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Train Ticket Guides Buying and using tickets for German rail travel

Buying and using tickets for German rail travel

This guide will help you save money, time and confusion.


Welcome to ShowMeTheJourney's guide to booking train tickets for journeys within and from/to Germany, the info covers the core basics of what you can expect to encounter when making bookings.
The aim is to provide context for the tickets and journey options you should encounter, in usual circumstances, when making a booking either online or at the station.
SMTJ has striven to ensure that the advice we present is as accurate as possible, but a guide such as this cannot cover every combination of journey options.

If you want to go right ahead with a booking, you can go direct to the booking agents, accessible from the content menu, which sell train journeys within and both to and from Germany.
Though before doing so, having an idea of what's available is recommended, hence the in-depth answers the questions you're most likely to have about German rail tickets.

Good to know:

In summary the five things most worth knowing about tickets for long-distance train journeys in Germany are:

1. Tickets can usually be booked up to 6 months ahead of the travel date.
2. The further ahead you can book, the greater the savings to be made.
3. Seat reservations are automatically included when booking First Class tickets for journeys by express trains.
4. When purchasing Second class tickets for journeys by express train, seat reservations are optional, so need to be added when booking.
5. Tickets are specific to the different train services, so for example, you can't book a ticket for a journey by a Regio (regional train service) and then hop on an IC express train instead.

Booking tickets online for train journeys within Germany:

Either click a question in the content menu to jump straight to the info you need, or take 5-10 minutes to discover all of the aspects of booking tickets for German train journeys which will save you time, money and confusion.

Will tickets be more expensive if I buy them last minute at a station?

Not if you will taking a local train; either an S-Bahn or Regio train, or if you be travelling longer distances* by the Regio trains.
*Some Regio train services to/from Munich/Munchen are an exception.

In contrast tickets for the express IC trains and ICE trains, will be more expensive if you buy them at the station on your travel date

Does it matter which train I travel by if I buy tickets at a German train station?

When travelling between German towns and cities there can be a choice of up to three different train services;
(1) Regio trains,
(2) IC trains and;
(3) ICE trains.

This does matter when booking tickets at the station.
The tickets for the Regio train will be the cheapest option; and as tickets for Regio train services usually aren't discounted, they won't be cheaper if you book them online - so it's best to buy them at the station just before boarding.
If you use a ticket counter, the booking clerk may assume you want to take the Regio train and if you use a ticket machine the cheapest price will be for the Regio trains.

Because tickets for the Regio train are cheaper they can't be used to travel on an IC or ICE train.
So once you have booked such tickets you can't just hop on any next train to your destination, you may have to hang back and wait for the next Regio train service to depart.
If you board an IC train or ICE train with a ticket that's only valid for a Regio train, you will have to pay a price difference to the conductor when your ticket(s) is inspected on the train; but it's a scenario that's best avoided!

Will I save money if I book German train tickets in advance?

If you're planning to make a long distance journey within Germany by EC trains, IC trains or ICE trains, then you can make big savings if you book online in advance.

Though what soon becomes apparent is the wide choice of departures, routes and prices you will be typically offered, but use the advice below and you should be able to book and save with confidence!

In contrast you can't usually make savings if you want to travel on the Regio trains, because tickets for journeys by these trains aren't* usually discounted
*The Regio trains in Bavaria are an exception, so if you will be taking a Regio train from Munchen/Munich, try to book it in advance online.

The minimum price you will see for a journey by an ICE train is often €17.90, but this can still be cheaper than Regio (RE) trains over shorter distances.
If your journey is around 60 - 90 mins and there is a choice of IC, ICE and RE trains, don't assume that the RE trains will automatically be the cheapest option.

Though if the journey by ICE is under an hour, it's likely that paying last minute at the station for a journey by Regio train will be cheaper, compared to booking the ICE in advance.
Plus you won't be tied to a specific departure if you opt to take the Regio trains.

How far ahead can I book tickets for train journeys within Germany?

Tickets for train journeys within Germany by IC trains or ICE trains or EC trains can now USUALLY be booked 6 months ahead.

