My JR-EAST mess

My JR-EAST, like a lot of JR East software services, is a nice idea, poorly implemented. It’s an attempt to unify scattered account login IDs for various JR East web services that evolved independently but need to work together as one in the mobile app era: Mobile Suica, JRE POINT, Eki-Net, View-Net.

The mess was brought home to me recently when I helped a co-worker register his Apple Pay Suica card for Eki-Net Shinkansen eTicket service because the eTicket discounts are attractive. He created a Eki-Net account, which you can only do via the webpage, not the app.

Him: Where do I get the Suica ID?
You need Suica App for that.
One download later it took him 2 tries to register the Suica ID because Suica App copies the entire ID string but Eki-Net cuts off the last 2 numbers as the first 2 sting letters have to be manually selected from a pull down menu. Dumb.

Him: I want to use Green Seat upgrades.
You have to login to Suica App to do that.
Can I use the Eki-Net ID to login?
No, you have to sign up with Mobile Suica.
Can I buy Tokkaido Shinkansen eTickets too?
No, you have to sign up with the JR Central EX service.

And so it went and that’s the mess of JR East software services: each one has a separate registration process and login. On the MY JR-EAST webpage users can register a single ID and PW then login and link other services. One MY JR-EAST ID/PW for Mobile Suica, Eki-Net, JRE POINT, View-Net, except it doesn’t work. Oh wait, it does work for webpage login but not apps. Suica App supports MY JR-East login but JRE POINT and Eki-Net apps do not. View-Net doesn’t even have a mobile app. If JR East wants customers to use their services, why do they make it so hard? This doesn’t jive with the company’s stated intent of reducing in-station service staff and encourage customers to use online resources instead.

It should work like this: the JR Group companies accept online reservation accounts from each other, b better yet they mutually host each other’s online reservation system. I shouldn’t need a separate ID account and registered credit card just because I want to buy a Tokaido Shinkansen eTicket. Let me do that in Eki-Net. The same goes for EX (JR Central) and e5489 (JR West) which are already compatible with each other. Ditto JR Hokkaido and JR Kyushu. Use the sign in with Apple ID model to make all these services work seamlessly with each other and give your customers a break. They might actually start liking JR software services, a first.

All JR Group online services were created back in the era of ISDN internet and iMode handsets. If the JR Group companies want travelers to return after the COVID vaccination program winds down, they have to get their mobile act together and build for the future.

Mobile Suica foreign VISA card processing changes with the Apple Pay VISA JP agreement

Foreign issue VISA card holders using Apple Pay Suica beware, you might be in for a rude surprise when you get the monthly statement. A reader sent some very interesting information:

JR East started processing these Visa transactions differently on foreign cards. Previously, these were processed as ‘SUICA MOBILE PAYMENT’ and the merchant category was passenger railways (travel). Since around May 11 or 12, these are now processed as ‘MOBILE SUICA APPLE V’ and the merchant category is catalog merchants (shopping). This is an unfortunate change as the merchant category change from travel to shopping downgrades the points earning capability on several American cards (eg. from 3x points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve to 1x).

Chase Sapphire Reserve has been a popular choice for Apple Pay Suica recharge because of the 3x rewards. The VISA JP Apple Pay agreement has changed how foreign issue VISA brand card payments made with Apple Pay in Japan are processed obviously, but the merchant category change from railways/travel to catalog/online shopping is a mystery. JR East or VISA JP? On the surface JR East as they are the merchant but why this and why now? Another backend change: JR East is starting 3-D Secure credit card checks in iOS Suica App and Mobile Suica (Android) from May 26.

I do not know if Apple Pay PASMO is in the same boat but suspect so. Foreign issue VISA holders may want to consider using a different credit card for Suica recharge for the best reward points. There are too many reward point differences to make any definitive recommendation. The best long term strategy is to examine your spending patterns and select a JP issue card that fits your needs. Reward point empires to consider: JRE POINT (BIC CAMERA View), Rakuten POINT (Rakuten Card) and V POINT (SMBC Numberless Instant issue).

I will update this post as more information comes in, reader feedback is appreciated.

Update: Good news: a reader reports Apple Pay PASMO recharge still codes as travel for Chase Sapphire VISA 3x travel points. Reader and user comments:

I setup Pasmo in Apple Pay and ran a test transaction with my Chase Sapphire Reserve.  Good news, Pasmo is being processed differently and coding as passenger railways (travel).

I also noticed JRE’s category change for GooglePay Suica a few months ago.

With US credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) and the Chase Business Ink Preferred both had 3x points on Travel. If you had used them to charge your Suica via Apple Pay or Google Pay, the charge would show up as ‘travel’ or ‘jr east’. So you were effectively earning 3% cashback (technically more with the multiplier of 1.25 or 1.5 based on the card). The wonderful thing was that you could pay for almost everything in daily life with Google or Apple pay here in Japan. It does seem this has changed. I dropped my CSR a while ago – now it is time to let my Ink go too.

Is it possible to move Suica to a different iCloud account?

asking for a friend but is there a way to remove a PASMO from one iCloud account, and move it over to a different iCloud account? My friend is a bit of an idiot and noob with iPhones.

