Suica Off Peak Commute Point Service Quick Guide

As companies transition away from daily work commutes during the COVID crisis to teleworking at home with occasional trips to the office, transit companies are forced to come up with incentives that encourage people to use public transit while keeping it safe. To that end JR East announced a Suica off peak and repeat commute point service campaign. Transit users earn JRE POINT on their weekday work commute when they ride at designated off peak station times. JR East is promoting safe transit with less congestion.

It’s a good idea, unfortunately there are big limitations: (1) only end to end transit on JR East lines qualities for off peak point service, and (2) everything is tied into the user unfriendly JRE POINT system. The Suica commute point service campaign comes in 2 flavors:

  • Commuter Suica Off Peak Point Service: start the work commute at your station during designated ‘Early’ or ‘Late’ time slots. The Off Peak Point Service runs from March 15, 2021 ~ March 31, 2022
  • Regular Suica Repeat Point Service: making the same trip 10 times a month or more. The Repeat Point Service starts March 1, 2021 and is open ended. Repeat Point Service is the Suica equivalent of paper ticket booklets, the reliable ‘buy ten trips and get one free’ transit institution that has been around forever but is quickly disappearing.

1. Commuter Suica Off Peak Point Service
This is the main point the JR East campaign aimed at Commuter Suica users. There are a number of limitations:

  • Only end to end transit on JR East lines qualifies for service points. If any part of your commute route uses non-JR East transit gates you won’t get service points. JR East lists all invalid patterns in their PDF and there are lots of them.
  • Suica off peak does not cover all JR East stations. The Off Peak Point Service area is limited to a core JR East Tokyo metropolitan area that includes Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama. See the off peak map below or download the PDF file.
  • Weekday transit only. Transit on weekends and national holidays does not quality for Off Peak and Repeat Point Service.
  • Off Peak Point Service is limited to valid Apple Pay Suica cards with valid commute plans, Mobile Suica (Osaifu Keitai) commuter and plastic Commuter Suica cards. Off Peak is not valid for FLEX, Student, Green, Monorail and Rinkai Suica commuter passes.

There is only one work around for commute routes that start at a JR East gate, transfer to another line and end at a non-JR East gate: exit the JR East section of the transfer station via a JR East gate, then enter via a non-JR East transit gate. The diagram below gives you an idea. At some transfer stations this is easy to do, like JR East Gotanda > Tokyu Gotanda. I am working on a video guide and will post it here.

Off Peak Service Registration
To earn off peak points valid Commuter Suica cards must be: (1) registered in JRE POINT and (2) registered for Off Peak Service Point via the JRE POINT web site. If you do not have a JRE POINT account use this guide to create one.

Off Peak Service Commute Times
You must start your commute and enter the gate during designated off peak ‘Early’ or ‘Late’ time slots that are unique for each station. An ‘Early’ time block commute earns 15 JRE POINT, a ‘Late’ time block commute earns 20 JRE POINT.

An example: Chou line Hachioji station off peak time blocks are ‘early’ 5:35~6:35 and ‘late’ 8:05~9:05. Chuo line Asagaya stataion off peak time blocks are ‘early’ 6:20~7:20 and ‘late’ 8:50~9:50. Off Peak times are posted at each station, JR East also a PDF that lists all off peak station times.

Off Peak Service Point Reward Schedule
Off Peak Service Points are calculated every 2 months and rewarded to your JRE POINT account the following month. JRE POINT numbers ending in a even digit are rewarded on even months, JRE POINT numbers ending in an odd digit are rewarded on odd months. See the chart below



2. Regular Suica Repeat Point Service
This campaign is geared for working folks who use Suica to go to the office but don’t commute enough to invest in a pass. Ride the same route 10 times a month and earn a free ride in JRE POINT. If you ride the same route more than 10 times in the same month, each additional transit earns 10% of the transit fare in JRE POINT.

  • The repeat transit region is much larger than the off peak campaign one and covers all Suica fare JR East lines, all stations with Suica gates in greater Kanto, Niigata and Sendai.
  • There is nothing transit users need to do other than have their Suica registered for JRE POINT. If you have already done that it’s all automatic.
  • The same end to end transit on JR East lines limitation of the off peak service point also applies to the repeat point service.
  • The Repeat Point Service is valid for non-commuter Apple Pay Suica, Mobile Suica and regular JR East issue plastic Suica.

Summary
The JR East campaign Suica off peak commute campaign misses the mark. It is full of promise but the limitations make it useless for many commuters who would enjoy the service point benefits. It is better than nothing, but not much and only for a smallish group of JR East commuters.

JR East and other transit companies need to cooperate for reward campaigns and discounts that work across entire regions and point systems. There are many innovative things JR East should also be doing: leverage Suica smarts for a accumulated mileage calculated reward point campaign tailored for each user, offer a yearly commuter pass at a half year price that corporate customers would eagerly snap up, repurpose empty JR East hotels at Shinkansen friendly regional stations for telework satellite offices that help build regional business.

