True budget transport in Germany



If you have traveled to Germany before, or are about to do so, you might have experienced already that the train ticket fare system is very expensive (a single ticket Frankfurt-Munich bought at the station will set you back a whopping €101) and complicated (Normalpreis, Sparpreis, BahnCard, Schönes-Wochenende Ticket, what is this mess). There are multiple guides on the internet attempting on explaining this, but to our dissatisfaction, all of them lack simplicity and are just overwhelming to a simple traveler wanting to experience a beautiful country. And usually they focus on trains and not other forms of transport. So many people just end up getting a very expensive rail pass, when it’s almost always cheaper to buy tickets as you go if you know what you are doing.

That being said, to keep it simple we will not explain the whole system, just the cheapest way for you to get a ticket on your particular route. Let’s start!

Which ticket you should buy: The Simple Flowchart

German Transport Flowchart

busliniensuche.de busliniensuche.de ltur.de Länder-Ticket Schönes-Wochenende or Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket

It’s that simple. In almost all scenarios, this will get you the cheapest ticket you can get.

If you require further explaination to the different ticket types, continue on reading.

Länder-Tickets

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In order to take advantage of some special tickets, you will need to familiarize yourself with the borders of Germany’s 16 states. See the map below:

Germany map with states

Each of these offers a day-ticket with which you can use ALL local public transport, with just a few exceptions (notably buses on the North Sea islands – which are well worth a visit). Even better, they are a massive bargain if you travel with up to five people. For example, the Bayern-Ticket costs €24 for one person, €28 for two, €32 for three, €36 for four and €40 for five people. So for a group of five, the cost per person is down to €8 for using local transport within the massive area of Bavaria, including things as the Munich and Nuremberg metro, buses to Castle Neuschwanstein and the private Meridian train to Mozart’s hometown Salzburg for an entire day! If you are traveling alone, it’s worth it to ask people at your hostel or at the train station where they are going and if they want to share such a ticket with you. Even for part of the journey, it will most likely be worth it. Note that the prices differ depending on which state you buy the ticket for.

Since some states are smaller than others, they are sometimes included in the ticket of their bigger neighbor:

  • Saarland is included in the Rheinland-Pfalz-Ticket and vice versa
  • Hamburg and Bremen are included in the Niedersachsen-Ticket
  • Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are included in the Schleswig-Holstein-Ticket but not vice versa
  • Berlin is included in the Brandenburg-Ticket but not vice versa
  • Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen are included in each others ticket, no matter which one you buy

Additionally, trains to cities of a neighboring state or country close to the border are most likely included in the ticket as well. For example, Mainz in Rheinland-Pfalz is included in the Hessen-Ticket, Salzburg in Austria is included in the Bayern-Ticket, Szczecin in Poland is included in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern-Ticket and so on.

Note that many cities offer their own, cheaper, day tickets, so it’s not worth it to buy a Bayern-Ticket if you just want to zip around Munich for a day of sightseeing for example.

On weekdays, these tickets are only valid after 9:00 am, in order to relieve commuter traffic.

Remember, with all of these tickets, you can only take local trains! No long distance!

Check out how to buy these tickets here!

You can buy these tickets in many different ways: Always at DB ticket machines, most of the time online, sometimes even at ticket vending machines by private railways, and even bus drivers might sell them.

Of course also manned DB ticket counters sell them, but don’t do this, as they will sell you the ticket with a €2 “advice surcharge”.

The easiest way by far is using a DB ticket machine, which we will explain here. Even the smallest, unmanned train stations have one! Locate it and operate the touchscreen. It will look like this:

Start pageChange it to English using the flag at the bottom. Now tap on “All offers”. You will see something similar to this:

All OffersTap on “Group tickets”. Yes, even if you are traveling alone. You will see a screen like this:

Group TicketsThis will look a bit different depending on where you are. The 4th menu point, where you see “Rheinland-Pfalz” here, will be named after the state the machine is located in, and most likely the one you want to buy the ticket for, so tap on it. If you, for some reason, want to buy a ticket for another state, tap on “Group tickets for all Federal Laender” and then…

All States… tap on the state you want to buy a ticket for. Note: The “Hessen-Ticket” is the exception and can only be bought inside the state Hessen!

