2 (for both tickets), less than the €182 full fare, and almost certainly assure you of getting to Munich that day. On the other hand, just go by regional train for €44 for 2. In 2007 I booked a flight to Munich on USAir and then started to track times. In the first two weeks the flight was 9 and 10 hours late on consecutive days, so the worst can happen. Fortunately, the flight was on time the day I flew.

Posted by
7 posts

One last question for the experts... Would the German rail pass work? I saw on the Rick Steves site that you can get a 4 day pass for 2 people for $198 per person. It says that it is valid throughout Germany & includes Salzburg. Although it is not specifically valid in the Czech Republic, it says that it does cover Deutsche Bahn buses (and the Salzburg to Prague leg through Deutsche Bahn is train travel to Nuremburg, then an express bus to Prague). Thought it was worth asking. Based on the train availability for our dates, if this would work it would save us $83 per person & give us flexibility (not require tickets for specific trains). Thanks again for all of your knowledge!

Posted by
19147 posts

According to the railpass section at the top of the page, a four day, 2nd class twin pass is $204 per person. That does include the train into Salzburg, but the bus from Nürnberg requires a €10 pP supplement.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks. I was misreading things. You have all really helped me so much. Here's what I'm thinking, based on all of your info: FRA to MUNICH:
I can buy express tickets in advance for EUR 89 or EUR 59, but it's either a gamble that we get in on time or we build in so much wait time that we might as well take the regional trains. Best bet is to buy a ticket to Kahl am Main & a Bavaria ticket. Munich to Salzburg: Bavaria ticket covers it Salzburg to Prague: Book through OBB and connect through Linz for either EUR 128 (for flexible travel) or EUR 78 for specific train Cologne to FRA: Buy in advance for EUR 29 Let me know if I've messed anything up. Thanks again for all!

Posted by
8994 posts

Have you thought about doing your trip in reverse order? Land in Frankfurt and take the slower, Regional train to Cologne. This lets you see the scenery of the Rhine. Book your ticket on the fast train from Cologne to Munich, and continue the rest of the trip. Suggest staying either in Frankfurt or someplace near-by the night before your flight. Perhaps Heidelberg, Mainz, Wiesbaden, or Frankfurt. I think one person suggested that you just stay overnight in Frankfurt or Mainz right after landing, and honestly, this is a good idea. After a long trans-Atlantic flight, are you ready to sit in a train for 6 hours? If you stay overnight here, you can get an early start the next day, as well as go ahead and purchase those cheap ICE tickets to Munich.

Posted by
19147 posts

"When you buy those 19-Euro Frankfurt - Cologne train tickets in advance online" We already discussed the inadvisability of using Sparpreis ticket the day of arrival. Also to consider, those Sparpreis tickets are issued by the Bahn, and they require at least one leg to be on a specified train of the Bahn (ICE/IC/EC/IR), and that specific train (date and time) has to be used. So, if you want to make a stop in, say, Bacharach (because only RB stop in Bacharach), you must force the schedule to go between Koblenz and Mainz (or Bingen) by regional train. You can get that by specifying Bacharach as a stopover. Your Bahn leg must be on either end. That will probably put you on an IC from Koblenz to Köln, and, since you have to be on that specific train (or throw away the ticket at Kobenz and buy a new one to Köln for €35), that would limit your stopover times. With a little manipulation of stopovers (Mainz and Koblenz) and of Means of Transport (Advanced selektion), you can gain flexibility without specifying stopover times. You can make the trip an IC from the airport (Fernbahnhof) to Mainz and regional trains on the Rhein from there. The Vor- und Nachlauf provision of the Sparpreis ticket says that you can use any regional trains to get from the specified express train to your final destination, as long as you follow the specified route and finish before 10 the following day. So, you could stop in Bacharach and/or St. Goar almost as long as you like. You might even decide at the last minute to stop in Oberwesel or Boppard-Bad Salzig. But remember, if you miss out on the lowest Sparpreis (€19/one, €29 for 2) you could end up at €49 for 2. The all regional route, Regionalbhf to Mainz to Bonn to Köln using the Rheinland-Pfalz-Ticket is only €45,40 and saves you the long walk out to the Fernbahnhof.

Posted by
8994 posts

Gee, I was just thinking they could use the Happy Weekend Ticket or the Quer Durch Deutschland ticket.

Posted by
19147 posts

Half a good point, Jo. The Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket, on the weekend, is only €39, less than the RL-P option. However, during the week, the Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket is €48 for two.