Instead of innovation however, we get stingy complex and unfriendly ‘Tonosama’ style campaigns from big stodgy transit companies used to having their way with customers. The big COVID era transit crisis demands big bold ideas. Japanese transit companies must truly innovate to make transit essential and safe again. Anything less is a waste of time and infrastructure, use it or lose it.

JR Central EX-Press Reserve eTicket upgrade ditches Shinkansen IC cards for Transit IC cards (Updated)

EX-Press Reserve service upgrade, no more double card tap

EX-Press Reserve (also called EX-Press Ride) is the sister service of smartEX that uses the same EX app and system with deeper discounts aimed at Japanese business travelers. It also comes with a special EX Transit IC card just for Shinkansen gates with a unique ‘double card’ tap (EX IC card + regular Transit IC card). Mobile Suica and Apple Pay Suica users with a View card also have the unique and slightly different Express View service by registering for EX-Press Reserve in Suica App for JR Central Shinkansen eTicket travel EX Transit IC.

Fortunately JR Central is streamlining the complex service to bring it in line with the simple smartEX approach: instead of the special IC card for Shinkansen gates, members register a plain old Transit IC card (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, Toica, etc.) and use that. Shinkansen IC cards can still be used of course but most people will probably just use Transit IC cards, including Mobile Suica and Mobile PASMO.

For Apple Pay Suica users this means Suica App Ex-Press Reserve service ends March 6, which also means a Suica App update that removes the menu item should be landing soon. From that date Apple Pay PASMO users can register their card number for EX-Press Reserve use. Keep in mind that EX-Press Reserve membership costs ¥1,100 a year and is limited to JR Central/JR West issue Express Card, JR East View Card, and certain Japanese issue credit cards.

Other EX-Press Reserve system improvements on March 6 include group ticket purchases for Transit IC card use instead of paper, and the ability to change reservations via the EX App or web site in case of Shinkansen delays.


UPDATE
EX App v6 was released March 6 with Transit IC card support and QR options. EX-Press Reserve members have the option of setting a EX-IC or Transit IC card for Shinkansen boarding and can add up to 5 Transit IC cards to the account for group ticket use. Both EX-Press Reserve and SmartEX JP members have a QR Pick-up code for paper tickets from ticket vending machines. Inbound SmartEx account holders have the extra QR Code boarding option at QR marked Shinkansen gates, though JR Central recommends printing it out as a one-time passcode is required to display it on the smartphone screen. For inbound transit users Apple Pay Suica • PASMO is the easiest single card option for Tokkaido Shinkansen + regular transit.

Suica off peak commute campaign misses the mark

The COVID crisis has changed many things, none more than public transit. As companies transition away from daily work commutes to teleworking at home with occasional trips to the office, transit companies are forced to come up with incentives that entice people to use public transit. To that end JR East announced the off peak JRE POINT reward campaign back in November and released details this week for their Suica off peak commuting and repeat transit JRE POINT campaign.

The off peak campaign runs from March 15, 2021 ~ March 31, 2022, the repeat transit campaign starts March 1 and is open ended. It looks complex at first but is simply a matter of registering and keeping an eye on your commute start time.

Off Peak Commute Point Campaign
This campaign is for Suica commute pass/commute plan users. Limitations: (1) limited to a greater Tokyo area commute zone, (2) limited to ‘early’ and ‘late’ commute times that are different for each station, (3) limited to Suica commute plans (Mobile Suica or Apple Pay Suica) and Suica commuter passes (plastic) registered for JRE POINT (4) users must also take the extra step of signing up for the off peak campaign via the JRE POINT web site.

The off peak commute region shown above covers JR East lines in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama. The tricky part is that you must start your commute and enter the gate during the designated off peak time that is different for each station, split in 2 separate ‘early’ (15 point) and ‘late’ (20 point) hour blocks. An example for the Chuo line: Hachioji station off peak hours are ‘early’ 5:35~6:35 and ‘late’ 8:05~9:05. For Chuo line Asagaya the hours are ‘early’ 6:20~7:20 and ‘late’ 8:50~9:50. Off Peak times will be posted at each station, JR East also released a PDF that lists all off peak station times.

Repeat Transit Point Campaign
This campaign is geared for working folks who use Suica to go to the office but don’t commute enough to invest in a pass. Ride the same route 10 times a month and earn a free ride. If you ride the same route more than 10 times in the same month, each transit earns 10% of the transit fare in JRE POINT.

The repeat transit region is much larger than the off peak campaign one and covers all Suica fare JR East lines, all stations with Suica gates in greater Kanto, Niigata and Sendai. There is nothing transit users need to do other than have their Suica registered for JRE POINT. If you have already done that it’s all automatic. Think of it as a Suica replacement of paper ticket booklets, the reliable ‘buy ten and get one free’ transit institution that has been around forever but is quickly disappearing.