This is a tricky question and even if possible, why bother? Most people would just add a new Suica•PASMO to iPhone which is very easy to do. Up until the big Mobile Suica reset on March 21 it wasn’t possible to migrate the Suica card anywhere else except a different device with same iCloud account. However, it is now possible to move the same Mobile Suica card between Android and iOS. PASMO doesn’t allow this yet because Mobile PASMO hasn’t received the same backend upgrade. If we were assigning version numbers Mobile Suica would be v2.0, Mobile PASMO would be v1.5. In Mobile Suica 2.0 the card ID, the Mobile Suica account email used for system ID, is independent of Apple Pay and Google Pay systems. Let’s take a look at how it might work.

Here is the Mobile Suica transfer path going from iOS to Android.

  • Requirements: Mobile Suica account, ID registered email and PW, latest versions of Suica App (iOS) and Mobile Suica App (Android) installed on both devices.
  • Step 1: remove Suica from Wallet on iPhone (this parks the Suica card on the Mobile Suica cloud server)
  • Step 2: on the Android device launch Mobile Suica and sign in with the same ID and PW
  • Step 3: follow the screen prompts to add the Suica card from the server to the device

One of the interesting points about Android is that the receiving device must have a valid SIM inserted, otherwise Suica will not transfer. In theory here is how the process might work going between different iCloud account devices:

  • Requirements: Mobile Suica account, ID registered email and PW, Suica App 3.0.3 or later (iOS) installed on both devices.
  • Step 1: remove Suica from Wallet on iCloud A device, sign out of Suica App or delete the app, restart device
  • Step 2: on the iCloud B device launch launch Suica App, tap [機種変更] (Transfer from Android) and sign in with the same ID and PW
  • Step 3: Tap [+], and (if the theory is correct), you should see the Suica card with balance on the server, add to Wallet

Remember this may not work as it is not officially supported by JR East, for security reasons, and I have no way to test confirm if this works or not. Even in the worst case that is does not work you still have the Suica card attached to the iCloud account. And remember, it’s very easy to add Suica and PASMO to any iPhone 8 and later or Apple Watch Series 3 and later.

JR East eliminating 70% of ticket offices by 2025 in ticketless push

In the run-up to the June 27 Eki-Net reboot next month JR East released a nice looking PR release with the first 2 pages promoting a ticketless future. On page 3 they dropped a bomb: JR EAST will eliminate ‘up to’ 70% of their ticket offices by 2025, just 140 stations or so on the entire JR East rail network will have the honor of having a ticket office manned by real people:

JR East has been planning this for years and report that in 2019 only 30% of JR East ticketing was purchased at a JR East Ticket Window (Midori-guchi). In 2020 that number declined to 20%. Could it be people were so tired of waiting in long slow ticket office lines they bought tickets elsewhere? Let’s be real though, the COVID pandemic has hit transit so hard all expenses that can be cut will be cut. You will going ticketless whether you like it or not.

So yes, we have Mobile Suica and Eki-Net Ticketless for regular express trains, Touch and Go Shinkansen, Mobile Suica and Shinkansen eTickets. By 2025 I suspect QR tickets will have replaced mag strip tickets. The Cloud Suica system coming in 2023 is said to power QR ticketing as well. All is good, I guess. Except for when you need help at the transit gate for some weird ticket problem, a smartphone that died before you got to the last station because you were too wrapped up playing games on it. What do you do? Press a button for an online station agent:

JR East says real station agents will be available to offer real assistance for disabled customers and such. We shall see. If JRE wants people to use Suica as much as possible they need to get Suica disability discount fares in order and working on mobile. Right now they are only working in the 2 in 1 totra Suica region. They need to work everywhere.

SmartGo Staple: a smart Mobile Suica solution for COVID era business travel

As more companies transition work style away from daily commuting to a central office to telework with direct business trips from home, there is less need for commuter passes but that means more corporate virtual paperwork and paper trails for filing and processing transit expenses. How nice it would be if Mobile Suica had a plug-in for SF expense reporting. It does actually: SmartGo Staple a co-venture between JR East and NTT Communications.

The service is straightforward: for a ¥1,000 (w/VISA card option) or ¥600 (w/o) per Mobile ID monthly service fee, SmartGo Staple provides live Mobile Suica ID SF transaction data of registered accounts to corporate management and accounting, who then calculate and reimburse employee on the go, or teleworking at home for corporate related Mobile Suica use, reducing the paperwork at all levels. The flexibility of Mobile Suica and Suica App which discretely attaches a credit card to a Suica card, allows users to set up a Suica card just for corporate use with a corporate credit card attached. This is the idea behind the SmartGo Staple prepaid VISA card option which management can ‘recharge’ remotely.

It’s a service for the COVID era but the interesting thing is that with more people doing without commuter passes, Apple Pay Suica and Mobile Suica easily covers nationwide transit and payment use. Commuter passes are the only reason for all those Japanese Transit IC cards. One Mobile Suica does it all. There are still weak spots, i.e. non SF Suica ID # attached services like smartEX and Shinkansen eTickets. Using a transit card ID number to attach separate services is flexible but corralling all the separate transaction histories into one expense report is still a chore.

Young employees tell the department manager to get with the times