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We booked a nightjet ticket from Berlin to Paris. During the booking, there was no mention whatsoever of any conditions on the flexible fare.

See pictures below for a sample booking:

picture one

picture two

Then after booking, in the email they send with the link for downloading the ticket, they say at the very bottom that downloading the PDF will invalidate the refund option for the ticket. We didn't pay attention at all about this new clause which made its sudden and unforeseen appearance at the bottom of the email, downloaded the PDF and now that we need to cancel we can't anymore. I think this is an unfair sales tactic: is there any avenue for recourse?

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    Germany is full of unfair sales tactics like that. Companies often do things that are illegal in other countries and German customers don't seem to bother. Train companies operate almost in a monopoly and are particularly bad. I don't know any recourse, but I feel you and I hope you find a solution.
    – André
    Dec 16, 2023 at 2:33
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    @André That's in the terms of the Austrian ÖBB. German DB doesn't have such a rule.
    – asdfex
    Dec 16, 2023 at 12:12
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    Kind of Ironic: If the ticket acts as proof of purchase, can be printed black & white on an A4 sheet with any printer, and cannot be validated in real-time... then all of these factors combined, itself opens up a lot of possibilities for abuse in this digital/AI age. :/
    – mo FEAR
    Dec 17, 2023 at 2:11
  • I suspect you’d win if you sued them in court arguing that the PDF printing condition wasn’t obvious enough during booking. IMO it should be printed in giant letters before you purchase the ticket. So if you’re willing to hire a lawyer in Austria I’d say go for it.
    – JonathanReez
    Dec 17, 2023 at 17:52
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    @moFEAR - I'm sure a dedicated person could counterfeit the Ticket and QR code without too much of a problem. For Night Trains this is a bit moot, as it's VERY likely that someone actually bought a ticket for the sleeper cabin and you would then have to argue on site which ticket is real :-)
    – Martin Ba
    Dec 18, 2023 at 9:26

4 Answers 4

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As long as you have not downloaded the PDF you can cancel. Once you have downloaded you can no longer. This because once issued as a PDF a train ticket can not be un-issued. A train ticket is a proof of payment. Since you cannot give the proof of payment back you cannot get your payment back either.

ÖBB wants to avoid people buying tickets, downloading the PDF, then applying the refund, and then using the PDF to travel anyway...

ÖBB for that reason does even tell you to not download your ticket until shortly before departure.

Of course, ÖBB could maintain a separate database of still valid tickets, and some railways actually do that. However synching data between databases of 20+ railways is not a trivial task. Some railways solve the issue by just not selling international tickets except for a handful of destinations (eg. France, Spain). ÖBB apparently has chosen to solve the issue differently.

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    Got to love outdated IT that can't just do a cursory check in a database if a ticket is still valid Dec 16, 2023 at 9:05
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    Because there might be areas in which there is no connection to said database to check for validity
    – Zibelas
    Dec 16, 2023 at 9:34
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    @KristvanBesien inside the EU, for legitimate purposes, and with no sensitive (race, religion, healthcare) data, there will be no problem at all with exporting personal data. Even if it was exported outside the EU, as long as the data controller follows GDPR.
    – SJuan76
    Dec 16, 2023 at 9:47
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    @Zibelas It would actually be relatively easy to have a database with valid ticket codes together with validity date and start and end point. This database could be synced with a mobile app regularly, e.g. every hour. This should be enough to detect most of the fraud. Dec 16, 2023 at 12:03
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    "ÖBB wants to avoid people buying tickets, downloading the PDF, then applying the refund, and then using the PDF to travel anyway..." that's a ridiculous argument. The PDF is only a representation of a link to the booking in the ÖBB system. Of course ÖBB should be able to invalidate your ticket even if you canceled it. SNCF does it.
    – njzk2
    Dec 16, 2023 at 19:05
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Did you read the fare conditions link before you finalised the order?

It probably lead to the General information - Nightjet page shown below, where it is clearly stated that once a PDF ticket has been received it cannot then be canceled.

I think this is an unfair sales tactic: is there any avenue for recourse?

Since you confirmed that you read and accepted the fare conditions before entering into the binding contract, it would be difficult to claim that the conditions of the PDF ticket was 'hidden' from you.


General information - Nightjet

Standard-Tickets (Flex)
Available for both adults and children. The ticket includes a seat reservation in your chosen travel category. Therefore, the ticket is train-specific, meaning it is only valid for the booked train, the specified travel day, and the selected route.

The following cancellation terms apply:

  • A refund is possible and free of charge until the day before the 1st day of validity.
  • From the 1st day of validity onwards, no refund/exchange is possible.

These cancellation conditions apply to tickets that have been purchased online provided that the booking has not yet been received as a PDF ticket. A PDF ticket can no longer be cancelled. Tickets picked up at the ticket machine or ticket counter can only be refunded at the ticket counter.

