European Train Travel - How Do YOU Book Your Tickets?

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Travel' started by DestinationDavid, Apr 25, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. DestinationDavid
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    I'll be heading to Europe in December and have been thinking about doing a bit of a quick tour by train. I've been to a few places before but never have utilized the train system, and from what I understand it's a bit of a quintessential European experience.

    I started piecing together a possible itinerary (FRA-BER-BUD-FRA) and then ran into a bit of a conundrum - what's the best way to book these tickets?

    Clearly I have to wait until about 3 months prior to depature to book the tickets, but when I started poking around to get some cost estimates it seems there are quite a few ways to book tickets.

    So my fellow MPers with European train experience, how do YOU book your tickets? Directly with Bahn, TGV, Eurostar, etc? Do you use a site like RailEurope? Do you go through a local travel agent? Buy the same day from a kiosk in the station?

    I thought about putting this in another forum but it seems general enough that it might fit here. I'd love to hear your thoughts!
     
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  2. roadwarrior365
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    roadwarrior365 Silver Member

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    I usually book them directly on bahn.de or you could book them before boarding the train at a counter, but there is a small service fee to do that. Also, I would highly recommended reserving seats especially if your not traveling 1 st Class. If my memory serves me correctly I think there is a night train that runs from Berlin to Budapest.
     
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  3. DestinationDavid
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    Yes, my goal is to take the night train.

    I land in FRA around 4 PM, I figured I'd catch a train to Berlin that night, spend 2 days sight seeing, take the ovenright trian to Budapest on the 2nd evening to save time and save on a hotel, and then spend 2 day in Budapest before leaving the next AM with the whole day left to get to Frankfurt.

    Do you find that booking at the counter costs more than prebooking?
     
  4. roadwarrior365
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    roadwarrior365 Silver Member

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    Yes booking at the counter definitely costs more. Its like aifrare if you book well ahead you will be able to get Spar Tickets( Saver Tickets), which come with a substantial discount. When I was flying with AA into FRA and then took the train to Hanover the saver tickets were 49 Euro's compared to the walk up price, which was somewhere between 100 and 200 Euros. I have never taking a night train, but I have been told they sell out.
     
  5. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    I have only taken the train within Germany, and I always booked ahead of time on bahn.de. A couple things:

    - cheap (restricted) tickets are train-specific, not route-specific, i.e., if you miss your train, you can't just get on the next one. Not sure if you can get a new ticket at a counter and apply the value or something.

    - at times I have found First Class tickets to be cheaper or only slightly more expensive than Second Class. That was when more restrictive Second Class was sold out, but still available for F.

    - Second Class can get fairly crowded, so definitely book a seat ahead of time if you can. Seat reservations cost a bit extra, but are definitely worth it IMO.

    - Luggage storage is fairly limited (at least in Second Class).

    - IC trains aren't nearly as nice as ICE trains. Kind of like RJs vs. Mainline.

    - when you book the ticket online, they'll ask you how you will identify yourself when presenting the ticket on the train. I think your options are passport # (or is it just German "Personalausweis"?) or credit card number. If you choose credit card number (the one you pay with), be sure to have that card with you, because without fail they have asked to see it. Not sure what happens if you show a different one.
     
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  6. DestinationDavid
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    Thanks for all the info. Seems like booking ahead of time is the way to go! Seems the bahn.de site is the most user friendly, too.

    Any thoughts on winter delays? I'll be going in the middle of December, which is why I've avoided buying plane tickets even though I think I actually do my trip for less money that way. Do trains in Europe get delayed/canceled like airplanes?

    Also, you can only book on bahn.de 92 days ahead of time, correct?
     
  7. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    Most of my train travel has been in the winter (I can still feel the chill in my bones waiting at on the platform for the train to arrive at one station). I think out of maybe ten or twelve trains one was delayed, causing me to misconnect in Cologne. In that case I went to the counter and had the ticket reissued for the next train without problems. Not sure if I had missed my first train leg due to a late arriving train, though.

    Oh, one more thing: if you end up with First Class tickets, the Bahn has lounges in a few stations. I have only used the one at FRA airport, but it was quite convenient since I had booked my train with a bit of a safety margin to account for a late arriving flight. The website should have a list of lounges.
     
