TRAVEL with pat and lew

Archive for the ‘… 2008’ Category

* CDW … why is this so difficult?

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 26, 2008

I had made a car rental reservation, for 8 days in Sicily, with Hertz, some time ago, making sure to exclude collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance. The reason for this is that CDW is provided by Citibank, if I pay for the car rental using my MasterCard, but Citibank’s 100% coverage is invalidated if I also purchase CDW (with a deductible) from the car rental company. So buying CDW from Hertz would mean spending more money for less coverage. I made this mistake once before and I am very careful to avoid it again.

Two days before we left, while I was on the web looking for an address for the Trapani airport to plug into our GPS, I saw an ad for car rentals in Trapani by a booking company called, with which I was previously unaware. I clicked on the ad, found a NYC phone number, booked a car rental in Trapani (with Europecar) for roughly 50% of the Hertz price. I was absolutely clear about no CDW, and was assured that CDW was excluded from my contract.

Argus sent email contract confirmations to me, two times, but I did not receive them. I asked them to send it to Pat; she did not get it either. We are having some sort of email problem, involving blocked emails, and have not been able to determine if it is Comcast or which is the culprit. That is a story for another day.

I looked up the Argus reservation on their web site; it was there, but without any details. I called Argus, and they gave me the Europecar confirmation number, without which Europecar will not release the car. I cancelled the Hertz reservation.

Then, nervous about not having a full written confirmation, I asked Argus to send the confirmation to Pat’s daughter; we simultaneously asked Kerry to forward the email to us. That procedure worked fine.

However, when I read the Argus confirmation, it said CDW included. I called and was given totally incorrect information by two Argus agents, who insisted that I didn’t have CDW even though the contract said I did. There is a second level CDW insurance, which covers the deductible, and they were saying that since I didn’t have the ‘super’ CDW insurance, I had no CDW insurance. I got a number for Europecar HQ in Ireland and called them.

(thank you, Skype, for making all these international calls so inexpensive.)

Europecar immediately confirmed that they did not offer car rentals in Trapani without CDW coverage. I would have to cancel the reservation. But, would I be able to get another car from Hertz, or anybody, without CDW. A call to Hertz international reservations resolved the problem. And, my happy ending was enhanced by the fact that the new Hertz reservation was $300 less than the one I had previously cancelled. The original reservation was for an intermediate car, since no compact was available. This time, I was able to book a compact at the lower price. Also, maybe last-minute reservations, if a car is available, are discounted. Something to keep in mind.

Post script. When I picked up our car from Hertz in Trapani, the contract included CDW, although the price did not. ALWAYS READ THE CONTRACT !!!  After a brief discussion, Hertz corrected the contract to exclude CDW. The car is a Ford Fusion 5 door square back, which I think is not a compact.

As I drive this too-large car, through the narrow, twisting streets of Taormina, with crazy Italian drivers and motor scooters constantly passing me on the right, noticing that most of the other cars have dents large and small, I am very happy I was persistent enough, and fortunate enough, to retain my 100% Citibank CDW coverage.


Posted in ... 2008, planes, problems | 1 Comment »

* Comcast messes up SlingBox … SEE UPDATE … no Comcast problems for several years

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 26, 2008

UPDATE 8/7/10 … This post is several years old. We have had very few problems with SlingBox since the issue described below, and none of these subsequent problems was caused by ComCast. SlingBox continues to be a valuable and generally quite reliable means of staying in touch while we travel.

On the day we left Collioure (May 15), I demonstrated Sling Box to Pat’s cousin Renee, who would, with her husband Gary, occupy our apartment for part of the time we were gone. A few hours later, Sling Box no longer worked. After 10 days away, it was still not working.

My first thought was that something was wrong inside our Key West home: the cable box had gone off during a power out and had not re-set; the new DVD recorder, through which our Sling Box video feed was wired, had failed to re-boot; the new cable box installed by Comcast had crashed and burned.

This is a serious matter. We use Sling Box to keep current with the news, and a few other regular shows (Meet the Press). The Democratic primary race continues; unbeknownst to us, on Dancing with the Stars, a winner has been selected.

I am particularly nervous because I watch Yankee games on MLB.TV, unaffected by any Comcast/Sling Box problems, but Pat’s viewing is all dependant on our Key West to internet TV connection.