Posted by
19147 posts

I wrote a tutorial on German ticket automats. It's here. It was written before the QdLT, but I imagine QdLT has it's own touch pad or shares one with the Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket. But I wouldn't personally use a QdLT for Frankfurt to Munich. A QdLT for two costs €48. Buy the RMV tickets to Kahl from the RMV automat and the Bayern-Ticket from the Bahn automat, all for €43,60. The ticket machines are right next to each other in the Regionalbahnhof. Although I have seen plenty of Bahn touch screen automats accepting cash, the one in the Regionalbahnhof did not. One hint, don't give it your card until after you have specified the ticket you want and it's given you a price. The only Länder-Ticket sold by the RMV automat is the Hessen-Ticket. You have to get the Bayern-Ticket from the Bahn automat next to it. However, the RMV machine should sell both the Schönes-Wochenende and Quer-durchs-Land-Tickets, and it will take cash. I can't remember the last time I used a ticket counter in Germany, maybe 2004. Unless I get a Bahn machine that only takes plastic, I always use cash. I have never had a problem with a line, but, for instance, in MUC, the ticket counters are in the MAC upstairs, but you can just walk out of T2, across the plaza and down the stairs into the S-Bahn station. There is an MVV automat right there on the platform (and it takes cash as well as plastic).

Posted by
19147 posts

One of my banks gives me two ATM withdrawals free of exchange rate and fees. The other charges me 1% + $2 for ATM withdrawal. My credit card costs me 3% exch rate. Why pay more? Although the Bahn now accepts plastic, I can remember when they didn't, and practically nowhere else that I sleep or eat accept cards, so I just get into the habit of using cash for everything. Other than the Bahn, I've found that places that accept credit card are just plain more expensive.

Posted by
7 posts

Wow. Thanks again everybody. I am going to print this off & Lee's great tutorial on how to buy the tickets. I wish we had more flexibility to try some of the other options that you have proposed. Initially, we booked a river cruise/tour on the Main & Rhine from May 6-15 that goes from Prague to Cologne, with stops in Nuremburg (where we actually board the boat), Bamberg, Wurzburg, Miltenburg, Aschaffenburg, Koblenz, & Cologne. We decided to add on a few days at the beginning (arriving May 2) - I've always wanted to go to Neuschwanstein & Salzburg, but wanted to do it on the cheap. My husband has hotel points that we could use in Munich & Salzburg. We thought we could use frequent flier miles, but believe it or not it was impossible because of the Royal wedding. All of our flights on American Airlines needed to connect through London or were blacked out. We ended up flying roundtrip to Frankfurt because it was significantly cheaper than open jaw or any other airport for our dates, and we figured at least it was close to Cologne. Of course we booked everything but the train, so that is why I can't really change the order. In hindsight, I should have looked at the train routes before finalizing other plans. We used the train extensively when we traveled in Italy, but for some reason this has seemed more complicated. I truly appreciate all of your assistance!!

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19147 posts

I bought a German Rail ticket in 1990 with cash. I didn't even try to use a credit card, but a know a co-worker tried unsuccessfully to use one in 1987. Ibis München City wants €59 for a non-cancelable single room without breakfast. Their price for a cancelable reservation w/ breakfast is €84. I stay at a hotel 15 min into the suburbs, for €54, with breakfast. They never ask for a deposit or take a credit card to hold it. Comparing apples to apples, €54 vs. €84. I also know of an independent hotel near Ibis for €69 with breakfast. While it's true that I speak German well enough to travel comfortably in Germany, it's not necessary so to do. Of the 21 places I've stayed in the last 3½ yrs, I found 20 on the town's website. Many of these website were in English, and if not, only a half dozen words are needed to find the property's website, and many of them are in English. Write to them in English and see if they respond. 14 of the 21 places I've stayed at since 2007 have, much to my chagrin, had someone on staff who spoke English. Of the 21 places I've stayed, city and small town, only one took credit cards. I also averaged only €32 per night.

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19147 posts

"No Ibis properties in Munich are really near the Hauptbahnhof at all." GOTCHA! Look it up on Google (you're so good at Google). Ibis Muenchen city, at Dachauerstr. 21, is 500m walking distance from Munich Hbf. How close do you want? I never said that there are not hotels in Germany that take CC. But I did say that they were not the less expensive ones. And you don't have to speak fluent German to stay in the less expensive hotels, and those less expensive hotels don't tend to take credit cards.

Posted by
989 posts

"While it's true that I speak English well enough to travel comfortably," He speaks English well enough to post here also. ;-) ...sorry Lee -- couldn't stop myself.

Posted by
19147 posts

Elaine, good one. But if English is the languare spoken in England, I don't speak "English" well enough to travel comfortably in England. I speak, I guess, American. Whether we call it "English", or "American", the language should be officially what we speak, 'cause there are a lot more of us than there are of them. "Why, in America it hasn't been spoken for years" Henry Higgens

Posted by
19147 posts

"No Ibis properties in Munich are really near the Hauptbahnhof at all." AL (whoever he is) "Ibis Muenchen city, at Dachauerstr. 21, is 500m " from the Hbf. AL, you have lost all credibility.