Cheap Travel Review: Ouibus vs. Flixbus

On my last trip to Strasbourg and Germany, I had the opportunity to indulge in a bit more cheap travel via bus. Here are my thoughts.

Overview

French train operator SNCF owns and operates the Ouibus.

It’s German counterpart, Flixbus, operates independently of local train operator Deutsche Bahn.

Price

ouibusflixbusprice

Pick: Ouibus

If going by price alone, Ouibus will almost always be the cheaper option. Ouibus never gets more expensive than about $30. This is because if it were any more expensive, it’d be cheaper and faster to take the train, which is also owned and operated by the same folks. Flixbus jacks up prices to ridiculous numbers closer to departure time. Check out the above price comparison for a trip tonight. About 30 euros for an 8 hour trip on Ouibus compared to 85 euros and 20+ hours for the same trip on Flixbus.

Convenience

Pick: Ouibus

Ouibus offers better convenience than Flixbus, when considering routes and amenities. Wifi was dodgy on Flixbus. While my Flixbus ticket to Germany was about $10 cheaper, it meant waiting at a bus stop for 4 hours from midnight- 4 am. Pretty scary for a female solo traveler that is traveling to Germany for the first time. Flixbus routes sometimes include 3-4 bus changes.

Destinations

Pick: Flixbus

Flixbus goes almost everywhere! It’s in France, Scandinavia and has 80% market share in Germany, so many times it can be quite easy to get around. Ouibus is quite limited in comparison, only operating in France and neighboring countries. The time table for Ouibus stays the same everyday, with sometimes only 1-2 trips a day. Flixbus tends to offer more trips and also more stops in each city. For example, Ouibus has one bus stop in Strasbourg, Flixbus has two.

Punctuality

Tie, Meh

Neither Ouibus nor Flixbus is especially impressive when it comes to time. Ouibus is routinely late, and one time the bus was MIA until minutes before departure. Unfortunately, the attitude at Ouibus is a bit “go with the flow,” when the bus is late, no one knows when it will be there. That said, we always seemed to make up for it on the road.  When my second Flixbus was late, I received a text message letting me know exactly when the bus would arrive and it did arrive at the predicted time. The late arrival did ultimately delay my arrival time to my final destination, but in all fairness, it started snowing that night.

Customer Service

Pick: Ouibus

The drivers on Ouibus are always spectacular and very friendly and helpful. Both times I’ve had questions about my destination, the drivers always try their best to help. At the beginning of each bus ride, they do this cute little introduction. Flixbus drivers were less friendly but helpful. Sometimes. I watched two bus drivers hassle a passenger (why? I couldn’t figure it out). It seemed to be in jest, but at midnight in the middle of a snowstorm is not the time to joke with someone and tell them that they can’t board the bus. The Flixbus driver on my first bus never smiled and hardly said a word, but he did respond to questions when asked.

Overall winner: Ouibus! If I had to pick, I’d choose Ouibus for the convenience and customer service.

Have you tried Flixbus and Ouibus? What’s your pick?

 

Advertisements

Adventures in Feldberghof (And why you should always have Euros!)

I was told by the service representative at the Frankfurt Airport that this made a lovely story, so I’ll share :).

I arrived in Frankfurt on a Sunday, and thought hey why not go to an international church? From my time living in Eastern Europe, I realized that international churches are great places to meet English speakers and fellow Americans. So, after a near 2-hour adventure,  I arrived at the church just as the service ended and everyone was enjoying refreshments. Perfect timing!  In my defense, I did try to make it for the service.

I met a lovely English/German lady that we’ll call Sara who immediately started telling me the best places to eat and find entertainment in the city (which you can read about in my article, A Day in Frankfurt). As our conversation came to a close, she remarked what a beautiful day it was and since I already came to Oberursel (read German Suburbia), it would be great to visit Feldberghof, a hilltop restaurant and hotel overlooking the city. Sara and her family kindly offered to drive me to the bus stop.

Before I could think about it, I was packed like a sardine on a standing room only bus to Feldberghof. As I looked around at the abundance of German travelers with snowboots, sleds, and jumpsuits, I started to think my Converse, wraparound coat (sans scarf) and jeggings were a bit on the skimpy side. As we moved through mind-numbing traffic and picked up one chilly traveler after another, I began to reconsider.

Further up the hill, I started to think How could she do this to me? I tried to reassure myself that Sara meant well as the noonday sun transformed to darkness and snow.

FeldberghofTransition.png
This is what the transition felt like going up the hill. via yelp.com

Once I finally made it to the Feldberghof restaurant, I waited in a short line of travelers. The host grabbed and seated groups that averaged 5-10 people. When it got to me, he smiled and wiggled while saying in German that I should “get in where I fit in.

The place was packed with German families from Frankfurt enjoying a day in the snow. I found a seat next to a German family who gave me the death stare when I placed my things in the seat next to me—they were saving for a friend. I was soon joined by a family of three, two boys and their father, who unbeknownst to him, would serve as translator for the duration of our meal.

