This 'buying tickets' guide will point out the less obvious aspects of booking tickets on DB, the German national rail operator's website on a PC.
Though DB has recently made changes to how it sells some tickets and as a result it is no longer possible for rail pass users to book couchette and sleeper cabin reservations online with DB.
If you only want to book reservations (because you have an InterRail or Eurail Pass), or if you will be booking an international journey by day OR night trains - use the content menu to shortcut to the relevant info.
9 European language options are available; all of the images are taken from the English language version) and on DB the place and station names are translated.
You can usually choose to select specific stations, such as 'Frankfurt (Main) Hbf) etc - particularly useful if the start or end point of your complete journey is close to a specific station.
Frankfurt (Main) Hbf is the only station in Frankfurt (Main) city centre that ICE trains call at.
Note that the options will appear to select from when typing 'F'.
Although choosing cities can be the better option if you're heading to/from city centres, and will be using public transport to complete/begin your journey.
Do this and the search results will capture a wider selection of journeys.
However, we have deliberately chosen COLOGNE in the example shown below...
... because it is a city with two different stations, with some ICE services departing from one (Köln Hbf) and some departing from the other ( Köln Messe-Deutz)
Berlin, Cologne/Köln, Hamburg and München/Munich are cities that have more than one station served by express trains (EC, IC and ICE).
If you will be travelling to/from these cities, don't assume that the main station/hauptbahnhof, will be the optimum station for your journey.
Use Google Maps to look up the specific start/end points of your journey - it may be closer to, or have easier connections to, one of the other stations in those cities.
Before clicking on the red 'Search' button, there are two other key criteria worth giving your attention to on the DB home page
The five particularly useful functions of this page, which we have drawn your attention to are:
1. Add stopover:
If you will be booking the more expensive Flexi or Flexi Plus tickets you can add a stopover station to the journey and this where you can add this.
2. Show fastest Connections:
If you leave this pre-ticked, the usual default is that the journey search results will ONLY list journey options which involve travelling by express ICE or IC trains for all or virtually* all of the journey.
But, if you un-tick it, there's a possibility that you will ALSO see slower journey options, which involve spending the majority of a journey on Regio trains; these journey options also tend to involve having to make more connections.
However, those slower journeys will usually be cheaper, so if travelling at the cheapest possible price is your main criteria, do be proactive and un-tick it.
*= On certain routes, the fastest option can be a combination of taking an ICE train for most of the trip + taking a Regio or S-Bahn train, to complete an end-to-end journey.
3. Duration of Transfer:
Keep this in mind if your journey involves a change of train within Germany; particularly if you are connecting into an infrequent service, such as an overnight train or an international train.
Express trains in Germany aren't exceptionally punctual, but the DB booking service understandably assumes they will be on time.
If you don't alter the 'Duration of Transfer', the journey options you'll see will include direct trains with 0 chgs, if they're an option, PLUS all the end-to-end journeys on which the connecting time between trains is more than 3 - 10 mins.
Meaning that that on some, or most, of the journey options which you'll be shown, you'll have less than 15 mins to make the connection between trains.
Connections of 10- 15 mins between ICE trains are a common feature of the German national rail timetable, which is often arranged so that in alternate hours there are direct trains, followed by hours in which the fastest journeys involve a relatively quick connection.
If you book an end-to-end journey on DB, which involves making a connection between trains at a German station, then if a delay to a train causes you to miss the second train you are booked on to, you won't have to purchase another ticket.
But if you have a train specific ticket, you will need to get it re-issued free or charge, which will probably involve going to a Reisezentrum travel desk.
However, if enhancing the possibility of having a stress-free journey is more important to you than reaching your destination in the fastest possible time, increase this 'Duration Of Transfer'.
Doing so will enable you to identify and target journey options, which will allow you more time in which to change trains.
Though be aware that in those instances, in which the usual timetable has a connection of 10-15 mins between ICE trains, if you increase the Duration of Transfer to 'a minimum of 30 mins', most of the journey options you will then see, will be an hour slower.