Not nearly enough
Frankly I think these JR East campaigns are not nearly enough, though they are better than nothing. There are many innovative things JR East should be doing: leverage Suica smarts for a accumulated mileage calculated reward point campaign tailored for each user, offer a yearly commuter pass at a half year price that corporate customers would eagerly snap up, repurpose empty JR East hotels at Shinkansen friendly regional stations for telework satellite offices that help build regional business.

Instead of innovation however, we get stale stingy ‘Tonosama’ business style marketing campaigns from a big old stodgy company used to having its way with customers. The big COVID era transit crisis demands big bold ideas. Japanese transit companies must truly innovate to make transit essential and safe again. Anything less is a waste of time and infrastructure, use it or lose it.


Resources
The first step is registering your Suica in JRE POINT. For repeat transit points there is nothing more to do, JRE POINT are added automatically if you make the same trip 10 times in the same month. For off peak points you must have a JRE POINT registered commuter pass/commute plan Suica that is also entered for the off peak campaign, and start the commute during designated station off peak times.

Starbucks officially adds Suica contactless payments…finally

Apple Pay Suica/PASMO finally joined the official Starbucks payment lineup, something that many people have wanted for a long time. Nothing beats Apple Pay Suica Express Transit for grabbing coffee on the run.

I knew something was coming when Panasonic JT-R600 all-in-one readers appeared in Starbucks stores starting last summer. Initially these were for EMV chip cards and came with ‘please don’t forget to remove your card’ reminder stickers. EMV contactless is missing though I suspect it will come at some point. Other FeliCa contactless payments such as iD, QUICPay, Waon, nanaco, and Edy are also missing. Line Pay QR is accepted at some store locations but remains limited for now.

Suica/PASMO (and other eMoney like Waon) has been accepted for years at Starbucks locations in stations and malls where tenants integrate payment+reward point systems provided by the landlord. Suica/PASMO support is not native however and bolted onto the Starbucks checkout system. For JR East station area locations tied into the JRE POINT system this means double entry Suica payments: once for the Starbucks checkout and once more for the Suica/JRE POINT payment reader. This will remain in place until JR East and other retail landlords (PAMSO, etc.) come up with a better system for integrating JRE POINT (etc.) with Starbucks’ native Suica support. The big takeaway is that Suica/Transit IC is officially supported and earmarked for all locations.

Contactless payments are a welcome step forward but I wish Starbucks integrated their own reward points via NFC VAS instead of barcode in Starbucks app nonsense. That way I could get JRE POINT and Starbucks point with a single Apple Watch Suica tap at JR East station Starbucks locations without the hassle of iPhone Face ID with face mask. And while we’re on the subject of NFC VAS reward point cards…JR East hurry up with that JRE POINT card for Apple Wallet please.

UPDATE
Starbucks is running a ¥100 One More Coffee refill campaign with Suica/Transit IC purchase from January 13~June 30, a ¥50 discount. A good reason to kiss the iOS Starbucks App barcode thing goodbye for the duration and use Apple Pay Suica/PASMO Express Transit instead.

Japan Cashless 2020 Retrospect

As we look back on 2020 there are 2 big divides: COVID and cashless. We suddenly found ourselves in a world where all human contact is conducted behind face masks and sheets of clear plastic. Not touching anything not ours is the rule of daily life.

The year started with the Japanese Cashless tax rebate in full swing but the real value of the program, helping smaller merchants to add cashless payments, became clear when the Diamond Princess brought the COVID crisis to Japan big time and real cash suddenly become suspect fomite material. More than anything, COVID fears attached to handling cash drove cashless use in 2020 but are we there yet? Back in July, I said we are. It will be months before official 2020 cashless trend numbers are in, but you don’t need anything more than to ask yourself one simple question:

How much has changed since the October 25, 2016 Apple Pay Japan launch?

Junya Suzuki correctly predicted Apple Pay would be the ‘Black Ships‘ inflection point catalyst for cashless payments in Japan that would change everything. And everything has changed. Cashless is now the first choice that most people want, that most stores want you to use. Cash is the fallback. If grandma want to use it at the supermarket checkout she can take all the time she wants feeding bills and coins into a checkout payment machine. Just one more choice in the every growing payment option menu.

There were other cashless developments in 2020, such as the Yucho Bank security scandal that hit the Docomo Account first, then other online payment services. The end result was that QR Code players (PayPay, Line Pay, etc.) took a hit and for the time being cannot recharge from a bank account. It knocked the wind out of QR Code payment mania that I don’t see returning.

On the transit front the biggest news was the Mobile PASMO Android and Apple Pay PASMO launch. Geographically these only cover the Kanto region but Suica and PASMO combined represent 80% of the Japanese transit IC card market. As Mobile PASMO turned out to be recycled Mobile Suica under the hood, I see it as part of the overall JR East next generation Super Suica that is formally launching in March 2021.

2021 should be an interesting year for contactless payments with Super Suica and VISA Japan finally signing on with Apple Pay. We will see more transit IC card service announcements similar to the Mobile ICOCA one, and if Apple Pay QR Code Payments launch we could see developments in that segment, but 2020 will always be known as the year that Japan finally went cashless.