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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Rabbit Card - Do Tourists Need It for Bangkok BTS travel?

orange Rabbit Card used on Bangkok Skytrain
What is a Rabbit Card? FAQs for new users of  the Bangkok Skytrain.

Relax. You can continue to pay cash in the machines on either the Skytrain or the MRT (subway).  If you don't have proper change, you can still get it from the clerk behind the glass-walled counter.

Updated June  

Nonetheless, this new orange stored-value card might be of interest to frequent Bangkok visitors, especially if it someday becomes useful for more BTS (Bangkok Transportation Services) services in addition to the Skytrain. Like the now obsolete stored-value Skytrain passes used by residents, the Rabbit Card is a time-saver since it spares you from queuing at the machines to buy tickets for a single ride or to get change from the cashier.




The official explanations initially posted at the Skytrain stations and on flyers were diabolical--in both English and Thai.  I came up with these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) after studying the official information and diagrams, scrounging around the Web and talking to other bewildered people. As my knowledge improved, I have updated it. 


The official transit site now has maps of service routes and connections to Google maps that I acknowledge are quite clear. Just please don't ask me about the bus routes link.



What is a Rabbit Card?


It's a stored-value card or smartcard. Think of it as stored money, similar to a mini-debit card. Right now, it can be used  for trips on the Skytrain and to buy items at some outlets of Black Canyon, McDonald's, Starbucks, Au Bon Pain, Paragon mall's Gourmet Market and a few other retailers. To use on the Skytrain, you simply have to tap the card on the entry and exit turnstiles. The cost of your trip is deducted when you exit.



How much does a Rabbit Card cost? 



People have had different experiences, particularly with transfers of money from their old, regular Skytrain passes. Or maybe they have heard different impressions of what constitutes "deposits" and "issuing fees."  I think there are two situations:

1) If you don't have an old stored-value Skytrain pass to trade, you must pay an issuing fee of 50 baht. 


2) If you handed over an old Skytrain pass before December 31, 2012,  there should have been no issuing fee for a Rabbit Card. Now that that date has passed, the old pass is worthless and you will have pay something to obtain one.


Next step:The official word is that you must then supply a 50-baht refundable deposit and at least 100 baht in traveling money.  


In brief:  a newbie to the Rabbit system will probably have to pay a 150-baht issuing fee plus a 50-baht refundable deposit plus at least 100 baht for initial travels: 300 baht total to start off.


When the Rabbit card's traveling value drops to 15 baht or below, you must add a  minimum of 100 baht  to enter the system and start traveling again; the old Skytrain passes worked precisely the same way. If you have 15 baht or less remaining on the card, you are barred from entering the turnstile until you fill it up. Here is one factoid that seems pretty solid (or consistent, that is): You can deposit up to 4,000 baht on a Rabbit Card.


The aforementioned initial 50-baht "deposit" is supposed to be refundable but such rules are always subject to change. 




new stored value cards for Bangkok BTS transit system

Where can I buy a Rabbit Card?


The glass-walled counter window at any Skytrain station. You can deposit additional money--"top up" the card--there as well.

Lately I have been seeing McDonald's shops offering their own branded Rabbit Card for 199 baht.  I think that means only 199 baht for McDonald's purchases, though there are some substantial (30%) discounts and freebies. And then ... I'm guessing ... you can top it up at Skytrain stations? Well, it is a Rabbit Card but 199 baht wouldn't last long. I will have to investigate further.




Can I "top up" the Rabbit Card in other places?


Yes, in McDonald's outlets and Big C Mini convenience stores. You soon should be able to do it at banks and other shops.




Can I "top up" the Rabbit Card by credit card?


Yes. The minimum payment is 300 baht. American Express, JCB, MasterCard and Visa accepted. I'm not sure but I guess that means cards issued in foreign countries (and in foreign currencies) are accepted. 



When does the card expire?


Five years from date of issue.



When does the stored value expire? 


Two years. So if you only visit Bangkok once a year or every two years, the travel time you have stored on the card can still be used when you return.


Can I use the Rabbit Card on the MRT (subway)?

Not yet, though there has long been talk that the Rabbit Card will be extended "soon". If you happen to have a regular stored-value pass for the MRT, hold on to it for now.




Can I use the Rabbit Card on Airlink train from the airport?



No. Maybe in the future.



Can I use the Rabbit Card on buses?


No. Maybe in the future.



Can I use the Rabbit Card on the river or canal ferries or "taxis"?


No. Maybe in the future.




Are there short-term or day passes for tourists?


Update June 2014!  The tourist season was long past in June 2014, but the military coup d'etat wasn't. Maybe the Skytrain all along had been offering an all-day, unlimited travel pass for 130 baht but it is now much more prominently advertised.  Ask the cashier at any Skytrain station. And even better place to ask if you don't speak Thai: the glass-walled Carrot Rewards shop on the platform of the Siam Square Skytrain station.

