Know your corridors – booking cheaper train tickets

In the past I showed you some interesting tricks to get cheaper travel fares. In a similar vein, I’d like to explore different train corridors with you.

Let’s consider a hypothetical route from Bremen to Jena. That’s from the north of Germany to somewhere in the middle east. The “normal price” of such a ticket is anything between 85 and 137 EUR.

Search result for going from Bremen to Jena

“Why the difference?” you may ask. Good question. By looking at the details of the connections we can see that the transfer stations differ. The first connection goes north through Hamburg.

Search result of going through the north

Map of going through the north

The second connection seems smarter, going south through Hannover but then plowing through the east.

Search result for going through the east

Map of connection going east

The last connection is arguably the most natural one: Going to Goettingen and then with a local train to Jena.

Search results for going through Goettingen

map of connection going through Goettingen

More combinations exist. For example, going through Hamburg, then via the east route to Erfurt and then to Jena. That is probably also the most expensive route.

We can see those lines on the official map of long distance train lines.

Plan of long distance (IC) trains

If you are looking for cheap train tickets you should ask the “Sparpreisfinder” (or “cheap fare finder”). If we provide that with our intended journey a few days in advance, it finds tickets as cheap as 29.90 EUR. That’s already quite good. It’s not a shame to stop here and buy that ticket. After all, the Sparpreisfinder is advertised as finding the cheapest ticket, so it can’t get any better, can it?

Sparpreisfinder results

Notice how our connections so far have made use of local trains. According to the map we can take long distance trains only via another corridor. More specifically: through Leipzig. It’s a longer route but may be cheaper due to the complicated pricing model and convoluted stack of stakeholders associated with the various trains and lines being operated. It’s not imperative to know that the Deutsche Bahn has three product categories, but it may help to understand the pricing system a little bit better. Product category “A” is for long distance ICE trains. “B” is for the less comfortable and slower IC trains. Finally, “C” is for local trains.

We can force the search to find connections via that new corridor, Leipzig, and hope to find fewer product categories used:

Notice how the both checkboxes in the bottom are unticked

Notice how the both checkboxes in the bottom are not ticked. This is to find longer routes. And indeed, we find an even cheaper connection than the DB’s Sparpreisfinder was willing to give us.

cheapest fare not found by the sparpreisfinder

You may say now that using long distance trains only can be achieved more easily by adapting the search to only find those:

Notice the checkboxes in the bottom

But even then you wouldn’t get that 19.90 ticket:

no ticket for 19.90 although only long distance trains are being sought

So lessons learned: Look at the map of train lines to see which connections exists. Check whether your journey can be performed with long distance trains, only. Check your search results for various corridors and notice whether long distance train-only connections exist. If not, force the search to find you a connection through the corridor you have identified.

Getting cheaper Bahn fares via external services

Imagine you want to go from some random place in Germany to the capital. Maybe because it is LinuxTag. We learned that you can try to apply international fares. In the case of Berlin, the Netzplan for Berlin indicates that several candidate train stations exist: Rzepin, Kostrzyn, or Szczecin. However, we’re not going to explore that now.

Instead, we have a look at other (third party) offers. Firstly, you can always get a Veranstaltungsticket. It’s a ticket rated at 99 EUR for a return trip. The flexible ticket costs 139 EUR and allows you to take any train, instead of fixed ones. Is that a good price? Let’s check the regular price for the route Karlsruhe ←→ Berlin.

The regular price is 142 EUR. Per leg. So the return trip would cost a whopping 284 EUR. Let’s assume you have a BahnCard 50. It costs 255 EUR and before you get it, you better do the math whether it’s worth it. Anyway, if you have that card, the price halves and we have to pay 71 EUR for a leg or 142 for the return trip. That ticket is fully flexible, so any train can be taken. The equivalent Veranstaltungsticket costs 139, so a saving of 3 EUR, or 2%.

