The Ultimate Business Trip – Munich, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna

By Jonathan Spira on 3 October 2006
  • Share

Business travelers frequently bring home a souvenir or two for family members when visiting interesting destinations.  Twice in the past year I’ve brought home something a bit different – and much larger – but I couldn’t pack it in my rollerboard.

The ultimate souvenir: our 3er Series parked in front of the Hilton Budapest WestEnd

The ultimate souvenir: our 3er Series parked in front of the Hilton Budapest WestEnd

In recent years, savvy business travelers have joined the thousands of Americans who each year take a trip to Munich, Germany with one goal in mind.  Unlike other tourists, they are not there for the beer, the Schnitzel, the museums, and art galleries.  The real reason for the trip: to pick up a new BMW at BMW’s factory delivery center.

Some business travelers are en route to or from a meeting; others simply hop over to Munich for the day to garner the savings. Still others, including myself, integrate the European Delivery experience into a business trip cum holiday.

For years, BMW has offered its customers the option of picking up their cars at the factory.  After delivery, and being driven on the Autobahnen, Bundesstraßen, Landstraßen, and Autostrade of Europe, the car is shipped by the manufacturer back to the United States.  The trip has almost become a ritual for some; indeed a third of BMW’s customers have picked up a car at the factory in previous years. I am a member of that group, having joined the club in January 1982.

2363 BMWs were sold through BMW’s European Delivery program in 2005; BMW expects the number for 2006 to be even higher. European Delivery packages can include significant discounts (published discounts are seven percent on most models; individual dealers will frequently offer even better pricing), discounted or free airfare, meals, and the thrill of a factory tour that is the birthplace of the car being picked up.

For many, the opportunity to drive a BMW in its native habitat, the German Autobahn, is a major draw.  And for the business traveler who might be driving between cities for meetings, there is no need for a rental car.


The European Delivery program has its roots in the 1950s when members of the U.S. armed forces returning from Europe brought with them a taste for smaller, sportier European cars. Many shipped their own cars to the States.

At the time, other than the occasional Volkswagen Käfer (Beetle), a non-U.S. manufactured vehicle was an unusual sight in the United States.  The eventual appearance of foreign cars was mostly due to Max Hoffman, the Austrian emigrant automotive entrepreneur who, starting in 1948, single-handedly created the imported car business in the United States and during his career marketed Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Jaguar, and BMW vehicles.

The author's 1982 BMW 320iS near his residence in Munich at the Studentenstadt Freimann

The author's 1982 BMW 320iS near his residence in Munich at the Studentenstadt Freimann

In the mid 1960s, with the advent of the jet age, Hoffman saw an opportunity to boost both sales and mindshare for BMW by offering prospective buyers the opportunity to take their first European vacation and drive around Europe in their own car (naturally, a BMW), which would follow them back to the U.S., giving the traveler a unique experience, saving money on the car purchase, and eliminating rental charges.

Hoffman was not alone. By the end of the decade, Mercedes, Saab, Volvo, Porsche, and Volkswagen all offered factory delivery for tourists.


European Delivery sales are arranged through dealers in the United States.  Many dealerships have one salesperson as a designated specialist.  Buyers should expect more paperwork (after all, buying a car usually doesn’t involve one’s passport) and need to be aware that the wait time for redelivery can be six to eight weeks.

Each BMW comes with premium auto insurance with no deductible for 14 days.  It can be extended at extra cost.  Each car is custom built; orders should be placed at least two months prior to the desired delivery date but depending on scheduling, a month in advance might work in some cases.  Buyers need to be aware of German (and other national) holidays when making travel plans; the delivery center is closed on German holidays and drop-off centers (over a dozen throughout Europe) are also likely to be closed on local holidays.


In the past ten months, I ordered two BMWs for factory delivery (one for me, one for my partner).  Placing the orders was easy.  The first car was a 2006 330xi in Sparkling Graphite, delivered in November 2005; the second was a 2006 325i in Japanrot (“Electric Red” in the U.S.) picked up in August 2006.


In November 2005, I combined a BMW factory delivery with client meetings in Munich and Vienna.  In 5 days, I covered 2426 km and four countries (Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Italy). I crossed international borders 22 times.   I only had meetings on the first and final days of my trip so I was able to plan each day’s drive the night before, choosing my destination primarily based on the promise of good weather.

Alongside the Donau (Danube) River in the Wachau Valley, Niederösterreich (Lower Austria)

Alongside the Donau (Danube) River in the Wachau Valley, Niederösterreich (Lower Austria)

After picking up my 330xi in Munich last November, my partner Dan Lafler decided he would like a new Japanrot (“Electric Red” in the U.S.) 3er .  I had a client meeting in Vienna planned so we planned a trip that would have us visiting three major cities on the Danube: Budapest, where the river is called the Duna; Bratislava (Preßburg), where it is called the Dunaj; and Vienna, where it is the Donau.  The Danube, the longest river in continental Europe, is a crucial link between the east and the west.  It has served as a frontier, separating warring parties, and as a blue artery of life, carrying food and people.

