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How to make the most of reward schemes on your German health insurance

Most people in Germany pay for health insurance, but did you know that many providers also have reward schemes that let you earn points for healthy living? Whether you’re a gym bunny or a couch potato, here's how to make the most of them.

Jogger in Dresden, Saxony
A man goes for a jog in Volkspark Großer Garten in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

I’ve got health insurance. What’s all this about rewards?

We’re glad you asked! Health insurance bonus or reward schemes are incentives designed to encourage people to take a more proactive approach to managing their health. 

Generally, people participating in the schemes can collect points for deductions in their healthcare payments or other rewards for doing things to improve their health and wellbeing. They’re available for most people with insurance, regardless of whether you’re employed, self-employed, a student or a pensioner. 

These schemes are entirely voluntary but can be a great way of saving a bit of money on your health insurance for things you might do anyway, like going to the gym or getting a dental check-up.

You won’t face penalties for not completing activities, so there’s no risk involved in participating. 

The idea is that by offering cash or other incentives for people to improve their lifestyle, insurance companies are far less likely to have to shell out money for treatment later on. Ever heard the phrase, “Prevention is better than cure?”. Well, that’s pretty much the motto of these bonus schemes. 

If you have statutory health insurance such as AOK, TK or one of the regional state providers, your insurance is bound by law to offer extras like bonus schemes, so it could be worth checking their website to see what you can find out. 

Private providers may also offer them as a way of enticing new customers and trying to keep their existing customers healthy. 

Maximum bonuses are generally around €300 for a single person and €600 for a family, so participating could be well worth your while.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The three new services covered by German health insurance

What kind of things count as ‘healthy living’? 

That partially depends on your insurance provider, but generally bonuses are given out for things like getting regular check-ups, going to the gym, visiting the dentist or taking a course on health and wellbeing.

Technische Krankenkasse (TK), for instance, offer 200 points for doing an early cancer screening such as a smear test, 200 points for a dental check-up and 400 points for getting a Covid vaccination. They also offer points for taking part in sports activities and events.

These points can be redeemed for money off your health insurance or issued as a ‘TK Health Dividend’ which can be used to pay for treatments or other healthy activities like courses on health and nutrition. You can find a full list of the activities covered and more about the bonus scheme here.

The other major state health insurance provider, AOK, runs a similar bonus scheme with points doled out for regular check-ups, dental treatment, having a gym membership and Covid-19 vaccination.

They also offer a bonus of 2,000 points (equivalent to €20) for socially conscious activities like donating blood. Find out more about the AOK scheme here

In the case of both TK and AOK, 100 points is equivalent to €1. 

Barmer, a public health insurance that caters to English speakers, also offers a bonus scheme with up to €100 available for things like regular check-ups, having a gym membership and maintaining a healthy BMI. 

Meanwhile, IKKBB, a regional insurance provider for the Berlin-Brandenburg areas, offers a €20 bonus for quitting smoking, €10 for having a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), €75 for regular exercise and other incentives for check-ups and healthy living courses. 

Sounds great – where do I sign up? 

That all depends on your provider, but generally you’ll be able to sign up online in your health insurance’s customer portal, in person at a local branch or in their app. 

If you’re not with any of the providers listed above, you may able to find details of their rewards scheme and how to participate by Googling the name of your provider and the word “Bonusprogramm” (rewards or bonus programme) – or by visiting their website.

You’ll generally be expected to sign a disclaimer to say that you consent to your personal data being used for the purpose of collecting points or cashback. 

After you’ve signed up, you’ll need to prove you’ve taken part in activities by uploading relevant photos or collecting ‘stamps’ on your app or a paper booklet.

People at the gym

Two people run on treadmills at Campus Sports Club in Saarbrücken. Rewards are often earned by having a gym membership or attending classes. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Dietze

So for example, if you’ve just been to the hygienist, you may need to get them to confirm the activity in your in-app activity log or by placing a stamp in a booklet that you can then send to your health insurance provider. 

READ ALSO: 12 ways to improve your life in Germany without even trying

In the case of AOK, you can opt to synchronise the Bonus App with a fitness tracker like FitBit and enter data on your sports activities that way.

Other activities, such as check-ups, may also be tracked automatically by your insurance provider if you are enrolled in the scheme. 

Contact your insurance or consult their website to find out more about the kind of evidence they require for the bonus scheme. 

Does this affect my taxes in any way? 

It may do – but it all depends on how much you ‘earn’ in bonuses.

Generally, taxpayers can declare their health insurance contributions – whether statutory or private – as special expenses in their tax return. This reduces the taxable income and, with it, the amount of tax you have to pay.

However, if you receive, say, €200 off your insurance bill, you need to make sure this is calculated in the tax bill – which basically means you’ll have fewer expenses to write off.