Where to get that Veranstaltungsticket you ask? Well, turns out, LinuxTag offered it, itself. You call the phone number of the Bahn and state your “code”. In the LinuxTag case it was “STATION Berlin”. It probably restricts your destination options to Berlin. More general codes are easily found on the Web. Try “Finanz Informatik”,
“TMF”, or “DOAG”.

I don’t expect you to be impressed by saving 2%. Another option is to use bus search engines, such as,, or You need to be a bit lucky though as only a few of those tickets are available. However, it’s worth a shot as they cost 29 EUR only.

That saves you 80% compared to the original 142 EUR, or 60% compared to the 71 EUR with the BC 50. That’s quite nice, already. But we can do better. There is the “Fernweh-Ticket” which is only available from LTUR. It costs 26 EUR and you need to poll their Web Interface every so often to get a chance to find a ticket. I intended to write a crawler, but I have not gotten around to do it yet…

With such a ticket you save almost 82% or 63% compared to the regular price. Sweet! Have I missed any offer that worth mentioning?

Finding (more) cheap flights with Kayak

People knowing me know about my weakness when it comes to travel itineraries. I spend hours and hours, sometimes days or even weeks with finding the optimal itinerary. As such, when I was looking for flights to GNOME.Asia Summit, I had an argument over the cheapest and most comfortable flight. When I was told that a cheaper and better flight existed that I didn’t find, I refused to accept it as I saw my pride endangered. As it turned out, there were more flights than I knew of.

Kayak seems to give you different results depending on what site you actually open. I was surprised to learn that.

Here is the evidence: (you probably have to open that with a wide monitor or scroll within the image)
Kayak per country

In the screenshot, you can see that on the left hand side found 1085 flights. It also found the cheapest one rated at 614 EUR. That flight, marked with the purple “1”, was also found by and at different, albeit similar prices. In any case, that flight has a very long layover. The next best flight returned was rated at 687 EUR. The other two Kayaks have that flight, marked with the green “3”, at around 730 EUR, almost 7% more than on the German site. The German Kayak does not have the Ethiad flight, marked with the blueish “2”, at 629 as the Irish one does! The American Kayak has that flight at 731 EUR, which is a whopping 17% of a difference. I actually haven’t checked whether the price difference persists when actually booking the flights. However, I couldn’t even have booked the Ethiad flight if I didn’t check other Kayak versions.

Lessons learnt: Checking one Kayak is not enough to find all good flights.

In addition to Kayak, I like to the the ITA Travel Matrix as it allows to greatly customise the queries. It also has a much more sane interface than Kayak. The prices are not very accurate though, as far as I could tell from my experiments. It can give you an idea of what connections are cheap, so you can use that information for, e.g. Kayak. Or, for that other Web site that I use: Skyscanner. It allows to list flights for a whole months or for a whole country instead of a specific airport.

What tools do you use to check for flights?

LinuxCon Brazil 2011

I was lucky to be invited to LinuxCon Brazil, taking place in *drumroll* Brazil! Sao Paulo to be precise. The conference centre was very spacious and the conference itself seemed to be much bigger than in Japan.

My talk on GNOME 3 (actually 3.2 and 3.x) was well received and I hope I was able to entertain a bunch of people and make some of them try the new GNOME. Fortunately, our friends from OpenSuSE just released their new version a couple of days ago and brought some machines and media to try it out. Needless to say that it features the latest and greatest GNOME release. We had a good discussion during the talk and I talked to many people after the talk. There was more interest that I expected. I was told that even Linus and Dirk Hohndel commented on it in the speaker’s room when I was not there.

I couldn’t really attend the other talks as I wanted because they were held in Portuguese :-\ There was translation but only for the foreign speakers not talking in Portuguese. So sadly I had to stick to talks that I either knew or didn’t interest me that much. But there were a couple of interesting ones, nonetheless 🙂 My favourite was Jan Kiszka talking about “Developing Linux inside QEMU/KVM Virtual Machines” because I learned how to actually be able to pass data from my host system into my guest QEMU machine.