State OffersAfter tapping on the state, you might get an intermediate screen like this, which has all offers of that state. Choose the normal “(state name)-Ticket” unless of course one of those offers makes more sense to you, like in this case a ticket including all of Luxembourg.

PersonsSelect the number of persons traveling and tap next.

DateSelect the date of travel, most likely today, and tap next.

BahnBonusDo not collect and tap next. If you’re curious, bahn.bonus is like a frequent flyer miles program for trains.

SummaryYou will see this summary. You can start feeding the machine with cash or a credit card now.

After successful payment, it will print out a ticket looking like this:

Rheinland-Pfalz Ticket

You will officially need to write your names on it in order for it to be valid! Start riding and have fun.

Here is how you can check for connections valid with these tickets!
So this will get you on any local transport within a state, but how do you know where to go, which platform and train to take? Furthermore, how do you make sure you don’t accidentally catch a long distance train, for which the ticket is not valid? Easy. Use the journey planner on bahn.de, the DB Navigator app, or even the DB ticket machine.

Input your origin and the destination. You can use exact addresses, it will understand every address located in Germany. On the smartphone, you can let the app access your GPS location and use it in the origin field. I recommend you to do this as you should always consider all transport, door-to-door, not just city to city. Now, be it the website or the app, there is a little checkbox for “Local transport”. Check it.

DB WebsiteThis search option is specifically designed to show you connections on which the ticket you just bought is valid. After clicking on search it will show you a number of travel options. Expand one and it will tell you how often to change, which lines to take and at which platforms they depart. It will even consider walking times in big stations, and show you in real time if and how late your train is or if there are any other disturbances. Nifty.

SWE- or QDL-Ticket

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There are two tickets that include local transport in the whole of Germany: The more expensive Quer-Durchs-Land-Ticket (QDL), from €44 for one person, plus €8 for each traveler, and the cheaper Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket (SWE), from €40 plus €4 for each traveler, only valid on weekends and public holidays.

These are day-tickets with which you can use ALL local public transport, with just a few exceptions (notably buses on the North Sea islands – which are well worth a visit). Even better, they are a massive bargain if you travel with up to five people. Additionally, trains to cities of neighboring countries close to the border are most likely included in the ticket as well. For example, Salzburg in Austria, Szczecin in Poland or Basel in Switzerland are included.

On weekdays, these tickets are only valid after 9:00 am, in order to relieve commuter traffic.

Remember, with all of these tickets, you can only take local trains! No long distance!

Check out how to buy these tickets here!

You can buy these tickets in many different ways: Always at DB ticket machines, most of the time online, sometimes even at ticket vending machines by private railways, and even bus drivers might sell them.

Of course also manned DB ticket counters sell them, but don’t do this, as they will sell you the ticket with a €2 “advice surcharge”.

The easiest way by far is using a DB ticket machine, which we will explain here. Even the smallest, unmanned train stations have one! Locate it and operate the touchscreen. It will look like this:

Start pageChange it to English using the flag at the bottom. Now tap on “All offers”. You will see something similar to this:

All OffersTap on “Group tickets”. Yes, even if you are traveling alone. You will see a screen like this:

Group TicketsNow tap on “Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket” if you are traveling on a weekend or public holiday, or “Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket” if you are traveling on a weekday.

Select the number of persons traveling and tap next.

DateSelect the date of travel, most likely today, and tap next.

BahnBonusDo not collect and tap next. If you’re curious, bahn.bonus is like a frequent flyer miles program for trains.

You will see this summary. You can start feeding the machine with cash or a credit card now.

After successful payment, it will print out a ticket. You will officially need to write your names on it in order for it to be valid! Start riding and have fun.

Here is how you can check for connections valid with these tickets!
So this will get you on any local transport in Germany, but how do you know where to go, which platform and train to take? Furthermore, how do you make sure you don’t accidentally catch a long distance train, for which the ticket is not valid? Easy. Use the journey planner on bahn.de, the DB Navigator app, or even the DB ticket machine.

Input your origin and the destination. You can use exact addresses, it will understand every address located in Germany. On the smartphone, you can let the app access your GPS location and use it in the origin field. I recommend you to do this as you should always consider all transport, door-to-door, not just city to city. Now, be it the website or the app, there is a little checkbox for “Local transport”. Check it.