There is some good news for taxpayers, however. According to a recent report by Handelsblatt, the first €150 in bonuses earned does not need to be accounted for in your tax return.

In order to simplify things for taxpayers, up to €150 is classified as benefits from the statutory health insurance fund and therefore shouldn’t be deducted from expenses, the Ministry of Finance confirmed.

Above this amount, only the ‘surplus’ is counted – so in the case of a €200 bonus, only €50 would be deducted from the total amount you’ve spent on health insurance that year. 

What else do I need to know?

According to the German Consumer Rights Centre (VZ), the devil tends to be in the detail with these bonus programmes – so make sure you know all of the relevant terms and conditions.

Generally, health insurance providers will try and entice you with incredible looking bonuses of €300 or more, but be aware that this is the maximum you can earn – not the standard payout. Unless you’re an absolute superhuman when it comes to health (or have a lot of time on your hands), the real bonus is likely to be a fair bit less.

You may also notice that not all of the activities required to collect points are free of charge, so these may only worth doing if you’re keen to do them for the health benefits rather than the financial gain. Others, like online health courses, may be subsidised or offered for free by your insurance – so be sure to read up on what’s on offer.

If you’re signing up with a partner or family members who are covered on your insurance, it’s worth reading up on the rules. Some programmes will allow you to pool points with your family members or transfer them to another person on your insurance, but generally this doesn’t work in all directions.

Child Covid jab

A five year old boy receives a Covid vaccination in Frankenthal, Rhineland-Palatinate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

For example, parents may be able to share points with their children but not the other way around. Equally, you may find that a partner who’s included on the insurance is offered a slightly less generous rewards scheme than the person paying into the pot. That means that you may want to think twice before sharing your points or consider transferring them to the person with the best bonuses, if possible.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to bring up a child in Germany?

Another thing to consider are deadlines for gathering and/or submitting points. Some insurers such as TK specify that you have to gather a minimum number of points in order to receive a reward, so be sure to do this in the allotted time to prevent points being wasted.

Often, bonus schemes run for a year and points are finalised by March 31st, so if you join a new health insurance in January you may have to rush to get your activities in in order to save that year. Others may link the deadline to your registration date, giving you 12 or 13 months from when you sign up to collect points and earn rewards. 

Check with your health insurance provider for any deadlines and T&Cs, and be aware that your points will be invalidated if you switch providers before redeeming them. 

Vocabulary

Bonus/rewards programme – (das) Bonusprogramm

collect points – Punkte sammeln 

special (tax) expenses – (die) Sonderausgaben 

check-up – (der) Gesundheitscheck 

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.

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TRAVEL NEWS

€9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany’s cheap travel deal

Germany's €9 monthly transport ticket is coming. Here's everything you should know about the deal that will allow you to to travel the country for next to nothing this summer.

€9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany's cheap travel deal

What’s all this about cheap transport?

Germany is about to launch a mega cheap transport ticket – and a lot of people are getting very excited about it.

The “€9 for 90” ticket is a monthly travel card that people can buy for just €9 per month over a three-month period. It’s a fraction of the price of a normal monthly travel card and – even more incredibly – can be used anywhere in the country on local and regional transport. 

The deal was initially announced back in April as part of an energy relief package put together by the government. And despite some anger from state leaders over funding for the scheme, the ticket cleared its final hurdle in the Bundesrat on Friday.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

So far, the €9 ticket has received a lot of publicity and attention. That’s probably because it’s one of the more fun measures to combat the energy crisis – one that doesn’t involve complicated claims and write-offs in your tax return.

Instead, the government is hoping that the new ticket will cut monthly transport costs for households and encourage people to use more eco-friendly transport options. With fuel prices spiralling, it’s a great time to leave the car at home and travel around for next to nothing, while doing your bit for the environment. 

Sounds great. Can everyone buy it?

Yes! It doesn’t matter whether you’re a tourist on a weekend trip from Austria, a part-time Germany resident or Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself: everyone will be able to purchase the €9 ticket. (We imagine Olaf may already have his own transport, though.) 

It will, however, have your name on it, so it can’t be pooled between friends (as tempting as an even cheaper travel deal would be). 

READ ALSO: What tourists in Germany need to know about the €9 public transport ticket

Busy train in Stuttgart

People board a busy train in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

When will it be available?

It’s currently available in a handful of cities, including Hamburg, Stuttgart and Freiburg – but everyone else will be able to purchase it from May 23rd onwards. 

The deal itself will be a summer travel offer. That means the first monthly ticket will be valid from June 1st and the last monthly ticket will expire on August 31st. Each of the tickets will be valid for the full calendar month so you won’t be able to mix and match with existing tickets.

For example, if you’ve already bought a ticket that’s expiring in mid-June, you wouldn’t then be able to buy a €9 ticket running from the middle of June to the middle of August.