4. Carriage of bicycles:
If you will be travelling with a non-folding bike tick this box and the journey search results should then only feature journey options, which include trains that you can board with a non-folding bicycle.
Though note that only folding bicycles can be taken on most ICE trains except the new ICE 4 trains as the ICE 4 trains are equipped with bike racks.
5. Show our best prices:
If you select this you will be able to see the range of prices that will be available on your chosen travel date; though you can also access this facility from within the search results.
There are six less obvious features of the journey search results which are worth giving your attention to:
1. On this example search result shown above, because Cologne/Köln, a city name, has been selected as the 'from' destination; note the two different stations where each journey commences; (1) Koln Messe/Duetz and (2) Koln Hbf .
2. Also note that
3. As will be seen below, some useful info can be gleaned by making the effort to click on these 'more details' links.
4. If you click this green euro symbol you can see the cheapest prices which will be available during different periods of the day; this is also a short-cut to seeing all of the journey options and their respective prices, on your chosen travel date.
5. You can see which type of train is being used for each specific departure.
6. Look out for these exclamation marks, they indicate something out of the ordinary will be occurring to this departure, included altered departure time, routes or calling points.
On occasion the info will be informing you that the journey you are looking up won't be available by this specific departure, but the DB website will still allow a ticket to be booked regardless.
Looking over the more details
The three things that have been highlighted are:
1. DB has make a key change to its website design, this is where you click in order to select a type of ticket; it's not solely relevant here, but the image above was becoming a tad crowded with the additional notes and symbols.
2. Among the additional useful items of info are the gleis (platform/track) numbers that the train should be leaving from.
3. DB has now added the ability to also extend the transfer time between trains at this stage of the booking process; so if you think the time isn't long enough, you can adjust it and gain access to alternative departures.
Targeting Direct Trains:
Note that DB does NOT have a 'direct trains only' facility, so journeys with changes of train are often included in the journey results, even if you leave 'prefer fast connections' ticked
But on some routes with comparatively few direct trains, the direct trains may not be visible on the initial results you will see.
So if you can't see them, you may have to seek them out, by using those 'earlier' and 'later' buttons.
Using the 'best prices' tool is a good option if the price of the journey is more important to you than specific arrival or departure times.
DB will divide the day into five periods of time with the cheapest shown for departing in each of them, you can then click on the respective prices shown on the top bar for instant access to the departures on which the cheapest prices are available.
When you click on a red 'To Offer Selection' button of your chosen journey/departure you will be taken to this page, in which all of the types of ticket available for that journey are offered
The core T&Cs and the price of each type ticket are listed, this example is for 2nd class tickets because that was what was selected on the home page back at Stage One.
To switch to the 1st class tickets at this stage, you can tick the box under the 1st class header below the options.
DB sells a range of BahnCards, which entitles the holder of the card to a range of discounts.
The opportunity to purchase these Bahn Cards is built into the ticket booking purchase path, hence we've drawn your attention to it above, but the default option is that you won't want to add a card to your booking.
Though, if you will be making several journeys within Germany over an extended period of time (meaning that using rail passes won't be an option) the balance tips in favour of purchasing a BahnCard; as the up-front cost of the card, will be offset against your future discounts. Note how this page below also spells out the amount you would save on this journey, if you did have one of these cards.
In this example if you were to purchase a 3 month card, the ticket price would drop to only €7.90.
As can be seen you don't have to register with DB when booking tickets.
If you will be making a one-off trip to or within Germany, then it can be sensible to conclude that the benefit of speeding up future bookings, by registering as a new customer, is superfluous.
However, a less obvious benefit of registering is that if you do so, you will be sent text messages re: the status of your journey.
If you receive a text message in your hotel room alerting you to the fact that your train is now departing 30 mins late, you'll know that you'll have more time to get to the station etc.
If you opt to book a digital ticket, which as can be seen on the screen above, is the default, you will be sent an email confirmation.
You can then either;
Receiving a code and entering into a ticket machine to collect your ticket, is not an option when booking online with DB, you have to choose one of the delivery options.
