Is it possible to travel safely to your family over Christmas without your own car – and if so, is it affordable? One thing is certain: in 2022, “Driving Home for Christmas” will be a special challenge. You can find out what options you have now here.

At Christmas, many Germans should not be deterred from going to their family, relatives or partner. But for those who don’t own a car, “Driving Home for Christmas” is a special challenge this year.

Because when choosing a transport, not only price, availability and cancellation conditions are currently decisive – but also the question of where the risk of infection with the corona virus is lowest.

FOCUS Online has made the big traffic check. What is the current status of trains, rental cars, long-distance buses, carpooling or planes?

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

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

Costs and cancellation: With the timetable change at Deutsche Bahn, prices have risen, as they do every year. Long-distance tickets increased by an average of 1 percent, but are still below the previous year’s level. The reason: On January 1, 2020, they were reduced by around 10 percent due to the reduction in VAT for long-distance tickets (from 19 to 7 percent).

Apart from that, there are no “special Christmas prices” at Deutsche Bahn over the holidays. This means that tickets are not generally more expensive compared to the rest of the year. Nevertheless, if you want to take the train at Christmas, you shouldn’t wait too long. In principle, train tickets never get cheaper the closer the day of travel gets, but rather more expensive. In addition, the number of saver fare tickets is becoming fewer every day. Shortly before Christmas Eve, rail connections can often only be booked at a flexible price.

However, 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 price tickets can also be canceled before the first day of validity – but only for a fee of 10 euros. Customers will then receive a cancellation voucher valid for three years. You can use this for later trips. Super saver fare tickets, on the other hand, cannot be exchanged or canceled at all.

Availability: Rental vehicles generally become scarce every year over the holidays. The situation is getting worse this year because many rental companies have reduced their fleets as a result of the corona pandemic. 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 had increased since the lockdown was announced. “The rules decided by the Corona summit for Christmas have had an effect on rental car bookings,” says 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 see an increased demand for the Christmas holidays this year,” says FOCUS Online. Sixt assumes that this trend in demand will intensify by 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: A rental car is definitely the first choice for anyone who wants to have as few contacts as possible in the run-up to Christmas. Since the outbreak of the corona virus, car rental companies have been cleaning not only the rental cars themselves more intensively than ever, but also the counters and counters in the rental stations. “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 sneeze guards to protect employees and customers, and employees are encouraged 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 during the Christmas week currently costs an average of 39 euros per day, which is roughly the same as last year (three percent above the level in 2019). And: “Due to the significantly higher capacity utilization, we expect prices to increase as the holidays get closer,” says Andreas Schiffelholz. “Consumers should not wait too long to book. In this way, they secure the lower price and remain flexible at the same time.” With Check24, for example, cancellation is possible free of charge up to 24 hours before pick-up. And Sixt also emphasizes to FOCUS Online that cars can be rebooked at any time until the end of the year without additional costs.

Availability: Many airports have been almost at a standstill since spring. Almost a million passenger flights were canceled in Germany between March and the beginning of November because of the Corona crisis. In a year-on-year comparison, this is an 83 percent drop in passengers. The range of domestic German flights has also been drastically thinned out.

Lufthansa, for example, wants to add intercontinental and intra-European routes to its flight schedule, as the airline has noticed increased demand. The desire to travel among Germans is increasing again. However, it is still unclear whether more domestic German flights will be offered again. However, a Lufthansa spokeswoman told FOCUS Online that the market is also being observed 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 the plane to be low. “Lufthansa Group airlines’ aircraft are equipped with filters that clean the cabin air of impurities such as dust, bacteria and viruses,” said a spokeswoman. A Harvard study recently came to the conclusion that the risk of corona infection when flying is lower 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 aircraft often cannot be maintained.

Costs and cancellation: Since there is only rarely planning security in the current times, Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines have fundamentally adjusted their ticket tariff structure by the end of December 2020. If you book a ticket, you can change it several 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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You can get from Frankfurt to Berlin with Lufthansa on December 23rd for around 177 euros (December 15th, on December 4th it was still 112 euros). However, with the so-called “Economy Light” tariff, only one piece of hand luggage is allowed and a complete refund of the ticket is also excluded. For a flight from Munich to Dusseldorf on December 23, customers currently have to pay a little less. Flights are available from 124 euros (as of December 15, same price on December 4). However, according to the booking portal, only three seats are left at this price. So if you only book shortly before the holidays, you should expect higher prices.

Availability: After the corona-related suspension of its offer in Germany, Europe’s largest long-distance bus provider Flixbus actually announced a resumption of its business at the beginning of December. From December 17, Flixbus initially wanted to serve connections throughout Germany again until January 11.

But now Flixbus tells FOCUS Online that all trips are canceled. “The company is thus reacting to the decision of the Prime Ministers’ Conference in Germany to implement another nationwide lockdown,” said a spokesman. FlixBus will resume operations as soon as it is possible and sensible.

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

And what about other providers? BlaBlaBus, which also stopped operating due to the corona, also does not want to resume traffic over Christmas. Accordingly, there are currently no offers. The company does not want to offer trips again until spring – at least that is the company’s current plan. However, bookings via the BlaBlaCar ridesharing agency are still possible.

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Availability: According to BlaBlaCar, the online ridesharing service offers relatively few options 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 ride-sharing opportunities on BlaBlaCar has always reacted very dynamically to current events. “The offer on BlaBlaCar usually increases significantly in the run-up to Christmas, and despite the special circumstances, activity on BlaBlaCar is expected to increase in the days leading up to Christmas this year as well. Experience has shown that 75 percent of all BlaBlaCar bookings are made three days in advance. However, the offer naturally depends on our community.

Corona check: Passengers and drivers are informed about the current situation in the BlaBlaCar app and website and are encouraged to follow the applicable health and hygiene recommendations. Anyone who has had a negative experience 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 occupants in winter remain a risk. Because not only that social distancing in the car is difficult to impossible. Constant draft and driving with the window open is hardly an option in winter.

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

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With agency material