Though keep in mind that the booking windows can be shorter when LOOKING up journeys in September - November (not when travelling in Sept - Nov).

How to save money when booking tickets for train journeys within Germany?

The further ahead you book tickets for long distance journeys by EC trains*, IC trains and ICE trains, the more likely it is that you will save money.
That's because limited numbers of discounted tickets are made available online for journeys by IC, IC/EC and ICE trains.

The cheapest advanced tickets for journeys within Germany are named ‘Super Sparpreis’ tickets.
(DB also uses ‘Savings/ Sparangebote’ terminology; it can depend on which language version of the site you are using).

The next most expensive type of tickets are the 'Sparpreis' tickets, they're also discounted, but are less restrictive than the 'Super Sparpreis' tickets, but the key feature of both types of Sparpreis ticket, is that they can only be used to travel by the specific train selected when making a booking.

The extension of the booking window to 6 months ahead, has resulted in the cheapest possible price of 'Super Sparpreis' tickets being only €17.90 for SOME (not all) exceptionally long journeys, such as Koln/Cologne to Berlin or Basel Bad Bf.
However, on the longer routes that do have tickets from €17.90, there MAY not be many of these €17.90 tickets available if you're not booking more than 4 months ahead.

*Those international EC trains can travel for long distances within Germany.

Two Other Tips for Saving Money on German Train Tickets:

1: Choose your departure with care:

DB utilises a system of sliding scale prices for discounted tickets and this is seemingly dependent on how popular a particular train is, or is likely to be.
As a result the very cheapest 'Super Sparpreis' tickets are not seemingly available on all trains.

Therefore the more flexible you can be re: departure and arrival times on your date of travel, the more you can save (generally).
Search through the departures on the day on which you want to travel to find the cheapest fares.

Or you can use DB saver fare finder tool; though if you do so, take care to check that you are comparing like for like journeys.

DB offers every possible combination of trains between two destinations, so pay special attention to the number of changes of train and the journey times.
The cheaper prices may only be available if a change of train is involved, or on a less direct and longer route.

2: Change the default options when looking up a journey:

This advice particularly applies if you will be making a comparatively complicated journey within Germany, with one or more changes of train.

When looking up a journey on the DB website, its search engine automatically assumes that you'll want to make the journey in the fastest possible time AND that you'll want to travel by an ICE train, if they're an option on your route.
However, as explained HERE by Rail Guide Europe; a highly recommended website published by a German train conductor, if you're proactive and change these defaults, you can make substantial savings.

What's good to know when booking discounted 'Super Sparpreis' and 'Sparpreis' tickets?

Super Sparpreis tickets cannot be refunded or exchanged if you subsequently change your travel plans, or miss the train you are booked into in circumstances not attributable to DB; such as a taxi getting stuck in traffic.
They can only be used on the specific departure you selected when booking, with the only exception being when a train delay causes a missed connection.

In contrast if you book a 'Sparpreis' ticket and then then cancel your travel plans before your travel date, you can pay an admin fee to receive a voucher which can be used for future bookings with DB.
However, when no train delays are occurring, Sparpreis tickets cannot be transferred to an alternative departure on, or before, the travel date; meaning that you will still have to re-book another ticket at the last minute, if you miss a train due to circumstances outside the control of DB

Though it can be worth carefully comparing the price of 'Super Sparpreis; and 'Sparpreis' tickets as the price difference can be as little as €5; particularly if you will be heading for a city centre served by local S-Bahn trains, such as Berlin, Frankfurt (Main) or Munchen/Munich.
The 'Sparpreis' tickets include these local journeys by S-Bahn trains.

Is it cheaper to take the direct trains when travelling by train in Germany?

Actually changing trains can be cheaper than taking direct trains, so when looking up a journey, un-ticking the 'prefer fast connections' options can be a money saver.

Some ICE routes have some departure options, in addition to direct trains, which have changes of train factored into the timetables.
The service alternates between direct trains in one hour and indirect journeys with connections in the next hour; a pattern that's repeated throughout the day.
And opting to make an indirect journey can be cheaper than the direct trains.