Most trips in central Bangkok don't exceed 30 baht, so you'd have to travel a lot for the pass to be worth it.  Note that the brochure accompanying the pass still contains the misleading promotional blather that was on wider display last season. Sure, the Skytrain serves Siam Square and the Sukhumvit Road strip but not the "Chao Phraya River." There was also a suggestion that prime tourists' spots are served by the Skytrain. To be explicit: There is no Skytrain or subway station near the old city of Ratanakosin, the Grand Palace, Temple of Dawn or Khao San Road!  

There will be someday. Subway stations are being constructed around Sanam Luang in Ratanakosin, the old royal city, but they are nowhere near finished. The Skytrain does cross the river near Sathorn Road and if you're staying way down there--at, say, the Shangri-La Hotel--the Taksin Skytrain station is, or used to be, very convenient (it's being decommissioned as I write) . It was never convenient to most other upmarket riverside hotels, which in turn are quite far from the Grand Palace and so on.



Am I eligible for the student and senior citizen Rabbit Cards? 


Probably not.

The green student cards are only issued to students attending schools in Thailand. Students must be under age 23 to be eligible and must show a school ID card of some sort. I have no idea if that applies to foreign students studying at colleges or universities here  (though I doubt it). It may well apply to the high school exchange students.


Initial costs to obtain either a green student card or a pink senior citizen card are the same as for a regular adult card, as described above.

As for senior citizen cards, you must be Thai and show proof that you are age 60 or older  to apply for the special pink card. (That raises the obvious question: must you be Thai or just possess a skin shade that can pass for Thai? In most public and private enterprises with two-tier  pricing, also known as  "foreigner's prices", it's a breeze for Chinese, Japanese, light-skinned Filipinos and so on to pay the Thai fees. No one quizzes them on their identification or language ability. I don't know if it applies in this case but I doubt that the usual practice will apply. Surely most Thais will be showing a government-issued I.D.?)

Until July 2013, holders of these pink cards got substantial discounts when traveling on the original Sukhhumvit and Silom lines--that is, when traveling between any Skytrain station except the new Onnut-Bearing stretch described in the next FAQ. Maybe such a deal will appear again in an off-season. Discounts generally ran around half normal fare. For example,  a fare that was normally 15 baht will be 8 baht; a 50 baht fare might be 25 baht and so on. There was a hitch, however: discounts only applied during travel on weekends or on weekdays during the off-peak hours. Off-peak hours are between 9 am and 4 pm and after 8 pm.


I already have a regular stored-value Skytrain pass. Can I keep  using it?


No. Throw it away. You had to exchange it by December 31, 2012 in order to get a discount on a Rabbit Card. It's worthless now.

Can I save money on Skytrain travel by using Rabbit Card?

No. Well, probably not. Not if you're hoping that by depositing 1,000 baht or another large sum at one time, you'll get some cost savings.

However, long-haul  commuters can earn some small savings with monthly passes. These passes are unlikely to be of interest even to frequent tourists. Nonetheless, here are the options that were running throughout 2013.

If you take 15 trips that will cost more than 27 baht each, the 405-baht monthly pass will save you money.
If you take more than 25 trips each month that cost more than 25 baht each, buy the 625-baht monthly pass.
If you take more than 40 trips that cost more than 23 baht each, buy the 920-baht monthly pass.
If you take more than 50 trips each month that cost more than 22 baht each, buy the 1,100-baht monthly pass.

For a nano-second, I thought: I make more than 25 trips each month that cost more than 25 baht; maybe I should get a pass. Except that, in between, I make a few trips that cost less than 25 baht. For those trips, I'd be losing money by using the 625-baht pass. I guess one possibility is to buy two passes: one for commuting and one for pay-as-you-go.

Don't forget, however, by using the Rabbit card, you are earning points that eventually can be exchanged for travel time on your card. Which brings up the next question ....

Why would anyone use this card for McDonald's, Mr. Donut and so on instead of cash? It just locks up money.


That seems to be the farang point of view. Many Thais will see it differently. Using the card in stores or on the Skytrain earns the enrolled user points called "Carrot Rewards." It's difficult to figure out how these are calculated. You also earn points whenever you top up the Rabbit card and that calculus is more transparent.


How do these Carrot points or Carrot rewards work?


First of all, you're not enrolled just because you have the Rabbit Card. When you receive your card, you will also be given a form to fill out and mail in. Yes, you must mail it via the post office. After a week or two, you will get an email and a link to register for the Carrot program. You'll then see how many points you have already earned. The register is a bit creepy because you'll also see a record of your most recent trips.

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Update 2014! There are now Carrot offices at some of the major stations--notably Siam Square--where you can redeem carrot points for BTS travel or just ask questions about Rabbit card. However, you must bring your Thai ID or passport to complete the redemption process.

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When I received the first email, I checked the site and discovered I had a total of six points. I can't say precisely how that total was arrived at but I could tell how many points I earned with a 100-baht top-up: 1 point. This seems to contradict the original point information that was posted by BTS: "For every 8.3 baht spent on traveling on BTS  using Rabbit, earn 1 Carrot Point. For example spent on traveling on BTS 100 baht, earn 12 Carrot Points." Apparently, I earned the other 5 points just by traveling on the Skytrain. After about five months of using the card at least eight times a week, with an average trip cost of 30 baht,  I totaled 800 points.

