Train, Flixbus, Lufthansa, BlablaCar: How to get home safely for Christmas

The federal government continues to advise urgently not to travel. But at Christmas, many Germans shouldn't let themselves be deterred from going to their family, relatives or partner: Meetings with four people who go beyond their own household are allowed. But for those who don't own a car, "Driving Home for Christmas" is a special challenge this year.

Because it's not just price, availability and cancellation conditions that are currently decisive when choosing a traffic – but also the question of where the risk of infection with the coronavirus is lowest.

FOCUS Online has made the big traffic check. What is the current state of rail, rental car, long-distance bus, carpooling or plane?

In the big traffic check: Travel with Deutsche Bahn over Christmas

Availability: Since more people are staying at home due to Corona, many trains are currently driving significantly emptier than usual through the countryside: According to Deutsche Bahn, long-distance trains are only 20 to 25 percent busy. In normal times it is an average of 60 percent.

However, around Christmas this picture could change. Deutsche Bahn expects that the demand for rail travel will then pick up again. The group has therefore announced that it will be expanding its range of services over the holidays and is sticking to the timetable despite the lockdown: According to this, DB 100 is offering additional trips between December 18 and 27. "That is twice as many special trains as are normally driven at Christmas," said Berthold Huber, the Board Member for Transportation. Above all, the main routes between the big cities should benefit from this increase. For example, the Hamburg-Berlin route is to be driven every half hour.

Corona check: In Corona times, travelers often have a queasy feeling when they are using public transport. Whether the risk in the train wagons is actually higher than elsewhere is difficult to say and, according to experts, depends on a number of factors. The Bonn-based infectiologist Peter Walger recently said in an interview that the duration of a trip could be a factor in the risk of infection. "But those who consistently adhere to the AHA rules can just as easily travel six hours as 30 minutes on the train," says Walger.

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In any case, Deutsche Bahn wants to ensure with the now expanded offer for Christmas that the people on the trains can keep their distance from one another as much as possible. For this reason, the group had already changed its reservation system at the end of November. Since then, only window seats can be reserved. Those who get on the train without a reservation should also be assigned their own window seat.

In addition, the mask requirement, which is also checked by security teams on board, continues to apply on trains and at stations. According to Deutsche Bahn, however, more than 99 percent of travelers now adhere to the obligation. Around the holidays, even more cleaning staff should ensure cleanliness and hygiene in trains and at the station.

Costs and cancellation: With the timetable change at Deutsche Bahn on December 13, 2020, prices have also increased, as every year. Long-distance tickets were on average 1 percent more expensive, but are still below the previous year's level. The reason: As of January 1, 2020, they were reduced by around 10 percent due to the VAT cut for long-distance tickets (from 19 to 7 percent).

Apart from that, there are no “special Christmas prices” at Deutsche Bahn over the holidays. In other words, compared to the rest of the year, tickets are not generally more expensive. Nevertheless: If you want to take the train for Christmas, you shouldn't wait too long. In principle, train tickets never get cheaper the closer the day of travel gets, but more expensive. In addition, the saver fare tickets are decreasing every day. Shortly before Christmas Eve, train travelers can often only book connections at the flex price.

The more expensive flex tickets have one decisive advantage: they can be exchanged or canceled free of charge up to one day before the trip. Saver fare tickets can also be canceled up to the first day of validity – but only for a fee of 10 euros. Customers then receive a cancellation voucher that is valid for three years. You can use this for later trips. Tickets with a super saver price, on the other hand, cannot be exchanged or canceled completely.

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Sixt & Co .: Is a rental car worth it – and are there any?

Availability: During the festive season, rental vehicles are generally in short supply every year. This year the situation is getting worse because, as a result of the corona pandemic, many rental companies have reduced their fleets. According to an evaluation by the comparison portal, which can also be used to book rental cars, customers have already booked around 27 percent more vehicles for the holidays than in the same period last year. However: at the beginning of December the rate was still more than 45 percent compared to 2019. The cancellation rates have risen since the announcement of the lockdown. "The rules adopted by the Corona summit for Christmas have had an impact on rental car bookings," said Andreas Schiffelholz, managing director of rental cars at Check24, to FOCUS Online.

Germany's largest car rental company Sixt announced that the demand for short-term rentals was “very high as in previous years”. The effects of the lockdown from the middle of the week are not yet apparent. "We can also determine an increased demand for the Christmas holidays this year," said FOCUS Online. Sixt assumes that this demand trend will intensify until Christmas and that offers could become scarce in the medium term. "We therefore recommend booking as early as possible," said Sixt at the beginning of December.

Corona check: For everyone who wants to have as few contacts as possible in the run-up to Christmas, the rental car is certainly the first choice. Since the outbreak of the corona virus, the car rental companies are cleaning not only the rental cars themselves, but also the counters and counters in the rental stations more than ever. "All vehicles in our fleet are professionally cleaned in a multi-stage process," says Sixt. In addition, Sixt has equipped all of its branches with spit protection to protect employees and customers, and employees are urged to comply with the recommendations of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Costs and cancellation: According to data from the comparison portal Check24, a rental car in the Christmas week currently costs an average of 39 euros per day and is therefore roughly at the previous year's level (three percent above the level in 2019). And: "Due to the much higher occupancy, we expect prices to rise the closer the holidays come," says Andreas Schiffelholz. “Consumers shouldn't wait too long to book. In this way you secure the lower price and remain flexible at the same time. ”With Check24, for example, a cancellation is possible free of charge up to 24 hours before collection. And Sixt also emphasizes to FOCUS Online that cars can be rebooked at any time until the end of the year without additional costs.

