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 busliniensuche.de, fernbusse.de, or fromatob.de. 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?