Instead, you would require two €9 tickets  for June and July – though you can get a refund for the part of the prior ticket you didn’t end up using.

Where can I get hold of it?

The ticket will be available via Deutsche Bahn’s DB Navigator app, on the DB website, at in-station terminals and at ticket desks and offices.

Regional transport operators are likely to have their own ticket purchasing options as well – most likely online, but in some cases also at ticket machines and in-station offices. 

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin

A regional train near Hornberg, in the Black Forest.

A regional train near Hornberg, in the Black Forest. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

What types of public transport can I use it on?

The ticket is valid throughout Germany, but only on regional and local transport.

That means you can use it on all local trains like the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, as well as on trams and buses. You can also travel on the Regionalverkehr (regional trains) across Germany. 

You can’t use the ticket for private services like Flixbus and Flixtrain or on other long-distance rail services like IC, EC and ICE trains. If you’re travelling around your state and aren’t sure if the ticket will be valid, check if the train you’re taking has an ‘RE’ in the name. That’s the shorthand for regional trains.

It probably goes without saying, but taxi services won’t be included in the price. And, yes, you will still need to pay for those e-scooters as well. 

Can I use it to travel first class?

If you’re hoping for a month of budget transport but also want to be treated like royalty whilst on board, we may have to disappoint you. The €9 ticket can only be used in second-class carriages.

This is largely because there’s likely to be huge demand for the budget offer – so there could be scuffles for first-class seats with that extra bit of legroom. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

I’ve already got an Abo. What can I do?

This has been a big concern for the folk who have already opted to pay full price for their public transport. (What fools they were…) 

Luckily, this group of keen transport users won’t miss out either. According to the DB website, people who’ve already shelled out on a monthly or annual ticket will be contacted by their local transport provider and informed about how they can get a refund.

If you’ve got a standing order set up, the transport operator will likely just debit the €9 from your account instead of the usual amount. Otherwise, you may get sent a refund via direct debit. 

Your subscription ticket will be valid for local public transport throughout Germany during the three month offer period – not just in your area.

Will students also benefit from the ticket?

Absolutely – though this is one area where things may be a little less well-organised. If you’re a student with a semester ticket, you will be entitled to a refund of the extra amount you paid, which will likely be handled by your university. 

One thing that seems a little unclear is whether the semester ticket will suddenly be valid outside of your local region, just like the €9 ticket is. We assume it will, but we’ll try to clarify this with DB and other service providers in the coming weeks. 

Can I take my bike on board?

Unfortunately, bikes aren’t included in the offer – and this seems like a deliberate choice. 

DB is recommending that people leave their bikes at home during the three months that the €9 ticket is on offer. This is because trains are likely to be extremely busy and they can’t guarantee that they’ll have room for everyone, let alone a hundred or so bikes. Instead, you can usually hire a bike at your destination.

However, if you’ve already got a subscription that allows you to take your bike with you (i.e. a student semester ticket or another type of Abo), you’ll still be able to do so. 

What about my dog? 

You will unfortunately not be able to purchase a €9 ticket in the name of Rover T. Dog (well, you could try, but it probably won’t work). However, the usual rules will apply to travelling with a furry friend. 

In some places, you may need to buy an extra dog ticket for Rover, while in others, he’ll be able to accompany you free-of-charge. 

READ ALSO: Who benefits from Germany’s €9 public transport ticket offer?

A woman carries her dog through a Berlin train station

A woman carries her onesie-clad dog in a Berlin train station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Do children need to pay for a ticket? 

Children under six can travel for free on public transport, while children over the age of six will need their own €9 ticket. 

What about seat reservations? 

Transport operators are trying to keep things as flexible as possible to cope with demand over summer, so you unfortunately won’t be able to use the ticket to reserve a seat in advance.

Won’t public transport be rammed? 

At the moment, nobody really knows. According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), there could be as many as 30 million public transport users per month over summer – but this is only a rough estimate.

READ ALSO: How many people will use the €9 ticket?

One way around this is to try and travel on weekdays and off-peak services where possible and (as mentioned) to hire bikes rather than bringing them in the train.

It could also be helpful to familiarise yourself with different transport connections and routes in your area. 

The other thing that could help ease the crush on public transport is the fact that the government is also planning to cut taxes on fuel in tandem with the €9 ticket. That means that, for three months over summer, drivers will be able to get cheaper petrol and diesel – so some may indeed decide to take the car after all.

The ticket ends at the end of August. What happens next? 

Once again, it’s hard to say. Critics of the €9 ticket say that the scheme will leave gaping holes in transport budgets and could ultimately lead to ticket prices going up in autumn.

On the other hand, proponents of the offer believe that it could have the effect of luring people back to public transport after the Covid crisis. That would mean that more people would be buying subscriptions after summer and using local buses and trains, which can only be a good thing for transport budgets in the long-run. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 transport ticket

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