Demystifying the Flixbus experience

Photo by photogearch
Photo by photogearch

Demystifying the Flixbus experience

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

If you’re stationed in Germany and fortunate enough to have your own car and a license to drive it, your options in terms of public transportation might be somewhat of a mystery. But there are times and circumstances when ditching a car makes sense, particularly when planning a longer trip. Avoiding the stress of driving in an unfamiliar city or the hassle of finding secure and reasonably priced parking are just two of many good arguments for forsaking your own four wheels from time to time.

For many years, the train was pretty much the only game in town when it came to covering long distances on public transportation in Germany. That changed only recently, when decades-old regulations protecting the rail service were relaxed and inter-city coach services began to take off. Flixbus launched its first route in February 2013 and within a year, the company was operating its own bus network nationwide. In the years to follow, it saw off most of its competitors and expanded throughout Europe. As of May 2018, the company’s lime-green busses have been rolling down the highways in the U.S. as well.

With trains offering space to move around in and generally speaking, a faster service, bus service must offer an obvious advantage, and the area in which the bus often comes out on top is that of price. While train tickets bought in advance can be offered at significant discount, and special weekend or regional offers offer the chance for significant savings, train tickets bought on the spot are generally not cheap.

A recent end-of-summer getaway from my home town near Wiesbaden to Garmisch-Partenkirchen illustrates the possibility of substantial savings. A point-to-point ticket purchased from a machine on the platform just minutes before the train’s departure cost me 86 euros, a price that reflected the 25% savings I’m entitled to as a holder of a German Rail discount card. Five days later, I traveled home from Garmisch to Mainz, near Wiesbaden, on the Flixbus, at a cost of 29 euros. The train ride took six hours all told; the bus, nine hours and 45 minutes.

The bus ride was long, but not uncomfortable. I had a seat to myself for the duration of the journey. I transferred busses once in Munich, and during the half-hour stopover, I visited a supermarket on the top floor the bus terminal, where I picked up plenty of drinks and snacks. The air conditioning was set at just the right temperature, my WiFi connection worked well enough to keep me online constantly, and there was a cramped toilet on board for when that inevitable time came. There were perhaps 22 of us on a bus with seats for nearly three times that number for most of the journey.

What might have been my 20th experience in riding a Flixbus was par for the course. My fellow travelers reflected a typical cross-section of riders, from senior citizens to teenagers to an infant in a baby carrier. Both Germans and foreigners were on board. All had an acceptably neat appearance, and nobody behaved in an usual, suspicious or disruptive manner.

I have been incorporating riding the Flixbus into my travel routine since the company first got off the ground, and for all the miles I've traveled, my negative experiences have been few. My two overnight journeys have uncomfortable affairs, although I hardly expected otherwise! At times the WiFi has been out of service, and on the odd occasion, the toilet has been off-limits.

My tips to those looking to rack up potentially sizable savings on bus travel while making their way through Germany or other destinations within Europe are as follows:

  • Booking in advance helps keep costs down, but your chances of finding a reasonably priced fare on the eve of travel are good too. Buying a ticket on the spot from the driver is possible, but you won’t get any discounts.
  • Be prepared to show your passport when traversing a border between countries.
  • No printout of your ticket is required; the driver is happy to scan the bar code on your mobile phone.
  • Allow ample time to find your bus stop, and be aware that there are often several different bus stations in a single city. Berlin, for example, has seven different pick-up spots. The Flixbus stop at the Frankfurt Airport is far from where other bus lines pick up and drop off passengers.
  • Snacking on board seems to be tolerated, so pack a picnic for longer routes.
  • If the bus is running behind schedule, expect stops to be abbreviated and don't stray far from the bus, as the driver might not count heads before departure.
  • Your baggage allowance includes one piece of hand luggage, along with one piece of checked luggage not to exceed 80 x 50 x 30 cm in size and a maximum weight of 20 kg. On my most recent trip, those with oversized bags or a second piece were asked to pay an extra 4 euros in cash on the spot.
  • A discount applies to passengers under the age of 14.
  • The bus will most likely leave on time, with or without you.
  • If you’re truly a hearty soul and enthusiastic traveler, consider buying an InterFlix pass which allows you five trips for a total price of 99 euros. Conditions apply.

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