Routes on which this is an option include:
Hamburg and Hannover ↔ Stuttgart or Basel via Karlsruhe and Freiburg
Koln/Cologne ↔ Ulm and Augsburg
Koln/Cologne ↔ Basel via Karlsruhe and Freiburg

Those journey options with changes of train have theoretically simple connections between trains.
Usually they involve simply crossing a platform from one train to another; and with the second train departing within 10 mins
However, these connections are NOT 100% guaranteed, though SMTJ has experienced connecting services being held back for up to 25mins.

Though if you miss a connecting train, due to the late arrival of a preceding train, any tickets/reservations can be swapped to a subsequent train free of charge at a Reisezentrum travel desk.

The DB ticket booking site also has a neat facility to extend the minimum connecting time between trains, when booking journeys that involve a change of train.
When making connections between IC/ICE trains, extending the connection time/ 'duration of transfer' to a minimum of 30 mins is recommended; particularly if you will be travelling long distance at a weekend.
The step by guide guide to using the DB website, which you'll find below, explains how to do this.

Will I save money if I choose an IC train and not an ICE train?

This varies according to the route you will be taking.
Occasionally the IC trains and ICE train take different routes between cities, with the ICEs taking the high speed lines while the IC trains still follow the conventional older routes; and when the ICs trains are notably slower, they're nearly always cheaper, particularly if you won't be booking months in advance.

The option to choose slower, but generally cheaper, IC trains is available when travelling between these cities (and more):
Dusseldorf and Koln ↔ Frankfurt (Main) or Stuttgart
Frankfurt (Main) ↔ Hannover and Hamburg
Berlin ↔ Hannover

However, IC trains and ICE trains also share certain routes, but on these routes such as Berlin ↔ Hamburg and Munchen ↔ Stuttgart, the IC trains departing at popular times can be more expensive than less popular ICE trains, so you won’t always save by taking IC trains.

What are Bahn Cards?

When booking tickets online with DB you will usually be given an option to purchase Bahn Cards.
If you have a Bahn Card you can make big savings on future bookings with DB; and you don't have to be German to purchase and use them.

Our advice used to be that Bahn Cards would only be worth considering if you would be booking multiple separate journeys, or making a repeat visit to Germany within a year.
However, it's now worth paying special attention to the deals that you will be offered when looking up a journey on the DB website; in particular, when booking a long distance journey look out for the 'savings on this trip'.
Then compare the suggested saving, with the cost of purchasing the Bahn Card, which will give access to the discount.

What do I need to know about reservations on German trains?

Reservations are now automatically included when booking first class (class 1.) tickets on EC, IC trains and ICE trains on DB (the German national rail operator's ticket booking website).
However, reservations are NOT automatically included when booking 2nd class tickets on EC, IC or ICE trains.

You will be given the option to add a reservation when booking 2nd class tickets online and the charge for doing so is €4 per seat; if you don't reserve, seats are not guaranteed.
There is more info on how to book reservations on the step-by-step to using the DB website, which you will find below.

If your journey involves more than one EC, IC or ICE train, you will only have to pay one reservation fee, as it will cover all the trains you will be taking.

It is also possible to book reservations at a later date separately from the ticket booking, both online or by using DB branded ticket machines at stations.
Although if you do book your reservations later and your journey involves more than one train, you will then have to pay for separate reservations per train.

Booking the 'zones' on ICE trains:

A less obvious aspect of travelling by ICE trains, is that there are two types of seating zones/areas in both 1st and 2nd class; 'Standard/Phone' and 'Quiet'.

Travellers are not supposed to use their phones in 'Quiet' coaches/zones, the conductor or your fellow passengers will ask you not to do so.
While if you know that it's likely that you will be making multiple calls during your journey, DB is suggesting that you make reservations in the 'Standard/Phone' coaches/zones.

If you have no preference re: the amount of noise your fellow passengers are likely to generate, when using their phones, you can select 'any' when booking a seat reservation, or a 1st class ticket.
So a benefit of making a reservation is the option to choose between these zones.
If you haven't reserved you'll be less likely to be aware of these 'zones' when boarding a train and looking for seats, you may unwittingly find a seat available in a 'phone'' or 'quiet' coach, when that wouldn't have been your preference.

