How German startups are profiting from Deutsche Bahn delays

A handful of startups are helping train travellers receive reimbursement for delays. Just how useful are the apps which they offer?

How German startups are profiting from Deutsche Bahn delays
A passenger waits for a delayed train in Hamburg in November 2018. Photo: DPA

The budding companies enable customers to apply for reimbursement of their fare from Deutsche Bahn via an app if their train was delayed.

When going the official route, this has so far only been possible using an analogous form. 

READ ALSO: Why so many trains in Germany are late

The paper procedure is considered cumbersome, even though the state-owned Deutsche Bahn group says that they are working on changing this.

How much is refunded?

In general, customers can get 25 percent of their fare back from Deutsche Bahn if they arrive at their destination at least one hour late. For a delay of two hours, half of the fare is refunded.

To claim a refund, passengers must enter their connection data on to the form and hand it in at one of Deutsche Bahn's service counters, or send it to the company by post.

“But many customers don’t care to do this, or to deal with the questions from Deutsche Bahn when they come back by mail,” says Stefan Nitz, founder of the start-up refundrebel, which takes on the work for customers. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany's new 2020 train timetable

All customers have to do is to send data about their delay by mobile phone, and the company takes care of everything else. 

“We also handle the more complicated cases,” says Nitz, such as taxi rides or hotel stays in cases where passengers are stranded at train stations at night because of a delay.

In exchange for providing this service, refundrebel retains 16.5 percent of the refunded fare. Compared to other providers, though, this is a little expensive. There are currently about half a dozen start-ups on the small market. 

DB passengers waiting in line at an information counter in Hamburg after their trains were delayed by a storm in September. Photo: DPA

At RE.X, for example, the passenger rights form can also be filled out digitally.

“With our app, you can fill out the application while you're still on the train and we'll hand it in for you,” the start-up advertises on its website.

The service at RE.X costs an initial flat rate of €1.09. After an introductory phase, however, the regular price is set at €1.99.

On the website, however, the first application of the year is free of charge. Each additional application costs 99 cents.

The Pro Bahn passenger association is not entirely convinced by the new offers. “It is a ‘nice to have’,” said the honorary chairman of Pro Bahn, Karl-Peter Naumann. 

“But it's not the biggest relief either.” 

The start-ups would also need a lot of information from the customers to apply for reimbursement, said Naumann.

A long ride to digital processing

Deutsche Bahn itself told DPA that it makes no difference whether the refund application is submitted directly by the passengers or by third parties. 

Because the company is currently completely overhauling its digital booking system, it will take until 2021 before refunds can be processed digitally.

READ ALSO: Deutsche Bahn to introduce its own 'Siri' to better assist customers

The founder of refundrebel, Nitz, said that this doesn't pose a threat to his business, though.

“We don't believe that the Bahn will then take us off the hook,” he says. “There are also some things that are difficult to implement digitally. We're still a good alternative.” 

Ten employees took care of the applications. His own business is not yet profitable. “We're still in the growth phase,” he said. 

Via the platform, reimbursements can also be applied for from other railway companies and from Flixtrain – although some of them offer digital options for refunds themselves.


refund – (die) Erstattung

relief – (die) Erleichterung

request – beantragen

revise/overhaul – überarbeiten

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!