  8. mgrepo

    mgrepo Silver Member

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    When I've gone over on a trip with a plan to use the train to get around Europe (mostly Germany), I've purchased a regional or multi-country rail pass from Eurail or RailEurope. When I calculated out the cost of taking at least two or more longer-distance rail segments, it came out favorably, especially when I also planned to use the train for same-day train trips in Northern Europe. It was great not having to worry about buying tickets. If there were specific routes where I wanted to be on a specific train or planned to travel during peak times, then I made a reservation ahead of time, either online before leaving the U.S., or a few days ahead when already in Europe. Train fares are pricey in Germany.

    The trains generally were reliable during the winter trips I took. The one thing that was not fun was traveling after Christmas from Frankfurt to Leipzig and they shortenend the train. The first-class car was full for the train I had decided to take and I (and several others) had to stand for most of the 4-hour train ride.

    I have taken the overnight train from Milan to Frankfurt -- reservations are usmandatory. Although the rail pass also works on those trains, there is a surcharge that has to be paid when you make the reservation.

    Hope this helps.
     
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  9. tom911
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    I've booked a lot of tickets on the Deutsche Bahn site the last few years, most recently Berlin-Prague RT in November and Berlin-Dresden, Dresden-Leipzig and Leipzig-Frankfurt in December. First, a word of caution: there are two Frankfurt stations on opposite ends of Germany, so if you need to book travel from Frankfurt, the huge business/airline hub, that station off the city center is Frankfurt Main Hauptbahnhof (HBF) and the airport station is Frankfurt (M) Flughafen. The one you don't want to book from is Frankfurt Oder which is way on the east side of Germany.

    I did an overnight trip years ago from Freiburg near the Swiss border, in the very south of Germany, to Berlin, in a 6 berth compartment, and had a terrible time sleeping as we went along the tracks. That was my one and only overnight train trip (on a railpass then with a supplement for the sleeper car). Just didn't work for me, but I'm a light sleeper.

    Trains within Germany, if purchased far enough out, are generally around 29-39 euros for the longest distances. These may be winter fares, though, as I just checked some July dates and don't see anything that low. I gave up buying rail passes when these sale fares became available on line. Just not enough value within Germany like they were 10 years ago.

    Are you sure you want to do Budapest-Frankfurt by rail? I looked at a couple sample itineraries and they were all over 10 hours. I'd probably stay in Germany or do the easy trip over to Prague by rail as an alternative. If you have not done the Christmas Markets in Germany you'll want to budget time for that (Potsdam, Dresden and Leipzig all have markets, as well as several around Berlin including a big one at Charlottenburg Palace).
    CHRISTMAS MARKET AND GERMANY PHOTOS
    PRAGUE PHOTOS

    Berlin train station:

    [​IMG]
     
  10. tom911
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    That's my understanding with the cheapest tickets, as they are a special train-specific fare. I usually overnight if I'm arriving at FRA and head out the next morning. I've stayed at two hotels across from the train station and two different Holiday Inn Express properties within 10-15 minutes walking distance that would work and don't think I've ever paid more than $100 a night.

    I saw this on a sample low-cost fare I looked at for July (can only book 92 days out):

    I did run into a weather issue flying over from LHR to FRA one year, and to this day I'm still amazed we landed in the high winds buffeting Germany. If I was the pilot I would have gone to a backup airport or returned to London. Trains were cancelled, buildings had glass damage, and trees were down all over the place. The first of my two trains was cancelled but a DB employee told me I could make my way over to Frankfurt Sud (South) and catch my connecting train there. I was originally suppose to connect midway to Dresden at another station but the alternative worked. I never would have sorted out this option on my own.
     
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  11. DestinationDavid
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    I obviously have months before I can even book tickets, so I have a lot of time to change plans and be flexible. I picked Budapest because I wanted to experience an overnight train sleeper car and Budapest was the most interesting out of the offerings I saw.