Other positives of booking a reservation:

In addition to ensuring that you can remain in one seat for your entire journey (and selecting a zone on ICE trains), there are two less obvious benefits of making a reservation on IC and ICE trains, whether you will be travelling 1st or 2nd class.

(1) You can select seat location options, which in addition to window or aisle seats, can include compartment seats and seats at tables.

(2) You can usually choose specific seats on a seating plan - and if you will be travelling on an ICE 1 or ICE 4 train, you will also be able to ensure your seat is facing forwards.

Though if you have opted to face forwards be aware that ICE trains reverse direction when calling at the hbf stations in Frankfurt (Main), Leipzig and Stuttgart; and that also applies to most trains which call at Koln Hbf.

What are the terms for child tickets?

Children aged under 15 can travel with a parent OR grandparent free of charge.

How will I receive tickets booked on DB:

If you opt to book a digital ticket you will be sent an email confirmation.

You can then either;

  • Open the email on your phone and then save the ticket to your phone as a PDF. You can then show your phone to the conductor on the train, what they will need to see is the square barcode.
  • Print the ticket and take it with you.
  • Download the DB Navigator app; once you register, your bookings will be contained within the app.

OR pay the fee to have tickets posted to you.

National booking agents:

Booking tickets online for international journeys:

DB recently made major changes to how it sells tickets for end-to-end train international train journeys from and to Germany.
The good news is that the number of countries to which tickets can be booked to and from has been extended; it now sells tickets for journeys* between Germany and
Austria, Belgium Croatia, Czechia/Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and The Netherlands.
*Not every route can be booked online, but most can be; find out more more about this on the step-by-step guide above.

Even better news is that DB now sells end-to-end tickets for many journeys from and to these countries, which involve a change of train outside of Germany.
This has hugely increased the number of journeys which can be booked on the comparatively easy to use DB website.

Though not so good is that DB no longer sells rail tickets for journeys between Germany and The UK (not connected to The UK no longer being a member of the E.U.).

What to look out for when booking:

How DB sells international tickets, in terms of the booking path you will follow on the website, is now dependent on one of three factors;

  • whether you will be taking a direct train,
  • if the journey involves a change of train at a German station,
  • if the journey involves a change of train and/or at a station outside of Germany.

When looking up a journey you will see red buttons to take you on to the next stage of the booking process; the text on these red buttons will EITHER state 'To offer selection' OR 'Determine Price'.

When the button states 'To offer selection' the end-to-end prices of the journey, will be shown, irrespective of how many connections are required to complete the trip.
Also when you see 'To offer selection, the booking path is the same as what's followed, when booking tickets for journeys wholly within Germany.

You will see 'To offer selection' if the journey involves travelling by these direct trains:

You will USUALLY* also see 'To offer selection' buttons for these types of international journey:

  • those which involve making connections into other trains within Germany - and then a direct train from Germany;
  • those which involve making changes of train in Germany and/OR MULTIPLE changes of train in the countries in which you will be completing your journeys; IF these countries are Austria, Belgium*, Denmark, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and The Netherlands (*If the journey doesn't involve taking a Thalys train service between Germany and Belgium);
  • those which involve making changes of train in Germany and/OR no more than 1 x change of train in the countries in which you will be completing your journey - IF these countries are Czechia/Czech Republic, Hungary and Sweden.

*The exceptions primarily involve journeys on which a train/route in the other country is provided by a different company to the main national rail operator; though that doesn't apply to journeys within Switzerland.

In contrast, you will USUALLY see a 'Determine Price' button if the journey involves:

  • a direct journey by Thalys trains;
  • taking an ICE to Bruxelles and then travelling on to France by TGV trains;
  • both changing trains in Germany and changing trains in France, Hungary or Italy;
  • journeys which involve multiple changes of train in Hungary and Sweden;
  • journeys with a change of train in The Czech Republic, when on route to another country,
  • travelling on a Nightjet train (most overnight trains from and to Germany are Nightjets).
  • journeys which involve taking an international overnight train from Germany and then making onward connections in the other country.

