Railway bonus program: the changeover to the euro leads to numerous errors

As of June 13, 2022, Deutsche Bahn has been using a new rail bonus status program for regular passengers, which is comparable to frequent flyer programs in air travel. Instead of a single state Bahn Comfort, there are now three tiers: silver, gold and platinum.

Silver is the lowest state, platinum is the highest. As with almost all status programs, a distinction is made between status and bonus points. Put simply, whoever generates the most sales also gets the most points.

It sounds interesting at first, but customers still need to be very patient when it comes to collecting and redeeming their points. The launch of the new status program is accompanied by numerous technical problems.

Nothing has changed in the bonus points mentioned by Deutsche Bahn since 13 June. There are reward points for most tickets. There are also other partner redemption opportunities, such as hotel accommodation and credit card transactions. These points can then be redeemed for rewards – it’s often worth upgrading to 1st class or traveling by train in the short term if prices are high, as point prices don’t change.

In addition, non-cash prizes, donations or meal vouchers are also possible. So it’s a kind of cashback that is sometimes more or less useful depending on the stakes. What has changed, however, is the issue of status. As before, there is a status point for every euro spent (for train tickets and other rare exceptions). Also, there are sometimes goodwill measures, for example during the first two years of the corona pandemic.

Instead, the points thresholds and some privileges have been changed. If you reach 1,500 points within a year, you are awarded silver status. In the past there was only the Bahn Comfort status, which required 2,000 points. The other gold and platinum levels require 2,500 and 6,000 points. But precisely with this conversion, Deutsche Bahn currently has many technical problems, which sometimes indicate a lack of testing. The technical basis is currently lacking. However, this is not allowed: if this base fails, repeat customers can neither prove their status nor use new or old perks. There is no longer a fallback level like it once was.

You need to know that Deutsche Bahn’s status program has always been independent of tickets. While the passenger links their individual frequent flyer number to the airline ticket, which then serves as proof of status, Deutsche Bahn only needed the status, even without a ticket. But there are exceptions, overseas lounges within the Railteam alliance require a cross-border ticket in addition to status. However, the Railteam Alliance is not yet aware of the new status levels on the website. According to Deutsche Bahn, the lounges can be used with any state. However, you shouldn’t be too sure.

In Germany it is different. Those with Silver status can use eight-day passes to access the standard lounge and bring a companion with them within one year. Standard lounges usually have drinks, work and seating. Gold status has no limits. The highest status (platinum) takes you to the DB Premium Lounge, even with a companion and without a ticket. There are snacks, cakes, breakfast and sandwiches, comparable to a business class lounge at the airport. With no status, you can access these premium lounges and all other lounges only with a very expensive flexible price 1st class ticket. The Bahncard 100 is also so expensive that it implies gold or platinum status.

The thing with the entrances is therefore quite complex. Especially since Deutsche Bahn has so far not updated the access guidelines on the lounge website. There is no indication that platinum status is one of the entitlements. This is still a minor problem in the company’s quality control. More serious is that Deutsche Bahn encodes the state in the unsecured digital access authorization, which is represented in the form of an Aztec code.

As discovered by IT security analyst and Twitter user @fluepke, the Aztec code is particularly easy to outsmart. As a user of “Wood Class”, he initially switched to 1st class to be safe for his experiments. The upgrade allows access to all DB lounges. He was then able to find out what constitutes an access permit simply by comparing the codes.

According to Fluepcke, “the code contains […] no special features, a validity period and no signature. “This made it easy for him to manipulate. According to him, anyone who is technically savvy can do it within 30 seconds by reading the Aztec codes and distinguishing between gold and platinum. Status can be easily compared. Second. @fluecke it is sufficient then to exchange the S with a P everywhere.

The newly generated Aztec code is then valid and provides access to the Premium Lounge. The reaction from Twitter support is interesting. Support asked the discoverer to email the tweet to the social media team.

Even after another explanation in the thread Deutsche Bahn’s Twitter support insisted on emailing it. This indicates the lack of appropriate processes for problem escalation.

