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The Army and Air Force Exchange Service is planning to replace its paper gas-coupon system with a debit-style card that customers can add money to as they please, AAFES officials say.

Planning for the coupons is nearly done and they should be in customers’ hands by March 2008, Judd Anstey, an AAFES spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Those who have their vehicles registered through U.S. Army Europe or by their local military police will receive a personalized card, he said. They will be able to add cash to the card at any AAFES outlet or on the Web.

The move comes after the German Federal Ministry of Finance requested that USAREUR replace the current paper-based system, Anstey said. The German government also provided specific requirements for the new system.

“The updated (gas cards) will only be available in Germany as the implementation is at the direction of the host country,” Anstey said.

Officials with USAREUR and the German Finance Ministry have not responded to queries.

Customers initially will be able to use the card at any Esso gas station and at autobahn Arals. Anstey said additional fuel suppliers might be added later.

The new system will first be demonstrated for the German government, and then will be rolled out by area, he said.

AAFES officials have said in the past that the cost of administering the coupons factored into the price-per-gallon of AAFES gas. But Anstey said gas prices won’t go down as result of the conversion.

“The improved system is more efficient and secure, but represents a major investment in technology and communication to allow the system to work within host country guidelines,” Anstey said in the e-mail. “As such, the unique costs incurred to maintain a fuel ration program will remain.”

The setting of gas prices by AAFES won’t be affected by the system change, he said.

Cutting out the paper should alleviate some gripes customers have had about the current AAFES system.

For instance, Aral last year changed its Super Plus gas to Ultimate 100, which is a few points higher in its octane rating. Some drivers have said that they had trouble using the coupons for Ultimate 100 gas because the coupons did not specify that type of fuel.

Ruth Wagner, an AAFES retail program specialist, said that AAFES wouldn’t reprint the coupons to reflect Ultimate 100 because of the upcoming plastic card system.

She also said that those stations should have received notices that customers could exchange the Super Plus coupons for Ultimate 100.

At Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, on Thursday, Linda Duke said she’d be in favor of the switch to debit cards.

“You wouldn’t have to always be hunting for those gas coupons,” said Duke, whose husband is an airman with U.S. European Command. “And it’s nice to have cards because it’s easier to keep track.”

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