OR you can select the 'Order and receive' button instead; and opt to pay the associated costs of having the tickets posted to you.
Reservations are available on DB when taking EC, EC/IC, IC or ICE train services within Germany and to/from Germany; though the process differs depending on whether you will be travelling 1st or 2nd class, or want to make optional reservations when using Eurail and InterRail passes.
Adding the optional reservation when booking 2nd class tickets
On the lower half of the delivery option page is where you can also add a seat(s) reservation when booking 2nd class tickets
What's been highlighted with the yellow circle on the above images, is that you need to be proactive and tick this box to add the reservation.
Circled in green is the €4 cost adding a seat reservation in 2nd class on ICE, EC and IC trains.
Having ticked the box you can then choose specific options, which may have been your preference regardless of whether you want to book a seat(s), including whether you want to travel in a compartment or in a 'Quiet Zone'.
If you'll be booking a combination of adult+child tickets, the family compartments become an option to choose from; if they're still available.
Note that the price above the Proceed button will have increased, because it now includes the costs of the reservation.
Making the reservation when booking 1st class tickets
On the lower half of the delivery option page is where you can select your seating preferences when booking 1st class tickets
The process is subtly different to that when booking 2nd class tickets because seat reservations are automatically included when booking 1st class with DB.
What has been highlighted above is
Booking reservations separate to the ticket booking
If you have previously booked a 2nd class ticket and now want to reserve, or will be travelling with a 1st or 2nd class rail pass and want to make an optional reservation, you can short-cut to the booking reservation screens.
On the DB home page/screen, enter the info into the journey search box, as though you were buying a ticket, but instead of clicking 'Search', instead click on 'Seat only (no ticket).
Note that 2nd class is the default, if you have a 1st class rail pass so want to book a reservation in 1st class, you can click also the 1st class button.
On the journey search results you can simply click on the red reservation buttons as the next stage of the purchase path; there is no difference in the fees between the types of trains for travel within Germany, so reservations on the ICE trains cost the same as the IC trains.
Having clicked on the red button, you will be at the same type of seating selection pages that those booking tickets will be taken to; though if you have a 1st class InterRail pass, the price you will see is €5.30.
Accessing and using the seating plans
Having made your selection of seating area preferences, a quirk of booking with DB is that if you see a row of three green boxes (marked with the 1), you will then be able to see the opportunity to select a specific seat (marked with the 2).
If one of your preferences isn't available, you'll see a red circle, so you'll have to go back to the previous screen and de-select it, or choose something else, though you can ensure that you'll be able to access the seating plan if you just leave all the options pre-selected as 'any' on that previous page.
Having clicked on 'select a seat', you will then see a seating plan, though what you will see will vary according to the type of train that will be used for your journey and whether you have opted to travel 1st or 2nd class.
We have turned this into something of a rainbow, but what have highlighted is many of the common features you will see on all of the seating plans
the yellow circle = the default seat which DB has chosen for you, but you can change this by clicking another seat number
the green circle = the seats which are light grey are unavailable
the purple circles - you might conclude that you don't want to sit in this coach, so you can see which seats are available in other coaches by clicking on these arrows
the blue circles = these are tables, so if you want to sit at a table, target the seats on either side
Also circled in red is that this particular coach has also has seating compartments, the black lines indicate walls and door openings
If an ICE 1 or ICE 4 train is being used for the journey you have chosen, you will also likely see a direction of travel arrow.
What direction a seat is facing is shown by the darker grey border lines on either side of the seat numbers, if they're to the left of the number, the seat is facing forwards.
DB has made some changes as to how it sells international train tickets online.
Though what hasn't changed is how to commence a search for the journey you wish to take - using steps 1 to 4 that we've showcased above.
What's new is that on the search results page (step 5), the step at which you select the specific departure that you wish to travel by, you will now see a 'To offer selection' button OR a 'Determine Price' button.
If you see a 'To offer selection' button, then booking the journey will be no different* to booking a ticket for a journey within Germany; so you can follow the same steps as in Step 5 above.