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    Addendum: Even if you don't read the conditions (like everyone...), the information is not hidden at all. I'm sure I saw it clearly stated several times for every ÖBB ticket I booked so far.
    – asdfex
    Dec 16, 2023 at 12:22
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    terms and conditions are expected to be reasonable, though
    – njzk2
    Dec 16, 2023 at 19:06
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    @njzk2 This clause, and its motivation, is both reasonable and sensible business-wise. You're correct that a wholly excessive clause (e.g, miss the train and Öbb thugs can hunt you down and kill you) won't be enforced by a court, but this is not that clause. Dec 17, 2023 at 0:57
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    but this is even more crazy: they don't allow you to cancel close to the departure, so it's hard to find a reason (even technical) for not giving you the ticket
    – njzk2
    Dec 17, 2023 at 13:24
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    @njzk2 Yes, ÖBB could certainly automatically send people the ticket (email and/or app) at 00:00 on the date of departure if not yet generated yet at that point.
    – gerrit
    Dec 17, 2023 at 13:49
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This condition is not unique to ÖBB. I have seen the same with bus tickets in Sweden and (if I recall correctly) a Romanian night train. Sure, you could argue that, with a different technical solution, they would not need this condition. But you agreed to it when you bought the ticket.

For ÖBB at least, the information was clearly stated. It was not hidden in hard-to-understand formulations in smallprint, so one cannot argue they are trying to mislead anybody. (I found it more confusing for the Romanian night train, personally).

There is one way in which you might get a refund, and that is if ÖBB fail to meet their part of the contract. For example, if the train gets cancelled, you are entitled to a 100% refund, even if you have already generated the PDF. From personal experience, customer service to get this refund could be better, so you might want to wait with generating the PDF until just before you get on the train. Although I don't know if that would actually make a difference. Incidentally, your right to a refund is true even for non-refundable tickets such as saver fares if the train gets cancelled and no replacement service is offered (and possibly even if it is; details can be subtle in this case).

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This is something that may seem outdated, especially when we are used to different systems in other European countries, and can be surprising to discover, but yes, indeed, ÖBB tickets cannot be refunded once they have been generated in PDF / print-at-home format even if the fare category is fully refundable.

For your future Nightjet ticket purchases and ÖBB trains in general, you can get tickets in different mediums that are valid for travel, yet still refundable:

  • Classic rectangular train ticket on security paper, from ticket machines or at a manned counter at the train station

  • Using the ÖBB mobile app; the ticket appears on screen

The Nightjet website issues PDF tickets only, but is convenient as it is translated in more languages and focuses solely on the sleeper train connections.

I guess this is because there is no generalized reliable way to check that a print-at-home PDF ticket is still valid once checked on board the train.

ÖBB can sell tickets for travel in neighboring countries, especially in the East using sleeper trains (Slovenia, Czechia, Hungary, Romania, Poland and as far as Ukraine IIRC). Sleeping car or couchette attendants from some of those countries are trained on different procedures, can be a little more challenged with smartphone-based ticket checking and do it the old-fashioned way. The booking information systems may be interconnected, which is not necessary the case for ticket-checking ones.

A Czech couchette attendant let me in with a print-at-home ticket without scanning the QR code on his app. He only checked the writings in the boxes - arranged like a regular station-issued ticket - and wrote down the ticket number on some documents. Had I canceled the ticket before travel if it was possible, I would have defrauded the railway company without anyone noticing.

I advise you use the ÖBB app next time to book your sleeper train, if you want to have the convenience of not risking to forget the ticket creation step and keep it refundable per its tariff conditions. You may need to do more filtering, as it sells all the day connections and presents some weird mix-ups of part-sleeper-part-day-train itineraries that can still be done using a single sleeper train.

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  • What stops someone from just editing the date/train number on the ticket if they know that the QR code is not being checked?
    – JonathanReez
    Dec 17, 2023 at 15:57
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    @JonathanReez Night trains usually have mandatory reservations. They might check if two people turn up claiming a reservation for the same seat/berth. For trains with mandatory reservations, they sometimes don't check tickets at all: there is a reservation for seat/berth X + there is a person in seat/berth X can be enough for train crew to forgo ticket checks. Train crew know which seats/berths are reserved unless those reservations have been booked very late. (In my experience, they usually check people entering the train, but this is rather for safety reasons.)
    – gerrit
    Dec 17, 2023 at 16:02
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    There are some security patterns on the print-at-home tickets that repeat some of the essential travel information in difficult-to-alter graphics, distorted text... For mobile tickets there is an animated element on screen (the train station clock) so that you cannot just get away with a screenshot. If you really want to counterfeit a paper ticket, you still have to be sure that the seat or berth number is not already reserved, which would raise a huge red flag! This is just an example an I strongly do not encourage anybody to do such actions.
    – DavGin
    Dec 17, 2023 at 16:07
  • On top of what @DavGin says, the penalties for (attempted) ticket counterfeiting might also be much, much worse than the penalties for being caught without a valid ticket.
    – gerrit
    Dec 17, 2023 at 16:08
  • @gerrit In that case… isn’t OBB being unreasonable by denying refunds after the PDF has been generated? Sounds like the system is hard to fool as is.
    – JonathanReez
    Dec 17, 2023 at 17:50

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