So the conference could have made more effort to actually indicate whether the talks were held in English or not. Other than that, it was a good conference which was held in a pretty good conference centre. As the other South American conference I attended a couple of weeks ago, it slipped behind schedule. But only for half an hour 😉

It wasn’t all too easy to get to Brazil though. I had flight troubles in Amsterdam with KLM again. The security at the gate wanted to search my bag but I refused. I was told to either let them search the bag or wait for the supervisor. I chose to wait as I had quite a bit of newspaper left. Eventually one of the security guys called me out and told me to go out of the gate area to talk to the supervisor. We talked and came back to the gate where I was about to put my stuff into the xray machine. But then the guy came and told me that the flight attendant told him that I couldn’t fly. So I asked the woman directly whether I was denied boarding. She said yes because I caused a queue. I demanded a list of my rights because I was denied boarding and she sent me to the Transfer desk. Then she left… When I went to the transfer desk, I figured out that I was not referenced as being denied boarding but No-Show, i.e. I just wasn’t present. But that’s ridiculous as I sat in the gate except for three minutes when the supervisor called me out. For that reason, I wasn’t provided a list of my rights and the transfer agent wasn’t friendly at all. A second transfer agent managed to get me on the next flight though. I thought I’d like KLM, at least for them flying to South America not crossing the US. But I probably have to go with Iberia the next time.

I’m looking foward to come back to Brazil, either for GNOME Forum or for LinuxCon 🙂

LinuxCon Japan 2011

Thanks to the Linux Foundation I was able to attend LinuxCon 2011 in Japan.

I used the opportunity to distribute GNOME 3 DVD Images and leaflets during my talk about GNOME 3 which was well enough received I’d say. While I collected a lot of experience approaching people and telling them about all the niceties that GNOME 3 offers over the last few month, I really had too little time to tell all the brilliant things about our new GNOME. Anyway, it was nice to be on the very same schedule as the very important Linux people like Greg KH, Linus or Lenny.

The conference itself was hosted in a very spacious building: The Pacifico in Yokohama. One could see that impressive building from our hotel room. Just nice. The conference was well organised and the provided amenities such as food and drinks were good enough. I was particularly impressed by the simultaneous translations that were done by two elderly men.

The talks were generally interesting, probably because I haven’t been to a kernel focused conference and I found it interesting to get new input. My favourites were the Kernel Developer Panel were one could pose question onto the Kernel people face to face and the talks about the social aspect of Kernel development.

Despite all the trouble in Japan, we had a very good time and in fact, there weren’t many indicators to the earthquake or the nuclear catastrophe. The most annoying inconveniences probably were the turned off elevators. Other than that, we didn’t really see any disrupted services or chaos or problems at all. Traveling in Japan is a real pleasure as the train system is gorgeous and the cities are very well mapped. You encounter a city map just about every other corner and it’s very detailed and helpful. Japanese people are extraordinarily friendly and although there is a language barrier, they try to understand and help you. The downside is, that Japan is quite expensive. Especially the train system, but also lodging and food. However, the quality is very good, so it’s probably worth the money.

I’m looking forward to attend the next LinuxCon, maybe even in Japan 🙂

DAAD Recall


I applied for a stipend from the DAAD, the “German Academic Exchange Service”, in November. They must have liked my application because they invited my to the “next round” in the former capital Bonn.

Bonn Hauptbahnhof
Bonn Hauptbahnhof

I got some LIDL train tickets on eBay for 70 Euros (thanks Mezzo), which were 55 as they were sold by LIDL. Flying wasn’t an option due to the airports, both Hamburg and Koeln-Bonn, being located outside the cities and would have brought travel overhead which takes time as well. I enjoyed my non-stop train trip and arrived in Bonn after almost 5 hours.