*though booking periods can be shorter than 6 months ahead.
If you see a 'Determine Price' button and click on it, you will now be taken down a different booking path and because of these differences, it is taking these steps that we have set out below
Before clicking on a 'Determine price' button to select the specific departure you wish to travel by, it's a good idea to click the 'Show details' buttons that we have circled in red.
If the journey involves a change of train*, this is a key opportunity to check the arrival and departure times of each train on each particular journey option, so you can see how long you'll have to make connections between the trains.
*You will also be directed down this booking path if you want make a direct journey by Thalys train from or to Germany.
Once you click 'Determine price', DB will package together each individual end-to-end journey option.
It automatically chooses the optimum trains you will need to take - and you can't then choose different trains in order to complete the journey.
But what you can do is control which departures and connections that DB will offer, when you click on 'Determine price'.
Our preference when making an international journey with changes of train, is to allow a minimum of 30 mins to make connections - and up to two hours when connecting into an infrequent service, when that's the only option for reaching our final destination.
Hence our advice is to use those further options, mentioned above, on DB to set a minimum time between trains that you'll be comfortable with, using the 'Duration of transfer' tool.
We recommend opting to minimise the pressure of making the connections, rather than minimising the total end-to-end journey time.
DB won't warn you that making the connections on each journey option isn't guaranteed.
When the connection is outside Germany, the train the train you are connecting into definitely won't wait IF the train you are travelling by is delayed.
The two key things to note on this screen are;
(1) circled in green - before you click on 'Determine Price' you will need to enter the date of births of all travellers who will be included in a booking.
(2) circled in yellow - you DON'T need to have a discount card in order to make a booking, so if you don't have a Bahn Card etc, you can ignore this.
When you click on 'Determine price' you will either be taken to the next stage of the booking process OR see some red text which will inform you that DB isn't selling the journey you have selected online - instead the text you'll then see will include the telephone number on which you can make a booking.
Having looked up dozens of journeys, it's seemingly not possible to make an online booking for:
The key things to note at this stage of the booking is that you will usually be given the opportunity to select from different types of ticket, but you will need to proactively seek out the key T&Cs and using each type of ticket by clicking the 'i' button; circled in yellow.
Do so and you will see either this screen; or a similar screen.
Though that the T&Cs around exchanges are referring to decisions taken prior to the travel date of claiming refunds or exchanging tickets to alternative departures; what they aren't referring to is exchanges during the journey which may be required in the event of missed connections.
It's almost certainly the case that you will be able to do that, even if you book the type of ticket, which 'can't be exchanged'; as far as SMTJ is aware, DB doesn't sell journeys which require tickets to be re-booked in the event of cancellations or delays
Circled in green is the opportunity to check out more info around the types of tickets specifically available on each train; click on them to discover additional info such as...
...the info on the seat reservations.
What SMTJ has highlighted with the blue circle two images above, is that in this instance DB has not automatically pre-selected the cheapest option for the Italian train, it has made an assumption that only paying an additional €4 for travel in premium class is the best value for money on this journey; and to be fair it is a good price!
You will then be taken to a ticket confirmation screen, and at this stage it's a good idea to pay particular attention to the seat reservation info.
It will vary by each journey, but some of the more common features have been highlighted.
DB has also made significant changes to the booking path for the overnight trains.
When looking up an overnight train journey to or from Germany, you will see a 'Determine price' button; and so will take the same initial two steps as when booking a daytime journey on the 'Determine price' booking path.
Meaning that at stage two, you will have to add the date(s) of birth of all travellers in your party.
When you click 'Determine price' on that Date of Birth screen, you will see a screen which will look like that below.
DB has recently simplified this process, as will be seen the option to travel in a seat will be pre-selected as a default, but the other available accommodation options which are available and their total ticket costs; are also shown.
Though the use of the word 'berth' indicates that this option is for a couchette, but the use of 'bed' indicates a sleeping cabin.
Though worth paying attention to are:
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
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