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TRAIN TRAVEL

5 tips for stress-free train travel in Germany over Christmas

Despite laying on more trains, Germany’s national rail operator Deutsche Bahn is still expecting delays and full carriages over the holiday season. Here's what's going on and how you can save money and stress on your travels.

A passenger in a Santa costume walks to his train at Frankfurt Central Station during the peak travel season before Christmas in 2021.
A passenger in a Santa costume walks to his train at Frankfurt Central Station during the peak travel season before Christmas in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

What will the train travel situation look like over Christmas?

In mid-December, Deutsche Bahn’s new timetable will start, meaning an additional 40,000 seats will be available over Christmas. About 800 new employees will also join the service team by December 24th.

Deutsche Bahn’s board member for long-distance transport told Bild am Sonntag that these measures mean that Deutsche Bahn “is well prepared for Christmas”.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany’s long-distance train services will change from December

Karl-Peter Naumann, Chairman of the passenger association Pro Bahn is also advising travellers to take the train instead of the car over the holidays: “It’s probably even more crowded on the roads,” he said.

However, December is always a very busy time on the trains and both Deutsche Bahn and Pro Bahn advise travellers to be prepared for delays and busy trains. Here are five useful tips for travellers to keep in mind.

1. Book in advance

Train travel over the holidays is popular, which means tickets sell out fast or get expensive very quickly.

Ticket prices are also about to increase, as the so-called flex fares will rise by an average of almost seven percent from December 11th.

A man enters a train carriage in Lübeck. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

However, the saver and super-saver prices will remain unchanged, so if you book early enough you might even snap up a ticket on a long route for €17.90.

2. Book a seat

If you don’t want to stand for three hours or be asked to move halfway through your journey by another passenger telling you “that’s my seat” – book your seat in advance.

On most Deutsche Bahn trains, the ticket itself doesn’t include a seat and you need to add this as an extra. Prices for seats start at €4.50 and you can usually choose which type of carriage you want to sit in and whether you have a window, aisle or table seat.

Families with young children can also book a “Familienbereich” for €9, which is a closed-off section which includes enough space for a pram, and built-in toys.

3. Avoid travel at the busiest times

If you want to book a ticket from Berlin to Cologne on the Friday afternoon before Christmas Eve you will have to fork out at least €100, even at the super saver price. Such popular times are expensive and have already been booked way in advance – so it’s worth considering travelling at a less popular time.

On the display in the DB Navigator app, a travel plan indicates the possibly high capacity for the connection between Berlin-Gesundbrunnen and Stralsund. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Georg Hilgemann

If you can, try to avoid the Friday and Saturday before the holidays and take a day’s holiday earlier, when tickets are cheaper and the trains aren’t so full.

It’s also worth considering travelling during off-peak hours. “You can also leave at five in the morning and continue sleeping on the train,” says Karl-Peter Naumann from Pro Bahn.

4. Plan for delays

Plan for longer connecting times or book direct connections if possible, as every change of train involves a risk.

READ ALSO: Rail travel chaos looms in Germany’s most populous state

When booking your train online, you can see how many connections are included in the trip and also how long you will have to change trains. If the change time is less than ten minutes, it may be worth booking an earlier connecting train, as delays could lead to you missing the next train.

5. Stay informed

Just because you now have a seat and are on the booked train doesn’t mean there can’t be any more surprises. Stay up to date, by activating “Trip notifications” in the DB Navigator app and check the local transport authority’s website the day before you travel. 

READ ALSO: ‘Deutschlandticket’: What you need to know about Germany’s new €49 travel ticket 

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TRAIN TRAVEL

What are my rights if a train is delayed or cancelled in Germany?

Experiencing delays and disruptions on the German rail network isn't uncommon, but not everyone is clued up on their passenger rights. We look at when you can claim compensation - and how much you could be entitled to.

What are my rights if a train is delayed or cancelled in Germany?

According to the latest Deutsche Bahn statistics, one in four long-distance trains arrived at their destination late last year. While passengers on regional transport fared slightly better, more than one in twenty trains on the regional network also experienced delays.

While minor travel delays are a fact of life, more severe disruptions can ruin day trips, weekends away and visits to see family and friends. And when major incidents like national strikes and rail accidents occur, travel can become near impossible.

So, what do you do when you’re faced with a “Zug verspätet” (train delayed) sign – or, even worse, the dreaded “Zug fällt aus” (train cancelled) notification?

In most cases, you have a number of options. Here’s a rundown of the most important passenger rights you should know about and some tips for claiming compensation. 

What rights do I have if my train is delayed?

If you arrive at your destination more than an hour late, you should be entitled to compensation.

Delays of 60 minutes or more will get you a 25 percent refund on a single journey, while delays of 120 minutes or more will get you 50 percent of your money back. The price of a single ticket is calculated as half of your return ticket price. 

