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Deutsche Bahn requires travellers with online tickets to select some form of identification. For non-Europeans, the only practical option seems to be a credit card, and the website asks for the name and card number. Is a MasterCard debit card without the cardholder's name printed on the card acceptable?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

I wrote an email to DB asking about this, and they responded,

Sie können nur ein Identifikationsnachweise nutzen, wo auch der Name eingetragen ist.

My translation:

You can only use a proof of identity which shows the name.

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I totally believe that the DB service answered this, but it is incorrect. According to their own AGBs (176 pages...) (…) it says no such thing at point 6.1.1 (page 98). I don't think this would hold up in court (or even at the DB complaint department, which is usually quite good) – dirkk May 11 '15 at 14:35

As far as I understand, even though tickets are not transferable, the DB is not mainly concerned about ID. A credit card usually has no photo and the conductor does not need to ask for another ID to match you to your credit card. Rather, it's used to make sure that only one person can use a given ticket at the same time.

The logic seems to be that the card whose number you entered when booking is a token that is unique in the whole world, thus precluding anyone else than the card holder from using another print-out of the same ticket. This token verification process does not rely on photographs or identification of the person carrying the ticket and could therefore be quicker or even be fully automatized.

In fact, stresses that you should take the exact card used to book the ticket, even if it's not valid anymore. Therefore, it shouldn't matter if your name is on it or not, it's the card number that matters.

At the same time, I have no actual evidence for this and never tried using a non-photo ID myself. In practice, I have never seen a conductor match the numbers but I don't travel very often with such a ticket. All I can say is that some of the them do look at the name and could be surprised.

On the other hand, I came across a forum post from someone who had no problem using a ticket on which he entered the wrong number (which implies that the conductors did not scan/check the numbers but only looked at the name) but almost got fined for it later in the trip (so another one did check!).

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"In practice, I don't think they usually match the numbers" - in my experience, most conductors will scan the QR code on the online ticket with their ticket checking device, and slide the card through the same device. I'd be surprised if that did anything other than matching the numbers. (Some conductors don't do that, though, and just look at the ticket and the card.) I agree with your conclusions, maybe "using the same ticket at the same time" could be made explicit by pointing out that the ticket is a PDF file that can be printed several times, and is thus not guaranteed to be unique. – O. R. Mapper May 11 '15 at 8:59
@O.R.Mapper The latter (merely matching names) has been my experience but I haven't used print-at-home tickets very often in Germany. I edited the answer to clarify that. – Relaxed May 11 '15 at 9:34
@O.R.Mapper In light of the very insightful comment you made on a related answer, one reason for my experience might be that I hold a French ID card. Just like older German ID cards, it's bigger than current German ID cards and presumably can't be swiped either but the DB somehow makes an exception for them too. – Relaxed May 11 '15 at 21:07

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