How can I upgrade to a chip card before a trip to Europe?
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com
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Dear Cashing In,
My wife and I will be traveling in
Europe for about three weeks. I've pretty well decided I need at
least one card with a chip, either signature or PIN. My problem is I already have
two Visas (credit union, Chase Coldwater Creek [wife]), one MasterCard
(Sears/Citi), and three American Express cards (Costco, Blue Sky and Delta).
don't want another credit card and if I do get one, I would only use it where I
can't use an existing card. Is there any way to upgrade one of these cards?
I've already checked with American Express and the credit union, and the answer
is, "No, it is really not needed." My response to that is really not
printable. I'm 99 percent sure that I'd get the same response from Sears Citi
MasterCard and Chase. Any ideas or options? --
You're smart to be taking steps
before your trip, because you may well find yourself in a situation where your
magnetic-stripe credit cards just won't work. If you're telling customer
service that you're traveling to Europe and they're responding that chip cards are not needed, I don't blame you for being
Europe began adopting chip-and-PIN
cards in 2004 and now more than 80 countries use them. As you've pointed out,
it's getting more and more inconvenient to be caught without at least one chip
card overseas. Many kiosks in Europe and parts of Asia simply don't acknowledge magnetic-stripe cards anymore. U.S. card issuers are starting to come around,
however, including Bank of America, Chase and Citi.
Even though American Express and the
credit union shot you down, I would still try Citi and Chase. Both have cards
with chip technology targeting customers who travel overseas. Citi introduced
the Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature card last summer, for example. A
chip-and-signature card such as the HHonors Visa requires a signature, not a PIN, but
will be accepted in most overseas destinations as long as you don't travel too
far off the beaten path.
It's possible chip technology is not
available yet for the particular cards you carry. Both your Citi and Chase
cards are co-branded with U.S. retailers (Sears and Coldwater Creek), which
aren't as pressured to be traveler-friendly as rewards cards co-branded with an
international hotel chain, such as Hilton.
You have nothing to lose by
contacting Citi and Chase customer service, but you may have better luck taking
your quest to the Web. Most banks that issue credit cards have Twitter-based customer service and I find them more responsive and less time-consuming
than phone centers, possibly because they're dealing with customer complaints in
public and are thus motivated to resolve them quickly.
Some Citi cardholders have
reported that the bank has been willing to upgrade their MasterCards to
chip-and-signature cards, usually after they tweeted about it with the tag
@AskCiti. To ask about your Chase cards, use @ChaseSupport. While you're at it,
you could try again with @AskAmEx as well. Generally, you'll be asked, via
Twitter, to follow the Twitter account of the customer service department you've
tagged so they can DM (direct message) you and then hook you up with someone
from customer service.
If it turns out that the cards
you're carrying don't have a PIN upgrade available and you're determined not to
take on another credit card, you may consider a workaround. Travelex's
Cash Passport is a prepaid card that can be loaded with euros, British
pounds and other European currencies. The company is no longer selling the
cards in the U.S., but you may be able to purchase one when you get to Europe
at a Travelex office.
See related: American travelers' guide to chip-and-PIN cards, How to solve credit card problems through Twitter
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