Should I have to pay more for a rail ticket so as to ensure I get compensation?

On 4th June 2015 – as so often – I took the train from Berlin Hbf to Bruxelles-Midi, changing in Köln. The difference from my usual trips on this route was that I booked only on 26th May, only 8 days ahead, and no Deutsche Bahn Sparpreis tickets were available when I searched. I was only offered the Normalpreis of €120,70*.

Not to be deterred, I checked if a Sparpreis was available for any part of the trip. It turned out there was a Sparpreis for Berlin – Köln, and not for Köln – Bruxelles. So I booked DB ICE 654 Berlin Hbf – Köln Hbf for €61,25 Sparpreis and DB ICE 16 Köln Hbf – Bruxelles-Midi for €40,50 Normalpreis, and booked these parts separately as there is no way to book them together. Total: €101,75.

The problem then was the Berlin – Köln ICE 654 was delayed, meaning I missed my connection onto ICE 16 in Köln. I had to wait in Köln Hbf for the next connection, an hour later, and arrived in Bruxelles-Midi with an hour of delay. An hour of delay normally entitles one to 25% compensation.

Deutsche Bahn today replied to my request for compensation, and has refused compensation completely. The (partially redacted) tickets and letters can be found here for ICE 654 and ICE 16, and this is the key paragraph in DB’s response:

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 14.30.51

So – despite both trains being run by DB, and despite there being no way for me to book a Sparpreis + Normalpreis ticket in one booking, and me having left more than enough time for the connection in Köln – DB refuses to reimburse me 25% of the total ticket price.

I wonder what would have happened if I’d booked a Thalys rather than the ICE 16 to Brussels, because DB now refuses altogether to sell tickets for Thalys – no passenger can possibly have a through ticket on that service.

Ideas about what to do about this situation, and reflections about whether this is all fair or not, are most welcome in the comments. The essence, I think, is this: should I have to pay more (i.e. a Normalpreis for my complete journey) in order to be entitled to compensation?

* – all prices are with a BahnCard 25.

In this article

Join the Conversation


  1. Peter Cornelius

    you did sent a letter concerning this story to EBA – Eisenbahn-Bundes-Amt. Did you receive an answer in the meantime ?

  2. Zweifler


    Regulation (EC) No 1371/2007, Article 17 tells us:
    “Where the transport contract is for a return journey, compensation
    for delay on either the outward or the return leg shall be calculated
    in relation to half of the price paid for the ticket. In the
    same way the price for a delayed service under any other form of
    transport contract allowing travelling several subsequent legs shall
    be calculated in proportion to the full price.”

    So: “subsequent legs” of a trip have to be handled separated. Even if you arrived in time at your final destination, you can get an (partial) compensation, if a train is delayed more than 60 minutes at an intermediate stations. I would assume, that this is only true for stations, that are mentioned on the ticket and where a stopover time was planned.

    This is my understanding, but seems me the only way, the above sentence on “several subsequent legs” makes any sense.

  3. Anonymous

    There is another thing that you need to consider when using DB’s tickets. DB allows you to include up to two stop-overs of up to 48 hours each, and the delay compensation only depends on the arrival time to the final station – it doesn’t matter if the time you spend at intermediate stations changes. Examples:

    An SJ X 2000 train I was travelling with was running very late and was cancelled between Malmö and Copenhagen. Total delay: 3 hours, and the connection time was reduced from about twelve hours to about nine, so I didn’t get as much sleep as I had wanted. However, I could still make it in time to my connecting train for Flensburg (the final stop as indicated on my ticket), and the train arrived on time to Flensburg, so no compensation was to be paid (I presume; I never submitted any compensation claims to DB).

    On Friday last week, I travelled with ICE 34 from Copenhagen to Hamburg using the train ferry MS Deutschland. The ferry stopped for about an hour between Rødby and Puttgarden because another ferry (MS Prinsesse Benedikte) was having technical problems in Puttgarden and therefore blocked access to the ferry terminal. In the end, MS Deutschland went to the other ferryport in Puttgarden, and all train passengers had to go down to the car deck and pick up their luggage and disembark as foot passengers and change to another train in Puttgarden. Total delay to Hamburg: 110 minutes. However, I had planned for a stopover of about 35-40 hours in Hamburg, so I could still make it to my connecting train, and that train arrived to the final destination as indicated on my ticket at the right time, so I assume that there is no compensation for me to claim.

    Now let’s say that you book a trip with two stop-overs of 40 hours each, and all trains except the final one arrive on time. In that case: big bonus for you, as you get compensation for all trains, not just the single delayed one. Stupid system? Yes, of course. Compensation calculation doesn’t seem to have been designed in a good way given how train tickets are sold.

  4. Jon

    “You were quite lucky that the ‘Normalpreis’ ticket rules allow you to take any train during the same day. Otherwise, you might have been stuck in Cologne.”

