I have a flexible full fare ticket from Deutsche Bahn for the ICE train from Paris Gare del Est to Frankfurt. For these trains there is a mandatory seat reservation, which I have for the connection I originally intended to take.

Now I might travel on a different train and I wonder whether I would need a new seat reservation in that case? And if so, where could I get that, online and in Paris?

  • Do you have an online ticket, or is it a regular paper ticket, which you have bought from a ticket agent? If the new train also has mandatory seat reservation, you will need a reservation for the new train, but I don't think that you can get just a seat reservation for trains with mandatory reservation. You will likely have to cancel your old ticket and buy a new ticket with reservation for the new train. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 17 '17 at 20:38
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo I'm fairly sure it's at least technically possible, since Interrail/Eurail exists and you'd have to be able to get a seat reservation. Dunno if it's practically forbidden unless you have one of those passes though. – waiwai933 Oct 17 '17 at 21:36
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo They typically describe this as “changing a reservation” (airline-style) rather than “buying a separate seat reservation” (as you would do for the long-distance trains of yesteryear) but either way, it's very easy to get a new ticket for trains with mandatory reservation within (TGV) and to and from France (Thalys, Lyria). Don't know about DB rules for this particular train as the agreements are different but mandatory seat reservation is not an issue as such. – Relaxed Oct 17 '17 at 22:43
  • @waiwai933 You can't use these trains with an Interrail or Eurail pass without paying a surcharge, so getting just a seat reservation for that case is pointless anyway. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 18 '17 at 13:50
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    @Relaxed The mandatory seat reservation is an issue. I am not sure about the other sales channels, but what I said does indeed apply to German online sale. German Railways sells separate seat reservations online only for trains without mandatory seat reservations. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 18 '17 at 13:52

My experience with full-flex business tickets on international high-speed trains to and from France with mandatory seat reservation (especially Thalys) suggest that

  1. Changing a ticket is in fact quite easy on trains with mandatory seat reservation. In particular, you don't need to cancel or buy anything, you do not even pay a few euros for a new seat reservation, you simply change your existing ticket.

  2. Simply showing up is highly discouraged. If push came to shove, and you went to the platform and started crying, I don't know whether they could or would help you, but in principle you are supposed to check for availability first, even if only a few minutes beforehand.

  3. You cannot use the SNCF app, machines, or counters with tickets bought abroad. I once got turned down at the Gare du Nord because my ticket was booked on NS ticket stock.

On the other hand, my tickets have a customer service telephone number printed on them that has always been very helpful. I used it several times to switch trains or rebook a trip without any problem. If I have a complicated request, they even call me back to follow up.

In fact, it has always worked more-or-less the same way for domestic TGV. Whereas it's not possible to change a discount ticket on a regular train (without mandatory seat reservation), you can easily change a flex TGV ticket. Those two things are simply disconnected. But they want you to change your ticket and not show up unannounced, even if that change is free. They even (used to?) have special machines to beat the queues if you needed to do that shortly before departure. Nowadays, you can do it online of course but I assume you cannot use the SNCF app with your ticket (maybe some DB app?).

So my advice, unless and until you get a better answer, is to look for some DB customer service phone number and try to call them to change your reservation. That has always worked seamlessly for me with NS. If you do it some time in advance, they can email updated tickets but if you call from a taxi on the way to the station, you simply write down your new carriage and seat number and show up at the train with your old printed tickets, no problem at all.

On the other hand, most ICE within Germany work differently and I don't know whether all of these rules apply to the train you're interested in. Differences would not surprise me as, unlike Eurostar, Thalys or Lyria, which are all joint-ventures with a common sales strategy, TGV and ICE between France and Germany are operated completely separately with only minimal cooperation between the two companies.