If you see 'Determine Price' then you may or may not be able to book the ticket online with DB; though if DB IS selling the journey, you will follow a different 'international journey' booking path.
Using the 'Determine price' booking path is described on the step-by-step guide to using the DB website shown above.

If DB won't enable you to book the journey online, it will offer you the opportunity to make a telephone booking.
Examples of these journeys which seemingly CAN'T be booked online with DB, when you see the 'Determine price' include:

  • those that involve taking a Thalys train from Germany and then connecting into another train,
  • journeys from Germany to Austria or Hungary, which involve changing trains in Czechia/The Czech Republic,
  • journeys which involve changing trains in Poland,
  • onward connections from an international overnight train.

Will I save by booking international journeys in advance?

The short answer to this is yes; IF you will be booking a long distance journey by daytime express train, or an overnight train; AND book in advance before the limited numbers of the cheaper tickets are sold out.

The discounted tickets for international journeys are now called 'Super Saver Fare Europe', cheapest of all when available - and 'Saver Fare Europe', the German name for these tickets is 'Super Sparpreis Europa' and 'Sparpreis Europa'.
When looking up an international journey on DB, if you see a 'To offer selection' button, then DB will offer these Saver Fare/Sparpreis types of ticket for the end-to-end journey.

The plus of booking these tickets is that you nearly always won't have to be concerned about making all of the connections; if a train delay causes you to miss a connection, your ticket will almost certainly be valid on subsequent trains.

If instead you see a 'Determine price' button then having clicked on it, if you are ultimately offered the opportunity to book a ticket online, you will then usually be offered a range of prices.
But carefully check the terms and conditions associated with these prices, the cheapest prices will combine discounted tickets for the train from journey AND the most heavily discounted tickets on the onward train(s).

Though what won't be initially obvious, is that later in the booking process, you will ALSO be able to select different types of ticket per train; when different types of ticket are available.
Although even when you're taken down the 'Determine price' booking path, you shouldn't have to pay extra charges if you subsequently miss any specific train you are booked on to in the event of a train delay.

What do I need to know about reservations on international day trains from Germany?

If your journey to/from Germany involves travelling on a train service with mandatory reservations, the seat reservation will be included with your booking on DB, regardless of whether you book 1st OR 2nd class tickets.

This also applies if your international journey involves connecting in another country, into a train service with mandatory reservations; such as a TGV service in France or a Frecce train in Italy.
In other words whenever a seat reservation is required, it will be included in your booking, you won't have to proactively add it.

On the other train services to/from Germany on which seat reservations are available, but optional; if you book a 2nd class ticket(s), you will have to pay a €4 reservation fee per person in order to have assigned, guaranteed seats.

The train services to/from Germany, on which the reservations are an optional extra for 2nd class ticket purchases, include:

  • the ICE trains between Germany and Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and The Netherlands,
  • the Railjets between Germany and both Austria and Hungary,
  • the EC/IC train services between Germany and Czechia, Hungary, Switzerland and for most of the year, Denmark.

However, if you book a 1st class ticket(s) on DB, for a train service with 'optional' reservations, you will have guaranteed seats assigned as a complimentary benefit.

So if you want to travel 1st class, it can be worth booking tickets for such journeys on DB (or Omio and Trainline), particularly when travelling to Germany; if you book 1st class on the alternative websites in the countries you are travelling from or to, it's unlikely that you will receive a complimentary reservation.

What do I need to know about reservations on the overnight trains?

The reservations differ on the overnight sleeper trains (when ICE and IC trains are used for overnight journeys, the reservations policy is the same as for the daytime services).

If you book an overnight journey by a sleeper train, a EuroNight or a Nightjet service, DB will initially assign you a seat; because reservations are compulsory on such services.
The first price you will see will be the price of travelling in a seat, the overnight trains convey seats as well as couchettes and sleeping cabins - but if you click the red 'Continue' button, you will be able to select reserved berths in couchettes and beds in sleeping cabins.

Though it's no longer possible to book reservations on the overnight trains separate to the the ticket booking process, meaning that rail pass users can no longer book overnight train reservations on the DB website

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Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.


This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.