    No. Both DB and Thalys are in Railteam. So even if I had a Sparpreis here I would have been able to get on the next train.

  5. Anonymous

    The EU rules are quite simple: there is something which is known as a ‘contract’ and you got two separate ‘contracts’, so the delay compensation is calculated separately for each individual ‘contract’. In Germany, you usually get one piece of paper per contract whereas the Swedish booking system may give you multiple pieces of paper if you have to change trains somewhere during your journey.

    You were quite lucky that the ‘Normalpreis’ ticket rules allow you to take any train during the same day. Otherwise, you might have been stuck in Cologne. Rules allowing you to continue to your final destination also depend on the concept of ‘contracts’.

    Since you used Normalpreis on the Belgian part of the journey, did you check the price of an Interrail One-Country Pass for Benelux? It reduces the Normalpreis ticket cost as you only need a Normalpreis ticket from Cologne to Aachen Süd(Gr), but maybe you got an Europa-Spezial in the opposite direction?

  6. Nick Brooks

    Dear All,

    apologies for this delayed comment – holidays got in the way.

    @Jon I’m not sure the Lufthansa example is relevant because LH is not a monopoly anymore.
    By contrast DB has almost 100% market share in German long distance passenger rail.

    So I don’t think it’s right to treat DB as if it were a normal free market company that’s allowed to do what it wants, for example in determining terms of use for its data outside of what happens within its own segments. (Indeed, DB should not be allowed to determine what combinations with other tickets – and their respective tariffs – are allowed).

    Then, if 3rd party rail retail innovators were able to undercut incumbent through tickets by means of split ticketing, (as @Mike Prior-Jones talks about ), this should be allowed – it would be a huge boost for cross-border travel. Essentially, a proper pan-European ticketing network could be established.
    Also, it could be up and running by the end of this year.

    Furthermore, the 3rd party rail retailers should not bear any risk… they should be able to sell “self-made through tickets” by joining up the tickets & tariffs of different operators, even if there is a separate booking reference for each segment. Crucial is whether they are part of the same “joint technical booking” made at the same time.

    Passenger rights for such “joint technical bookings” should then be as follows: If 1st train is delayed and the connection to a 2nd different operator is missed (and the 2nd segment is a restricted/advanced ticket), then the 2nd operator should let passenger travel on next available service. Any passenger rights compensation should be paid by whoever caused the delay.

    Joining up restricted tickets on different operators would give European railways a good way to compete against the market growth of cross-border coach services (Sindbad, Megabus, MeinFernBus etc). Don’t forget the passenger would STILL be giving up his or her flexibility in exchange for an advanced joint booking; it’s not as if the (more expensive) anytime fares would be cannibalized anymore than they are now.

  7. Jon

    @Zweifler – I have had some conversations with people running these sorts of startups, and there are two issues. The first is if the company can even get A to X, and X to B out of DB’s system (because deciding where X is isn’t a simple issue), and doing so would allow these firms to systematically undercut DB – and that might be against the terms of use of the data they can get from DB. Secondly, these firms are not themselves going to be able to bear the risk of claims like mine themselves – they are too small. All of this needs more research work, but I do not see an easy solution to all of this!

  8. Zweifler

    @Jon on issue “Capt Train”: This seems me really a conflict between different regulations. If you order A to B and they sell you two tickets A to X and X to B, then from my understanding it’s one contract, because you did not ask for “A to X and X to B”.
    I don’t no, wether Capt.Train makes statements on this issue in its conditions.

  9. Jon

    @Manuel Müller – yes, in EU law I know I am in a weak position. Let’s however see what the Eisenbahnbundesamt says – I’ve referred this to them.

    @Mike Prior-Jones / @Zweifler (2nd comment) – fair points, and I have done that sometimes too. Problem here was the Köln-Brussels ICE was so jammed there were no cheap tickets on it, from anywhere. I could have split in Wuppertal I suppose (although the consequences didn’t occur to me at the time).

    @Nick Brooks – I don’t know how DB’s system works for third parties well enough to know the answer to that. If multiple API queries were possible then such a split could be offered, I suppose, by Capt Train. But wouldn’t each leg then get a separate booking reference, and we’d be back with the same problem again?

    @Peter Cornelius – yes, I have written to EBA. Let’s see what they say. And there were no Europa Spezial tickets available (that’s what I mean when I say Sparpreis above).

  10. Peter Cornelius

    why did you not choose to buy an ” EUROPA-SPEZIAL-Ticket” to go to Bruxelles ?
    Also not available at your booking time ? Or not selected ?

  11. Peter Cornelius

    from my understanding you should go the EBA to get an answer for this case !
    Peter Cornelius, head of passenger rights subcommittee of Fahrgastverband Pro Bahn e.V.

