I survived driving on the left in Ireleand, its narrow, winding, and bumpy roads, and what must be more than 300 roundabouts.
The GPS maps for Europe I bought for $110 turned out to be a good investment. My vacation would have been much more stressful without the GPS.
As far as money is concerned, things worked out OK. They accepted my World MasterCard for rental car insurance. That saved me about $300. There are a few stories and observations I’d like to share over the next few days. The first story is $27 for a 1-minute phone call.
After I finished the paperwork for getting my rental car, I headed to the ATM machine to get cash. To my chagrin, it didn’t work. After I entered my PIN and the desired amount, the machine just spit out my card with a message saying “this transaction cannot be completed.” I tried five or six times with different amounts, but the results were the same. I tried it at a different ATM. Still the same thing, although the two ATMs were from the same bank (Bank of Ireland).
My immediate reaction was that my card declined the withdrawal because I was doing it from an international location. Before I left, I called them to let them know my travel plans. Maybe they didn’t record it correctly. No problem, I thought. There’s a phone number on the back of my card which I can call collect from outside of US.
I called collect to that number, but the automated system said it couldn’t complete the call. I tried to get an operator to help me place the collect call, and the operator told me he couldn’t do it either.
I panicked. Not having access to cash would make it really difficult for my vacation. I also wasn’t thinking clearly because of the jet lag. It was 2:00 a.m. in my time zone. It had been 22 hours since I got up. I only had off-and-on naps on the plane.
I decided to call that number on the back of my ATM card straight, with my credit card. I got a recording, which gave me a different number for lost and stolen cards, and a message saying customer service is available between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern Time. A few days later I found out that 1-minute phone call cost me $27.
In the grand scheme of things, $27 isn’t a large amount. When you are traveling in a different country, you end up paying a lot more than the locals do. You don’t have time and resources to shop for good deals. The foods in tourist places are both bad and overpriced. I could’ve easily saved $27 elsewhere during my vacation.
But still, $27 for a 1-minute phone call is excessive, don’t you think? I will dispute it with my credit card company because the rate was never quoted to me, nor accepted. I don’t expect to win though. I don’t think the credit card companies are on the cardholders’ side.
The company that ripped me off is BBG Communications. The name that appeared on my credit card as a pending authorization was originally BBG Luxembourg. It’s a global company that prays on tourists from payphones, airports and hotels worldwide. Ripping off people is BBG’s business model.
Remember that name and stay away! Class action plaintiff attorneys should sue this company out of business. [Update on December 9, 2010: A class action lawsuit was filed in March 2010.]
If I wasn’t sleep deprived, there were a number of things I could’ve done in that situation. I could’ve tried to find an ATM machine from a different bank. When I did that a few hours later at a different location using a machine from Allied Irish Bank, my ATM card just worked. I could’ve tried using the debit function for a purchase at the airport, just to see if the card blocked international transactions. I could’ve tried withdrawing cash using my credit card. A 3% cash advance fee plus interest for 10 days is still a lot less than $27. I could’ve looked for a calling card for 5 or 10 Euros for my call.
There are also a number of things I could’ve done before I left the U.S. which would prevent me from getting into the panic situation in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Lessons learned from my cash woes:
1. Never, ever make a call with your credit card, both in and outside of U.S.
2. Before leaving the U.S., call the toll number on the back of the cards you plan to use and ask about their hours of operations. This will also confirm that the number hasn’t changed.
3. Have a backup for getting cash. It can be a second checking account with extra money in it. Or it can be Traveler’s Cheques. Many banks and credit unions sell Traveler’s Cheques without a fee. AAA also sells them without a fee if you are a member. Unused Traveler’s Cheques can be deposited back to a checking account like any other checks.
4. Get a calling card that works from outside of U.S. Many calling cards that work in the U.S. also work from outside of U.S. You just need to know the access number in the country you are traveling to.
For example, I use OneSuite for long distance calls in the U.S. OneSuite has international access numbers in 25 countries. Ireland happens to be one of them. Their rate isn’t the lowest but it isn’t outrageous either. Had I known the OneSuite access number, my 1-minute phone call from Ireland would be $0.51, not $27.
The Verizon/MCI calling card sold at Costco also has international access numbers from 138 countries. Because the minutes never expire on the Verizon/MCI card and it works from practically anywhere in the world, that makes it a good all-purpose emergency calling card. Had I known the Verizon access number, it would be $0.25 a minute, not $27.
I learned these lessons the hard way so you don’t have to. Live, learn, and share. That’s the purpose of this blog.