Sunday, March 27, 2016

Finding a good fare on local German Train Travel

My friends invited me on a day trip to Karlsruhe and I wanted to avoid spending a crazy amount of money on train tickets. (I definitely didn't want to drive there.)

We worked it out that I'd take the train from Kaiserslautern to Neustadt and ride with them in the car to Karlsuhe since they were driving anyway. We'd spend some time there together and then I'd take the train back because they were staying for a concert.

I wanted to find out: how could I best buy the train tickets to minimize the prices? I'll share the steps I took in hopes that it might be useful for someone. Do you have tips to share? Feel free to leave them in the comments section; maybe you know an even better way to buy tickets.

-The first thing to know is that train tickets can be rather costly and prices have recently climbed. There are ways to buy cheaper tickets, such as by linking different regions through creative ticket buying.

-If you are only traveling in one or two regions instead of taking a long distance trip, it can make more sense to buy tickets from each regional traffic association instead of buying an overall ticket from Deutsche Bahn. However, it can be a bit confusing that if buying tickets at a train station, one uses the ticket machines that are labeled DB but also sell local tickets.

-When I searched the DB website,, I found that a default setting is "schnelle Verbindung bevorzugen," which means "prefer fast connection." This means that Inter-City Express and Regional Express trains are more likely to be chosen. You'll get there faster but there's a possibility you'd pay more. I unchecked this option so I could see both the high speed and the cheaper local trains.

-If you have a reduction card, such as the BahnCard, be sure to select that option. After all, why not save money?

-The DB website can usually give a price for distance travel (i.e. the whole trip from Karlsruhe to Kaiserslautern), but for local travel, it'll often give a message "Preisauskunft nicht möglich," which means "price information is not available" because travelers must visit the individual regional transportation websites to determine the prices. Grr! Why this isn't integrated is beyond me.

-If you want to save money, you'll want to check the regional train sites to "hack" your trip.

-I ended up buying a VRN all-day train ticket. VRN is the transportation association that covers Kaiserslautern to Mannheim, and many other cities too. That got me to Neustadt to meet my friends.

For the return trip, I bought a ticket from Karlsruhe to Bad Schönborn-Kronau, which is the end of the Karlsruhe region and only cost me 3,50 euros with my Bahncard. From there, I used my VRN day ticket to get me to Mannheim, where I transferred to another train to get me back to Kaiserslautern.

Let's compare prices.

  • 40 euros for a day of travel; does not include high-speed trains
A "traditional" way of buying the ticket:
  • Buy a one-way ticket from Kaiserslautern to Neustadt (7,10 euro regular price; 5,30 euros with BahnCard)
  • Use Deutsche Bahn to buy a ticket from Karlsruhe to Kaiserslautern (cheapest price I saw without BahnCard was 19 euros but it went up to 33 euros depending on the time and if it was a high speed train; with BahnCard it was as low as 14,25 euros)
  • I wasn't sure exactly when I'd be done in Karlsruhe and the longer one waits to buy the ticket, the more likely it is to be more expensive.
  • Using this method, I would, at minimum, paid about 26 euros without the BahnCard or as low as 20 euros with it. However, depending on the time, the average prices I saw for some of the various options were about 25 euros or so in total because I was working on this last-minute.
What I actually spent:
  •  17,50 for the VRN day pass
  • 3,50 to get me from Karlsruhe to the beginning of the VRN's coverage area (it would've been 5,70 without the BahnCard)
  • Total = 21 euros
 How I could have hacked this trip further:
  • Buy a single trip ticket to Neustadt  (7,10 euro regular price; 5,30 euros with BahnCard)
  •  3,50 to get me from Karlsruhe to the beginning of the VRN's coverage area (or 5,70 without the BahnCard)
  • Buy a single trip ticket from Wiesloch-Walldorf, which is the beginning of the VRNetwork, to Kaiserslautern (10,20 regular price or 7,70 with BahnCard)
  • Total = 22,60 euros without BahnCard or 16.50 euros with BahnCard
So, reader, are you thinking, "geez, that sounds like a lot of work and was it really worth it for ATW to spend all this time trying to figure this out?" Well, have no fear; I enjoy this type of research and it's more of a hobby for me so I'm not seeing it as a waste of my time. I also received some tips from friends to get me started (thanks, awesome friends!). Even though I've been riding the trains here for three years, I didn't know all the ins and outs as well as I could have and this helped me fill in some gaps. Of course, there's always more to learn!

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