We arrived on 31. July around noon and were met by Rolf Raffelsieper (see resources).  Rolf brought us to our hotel, the Holiday Inn on the Leopoldstraße, but wasn’t inclined to let us relax from the trip; instead, we immediately headed out to the Biergarten at Kloster Andechs, one of the best breweries in Bavaria.

The next morning we were off to the factory delivery center and soon were on the way to Budapest via Austria.

Before crossing the border into Austria, we stopped at a Raststation and purchased a Mautvignette (toll sticker) valid for 10 days at a cost of €7,60. This is required on the Autobahn in Austria  (another is needed for Hungary, where they call it a Matrica).

Driving on the autópálya (highway or Autobahn) in Hungary

Driving on the autópálya (highway or Autobahn) in Hungary

We entered Hungary at the border crossing Nickelsdorf/Hegyeshalom.  Hungary, although now part of the European Union, does not yet have a Schengen border (countries that have signed the Schengen agreement have removed border checks between participating countries), so passports are checked and stamped.

After a 700 kilometers drive, we arrived at the Hilton West End in Budapest.

For the next two and a half days, the 3er sat and we walked. We walked across the Lanchid(Chain Bridge) to Castle Hill, taking the cog railway up, and explored the hills of Buda including the spectacular views from Gellérthegy (Gellert Hill).

Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities on the Danube, a place that was intellectually and culturally drawn by the river toward Vienna and the West.   The Duna (Danube) divides the city into its two component parts, Buda and Pest, flowing beneath the famous bridges that link the two halves.  The river itself is the heart of the city, passing before the neo-Gothic Parliament building and the great castle of the Hungarian kings.


The view from Bratislava Castle

Finally, it was time to leave Budapest and get back in the BMW.  After 190 rainy kilometers and two hours of driving, we arrived in central Bratislava, parking in the Old City.  As we walked to Bratislava Castle, overlooking the Dunaj, it drizzled on and off. However, it was worth the walk since the views of the city were magnificent.

Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is situated near the borders of Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.  Bratislava was closely linked with Vienna, only 60 kilometers away, and was an important center of economic, political, and cultural life similar to other European capitals.

Soon it was time to continue to Vienna, our last Danubian city.  Vienna, an opulent city with a stubborn majesty as the capital of a long-gone empire, is a city of palaces, museums, concert halls, opera houses, and parks, the capital of a country that has what may very well be the largest per capita cultural budget in the world.  Of course, Johann Strauß II composed what has become the unofficial Austrian anthem, An der schönen blauen Donau, reflecting the Blue Danube’s importance to Vienna.

The next day, despite the rain, we still made it to the top of Stephansdom for incredible views of the city, walked through the Stadtpark, where the presence of Strauß and Beethoven is felt everywhere and shopped appropriately.  The afternoon and evening were reserved for meetings.  After all, this was business travel.

A Beisl, or small restaurant, at the Old Danube (Alte Donau)

A Beisl, or small restaurant, at the Old Danube (Alte Donau)

The next day, the sun came out as we drove to Schloß Schönbrunn, the Habsburg summer palace.  After touring the castle and grounds, we drove 84 kilometers to Dürnstein (the town where Richard Löwenherz (Lionhearted) was held captive; it was too rainy to hike up to the ruins where he had been imprisoned so we “settled” for dining a local restaurant (which featured the local wines from the Wachau region, such as Grüner Veltliner).

The final full day in Vienna included a trip to the Alte Donau (Old Danube), a beach/resort area.  The following morning, we drove to the offices of Auto-Service Wien, the local agent for E.H. Harms, BMW’s shipper, where we turned in the car with 1416 kilometers on the clock.

A quick taxi ride to the airport and we were on our way back to New York. The car wouldn’t be far behind.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.


1.) Ca. three months before the desired date, pick out the color and options, and negotiate the price.

2.) Sign the purchase order, which your dealer then submits to the European Delivery department with your desired delivery date.

3.) Your car is manufactured ca. 30 days prior to delivery.

4.) You pay for the car, usually 14 days before scheduled pick up day; if you are leasing, your lease starts on this day.

5.) You pick up the car in Munich.

6.) You drop the car off in Europe (within 30 days for BMWFS lease, 90 days for BMWFS finance, 6 months otherwise; insurance for 14 days is included).

7.) Car is transported to port and then put on board ship.

8.) Your car reaches USA (from drop-off, this takes up to 3-4 weeks for the East Coast, 5-6 weeks for the West Coast)

9.) Vehicle clears customs, is processed at the VDC and shipped to the dealer. (Depending on a variety of factors, including how backed up U.S. Customs is, this can take 1-2 weeks.)