  12. Zweifler

    @Mike That’s right. I live north of Munich, and have to use S-Bahn to reach ICE at Munich Main Station. I have a commuter ticket for travelling to Munich, but using this, I would have no rights, missing the ICE due to S-Bahn delay. So I purchase my ticket often starting at the first station inside Munich at my S-Bahn line (that is “Feldmoching” for the S1). So I start outside Munich with my commuter ticket, but have all passenger rights if the S-Bahn is delayed, because I do not change trains at Feldmoching.

  13. Zweifler

    It could even be harder: the second ticket could be the “Sparpreis”. Without passenger rights, because you bought two tickets, it would – following DB – lost any value, when missing the second train, and – again following DB – you had to buy a new “Normalpreis” ticket in addition for the second part of the trip.

    Okay – there is one chance in this case: maybe it is possible to use the „Hop on the next available train“ option of railteam –
    But as I understand, this is only an option for international trains. (?)

  14. Mike Prior-Jones

    I’ve employed the split-ticket system a few types on the UK rail system to get a better fare. The key is to ensure that the ticket split occurs at an intermediate station on your journey where you are *not* changing trains – so that any connections fall within one purchased journey. This ensures you do not lose out if something goes wrong en-route. In your case, you could perhaps have split your ticket at Aachen instead of Köln?

  15. Nick Brooks

    @Jon your quibble is a valid one. But theoretically the 3rd party retailers – depending on who they have contracts with – could have returned a DB Spezialpreis restricted fare with a similar cheap fare on Thalys from Köln Hbf – Bruxelles-Midi, right?

  16. Manuel Müller

    I fear that art. 17 of the regulation 1371/2007 (EC) is quite clear about this:
    “(1) Without losing the right of transport, a passenger may request compensation for delays from the railway undertaking if he or she is facing a delay between the places of departure and destination stated on the ticket for which the ticket has not been reimbursed in accordance with Article 16. The minimum compensations for delays shall be as follows:
    (a) 25 % of the ticket price for a delay of 60 to 119 minutes”

    So two tickets means two trips – which, of course, is an incentive for DB to have you buy a separate ticket for each connection. Whether this is fair or reasonable is another question…

  17. Jon

    @Nick – you’re probably right, but with this I have exactly the sort of test case that I am looking for to demonstrate the problems here.

    I only quibble with one point – neither Loco2 nor Capitaine Train would have given me the cheapest ticket here either, as DB’s API would have just returned one through price AFAIK.

  18. Nick Brooks

    From a moral perspective, I think you should get compensation. I think the system, as it stands, is unfair and forces customers to pay for cross-border through tickets at the Normalpreis/anytime price with one network operator.

    Especially if you were to have booked the 2 separate tickets through the same portal in one “joint booking”, e.g. on Capitaine Train or Loco2, then (in my opinion) passenger rights should apply for the entire journey, regardless of whether one part of the journey is a restricted/advanced ticket.

    This way, 3rd party rail retailers could sell (cheaper) pan-European tickets without the risk of passenger rights not applying all the way through. If legislation were to be passed to allow this, then I think it would be a big boost to cross-border rail bookings.

    However, as it stands at the moment, I don’t think you would have a chance with the EBA. There have been cases just like this before, and (to my knowledge) the customer lost every single time.

  19. Jon

    @Samuel – your parallel does not hold, because an airline would give me more options when I booked. Say I wanted Warsaw – Frankurt – New York City with Lufthansa, and the cheapest economy ticket was NOT available on Warsaw – Frankfurt, but WAS available on Frankfurt – New York City. Lufthansa would still be able to give me the cheapest possible price for a through ticket. Here DB had cheap tickets for one part available, but couldn’t sell them to me because products in the same category were not available for the second part of the trip. This is ludicrous.

  20. Samuel van ransbeeck

    I think you are out of luck: For DB (or any other company( you booked two separate voyages. Their task is to transport you from A to B, where their obligations end. then you have your ticket B to C, where at C their obligations end. DB can offer cheaper prices on some stretches but then you are taking a risk. You have to calculate yourself if you are willing to take that risk. In your case I would be glad that they let you take a later train. On a plane that would be near-to impossible.

  21. Zweifler

    My opinion: If the tickets were bought “together” (e.g. in a certain time interval using online booking) there should be compensation possible. Check or for a follow-up (I would probably prefer Eisenbahn-Bundesamt in this case).

    The relationship “1 trip” – “1 ticket” seems me to be mainly an idea of DB, not of EU passenger rights.

    The case would be somewhat clearer, if there were no single ticket possible for the “Reisekette” (as in case of transfer to Thalys). So the quoted paragraph from DB is in my opinion not correct.

    But: your title “Should I have to pay more for a rail ticket so as to ensure I get compensation?” has to be answered with “yes” in other cases. If you are travelling with a “Länderticket” (or “Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket”, “Schönes-Wochenend-Ticket”, “Regio-Ticket-…”, …) no compensation would be payed. Using a normal DB ticket instead, you have to pay more, but would get compensation for delays of more than one hour.