Our next door neighbor Bill, who so graciously watches our home while we are away, was himself on an extended trip. We call our friend Paul, who goes to our house. We talk via Skype. He tells me what he sees, we try together to determine the problem. The Comcast cable box is on. The DVD recorder is on. Paul turns on the TV; there’s no picture on any channel. A message says this channel will be available soon. Paul, watching nothing, wonders if ‘soon’ means minutes, days or years. I ask Paul to turn on the TV in the guest bedroom, powered by a second Comcast cable box. Same story. No picture, ‘soon.’

Paul says he thinks the service has been disconnected. He turns off both TVs, leaves the cable box and DVD recorder on, and leaves.

There’s another piece of relevant information.

Some months ago, Comcast came out because the DVR feature of our cable box was not functioning. They fixed it. But when I looked at my next invoice on the Comcast web site, I noticed they had charged me for a service call. I objected, and they agreed it was a mistake, promised a credit.

When we returned to Collioure from Sicily, my checklist said to review my credit card bill to see if the credit had been processed. I also looked at my on-line Comcast statement. The credit had been issued.

But I noticed something strange. The billing address on my statement, for the Key West bill, was Stone Henge Drive in Fenton, MI!

I called Comcast (thank you again, Skype) and was told there was no record of any change in billing address for as many months as the representative could see. He couldn’t see much, because while he was telling me that, I checked my previous on-line statements and found that the billing address had been changed only for the most recent statement. He agreed to change it back.

Now we’re back to why Sling Box doesn’t work. Paul thinks the service has been discontinued. Pat concludes it must have something to do with the incorrect change of address. She puts it together intuitively like the courtroom defense lawyer she was. Someone who lives in Florida for the winter went home to Michigan for the summer, discontinued his Comcast service for the duration. Maybe it’s someone named Weinstein.

We do a lookup on the Fenton, MI address. Guess what? Sheldon Weinstein, wife Rebecca. Unlisted phone. Next we do a search for Sheldon Weinstein in Florida; find him in Lake Worth, wife Rebecca, Lake Worth listed phone number, temporarily disconnected.

I call Comcast again. NOTE: this exercise took over 4 elapsed hours, perhaps 3 of that on the phone; with Skype, a cost of less than $5.00; without Skype, too expensive to do.

Comcast tells me that my account in Key West was put on seasonal suspension on May 9, effective May 15 through November 15. I say I didn’t do it.

“We verify street address, phone number, last name,” she said. “If someone else has that information, it’s not our fault. Do you want the number of our fraud unit?” Do we sound just a tad defensive?

“It’s not fraud,” I say. “Would someone use our information to suspend our service, for what reason I cannot imagine, and then leave his own summer billing address so he could be traced? Does that make any sense to you? Isn’t it more likely that someone at Comcast applied the seasonal change order to the wrong account?”

We all know that the people we talk to in customer service, at almost any company, are not particularly attuned to common sense. Some are smarter than others, some are ruder and more arrogant, but they all have their script. If your problem doesn’t fit their rote training, they don’t know how to talk to you. Thinking is not part of the job description. Same applies to supervisors.

“Could you check for me to see if a man named Sheldon Weinstein in Lake Worth is a Comcast customer, and if he also lives in Fenton, MI?” I give her both street addresses.

“I can’t do that. Lake Worth is a different customer service call center. So is Michigan. I can’t access those areas.”

“Who can?”


“Can you reverse the seasonal suspension?”

Comcast does reverse the seasonal suspension, and some time during the night, Sling Box re-appears. They also give me a full month’s credit. But they will not admit it was their mistake. “Someone called, gave your address, and requested the change,” they insist. “You should call our fraud unit.”

I’m not going to call the fraud unit. Instead, I get the names and phone numbers of supervisors and their supervisors, as well as Comcast corporate headquarters in Philadelphia. I’ll make another round of calls on Tuesday (Monday is Memorial Day). You’ll be the first to know what I learn.

Posted in ... 2008, problems, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

* phones in France 2008 – a piece of cake

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 10, 2008

Last year, we had great difficulty understnding how to obtain French phones and add additional minutes.

This year, it was easy.

We had purchased new mobile phones in the US, so we decided to use our old US phones in France. To do this, you first have to contact your phone company and have the phone ‘unlocked.’ Once this is done, you can insert a new SIM card and use the phone with a new mobile account.

On our first day in France, we found an Orange outlet, purchased SIM cards, and added minutes while still in the store.

More importantly, we got clear instructions from an English-speaking sales person as to how to check remaining minutes,and add more minutes, procedures that were mysteries to us last year.

So far, so good.

Posted in ... 2008, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

* 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 …


Posted in ... 2008, legal & financial, travel technology | Leave a Comment »