10.) Redelivery.


Some suggestions to make the European Delivery experience more fun and less stressful for American visitors:

  • Order Satellite Navigation and get the DVD for Europe.  Arriving hours late for a business meeting is bad for business. Getting lost on the byways can spoil your fun.
  • Learn a few phrases in German and the language(s) of any countries you will be visiting.  “Danke” (thank you), “bitte” (please and you’re welcome), and “Guten Morgen” (good morning) will go a long way.
  • Plan for local weather.  Don’t order a car with summer (performance) tires for a mid-December delivery.
  • Don’t overplan.  Many first-time visitors to Europe try to see everything.  Pick a few destinations and get to know them well.
  • Verify the location and hours for your intended drop-off location when you are at the Delivery Center.


BMW NA Web Site

BMW presents an overview of European Delivery, including pricing, at

European Delivery forum at Bimmerfest.

Over 10% of BMW’s European Delivery customers utilize this online forum, asking questions and making travel plans,

Rolf Raffelsieper – BMW Pick-up Service

Herr Raffelsieper started working at BMW in 1967.  For a very reasonable fee, he will pick you up at Flughafen München Franz Josef Strauß and take you directly to the BMW European Delivery Center or to your hotel.  He can also arrange various tours, including visits to BMW facilities of interest.  E-mail Rolf at

Ricki Shamen, DiFeo BMW

I have worked with Ricki on multiple European Deliveries (and several U.S. deliveries) over the past 16 years.

European Delivery 2006 Calendar

As a fun project, I created this calendar with photographs from Germany and Austria along with all U.S., German, and Austrian holidays.  Available at


BMW Mercedes-Benz Porsche Saab Volvo
Discount 7%* 7% None (see hidden costs) 9% 8%
Perks Breakfast or lunch at delivery center; Lufthansa two-for-one airfare; factory tour; Condé Nast Traveler Lakeside, Alpine, and Castles tours ($2600-$3650).  BMW is building a new customer delivery center, BMW Welt, next to the BMW Four Cylinder headquarters building and the Olympic Park. BMW Welt should open in late Spring 2007, with customer deliveries starting in Summer 2007. One night’s lodging including breakfast; breakfast or lunch at the delivery center; two taxi vouchers for Stuttgart; factory tour; Lufthansa two-for-one airfare; Mercedes-Benz Travel Department will assist with air travel arrangements upon request; Black Forest-Alps Rally Package self-guided rally tour $1300. One night’s lodging; taxi to hotel; VIP luncheon following factory tour.

In September, Porsche introduced special discounts (35% for first and business class, 30% for main cabin) on Lufthansa.

Grand tours (no additional charge), in late spring and autumn, include welcome dinner, Porsche museum visit, VIP factory tour, lunch at the factory Kasino, visit to Porsche Weissach test track visit, farewell dinner.

$2,000 stipend for travel; loyalty bonus of $500 for current Saab owners. One night’s lodging including breakfast; 2 roundtrip tickets to Sweden; lunch; tours (at additional cost) include Great Golf in Scotland, Castles and Manor Houses, Three Kingdoms. Volvo frequently offers buyers pricing specials,  e.g. premium  package (i.e. moonroof, leather seats, etc.) discounted to $595 (MSRP is from $1345-$3195), as well as travel specials, such as a 3 nights in Barcelona winter special for $199
Hidden costs None. None. Program costs start at $2,500. Inland transportation fee to dealer applies for stateside delivery. Insurance not included (available at extra cost starting at $296). $400-$600 insurance deductible.
Pickup location Munich, Germany. Sindelfingen, Germany. Stuttgart, Germany and Leipzig, Germany (for Cayenne ). Trollhättan, Sweden Pickup at 16 other locations available at extra cost ($400-800). Gothenburg, Sweden.

Pickup available at 12 other locations at additional cost  ($600-1000).

Drop-off locations 12 major European cities at no charge. 12 major European cities at no charge. Factory drop-off at no charge.  18 cities throughout Europe at an additional charge. No charge for Bremerhaven and Gothenburg.  35 cities in Europe at fees ranging from € 80 to € 1,165). 16 locations in Europe at a cost of € h200-600 (no free drop-off available).
Models available 3 Series, 5 Series, 6 Series, 7 Series, and X3.  M5 and M6 available at MSRP. C, E, CLK, SLK, CLS, and SL models.  S550 is available at MSRP.  The  S600, E63, CLS63 and CLK 63 are available at MSRP with limited availability. All. 9-3 and 9-5 models. All.
Program sales 2363 1,244 Ca. 200 206 2472

Accura News

Read previous post:
Holiday Inn München City-Nord Review

The Holiday Inn München City-Nord is my Stammhotel, meaning that when I visit Munich, this is where I stay (and...