  • Unfortunately no phone number is listed on my ticket. I tried calling the regular service center, which after a redirect dropped the line on me after 30 minutes in the loop waiting… – mts Oct 19 '17 at 8:14

This document might answer part of your questions. Starting on page 69 of the PDF document, you will find this:

2.4.3 Fahrkarten, Reservierung

Reisende mit einer Fahrkarte „Flexpreis“ können die zugehörige Reservierung für den gebuchten Reisetag im personalbedienten Verkauf kostenfrei umbuchen, sofern Sitzplatzkapazitäten im gewünschten Zug am selben Tag verfügbar sind.

Passengers with a flex ticket can change the reserveration free of charge at a staffed ticket office if seats are available for the desired train. It's not clear though whether this is possible at an SNCF station.

2.4.9 Regulierung im Zug

Reisende mit Fahrkarten und Reservierung für einen anderen Zug am selben Tag , zahlen im Zug eine Fahrkarte zum Angebot „Pass 1“ plus Bordentgelt, wenn es sich bei der ursprünglich gebuchten Fahrkarte um einen „Flexpreis“ (...) handelt.

To my understanding, this implies you can simply board a different train on the same day and have your reservation changed by onboard staff for an additional fee. The fee is "Pass 1" (13 euros 2nd class, 20 euros 1st class) plus the onboard surcharge of 15 euros. From experience, it's always better to actively approach a member of staff than wait for someone to turn up.

2.4.10 Umtausch, Erstattung

Eine Fahrkarte zum „Flexpreis“ kann bis einen Tag vor dem 1. Geltungstag kostenfrei umgetauscht und erstattet werden. Danach sind Umtausch und Erstattung gegen Zahlung des Bearbeitungsentgeltes in Höhe von 19.00 € zugelassen, wobei der Umtausch nur im Rahmen der Verfügbarkeit möglich ist.

Finally, you can return your flex ticket free of charge before the first day of validity. If you return the ticket later, DB will keep a processing fee of 19 euros. Online tickets can be returned by filling in an online form, or sending in a printed form by mail. Tickets bought at a station can only be returned at a DB counter.

  • You seem to ignore completely that the ticket is for a train with mandatory seat reservation, for which there are different regulations. You can not simply board a train with mandatory reservations, if you do not have a ticket for that train. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 17 '17 at 21:26
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    The quoted section 2.4.3 is quite clear that the "zugehörige Reservierung" is the mandatory reservation. – user108733 Oct 17 '17 at 21:28
  • Read section 2.4.9 again -- if it wasn't permitted to board a different train with a flex ticket, this rule would be irrelevant?! – user108733 Oct 17 '17 at 21:49

Apparently this is a complicated story so this is partly a comment as an answer:

Flexible tickets issued on DB stock used to say "VALID ONLY WITH A RESERVATION" ("NUR GÜLTIG MIT RESERVIERUNG") and then the situation that @user108733 describes kicks in: you need to change your reservation or else pay a surcharge on board (it is 28€ in second class, exactly as described in the document linked). The conductor immediately quoted me with that number when I asked him upfront about boarding the train without reservation.
Now as mentioned in the answer, you can change the reservation free of charge at staffed ticket offices. I went to the SNCF counter (DB has none in France) and they told me they can only change the reservation for non-online DB tickets (I assume that means those bought from either a ticket machine or a counter). I had an online ticket and no change was possible. I had also tried to change the reservation online, and only a refund was possible, I did not find any functionality to change the reservation.

So here I am on the train and ready to pay the surcharge, but when I show my ticket, it does not actually have that line regarding valid only with reservation. Instead the fine-print even says (I assume a standard text for DB tickets) that I can travel on any train. A short discussion with the conductor and he is as surprised by it as myself, but I don't have to pay. What I have no idea of is whether this is due to some weird thing about my ticket being on company stock or whatelse, or whether the mandatory seat reservation is a thing of the past. (Keep in mind the linked document is quite clear about mandatory reservation on all high-speed trains with France and as recent as 5 days old at the time of this answer.)

Finally I had tried calling the DB hotline beforehand. After an initial 5min wait, someone heard me and put me into another wait loop, until after a total wait of half an hour, the call center dropped the line on me. It sure was not helpful in my case.

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