Of course, all that doesn't mean much without knowing how many points are necessary to trade for anything. The short answer: you need a lot. For example, you need many hundreds to "buy" a 100-baht coupon usable on Tarad, the online shopping sites.  Furthermore, the coupon must be used in the month issued. To find specific examples, check out one of the Carrot rewards machines ("kiosks") that have popped at more than two dozen Skytrain stations because the Carrot rewards website is not very informative. Here are the locations of the kiosks. Scroll down and you'll see the logos of more than a dozen companies that regularly offer discount coupons in exchange for points each month.

That page also now notes, very much in passing, that kiosks have recently been added in some office buildings and at Major cineplexes. I got a Carrots email announcing that there are 24 such office buildings but (sigh) there's no mention of which buildings! And does every Major cineplex have a Carrot kiosk? I don't know.

Can Carrot Points Be Exchanged for BTS Travel?


Yes.

Have you already lost interest in Carrot points rigmarole?  Hold on: these kiosks are useful even if you never enroll in the Carrot system. By tapping your Rabbit Card on the machine's interface thingie, you can see how much traveling money remains on the card. You no longer need to request the human cashier to check it for you.

If you're still interested in the Carrot points system ... At a Carrot kiosk, press one of the 16 big buttons bearing logos of the companies. You can choose English or Thai text. The Skytrain stations provide more information than the website but, as I said, you need hundreds of points for a rather small reward.

However,  each of the companies I checked out also offered at least one "free" monthly discount coupon, and usually more. They don't require a points exchange at all. The ones I have examined carry the usual type of stipulations that afflict Thailand discount programs: Great! 20% off an ice tea at a coffee shop chain! Oooh ...with every purchase of two cocoa super grande frappo macchiattos. Zut, when will I ever want a super frappo ...?

However,  I  found a pretty good deal for Tom n Toms coffee shop and the cashier honored it the first time I presented it!  This is yet another pricey coffee chain that sells fancy coffee at a slightly less pricey point than Starbucks but still sucks in the tea category. But Tom n Toms also has free WiFi! The offer was simple: get one  X-drink, second X-drink is free. The second time I presented such a coupon, it didn't work: turns out the coupon only applied to a certain "collection" of coffees with flavors like strawberry and blueberry. So: caught by the crappo-frappiachatto-and-pay-at-least-300-baht trap again.

I don't think there are many Tom n Toms but the lonely one down on the Pratunam-Rajaprarop intersection is the one that honored my coupon. It is open 24 hours and seems to attract quiet solo customers crouched over laptops. I also got a coupon for 40 baht off a ticket at Major movie cineplexes; Now I'm doubtful that it will work. It probably can only be used in certain time slots at cineplexes I never go to.

But! Looking on the upside, one of the 16 buttons bears the BTS  Skytrain logo. Here's the prize: 350 points can be exchanged for 50 baht worth of BTS travel. Phew! Now I can ignore all the other coupons.  Maybe there will be additional BTS offers.



Does the new Skytrain stretch of the Sukhumvit line, beginning at Onnut and ending at Bearing, have special conditions? Or on the newest stations in Thonburi?


This is the part that where explanations got especially convoluted. The diagrammed explanations at the Skytrain when the Rabbit Cards debuted raised more questions than answers.  However, I don't think  newcomers now will even notice the different pricing system on this stretch: they just look for the total cost of a trip, right? Here's what I have concluded:

First, a single journey (dubbed "a trip") on this new stretch, no matter the number of stations, now costs 15 baht. Update! Now it's now a mere 10 baht!

Second, you can enter a Skytrain station before Onnut (aka Onnuj, On-nut) with your single-journey ticket or Rabbit Card--say, at Ari or Siam Square or Phloenchit--and exit on the new line. It's just more expensive than it used to be, as you can see by the fees marked on the machines where you buy a single journey card by inserting coins.  

For example, a journey from Siam Square to Onnut, the original eastern end of the Sukhumvit line, currently costs 30 baht. Normally, when you progress to one more station, it costs another 5 baht--and sometimes nothing more at all.   Bang Chak is the first station after Onnut on the new stretch now ending at Bearing (pronounced "Beh-ring"). You might expect that a journey from Siam Square to Bang Chak would cost 35 baht; until recently, it did. Now that journey costs 45 baht. On the other hand, a journey from Siam Square all the way to the end at Bearing station costs 45 baht as well. 


There is a similar weird pricing system for the four newest Skytrain stations on the north-south line that stretches deep into the Thonburi hinterlands. This is the stretch from Pho Nimit Station to  Bang Wa Station. Honestly, though, unless you live out there, who notices?


So I start my journey on the Onnut-Bearing stretch ... Can I pay all the way through? Is there an advantage to using the Rabbit Card here instead of a single journey ticket?

Yes, to the first question. As for the second, I don't think so, but I used the Rabbit Card.