So if, for example, you’ve booked a return ticket for €80, you’ll get €10 compensation if the train’s delayed by at least 60 minutes on one of the journeys.

For season-ticket holders, like those with a weekly or monthly ticket or a Bahncard 100, Deutsche Bahn offers a lump sum per delay:

  • In regional and local transport: €1.50 (2nd class), €2.25 (1st class)
  • In long-distance transport: €5 (2nd class), €7.50 (1st class)
  • BahnCard 100: €10 (2nd class), €15 (1st class)

However, it’s important to note that DB doesn’t pay out claims of less than €4, so people with a local or regional season ticket will have to make several claims at once. 

Refunds are also capped at 25 percent of the price of your season ticket or pass, so if you experience numerous delays, you may not get a refund for all of them. 

READ ALSO: ‘Deutschlandticket’: What you need to know about Germany’s new €49 travel ticket

Can I choose to take an alternative route?

If you train is delayed by more than 20 minutes, you’re well within your rights to seek out an alternative route to your destination or travel at a later time in the day. 

However, if you take a more expensive long-distance train, such as the ICE instead of the RE regional train, to complete your journey, you’ll need to first buy the more expensive ticket or pay a surcharge and then claim the costs back later. Note that this doesn’t apply to heavily discounted tickets, such as ‘Länder’ or ‘Schönes Wochenende’ tickets.

In some cases – like rail strikes – Deutsche Bahn will recommend travelling at a later date. This usually gives you the option to delay your journey by a week or so and travel on any train that doesn’t require a reservation until a certain date. This is usually only done in exceptional situations though, so it’s best to check with Deutsche Bahn before deciding to push your journey back. 

What happens if I decide not to travel?

In certain circumstances, you’ll be able to get a full refund for your journey if you choose not to travel.

If there’s more than a 60-minute delay on your route or your train is cancelled, you can abandon your journey and get your entire ticket price refunded. If you’re halfway through your journey and decide not to continue with it, simply return to the station you started at for a full refund. 

If you decide to only travel part of the way to your destination, you can get a refund for the stretch of the route you didn’t take. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to find cheap train tickets in Germany

Are there different rules for international train journeys?

Generally, no, but it all depends on how you booked the tickets – and who from. On its website, Deutsche Bahn says that any tickets issued by them – including for international destinations – are eligible for compensation. 

In most cases, the same rules apply to international travel as they do to domestic travel. That means delays of 60 minutes or more entitle you to a 25 percent refund, while delays of 120 minutes or more entitle you to a 50 percent discount. 

Hamburg Central Station

Intercity trains wait on the platform at Hamburg Central Station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bodo Marks

Once again, if one part of a return journey is affected, you’ll receive 25 or 50 percent of half of the ticket price, which works out at 12.5 or 25 percent respectively. 

The rules are slightly different for people using a rail pass. Passengers travelling with a German Rail Pass are entitled to €5 (2nd class) or €7.50 (1st class) per delay, providing they’ve experienced at least three delays of 60 minutes or more since purchasing the pass.

Passengers travelling with an Interrail Germany Pass are entitled to €10 per delay, provided they’ve experienced at least two delays of 60 minutes or more while using the ticket. 

If you didn’t buy your ticket through Deutsche Bahn, you’ll need to contact your ticket vendor for compensation instead. 

READ ALSO: The best websites for cross-Europe train travel

Will Deutsche Bahn pay for taxis and overnight accommodation? 

There are two situations where Deutsche Bahn has to provide an alternative form of transport: if the scheduled arrival time is between midnight and 5 am and the expected delay at the destination station is at least 60 minutes, or if the last scheduled connection of the day is cancelled and it’s no longer possible to reach the destination station by midnight without taking a bus or taxi.

If the firm doesn’t do this — if it’s the middle of the night, for example — you can get a taxi yourself and then get the railway to reimburse the costs, up to a maximum of €80.

If a train is cancelled or delays mean it’s no longer possible or reasonable to continue the journey that day, the railway has to provide customers with overnight accommodation or reimburse “reasonable accommodation costs” later.

If offered, passengers have to use the accommodation offered by the DB before looking for a hotel themselves, though.

Region al train in Magdeburg

A regional train pulls in to Magdeburg station at night. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Peter Gercke

What’s the best way to claim compensation?

Since June 2021, customers who experience delays have been able to submit their claim via the DB Navigator app in a few clicks.

Alternatively, you can submit an online claims form. Full instructions on how to do this can be found on the Deutsche Bahn website here

READ ALSO: Delayed train? Germany’s Deutsche Bahn to give online refunds for first time

How is compensation paid out? 

You can choose whether you’d like a voucher or the money back.  

What type of rail transport do these rules apply to? 

You can claim refunds or compensation for delayed or cancelled journeys on any Deutsche Bahn passenger services, including long-distance trains, regional trains and local S-Bahn trains.

Germany’s passenger rights regulations also apply to other service providers such as FlixTrain, who provide a full rundown of their policies here

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