    I am open to ideas though. You believe Prague is easier to get to than Budapest? The one downside to Budapest was, indeed, that long trip back to Frankfurt through Vienna or Linz. Other cities I am considering - Zurich, Copenhagen, Warsaw, and Amsterdam. I've been in Europe, but my only experiences in continental Europe are Athens and Brussels.
     
  12. nova

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    We're doing a Berlin - > Prague -> Vienna -> Lucerne -> Geneva itenerary this July. The one issue I've found with Prague is getting the tickets to leave. I can't find a way to buy tickets online with Czech Rail that leave the Czech Republic, unlike all the other rail systems...
     
  13. tom911
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    Berlin-Prague is less than 5 hours by train without a train change (39 euros one way on an itinerary I looked at for next week, so just over $50-- think that's what I paid, too). I was able to buy a round trip ticket on the DB web site. One place I've actually been looking at for a future trip from Berlin is Warsaw, which also has reasonable fares and is less than 6 hours.

    I'd even toss out Salzburg from Munich. That's one of the sidetrips that's actually covered on a German Railpass, even though it takes you into Austria.

    If you want to go further out I'd suggest you look at the Air Berlin web site. One place they serve from Berlin, and the new airport will be open there in June, is Vienna, and they do that several times a day. See if they serve some of the other destinations on your list. I'd also suggest you look at a good Europe map (I'll link the one I use) to get a better picture of distances there, and plot out some sample tickets on the DB web site to get an idea of train times.
    http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/europe/txu-oclc-247233313-europe_pol_2008.jpg
    ,
     
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  14. DestinationDavid
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    Thanks Tom! I've actually already priced out quite a few itneraries with Air Berlin and Lufthansa for some side trips, but since the trip will be in the middle of December I figured I might want to avoid air travel since I don't want to get snowed in or canceled on prior to picking up the rest of my itinerary. I'm actually flying BOS-NRT-FRA on JL and stopping in Germany for awhile before returning to the US on Air Berlin flying FRA-BER-JFK, so I'm already getting the Air Berlin experience and seeing the new Brandenburg terminal in Berlin.

    Distances in Europe aren't that difficult for me, you're talking to the 4 year reigning champ of my county's geography bee. If there's one thing I know (besides AAdvantage!) it's geography. :D

    Interesting thought on Warsaw. As I mentioned above, it's definitely on my list. I haven't heard much from folks about Poland as a tourist destination at all though. Obviously Prague/Budapest/Vienna get much more coverage.

    I still have quite a few months to plan, I'm enjoying all the tips, thoughts, and advice folks!
     
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  15. aptraveler

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    David, have you thought doing your European tour but counter clockwise? If you are planning to visit Germany in December, I would strongly suggest you incorporate at least a Christmas Market into your itinerary, for it is truly a great and festive German experience that you can only have for a limited time during the year. So, why not do FRA-MUC, spend the night and enjoy one of Germany's famous Christmas market, second only to Nuremberg's, explore the rest of this vibrant fun city the following day, and then take your night train to BUD, "the Paris of the East".From there you may take another night train up to BER, Germany’s sleek-yet-gritty capital as recently described by Yvonne Zagermann, a talented German freelance TV journalist and travel blogger. From there is just a hop back to FRA for your return home. By the way, I have used Rail Europe plenty of times for my rail journeys in Europe and they are reliable and well-priced. I hope these ideas help you plan a great trip, not make it more complicated. ;)
     
  16. DestinationDavid
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    I was planning on visiting a Christmas market in Berlin. Is the Munich offering much better than the one in Berlin?

    I think realistically I only have time for two stops, so I'm not sure I can fit in BUD, MUC, and BER in that itinerary.

    I'm on the fence about BUD, I'd really love to visit but it seems like it's weighing me down. Perhaps PRG or VIE closer and easier to do.
     
  17. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    How long is your trip overall, ie how many days on the ground?
     
  18. WilCo
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    Budapest is great...and I just might know someone that can help you figure out what to do here -- me.
     
  19. DestinationDavid
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    If I settle on BUD I know just who to email then. :)
     
  20. paladin87
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    I use raileurope to buy my regional or country multi day passes, but never to book a single trip. If you check their site against the countrys rail company site, i.e. DBahn, Raileurope always charges way more for the same train ride.
     

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