The staff smiled and yelled what I can only imagine was we’re coming to take your order! several times before actually coming to take my order and that of the family next to me. I had the most delicious schnitzel and fries, which I hoovered without anything to drink.

Finally, time to pay…and this is where the story begins! I handed over my credit card to an enthusiastic—Nine! Eurokarte! (German for No! European card!). I told them I don’t have one.

movie_astro
Ruh Roh Reorge via jetsons.wikia.com

I was asked another 3 times between two staff members if I had another card before the host (who, at this point, I gather was also one of the owners) suddenly found his English and asked why I didn’t have cash. I pointed to the credit card machine on a table nearby and explained that I assumed credit cards were accepted when I saw it (especially since Sara mentioned that it’s a popular tourist spot).

They asked, What can we do? So, I suggested, How about I come back tomorrow and pay? I finished my food, provided them with my contact information and my hotel information, and promised to come back the next day.

They smiled as I left, but I don’t think they believed me. To the always organized and prepared Germans, this was a huge no-no. The owner patted my arm on my way out as I apologized and reassured him that I’d return the next day.

Enter the Frankfurt Airport customer service staff member. Staying at an airport hotel nearby, the airport was the closest metro stop. I made my way to the customer service counter and explained my story, to which the representative replied And you’re actually going to go back and pay?!?! Feldberghof was a 2+ hour trip from the airport. I remembered how to get there, save the number of the bus I took.

On an even colder day, I ascended to Feldberghof for the second time. The devil on my shoulder whispering the entire time, Fuggedaboutit. At this point in my trip, I was sure that I would never return to Germany (the reason why is for another post!), so it seemed it wouldn’t matter. Fortunately, good beat out evil that day. Finally to Oberursel, the bus is right there. But, nooooooo. Suddenly it’s driving away. I find a young kid (always your best bet for an English speaker) and asked if that was the bus to…he finished my sentence. That was our bus, and it just took off without us. The next bus would be here in an hour.

Eureka! The local tourist center. I’d wait in there until…Wait, it’s Monday. It’s closed. Everything in the vicinity is closed! My cold feet eventually flagged down a cab (a decision I would come to regret later on in my trip), and I paid for the most expensive 10-minute cab ride in my life.

When I finally made it to Feldberghof, I found a much smaller crowd. Half of the restaurant was closed off and I couldn’t find a familiar face from the day before. Finally, I spotted my waitress and greeted her with a friendly hello.

excitedwave.gif
Hey! Hi! OMG!

via GIPHY

In return, she gave me the So What? Stanley stare…

stanley.gif
And…?

via GIPHY

I first handed her the receipt, then the cash that I owed. She smiled, said bye, and that was that. I’ll spare you the details of the next hour I waited at a snow-filled bus stop for the bus down the hill. You can view a video I made while coming down the hill from Feldberghof.

Bus_stop_in_heavy_snowfall_area_Hyogo_Japan.JPG
Picture me here. But in Germany. With snow INSIDE the actual bus stop. via wikicommons

The moral of this story is I had Euros with me at any given moment for the rest of my trip—1 euro coins, 2 euro coins, 100 euros conveniently broken into 5, 10, 20 and 50 euro bills. And when a shop owner shook their head Nine to my BofA card, I smiled and proudly handed over my euros.

A huge thank you to the staff at Der Feldberghof for trusting me to return to pay for my meal!

When to Take On Cheap Travel

My flight to France costs $229 and probably the only reason I was able to afford going to France this summer. If you’re wondering whether cheap travel is for you, here are a few things to consider:

When you can tolerate pain and suffering – My body ached throughout my entire trip and it was due not only to the cheap seats I scored, but also the time and amount of travel I did to save, taking buses and hopping on multiple short flights as opposed to one grand long flight in business class. If you are short or don’t have extraordinarily long legs, than you may be able to hack it.

When you’re traveling ground and need Wi-Fi. Much to my surprise when it came to internet access, the buses had trains beat. My trip on Ouibus, while hampered by a full bus of snoring passengers and mysterious smells, had seamless WiFi from start to finish. I was actually able to get some work done. Though my trip on SNCF, was much faster, I stared out of the window on the open country side wishing I’d packed a book in my carryon.

If you can fit everything in your carry-on.  The most important thing to remember about cheap airlines is that you’ll have to pay a very hefty fee for any bags (even your 1st), so I planned to bring everything in a carry-on.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the cheap airlines I used, Wow Air (Iceland) and Norwegian, were not sticklers about the carry-on weight and size requirements. In fact, as long as your carry-on luggage looked remotely like a carry-on, you were allowed no questions asked.

I suspect this may be a different case if and when the flight is full, which neither of mine were.

All said and done, I’d probably avoid cheap travel unless I had to get somewhere and that was the only way I could afford it. I felt horrible throughout my trip because I traveled so extensively and so poorly (I could’ve used a good night’s sleep in business class) and missed out on souvenirs because I didn’t have room in my carry-on. However, if you’re making a quick trip that doesn’t require a lot of travel, a cheap airline may be right for you.