My recent trip to Europe taught me many things. First, I must learn to speak Italian, because I love Italy enough to live there. Next, I must continue to amass as many miles and points as I possibly can in order to travel in comfort. And finally, it is a really bad idea to only travel with only one credit card.
Both MrsMJ and I dutifully called Citibank, Chase, and our Bank to let them know we were taking an extensive international trip, and intended to make some purchases while we were away, and purchase, we did. Mostly meals, souvenirs, and other incidentals. MrsMJ purchased couple of items right after we landed in Rome using her Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa, and these transactions processed just fine using a chip card reader. Our first snag was at the train station, where the kiosk would not accept my Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa. Turning to my Marriott Rewards Premier Visa, with Chip & Signature, my train ticket purchase went though with no issues. Missing out on Ultimate Rewards points makes me sad, but I’m not one for turning down Marriott Rewards points either.
With that, we were off to Rome, Florence, Venice, and our 14-night cruise aboard Celebrity Reflection. In most cases, merchants and restaurants we dealt with were well equipped to accept swipe cards and chip cards. In a few cases, only a chip card reader was visible and used. An important port of call for us was Kusadasi, Turkey. Not only because we were taking a private tour of the ancient city of Ephesus, but we also intended to purchase a new carpet for our dining room now that we are old enough to graduate from our IKEA dining room set.
We returned to the same vendor we purchased from last time, Topkapi, and sat through the usual carpet presentation. There was tea, Turkish coffee, snacks, and Turkish wine. Our guide recommended that I not drink any wine until we had made a purchase. I explained that my having a clear head was irrelevant in this case, as MrsMJ is in charge of all major purchases of home furnishings, so bring on the wine. After settling on the perfect carpet, MrsMJ presented her Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa to make the purchase. Her card was inserted into the chip reader and the response was “Transaction Denied – Call Bank.” Thankfully, Topkapi made the call for us and handed the phone to MrsMJ, because the call took entirely too long, included far too many instances of being placed on hold, and best of all, MrsMJ could hardly hear the Citibank representative. After going through the usual spiel of questions, the end result was that Citibank would not approve the purchase even though it was significantly below the amount of available credit, and we had called to tell them we would be making such a purchase before we left. Citi told MrsMJ that she would need to go into a Citibank branch with the card and photo ID in order to have the purchase approved. This was obviously not an option at the moment.
Much to my chagrin, MrsMJ turned to her longtime card, the Royal Caribbean Visa issued by Bank of America, which immediately approved the purchase. Maybe I should not have been so focused on being entertained with wine and snacks afterall, or I would have handed over my Sapphire Preferred Card for the purchase! Heck, I would have settled for some Membership Rewards points with my Amex Platinum (which also earns us some cruise benefits)! This would also have been an ideal way to meet the minimum spend requirements on the Chase Ink Bold Business Card which is currently offering 50,000 Ultimate Rewards bonus points when you make $5,000 dollars in purchases during the first 3 months of opening the card account. In other words, we could have been that much closer to another premium class roundtrip to Europe like the one I reported on here.
In the end, everything worked out. We got our carpet, and enough Royal points for a few bucks of onboard credit for our next Royal Caribbean cruise. Would I rather have Ultimate Rewards points or Membership Rewards points? Sure. The real lesson here is that it is a bad idea to put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to credit cards. Even if you do your duty, and call your card company to let them know you are traveling, there is a small risk that you might run into the difficulty that we did. Do not travel with just one card!
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