Traveling by plane? How is Lufthansa doing?

Availability: At many airports there has been an almost standstill since spring. Because of the Corona crisis, almost a million passenger flights were canceled in Germany between March and the beginning of November. In a year-on-year comparison, this is a drop in passengers of 83 percent. The range of domestic German flights has also been drastically reduced.

For example, Lufthansa wants to add intercontinental and intra-European routes to its flight schedule, as the airline has noticed increased demand. The Germans' desire to travel is increasing again. However, it is still unclear whether more domestic German flights will be offered again. A Lufthansa spokeswoman told FOCUS Online that the market is also being monitored in Germany in order to be able to adjust the flight schedule at short notice if there is sufficient demand. However, the bookings are currently developing so dynamically that “no valid statement is currently possible”.

Corona check: Airlines like Lufthansa consider the risk of infection with the corona virus on board a plane to be low. "Aircraft operated by the Lufthansa Group airlines are equipped with filters that clean the cabin air of contaminants such as dust, bacteria and viruses," said a spokeswoman. A Harvard study also recently came to the result that the risk of corona infection is lower when flying than when shopping or in a restaurant. Nevertheless, an infection cannot be completely ruled out. For example, the safety distance of 1.50 meters in the aircraft can often not be maintained.

Costs and cancellation: Since there is rarely planning security at the moment, Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines have fundamentally adjusted their ticket tariff structure by the end of December 2020. Anyone who books a ticket can rebook it multiple times and free of charge. If the rebooked flight is more expensive, customers only pay the difference in the ticket price.

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From Frankfurt to Berlin you can get with Lufthansa on December 23, currently for around 177 euros (December 15th, on December 4th it was 112 euros). However, with the so-called “Economy Light” tariff, only one piece of hand luggage is allowed and the ticket cannot be fully reimbursed. Customers currently have to pay a little less for a flight from Munich to Düsseldorf on December 23rd. Flights are available from 124 euros (as of December 15, the same price on December 4). However, according to the booking portal, there are only three seats left at this price. So if you only book shortly before the holidays, you should expect higher prices.

Traveling by long-distance bus over Christmas: Flixbus cancels all journeys

Availability: After the corona-related suspension of its offer in Germany, Europe's largest long-distance bus operator Flixbus had actually announced a resumption of business at the beginning of December. From December 17th, Flixbus wanted to return to services throughout Germany until January 11th.

But now Flixbus informs FOCUS Online on request that all trips are canceled. "With this, the company is reacting to the decision of the Prime Minister's Conference in Germany to implement another nationwide lockdown," said a spokesman. FlixBus will resume operations as soon as it is possible and useful.

“Of course, all passengers who have already booked a trip with FlixBus are proactively informed. Due to the Corona, the demand was lower than in previous years, but every passenger whose trip has now been canceled is one too many. We are therefore delighted that we can offer each affected passenger a travel voucher worth 15 euros for the next trip with FlixBus in 2021, in addition to the recompensation for the journey, "said the company.

And what about other providers? BlaBlaBus, which have also ceased operations due to corona, also do not want to resume traffic over Christmas. Accordingly, there are currently no offers. The company will not offer trips again until spring – at least that is the company's current plan. Bookings via the BlaBlaCar car pool agency are still possible.

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How corona-safe is a lift?

Availability: In the According to its own statement, the online car pool agency BlaBlaCar says that the offer is comparatively low due to the current situation. "Our community follows our call to act responsibly and currently only travel when necessary," said a company spokesman for FOCUS Online. However, the offers could increase shortly before Christmas. In the past, the range of car-sharing opportunities on BlaBlaCar has always reacted very dynamically to current events. “Usually the offer on BlaBlaCar increases sharply in the run-up to Christmas, and despite the special circumstances, an increase in activity on BlaBlaCar in the days before Christmas can be expected this year as well. Experience has shown that 75 percent of all BlaBlaCar bookings are made three days before the journey. Of course, the offer depends on our community, ”the company continues.

Corona check: Passengers and drivers are informed about the current situation in the BlaBlaCar app and website and are encouraged to adhere to the applicable health and hygiene recommendations. Anyone who has negative experiences with a passenger or driver can contact BlaBlaCar support at any time and report violations of the applicable regulations. "We take reported violations very seriously and can lead to exclusion from the platform," emphasizes the company.

Nevertheless, car journeys with several passengers remain a risk in winter. Because it's not just that social distancing in the car is difficult or even impossible. Continuous draft and driving with the window open is hardly an option in winter.

Costs and cancellation: The cost of a BlaBlaCar trip always depends on the route and the price set by the driver. On average, however, travelers can calculate with around six euros for 100 kilometers. At the same time, you remain relatively flexible with a lift: If you cancel your trip with BlaBlaCar more than 24 hours before departure, the entire amount will be refunded. If you cancel within the last 24 hours before departure, you will still receive 50 percent of the money for the booking with BlaBlaCar. Only those who do not show up for the trip without cancellation will not receive anything back.

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