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The RailTeam alliance of European rail operators offers a HOTNAT ("hop on the next available train") guarantee, stated as follows:

Hop on the next available train » (HOTNAT) allows travelers to take the next high-speed service leaving from the same station as originally planned when a delay on or cancellation of a preceding Railteam member’s high-speed service prevents them from making their originally-planned connection. This service is free of charge and is subject to the following conditions : the connection that was missed must be between two high-speed trains of the Railteam Alliance. HOTNAT only applies at the station at which the passenger originally planned to change trains and in cases of train delays and train cancellations. The approval of HOTNAT is subject to the available capacity on board each train. Seats are not guaranteed.

I'm particularly interested in the applicability of this guarantee to the Brussels <-> Cologne route, where the next train is generally a Thalys if you miss your Deutsche Bahn connection. Since both DB and Thalys are RailTeam members, it seems that I should in such a case be able to take the Thalys with my DB ticket, provided that they're not completely full. (Apparently even when all seats are booked, passengers may be accommodated on fold-out seats or in the bar.) However, I've read occasional claims online that HOTNAT may not be honoured in practice -- most recently here:

tweet screenshot

Things may be complicated by the rules changing over time, and by some rail staff being unaware of current rules. So, if this does happen to me and I simply walk onto a Thalys train with my original DB ticket and a stamp proving the delay, do I risk being forced to buy a walk-on fare? Are the Thalys staff sometimes unaware of the HOTNAT provisions (in which case it might help to carry a print-out of the web page), or am I misreading the HOTNAT rule?

  • Did you already ask on community.bahn.de if anyone knows the complete and definitive HOTNAT rules? It's another Q&A, but occasionally DB staff make an extra effort and research an 'official' answer. They might even find out which stamps are actually necessary/helpful but optional/worthless. – user108733 Oct 17 '18 at 10:49
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    @user108733 I looked at quite a lot of threads on community.bahn.de and ice-treff.de before posting the question and ended up more confused rather than more enlightened; several people reported that they had (either on their own initiative or on advice of station staff) bought Thalys tickets for the replacement journey, then attempted to have them reimbursed via DB customer service, with varying degrees of success. There are sometimes differences between info from the DB website, from ticket counters, and from train staff so I am more interested in actual practice than in official answers. – Pont Oct 17 '18 at 12:19
  • Now I understand your question's emphasis on 'in practice'. – user108733 Oct 18 '18 at 6:47
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+50

There is a special stamp to prove you're entitled to hop on the next available train:

Ticket with HOTNAT stamp

The text in the upper bubble roughly means, 'The HOTNAT stamp indicates approval for using THA'. The image is taken from page 9 of this document:

https://www.cit-rail.org/media/files/public/Passenger/AJC_AppxII_Delay%20confirmation_Stamps_EN_2017-07-01.pdf.

Ideally, if there is enough time, you'd go to a DB ticket counter in Köln Hbf and get this stamp, which validates your ticket for Thalys.

I can only guess that a regular DB stamp might not be generally recognized by other train operators, hence this special Railteam stamp.

Are the Thalys staff sometimes unaware of the HOTNAT provisions (...) ?

Considering the negative examples you found, it's probably fair to say that we're likely to make bad experiences public in the hope of some improvement, while we see little reason to talk about the ordinary, that is, when things went smoothly.

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    Thanks -- it's good to clarify that a specific HOTNAT stamp from the ticket counter is important, as opposed to a generic "delayed" stamp or annotation. It would be nice to get some reports of people who have successfully used it in practice (because, as you rightly point out, there's a reporting bias for cases where it didn't work), and how much arguing with staff was required. Anyway that PDF -- more specifically that page -- looks very useful to print out and wave at sceptical conductors. I will accept the answer in a couple of days if nobody manages to dig up anything more empirical. – Pont Oct 17 '18 at 10:33

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