Concession Fares, Discount Cards & Passes Save on Deutsche Bahn Trains
Discount and concession fares as well as rail passes allow for cheap tickets and savings when traveling on German Railways (Deutsche Bahn) trains in Germany and Europe.
Standard fares on German Railways (Deutsche Bahn / DB) trains are not particularly cheap but numerous discount options are available. Early reservations, discount rail passes, and internet fares allow for cheap tickets on many train rides in Germany and European neighbors. By using Sparpreise, BahnCard, Länder-Tickets, and the Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket or Quer-durchs-Land Ticket, rail passengers can obtain huge savings over standard ticket prices. With a little bit of planning, savings can be as high as 62% over standard rail fares.
- The easiest way to save a bit on German railway fares is to buy train tickets online or at ticket vending machines at stations. These tickets are slightly cheaper (around €2 to €5) than those bought at station ticket counter windows or through travel agents, and avoid queues. Tickets are not sold on German trains – buy before boarding.
Standard German Train Fares & Tickets (Flexpreis)
The standard train fares on Deutsche Bahn trains are the most expensive but also the most flexible and refundable. Travelers with standard fare tickets (Flexpreise – previously Normalpreise) may use any train, interrupt journeys at will, and may even get the train ticket refunded without service charge.
- Standard train fares on German trains are for one-way travel. There is no discount for return journeys – returns are simply double the one-way price.
- The maximum fare is €142 in second class and €237 in first class.
- Travelers may interrupt journeys at will as long as the full journey is completed within the calendar day for journeys up to 100 km or two days for longer journeys.
- Bahncard savings are applied.
Special Discount Train Tickets on Deutsche Bahn
German Railways offer a wide range of discount tickets and savings fares for travelers who are willing to accept some restrictions. All discount tickets and savings fares have restrictions attached (more than the basic restrictions listed below) but are not particularly restrictive for leisure travelers.
Local and Long-Distance Trains in Germany
It is important to distinguish between local (Nahverkehr) and long-distance (Fernzüge) trains as discount fares are not applicable on all trains. Local or regional trains have the prefixes S-Bahn (slowest and most stops), RB, IRE, and RE while long-distance trains are IR, IC/EC, and ICE (fastest, fewest stops, and most expensive). Sometimes local rail tickets are also valid on some buses and U-Bahn trains in cities but always double check as passengers without a valid ticket risks a fine of around €60 payable on the spot. Privately operated trains are usually considered local trains and almost all accept all German Railways tickets.
German Railways’ Saver Fare (Sparpreise)
Generally the easiest way to save on German railways journeys is through Savings Fares (Sparpreise). These train tickets are available in limited numbers and are only valid for travel on the specifically booked trains.
Saver fares can be as cheap as €19 for journeys up to 250 km or €29 for longer train rides (but usually are more expensive but significantly cheaper than full fares). The number of tickets are limited and more common for travel during unsociable hours but the savings available are potentially huge. At least part of a journey must be on a long-distance train for saver fares to apply – the restriction to use a specifically booked train is only applicable on the long-distance train and not on local trains used during the journey.
Bahncard savings (maximum 25% off) may be applied to Saver Fares.
The previous requirement of advance reservations, return journeys and Saturday night stays are no longer applied.
Sparpreis discount tickets are available in both first and second class.
German State Tickets (Länder-Tickets)
Länder-Tickets (State Tickets) are a great way to save on train travel when sightseeing in especially rural areas. Länder-Tickets allow for unlimited travel on regional trains (Nahverkehr) for a day (some time restrictions) in a specific region of Germany (usually a federal state). It is generally available as a solo ticket of for small groups of up to five traveling together. Länder-Tickets are very good deals for local train travel.
See Germany on the Happy-Weekend Ticket (Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket)
In contrast to the Länder-Tickets, the Schönes-Wochenende-Ticket (Happy-Weekend Ticket) allows unlimited German-wide rail travel on local trains (Nahverkehr) for individuals or groups of up to five. As the name indicates, Happy Weekend Tickets are only available on Saturday and Sunday. The Schöne-Wochenende-Ticket is an excellent deal when using slower regional trains.
Travel Throughout Germany on the Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket
In contrast to Happy-Weekend Ticket, the Travel Throughout Germany Ticket (Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket) allows for unlimited German-wide rail travel on local trains (Nahverkehr) on any day of the week. The Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket is an excellent deal when using slower regional trains during the week with savings especially good when traveling as a group. Solo travelers may with luck do better on Sparpreise (and thus faster long-distance trains)!
Group Discounts on German Trains
Groups (sometimes as small as two) and parents (or grandparents) traveling with their own children often qualify for additional discounts. These group discounts (Mitfahrerrabatt) may be combined with many special fares and train cards.
Deutsche Bahn Discount Cards and Passes
German Railways have several train cards (BahnCard) and rail passes that offer great deals and discounts when German trains are used frequently or over long distances.
German Railways Card (Bahncard)
German Railway’s BahnCard is valid for a year and is not transferable – it is available in either first or second class. and print out a temporary card or buy it from any large railway station in Germany. Shorter validity periods are often advertised and are great value for foreign visitors too.
BahnCard 25 cost €62 (€125 for First Class) and gives 25% discount on standard fares as well as savings fares as long as the train journey exceeds 100 km. The BahnCard 25 pays for itself if more than €200 is spent on German train journeys per year.
The BahnCard 50 cost €255 (€515 for First Class) and gives 50% discount on standard train fares. Further Sparpreis discounts are usually discounted only by 25%.
The BahnCard 100 allows for unlimited travel for a year – €4090 (€6890 for first class).
Partners and children of Bahncard holders may obtain a similar Bahncard at a significant discount.
German Rail Pass
The German Rail Pass is a flexi rail pass available only to non-German residents. The German Rail Pass allows for unlimited rail travel on four to ten days in a given four-week period. The German Rail Pass is a good deal especially for long-distance travel during busy periods.
Internet-Only Offers on bahn.de
Deutsche Bahn’s website is not only an excellent planning tool for train journeys in Germany (and most of Europe) but also offer some of the best deals and cheapest fares for traveling on German trains. These cheap tickets and deals change frequently and availability is usually limited to a certain number of tickets per train.
The details of the internet offers are usually only advertised in the German version of Deutsche Bahn’s website but all deals are taken into consideration when making reservations through the English version too. (Look for the Saver Fare Finder section when planning journeys.) International travelers are thus not overcharged but unfortunately unaware that traveling a day (or even a few hours) earlier or later may result in huge savings when a special deal is available
All discount fares on German trains come with restrictions but these are often of little consequence to leisure travelers who are able to commit to specific trains in advance.