The problems with the codes are interesting because Deutsche Bahn talked about new security features ahead of the new program. The rail bonus app has become a compulsion and the only way to prove your status. The old plastic status cards are no longer available and became invalid on June 13th. There was no transition period. This is problematic because there are software requirements. Passengers need a smartphone with Google Play Store (Android 9.0 or later) or Apple’s App Store (iOS 14 or later). All others are excluded from benefits such as lounge access.

For example, the train bonus app cannot be found in Huawei’s app gallery. The DB Navigator, with which the status was previously checked digitally, is still there. Deutsche Bahn says in its own FAQ about the lack of integration in the browser: “BahnBonus would have little importance there and would not be easy to use, it can only be found with many clicks in the submenu”. Interestingly, however, the old verify function is still part of the DB Navigator. Also, older smartphones don’t work and older people, for example, tend to be disadvantaged as a result.

But the state problem isn’t the only one associated with rollout. The author of these lines had problems with the restaurant on board on Friday 17 June. With the state, there are new drink coupons for all three state levels in the program. They differ only in quantity. Since the card payment system has failed, you need to use the voucher. But vouchers are also not suitable as a backup.

As stated by the restaurant staff, vouchers are no longer accepted nationally. The risk was too high that these would not be billed correctly because the code scan sometimes failed. The staff pointed out that the vouchers can still be used for one year. However, the author status will be renewed on July 15 for another Gold year. The three distributed vouchers expire before there are twelve new vouchers. The restaurant staff did not know such subtleties and neither did he Twitter support sometimes does not know such details about the new program.

Bahn’s Twitter support reacted fairly quickly to the author’s restaurant problem, but only with the information one would have to type in the Aztec code. This increases the brightness of the coupon, but it doesn’t help if the restaurant doesn’t want to accept the coupon at all.

Twitter user Tim Feldmeyer aka @timatixeu later discovered in his own teststhat the direction of the scan is important. After a few more tests, Feldmeyer was able to confirm in a further online conversation with heise that the correct presentation of the voucher code led to success in another attempt, while the “wrong” code was not recognized correctly. The POS system can only scan beverage codes in one location. He was amazed that something like this could even happen.

Another problem you may encounter is related to the app itself. Indeed, Deutsche Bahn promises: “If you have already called up your digital BahnBonus card and your status benefits in advance, you can easily redeem your status benefits even if you have short-term connection problems.” But @timatixeu isn’t going that far right now. Had a glitch with the app for days, even though it was previously connected to the internet. Even a fresh install hasn’t helped so far.

The problem is probably not particularly widespread, as heise online is unaware of any other incidents of this type. On the other hand, only a few publicly complain about the good drinks situation. Either way, it turns out that when in doubt, customers no longer have a level of redundancy, but actually need it.

The situation often arises in front of the lounges that customers have difficulty with the new rules, which, among other things, invalidate the Bahn Comfort cards that are actually still valid. Incidentally, this also applies to railway credit cards issued by Commerzbank. These are still custom, but now without a status footprint. Previously it was usable as proof in parallel with the digital version. However, credit cards that are still valid can no longer be used for privileges.

In the event of a low battery, Deutsche Bahn provides the following advice in the FAQ: “Both on the train and in the DB lounges of train stations, there are sufficient charging options for your smartphone.” However, you cannot access the recharge options in the lounges without first showing your status. Incidentally, there are certainly customers who enter the lounges with a print: those with a 1st class Flex ticket do not have to present it digitally. So problems with the app infrastructure can cause problems in different parts of the journey. Before travel, for example, access to the lounge or travel center, where status customers receive preferential treatment. The use of beverage vouchers, the 30% restaurant discount (platinum only) or the use of seats reserved for Gold and Platinum guests may be canceled during the trip.

Unfortunately, in the initial phase there were already problems. Be it breakdowns, poorly trained staff or lack of documentation it creates confusion. Heise online wrote to Deutsche Bahn about some issues, such as the lounge issue, including the Twitter reaction from @fluepcke’s social media team, lack of quality control, and the beverage coupon situation. However, of course, the company has not yet been able to comment in detail: “This is a temporary technical issue. We are already working to fix it. No customer data is affected and our customers are not harmed in any way.” says von a company spokesperson.


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