Deutsche Bahn has the potential to be an amazing service, and were it not for atrocious customer service, they would be. Let's take a look at the various aspects of their operation.
Bahn.Bonus is the rewards program for DB. The usual accrual and redemption options are available through both DB and their partners, which are plentiful and diverse. One elite status level exists - Bahn.Comfort. Unlike most airline programs that accrue status by miles (as enhanced by flight class and paid class), the Bahn.Comfort program is solely obtained by amount spent on tickets. To qualify, 2000 Euros must be spent over 12 months. Once status is achieved, the following benefits are available:
- Designated Seating Areas: as seat reservations on a train are not usually required, and as trains can be full with few (if any) available seats at the last minute, a block of unreserved seats are available for Bahn.Comfort customers.
- Blocked Reserved Seats: seats are held for reservation outside of the designated unreserved Bahn.Comfort areas until the last minute. Believe it or not, the reservations really are an issue, and status helps a tremendous amount here, especially on busy routes.
- Dedicated Phone Line
- Free Lounge Entry, with one accompanying person.
- First Class Counter use at train stations
- Reserved Parking Places at train stations - where parking is just as difficult to find as seating is on a train.
- A variety of other useless benefits, much like what the airlines offer.
Are there any real benefits here? The counter, seats, and lounge access are almost certainly worth status for frequent travellers. It can be argued that the additional benefits are of limited use.
DB has 15 lounges in major cities. Entrance is either via First Class Ticket or Bahn.Comfort status. The amenities very closely resemble those in a US airline lounge - with one notable exception. Wi-Fi (T-Mobile, for a fee), workstations, TVs, newspapers, magazines, a service counter, small snacks, and hot and cold drinks are available. Alcohol is notably missing.
In Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Munich, a separate first class area is available, which is accessible only with a First Class ticket. The main differentiation between the areas is that free Wi-Fi and better food (much like a Senator's Lounge) are available, with service at your seat.
DB also offers three types of discount cards, all of which are available in first or second class versions. Customers that purchase a first class card can also use it in second class (economy). All three cards are purchased on a yearly basis.
- BahnCard 25: offers a 25% discount on the lowest available price.
- BahnCard 50: offers a 50% discount on full price tickets (best for business travellers, who may be purchasing at the last minute).
- BahnCard 100: functions as a ticket on any train at any time, and accordingly, is very expensive. Covers the price of any travel for 12 months. Purchasers immediately get Bahn.Comfort status, and unlimited use of all local transportation systems throughout Germany. Only seat reservations carry an additional charge.
On certain ICE (high speed) routes, Wi-Fi, for a fee, is available on the trains. From Munich to Frankfurt, and then north all the way to Hamburg, Wi-Fi is available. The service is provided by T-Mobile Hotspot, and the price is the same as at any non-moving location.
The difference between first and second class on most trains is seat layout and pitch - in first, you also have service at your seat, use of the first class counter, and complimentary newspapers. Power is available at many first class seats on all trains, and on ICE, power is available at almost all seats in both classes. Nothing of note - snacks or drinks - are free in either class.
Upgrades are not complimentary and cannot be earned through status or spend. Upgrades are only obtained by redeeming Bahn.Bonus points for certificates, which can only be mailed, and are redeemed by handing the certificate to a conductor along with a second class ticket.
To say that the customer service at DB is bad is putting the repugnant treatment that customers get lightly. The stereotype of bad German customer service is personified by the Bahn. Most (but not all) agents are rude, whether at the counter, on the train, or on the phone. The best advice? Handle as much as you can online, and don't be surprised when people treat you terribly.
Today, I'm going with Diane Kruger for the win: