TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Citibank, how dare you reject my credit card?

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 10, 2008

May 1, 2008.

We arrived in Collioure after 24 hours travel, with no problems. Our first stop, after unpacking the car, was a pizza and beer in town, where we were greeted by our friend and waitress Sophie. The French pizza, as always, was excellent.

The next day, we used the rental car to shop for ‘large’ items and other things not available in our small village shops. At first, everything went smoothly.

The first problem occurred when Pat tried to purchase a bracelet at a small jewelry shop in Collioure. Our MasterCard, which had worked all day at other stores in and out of Collioure, was rejected. We tried again with the same result.

We first thought the problem was that this vendor, a new store, may have had the kind of credit card machine that only accepts cards with chips. (American credit card companies, apparently never having heard of globalization, still don’t have chips twenty years after they were introduced in Europe. More about this later.)

Then we went to buy some wine at the shop we frequented last year. They had the same credit card machine they had last year, but it, too, rejected our purchase. So it was not the chip that was the problem in this store.

A bright point of light in this otherwise gloomy story. The lady in the wine store insisted we take the wine without paying for it. “I know,” she said, “you’ll be back tomorrow.” We took it but didn’t drink any until it was paid for.

Now I’m on the phone with Citibank. I explain what happened.

“What caused the problem?

“It’s security checks,” the customer service representative says.

“But I told you two months ago we were going to be travelling, and every country we would be in.”

“It’s security checks,” she repeats, following the script.

“How do the security checks work?”

“We can’t explain it.”

Can’t? Or won’t?

“I think it’s the absence of a chip. Can you send me a card with a chip?”

“We don’t have one,” she says. “But we’re considering it.”

This is how to lose the international economic competition. Citibank, certainly a major player, is ‘considering’ chips! Right on top of things, aren’t we!

“So what are we to do?” I ask. “We’re going to be in Europe for the whole summer. Are we to live in constant fear of being embarrassed by having our Citibank MasterCard rejected in shops and restaurants?” There’s no answer.

“Did you change the security criteria for my account?” I ask.


“You haven’t changed anything in 2008?”


“Then why is it rejecting now when it didn’t before?”

“Well, the vendor is supposed to call us to get an ok on the card.”

“From France? And what language will the Citibank representative be speaking? And how does the vendor know he’s supposed to call? And what makes you think he’s going to take time to call when he has other customers waiting to be served?”

None of these questions are answered. But the Citibank customer service representative does say she will contact security, and they will ‘relax’ the security criteria so our card will not be rejected, at least not often.

“Can I please talk to your supervisor?”

The supervisor repeats the same unhelpful information, and casts doubt on the only solution proposed by saying they are going to ‘ask’ security to relax the criteria, but cannot be assured they will.

This is customer service that doesn’t serve customers.

This is a major American company out of touch with the rest of the world.

We have been Citibank MasterCard customers for years. We pay every bill in full before the due date. We informed Citibank about our travel plans. We don’t deserve to be treated this way.

The next day, we pay for the wine with cash. The following day, we try our credit card again –same store, same credit card machine – and it works. Is the story over? We’ll let you know,

Meanwhile, we applied for an American Express Blue card, a card with a chip.


For more information about credit cards without a chip, please see Frommer’s 11-20-07 article titled “U.S. Credit Cards Lose Their Cachet in Europe.”  Click …


To get an idea how long this problem has been known, perhaps not to Citibank, check out this 2001 article in the New York Times, titled, “CREDIT CARD CHIPS WITH LITTLE TO DO.” It explains some of the reasons American companies, at least in 2001, had not adopted the chip. Click …



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