DB WebsiteThis search option is specifically designed to show you connections on which the ticket you just bought is valid. After clicking on search it will show you a number of travel options. Expand one and it will tell you how often to change, which lines to take and at which platforms they depart. It will even consider walking times in big stations, and show you in real time if and how late your train is or if there are any other disturbances. Nifty.

Local vs. Long Distance

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There are two main distinctions with all public transport in Germany. The distinction between these two is very well defined – you will find this distinction to be very important, as the ticketing rules are completely different. Let me tell you what is considered long distance transport:

  • ICE – InterCity Express, German high-speed trains
  • IC – InterCity, German long distance trains
  • Fernbus (FlixBus, Postbus, BerlinLinienBus and many others) – Long distance buses
  • TGV, RJ, THA – Foreign high-speed trains
  • EC – EuroCity, International long distance trains
  • CNL, EN – German / International night trains

Usually the ticket you buy is only valid for a specific train or bus and you are not allowed to just take another train or bus on the same route.

Local transport methods are considered as follows:

  • BUS – Local buses
  • STR – Trams
  • U – U-Bahn / Stadtbahn, Subway / Light Rail
  • S – S-Bahn, commuter train
  • RB – Regionalbahn, local train stopping everywhere
  • RE – Regional-Express, local express train skipping some stops
  • IRE – InterRegio-Express, local express train skipping some stops
  • Private trains (ME, CAN, NOB, BOB, ALX, and many many others)

Usually, a ticket you hold is valid on any of these forms of transport. For example, if you buy a ticket from Munich to Freising, you are free to use the RE, ALX, RB, S-Bahn or local buses going there with this ticket.

Consider Door-to-Door!

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Long distance prices vary like airline tickets if booked in advance and work in a very similar way. The full fare (Normalpreis) is very expensive, but allows for full refunds and free changes, while the discounted tickets (Sparpreis) are only change- and refundable against a fee, or not at all, and are only valid on a specific train or bus.

This all sounds very simple, just look on busliniensuche.de and buy the cheapest ticket, right?

While this may get you what you are looking for, I want you to stop and consider:

Let’s say you are with your best friend in Berlin and about to move to your next destination on Sunday, Dresden. You look for tickets and find them for €42 for both of you. Bravo, that’s cheap. Or is it? Your hostel in Berlin is not exactly close to the station, so you need to purchase a subway ticket to get there: €5.60 for both of you. Dresden is not exactly small either, so two more single tickets for the tram are needed: €4.40. So the €42 suddenly become €52 door-to-door. Hmm.

With a Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket, the Berlin Subway and Dresden Trams, as well as local trains running between the two cities, not much slower than InterCity ones, will be included for the entire day. Fancy a late stroll through Dresden? Sure, take the tram, the ticket is still valid. This ticket will cost you €44 for both of you. It becomes even more of a bargain if you get more people to travel with you, so ask around in your accommodation or in the train station.

What I am saying is, always consider all transport, from door to door, before choosing a ticket! That cheap bus or train ticket suddenly becomes a lot more expensive if you need to take local transport on both ends.

Last Minute Train Tickets

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So you are, like us, not planning your travel very far ahead? While this is not a problem for local transport, hurling yourself a far distance like Berlin to Munich only with local trains in one day, requiring up to 10 changes, is an ordeal even for the toughest budget traveler. But the cheap tickets for long distance transport are all gone by the time you decide to go. So do you have no choice? You do.

Just like with flights, here are a few travel agencies selling Last Minute train tickets. Unfortunately only in German, so you might have to use some online translator. Here is a list of them:

  • Ltur.de – Sales open 7 days in advance and start from €18.50 (€17 + €1.50 booking fee).Note that this is slighly cheaper than possible on bahn.de (starts from €19).
  • Busliniensuche.deFernbusse.defromatob.de – Sales open 7 days in advance and start from €19.These are bus search websites and will also show bus prices so you can compare.

Also note that the train prices you find on there are NOT available on bahn.de – DB sells many of their cheap tickets only on bus search websites in order to snatch away customers. Sneaky, right?

 



 




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