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Booking Train Tickets Online- Cologne to Vienna

We just had a rather trying experience booking our overnight train from Cologne to Vienna for the summer and I thought I would offer up some of the tips we learned along the way to help anyone else out. First, we are travelling from Germany to Austria- we had three booking alternatives, RailEurope, Bahn.com (Germany's site) or OEBB.at (Austria's site). I checked all three of them for our dates and OEBB had dates available in July but the other two hadn't even posted for March. You can either book the train from the country of origins website or the country you will be arriving in. The OEBB site was also very easy to use. I emailed them and knew the date we wanted would be coming available on the 28th of January - so the evening of the 27th for us given the time zones. I needed to book it right away because I wanted to book two Deluxe Doubles for our family of four. There are only two of these per train and they sell out quite quickly. These have a toilet and shower and were only 30 euros over the regular deluxe compartment. I created an account with OEBB ahead of time to save time and begin checking yesterday in the late afternoon. Finally it showed up as available and I could book it- yeah! Only no, neither of our Visa cards would work. As we were trying to make it work we got a call from Visa saying suspicious transactions were being attempted on our credit cards and they had red flagged it as high risk and stopped our cards. They sorted it out and stayed on the phone until we completed the booking. The Visa rep says that if you try to book transport in Europe right now from Canada or the US and use a European site to do so, it may be flagged as high risk due to recent events. Anyways, next time we will call before we start the booking process to give them a heads up! Looking forward to our Double Mit Dusche und WC this summer!

Posted by
5697 posts

Glad that worked for you. When I was planning to book trains in France, or to book hotels, I put a travel notice on my credit card ahead of time for the dates I was going to be doing my online reservations. And will put up another notice for when we're actually traveling.

Posted by
63 posts

Thanks Laura. We had actually told them we were travelling and would be booking travel. It was the use of a European website to book travel that triggered the alert. Apparently it is a security threat issue. But figuring out which websites posted their tickets for sale well ahead of the others was awesome. I am not sure why I am so excited by the fancy train compartment but I am!

Posted by
5697 posts

Or maybe it was because you were crossing borders? My train trips were both within France, although purchased from European websites.
Enjoy your upscale compartments!!

Posted by
63 posts

Maybe just a picky visa company?! We are budget travellers but I remember some very sketchy shared couchette compartments years ago and wanted something a little more secure. Also, then I won't worry about the kids getting up in the night to use the WC as it is right there and not at the end of the hall. I love the Man in Seat 61 for train advice, great website.

Posted by
12891 posts

Hi,

To avoid any chance of having your Visa?MC denied, blocked, etc. when booking on a foreign website, it's best to inform the bank first. When I book a room with a German hotel chain, I go through that hotel chain's website. Sometimes I've had alerts after booking for fraud by getting phone call for the credit card. Then I tell them that transaction was legitimate.

In 2009 I did part of your route taking the EN night train, just a compartment seat, ie, from Frankfurt Hbf to Wien West. That was prior their finishing up with Wien Hbf.

Posted by
63 posts

Hi Emily, I probably would have been a bit cheaper. We wanted the experience of an overnight train though. We are then picking up a car in Vienna at the end of our time there and dropping it off in France. Huge one way drop fee but still cheaper for four than any alternative. Also, one member of our group is not a good flyer and it is stressful for all of us! And once you add in all the fees and factor in the night of saved hotel fees it is sometimes cheaper and better use of time to train.

Posted by
63 posts

Hi Fred, the bank told us that even though we did tell them this sort of transaction was creating an automatic high risk alert. Weird.

Posted by
4690 posts

You'll likely feel horrible the next day. Night trains are not charming, but good luck in proving me wrong.

Posted by
63 posts

We have a lovely apartment booked in Vienna so a nap might be in order. We don't really have a comprehensive train system in Canada so to us this is a unique experience. I hope by booking the deluxe compartments it will be comfy.

Posted by
12891 posts

@ Ms L...True ...weird it can indeed become. W'e've all run across this...card is blocked, transaction denied, you call the bank, they say it's not on their end, you're frustrated as to why and by whom. finally the transaction goes through. You could have done without this time wasting incident in the first place.

Posted by
63 posts

Exactly Fred! Of course as I was trying to figure it out the smoke alarm went off- I forgot I had dinner on the stove!

Posted by
18310 posts

Ms. L.

Assuming you can sleep on the train (I can), I think you made the right decision. I'm not sure what you paid for the train, but I did see the Bahn had 4 people in 2 deluxe doubles for a little over 500€.

The CHEAPEST airfares I could find from that part of Germany to Vienna was Eurowings, 132€ for four people from Düsseldorf or 200€ for four from Bonn. Assume you fly from Düsseldorf because it's cheaper (but it takes 40 minutes longer from Köln to Düsseldorf versus to Bonn), transportation to the airport will be 35,90€ for four with a 5 person SchönerTag (day ticket). In addition, Eurowings requires luggage heavier than 8 kg (17.6 lb) to be checked at 15€ for the first piece. It cost another 8,80€ for four people from the airport to downtown Vienna, so figure 237€ to fly. The flights only take 1½ hours, but by the time you travel to the airport, check in, go through security, board, fly, deplane, find ground transportation, you'll likely spend 5-6 hours, right out of the middle of the day, so you will waste most of the day. Since most of the day is lost, you really should count two nights, one in each city, against the additional cost of the compartments over flying.

Posted by
63 posts

Hi Lee, we paid just over €650. BAHN might have been a bit cheaper but they don't post their tickets for sale as far in advance as OEBB. The deluxe doubles get picked up quickly as there are only two per train. Our kids can sleep anywhere. There are so many hidden costs in flights, including the time it takes, this is a great alternative and saves a long drive.

Posted by
12891 posts

@ Ms L... The argument is well made that when one flies using the discount airlines (that's the good part) one ends up wasting a good amount of useful day time which could be used for sightseeing purposes. That's the bad part. You spend time waiting for the flight, maybe at 0700 or at 1600, then getting from the train station to the airport, at least 1.5 hrs prior to departure...maybe more, check in. go through security, which can't be estimated within a ball park figure, then it's sitting there waiting for departure.

Likewise upon landing, waiting for your luggage, taking public transportation to the train station, getting to hotel unless you reserved close to train where you can walk 3-5 mins to it. True, the flight may be 1.5 to 2.5 hrs but you've used up five hours of day light in the process. On the trips In the 1970s and '80s I flew 5 times from Hannover-Langenhagen to (West) Berlin (Tegel). I don't how many hours I wasted sitting there and waiting at Hannover Hbf, then the special bus to Langenhagen airport because the flight was usually in the afternoon (35 min flight), the result was I didn't get to Berlin until the late afternoon, ie, the whole day was shot.

Posted by
16883 posts

Similarly, I think every ticket I have ever booked with Easy Jet has resulted in an immediate "fraud alert" on my credit card, even though I travel to Europe regularly and have booked with that airline several times. Capital One did say that it was a purchase category that they routinely scrutinize, whether or not if fits your regular spending pattern.

Posted by
63 posts

Laura, that is exactly the problem. It didn't matter that we had told them we were travelling and none of the other bookings in the last 2 months caused any issue. It is this particular booking that raised red flags and was "high risk". Visa's words not mine.