Altes Rathaus in Bonn
Altes Rathaus in Bonn


Akademisches Kunstmuseum
Akademisches Kunstmuseum

After a short stroll through the city, I went to my Hostel: Max Hostel in the old town. They seem to be rather new since they were obviously surprised that I arrived. The guy at the reception left a clueless but happy impression. That Hostel offers a kitchen with Pasta and coffee for free! Especially the latter is pretty important 😉 Though, I was not amused by the fact, that the showers were on the outer floor, where everybody is on his street shoes.
But the beds were pretty good and I slept nearly 11 hours.
Maybe that’s due to my long walking trip through Bonn. I got lost several times on my way to the museums but that wasn’t too bad as I could see Bonns living district with beautiful old houses.

Altbau in Bonn
Altbau in Bonn

If you are ever going to Bonn, don’t miss the “Haus der Geschichte”! An excellent Museum covering different aspects of German history.

Boennsch Koelsch
Boennsch Koelsch

Before I went to bed, I had a few big Schnitzel together with Beer^W “Koelsch”. Last time I had a Koelsch it reminded me of water rather than beer but this brand, “Boennsch” was quite good.

Boennsch Pub
Boennsch Pub


Uni Club
Uni Club

So I went to the Uni Club Bonn to have a talk to the selection committee. Other students were already waiting in front of the talking room. The amount of administrative overhead to select the ones who will receive the stiped is impressing. They do that selection talk thing the whole day, from 10:00 to 18:00, in 4 rooms in parallel.
But let’s get to the guts of that talking. I tried to prepare for that discussion with googling facts about it. I didn’t find much so I’m going to list the questions and the atmosphere. If you have questions left, feel free to drop me a line.

MozarthausI was called to come into the room and I was pretty nervous. I haven’t been so nervous even right before exams. I was invited to have a seat in front of a table with ready-to-drink water. The committee sat in front of a separate table and they counted 7 people. The committee was introduced to my by one of them. She introduced each member: Four of them were professors from different places in Germany, one student who got the stipend a year ago and two DAAD executives. And then it already begun. The professor asked four or five questions at once:

Main university building
Main university building
  • Why I was studying computer science
  • Why I am interested in computer security
  • Why I want to go to Dublin
  • Why the DAAD should give the stipend to me and not to anybody else

I began saying that I hope to not forget any of these questions. The prof immediately said that he asked so many question at once so that I can talk for a long time…
So I told my story: I am interested in computer science since I was a child, I got in touch with security very early, blablabla. Of course I forgot a few points, e.g. why I wanted to go to Dublin and why *I* should be sponsored.
But my talking drifted into a nice dialogue. I told them about the situation on my home university, especially that our security staff has gone and they asked a couple of questions like whether the professorship is going to be replace or whether I was able to do a diploma thesis at my home university.

Rheinland dreht zu Fasching durch
Rheinland dreht zu Fasching durch

Other questions include

  • Where do I see myself in 5 years
  • Where do I see the best university for computer security
  • What kind of experience I had in computer science and what my (university) projects were about
  • What would I have studied if I wouldn’t have taken computer science
  • Which news of the last week moved me

While the whole talking was in German, the student suddenly asked in English me why I needed so much time for my studies. We discussed like one minute or two after we switched to German again.

While I was pretty happy coming out of that room after 15 minutes, I think I didn’t perform very well. The more I think about it, the less I like my answers.I didn’t set any particular weights and gave unnecessary answers which are not of any interest.

The atmosphere, however, was okay. Everybody seemed interested and had a pile of paper in front. Nobody picked on a particular shortcoming and were high level in general.

Weirde Abkuerzung
Weirde Abkuerzung

So I missed to make a few points and while I think about my answers afterwards, I think I could have given smarter ones. But we’ll know more in about three weeks, because the DAAD executive said, that they’ll send a mail then.

I was about to go to the Arithmeum and the Haus der Geschichte but unfortunately they were closed on Mondays 🙁 So I went to have lunch and a beer before I went to the railway station to get home.

Das Bier danach
Das Bier danach
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
This work by Muelli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.