The German Rail Pass allows unlimited travel on Deutsche Bahn trains, including ICE. It is a great savings deal and cheaper than most railway tickets for exploring Germany.
The German Rail Pass offers international travelers a great deal to explore Germany by train cheaply. The German Rail Pass is available as a flexi-pass or consecutive days pass that allows for unlimited travel on Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) trains, including the usually fairly expensive high-speed Inter-City-Express (ICE) trains. For travelers on a couple of long-distance inter-city railway journeys, the German Rail Pass can be a very good savings deal. However, sometimes regular saver fares or even a Eurail Pass may be a better deal.
The German Rail Pass
The German Rail Pass is only available to non-German residents and sometimes restricted to non-European residents. (Residency is the key rather than nationality.)
Depending on the buyer’s place of residence, as well as whether bought online for self-print or as a postal delivery, the German Rail Pass is either a consecutive-days pass or a flexi-pass. The consecutive-days pass is usually for 5, 10 or 15 days with the flex pass valid for 3 to 10 days of travel in a one month period.
The German Rail Pass is available in five versions:
- First Class adults
- Second Class adults
- First Class twin
- Second Class twin
- Youth Pass
The twin pass can be used by two adults traveling together while the youth pass is available only to young travelers aged between 12 and 25 traveling in second class. Children between 6 and 11 pay half the adult fee for either the first or second class rail pass. Children under 6 always travel for free on Deutsche Bahn trains when accompanied by their parents or grandparents.
First class or second class? Both get there at the same speed but first class seats are larger and at busy times the carriages are less likely to be full. While standard first class tickets are much more expensive, the surcharge on the German Rail Pass is relatively small making first class worth considering.
Buying the German Rail Pass
The German Rail Passes may only be used by non-German residents, and sometimes are not sold to European residents either. It is mostly sold overseas through both traditional or internet travel agents that sell European railway tickets. Virtually all outlets selling the more famous Eurail Pass will also sell the German Rail Pass.
The German Rail Pass may be bought online directly from German Railways – currently, the print-at-home version is only for consecutive day travel while the flex pass is sent by postal mail only.
The German Rail Pass is also available from the various Rail Europe offices – pick the actual country of residence for the correct pass options (Deutsche Bahn is very strict on this). Even if buying elsewhere, it is well worth visiting the Rail Europe website as it has a nifty program that compares passes depending on travel plans. In some cases, a two-country Eurail Select Pass may work out cheaper than the German Rail Pass even for visitors traveling only in Germany.
In Germany, the German Rail Pass can only be bought at major railway stations. When bought in Germany, the pass is slightly more expensive and not all versions are available.
Saving with the German Rail Pass
The German Rail Pass can be a great savings deal for travelers using long-distance trains, especially when traveling at peak-hours and when saver fares and other discount fares are not available. Travelers will save most by using the pass on the days that long, inter-city journeys are taken and try to use other savings fares on days in between such as regional discounts for local travel.
As calculated on the Deutsche Bahn English website, an adult traveling solo in second class will pay for the following journeys:
- Frankfurt to Cologne – €71
- Cologne to Berlin – €117
- Berlin to Munich – €142
- Munich to Frankfurt – €101
The total of €431 is much more expensive than a 15 day consecutive-day German Rail Pass (€423) while the four-day second-class flexi pass is less than half the price (€203); even a four-day first-class pass will be cheaper at €274).
Validity of the German Rail Pass
The German Rail Pass is valid on all Deutsche Bahn trains, IC buses and many countryside buses operated by or on behalf of Deutsche Bahn (look for the red DB signs). The pass is also valid on some trains operated across borders by Deutsche Bahn – e.g. to Venice, Prague, Brussels and Copenhagen. It also allows for discounts (usually around 20%) on many Rhine River cruises and other ferry rides. The German Rail Pass is generally not valid on municipal buses or U-Bahn trains in cities (but S-Bahn trains are covered).
Seat reservations are generally not required on German trains but a good idea on longer journeys. Reservations are currently €4.50 per seat and may also be made for children under 6 traveling without an own ticket..
German residents, irrespective of nationality, do not qualify for the German Rail Pass. However, German residents, as well as foreign travelers, may benefit from the wide range of standard discounts and cheap internet fares available for travel on Deutsche Bahn trains.