Billigflieger.de, checkmybus.de, Itur.de – in Germany there are countless sites for booking cheap journeys or for hiring bikes or even planes. But it can be confusing. We have a few tips for travelers.
Last year, more people than ever were out and about in Germany by bus, train or plane. Some 11 billion people traveled by bus and train. About 194 million passengers were counted at Germany's airports.
Germany is mobile - the travel opportunities are vast. There are countless booking and information portals. This sometimes makes it hard to find your way around. Especially if you're visiting Germany for the first time. Here's a guide.
If you type "Book a flight" into Google, the search engine will provide over 40 million results. Luckily, you don't have to look through all these sites before booking a flight. There are three German-language websites to compare them all for you: fluege.de, billigfluege.de, billigflieger.de
You can use the comparisons to choose the cheapest flight. Before booking though you should go to the airline's own website and see if the ticket is cheaper there - that way you can avoid having to pay the portal's service fees.
The start-up Wingly has just launched in Germany after being active in France. It's a flight-sharing platform in French, German and English. Private pilots post the routes they will be flying and potential passengers can book one-way flights or round trips. A booking is binding.
You can buy train tickets at DB travel centers at train stations or via Deutsche Bahn's website (German, English). Thanks to the company's app, it's also possible to buy paperless tickets. If you book in advance, you can get good discounts, but then you cannot take another train at the last minute. DB also issues discount cards. The Bahncard 25 gives a 25 percent discount and if you book in advance you might get even more discount.
The Bahncard 50 gives a 50 percent discount. But beware: There's no discount on special offer tickets. With the Bahncard 25, it makes sense to do some forward planning. If you don't have a discount card and didn't have time to book in advance, then you should take a look at Itur.de (several languages) to see if there are any cheap offers. If you're just passing through Germany, it doesn't make much sense to have discount card because they are issued for an entire year. But having said that sometimes the Bahncard 25 can be worth it for one trip.
It's becoming increasingly popular to travel by coach in Germany and this mode of transport has become a serious competitor for rail travel. Coach tickets are very reasonable. MeinFernbus Flixbus currently has 71 percent of the market, followed by Postbus (10 percent), BerlinLinienBus (8 percent) and DeinBus.de (3 percent). Your best bet here is to book via portals that compare prices such as busliniensuche.de or checkmybus.de. Both are multilingual and will direct you to the company websites where you can buy a ticket online.
You don't necessarily have to book in advance to get cheap tickets but it does make sense to do this if you're traveling on a public holiday or around Christmas. It can be expensive otherwise.
Car hire and car sharing
Sixt, Avis, Hertz and Europcar are well-known car rental firms in Germany. You can check out the German-language sites billiger-mietwagen.de or check24.de to compare prices.
If you're in a big city, like Berlin, Hamburg or Munich, you can also try out car sharing; Car2go or DriveNow for instance. There are already over a million users of car sharing in Germany and the number is rising. These cars are more appropriate for short trips in the city because you pay by the minute. For longer journeys, you can check out a ridesharing portal. The most famous multilingual ridesharing platform is blablacar.de. There is currently no fee but this is set to change this year.
BVG, MVV, KVB – each region has its own public transport system with its own app. So if you’re traveling around Germany you first have to find out what the name of the transport system is and download the app. Only then can you find out which subway or bus you need for your destination. This is cumbersome. "Öffi" is an app that gives you information about several regions and local transport. It also uses your phone's GPS signal to display local stops. It's a very helpful app in unfamiliar cities, especially as it's also available in English. You can't buy tickets from it though but you can from the multilingual "Handyticket Deutschland" app.
There are also several apps and booking platforms for ordering a taxi. If you're sitting in a bar, you can either ask the staff for a local taxi company's number or you can use international, multilingual taxi-hailing services such as Mytaxi or Uber. Moreover, with UberX and UberBlack passengers can take a ride with drivers who have rented a car. UberPop is for drivers who have their own car and it's been banned in Germany since the end of May 2015. Uber drivers in Germany have to have what is known as a "passenger transport license". Currently, Uber is only available in Munich and Berlin.
Hiring a bike
Bikes are good for the environment and for keeping fit – you can hire one almost anywhere if you want to get to know a city better. Germany-wide services include Call a bike (Deutsche Bahn) and Nextbike (both available in English). Moreover, mietrad.de puts you in touch with 190 independent bike-hiring firms across the country.
Whether you're traveling by bike, car or plane, Googlemaps will help you find your way. But you can't book tickets here. GoEuro, however, lets you compare plane, train and bus deals proposed by over 500 transport companies. You can then obtain a ticket from these companys' sites.
Deutsche Bahn has also jumped on the "sharing economy" bandwagon. Travelers in Berlin can rent an e-car from DB's subsidiary Flixter at a cheaper price. The car company Daimler has also launched an app called Moovel (also available in English) which finds users the fastest connection with different means of transport. MeinFernbus Flixbus is also branching out and plans to market train rides too. "We've secured the domains flixtrain and meinfernzug," CEO Torben Greve told the business magazine Capital. "We're starting with Austria and the Czech Republic in 2016."
So having looked at all these portals we can tell you that the most important factor is to know where you're going. Once you know that there are plenty of ways of getting there.