Monday, November 12, 2007

My Visa problem

Add this to your checklist of things to do before you go on vacation: call your credit card issuer and tell them about your plans. Yes, in addition to stopping the paper, putting a hold on the mail, asking a neighbor to watch your house and boarding the dog, apparently you also have to alert Visa, and probably MasterCard, too.

I found this out the hard way during my weekend in New York City earlier this month. The first inkling of a problem came when I was in the subway, trying to add some money to my MetroCard, and it wouldn't accept my Visa. I thought maybe the magnetic stripe on the back had become worn. Luckily, I had my American Express card, so I used that instead.

Usually, as a safety precaution, I only travel with one credit card. But for some reason, I forgot to take the AmEx card out of my wallet. And I'm glad I had it, because when I tried to check in at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, the desk clerk informed me that my Visa wasn't being accepted there, either.

He was very discreet and nice about it. I knew the problem wasn't on my part. I always pay my credit card bills in full every month. In 25 years of carrying a card, I've never, ever carried a balance. I said a silent prayer that I had my new best friend, American Express, with me. Believe me, you don't suddenly want to find out on vacation that your credit card isn't accepted. It's like having an insurance policy that only covers you when you don't need it.

In addition to the inconvenience, I was angry because I have a Borders Rewards Visa and I was looking forward to getting some hefty Borders bucks with my next bill. I'm one of those people who charges almost everything - groceries, gas, etc., and every month I add to my little pile of $5 coupons that I can use toward books, cds and DVDs from my favorite bookstore.

Later that evening, I called Visa customer service and was told that they'd put a hold on my card because they saw an unusually large amount for a hotel room reservation. Apparently, no one at Visa has ever reserved a room in Times Square in November, on the New York City Marathon weekend, or they wouldn't have been surprised at the amount!

I told the customer service representative that this was my third trip to New York in six months, and I'd used my Visa multiple times on the previous trips, including to pay my hotel bill. It never raised an eyebrow. What was I supposed to do, I asked, let Visa know when and where I'm going on vacation? Yes, that's exactly what I should have done, she replied. And she did agree to credit my account, so I'll get my full complement of Borders coupons.

Look, I like my Visa card. We've been to some great places together, shared a lot. But I just don't feel the need to tell my credit-card issuer in advance when I'm taking a trip and where I'm going. I understand that the company is doing this for its own protection, as well as mine, in case my card is lost or stolen. (And if I read the fine print closely enough, I'm sure I'd find that I'm actually obligated to tell them). I guess I should be glad they care. Still, it seems so intrusive.


Anonymous said...

Esther, I share your misery. A similar thing happened to me on a much smaller scale. I hope this was the low point of your trip, and I'm glad you were in New York before the strike.

Esther said...

Hi Amy:
Thanks for the comment! No, it didn't ruin my trip, fortunately. It was just a minor glitch that was solved once I called Visa customer service. Although I was so nervous at having my Visa turned down again, I used my AmEx all weekend. And yes, I feel very fortunate that I missed the strike. Someone somewhere was watching out for me!

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, The same thing happened to me on my last trip to London.

Only problem was the front desk reception clerk failed to be discreet and said very loudly, "Sir, your credit card has been declined." I expected more from the Intercontinental than that kind of slipshod embarrassment, especially since like you, I pay my card in full each month and knew that the error was not on my end.

My recommendation to anyone in the same situation is to politely advise the the front desk clerk that there has been a mistake and to call the card company immediately in your presence. That way, there's minimal "he said, she said." You can typically work your way through the problem right then and there.

Esther said...

Thanks Steve. That's a great suggestion. It never would have occurred to me to ask the desk clerk to call Visa. But I definitely will if it happens again. I was just so flustered when it happened. The only thing I could think of was, thank God I brought another card with me! I'm sorry your situation wasn't handled as discretely as mine. That's pretty bad, embarrassing a hotel guest. You'd think discretion would be standard operating procedure, especially for a classy place like the Intercontinental. (Well, I've never actually been to the Intercontinental, but it sounds very classy!)

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