My credit card kept getting declined — reader mistake story
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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Aurelio, who was low on payment options during a recent trip abroad:
We’ve been making the same trip for over 20 years, traveling from Los Angeles to Penang, Malaysia to celebrate Chinese New Year with my husband’s family. We’ve never had a problem with credit cards, and our Chase cards worked well when we started using them about two years ago. But after a delicious noodle meal in a Penang mall on our most recent trip, I confidently handed over my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to pay, and the waiter came back to say the card was declined.
I asked him to input the card numbers manually, but he said they couldn’t do that at their new touchscreen, handheld terminal. I handed him my Chase United Explorer Card instead, but again the transaction was declined. We tried my husband's Sapphire Preferred card with the same result, and eventually had to pay cash. We experienced the same problems throughout the city, even at merchants where we had used our cards last year.
I contacted Chase multiple times and got a variety of answers: they saw some but not all of the denied transactions on their end; they said the card was not being read completely by the merchant; they recommended entering the card numbers manually, which I told them does not work; they've had this problem for some time, but only in Malaysia and Brazil (FlyerTalk has a post discussing the problem from November); they're working on it, etc. Ultimately, their responses weren't helpful and didn't offer a solution, so our Chase cards were useless to us in Malaysia.
We reverted to using cash, which could have been a logistical embarrassment had we been paying for something like a two-week hotel stay or a local cruise. Fortunately, we were staying with relatives and could withdraw enough cash to pay for food, incidentals and shopping. To avoid this problem in the future, we could search online for any documented problems with our card and destination, and leave enough cash in the bank to pay for trip expenses. We'll also bring backup cards from different banks and processors.
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Credit card transactions can fail for a variety of reasons, ranging from user errors (like a maxed out credit line or expired card) to technical issues (like incompatible terminals) and security concerns (like suspicion of fraud). Whatever the reason, a non-working card can hamper your travel plans if other payment methods are unavailable, so as Aurelio suggests, you should bring a variety of credit cards as backup. For example, I always carry my Chase Sapphire Reserve and The Platinum Card® from American Express, plus at least one more with benefits that complement my itinerary. Carrying backups is a sound practice in case your primary card is lost or stolen, and having multiple card issuers and payment networks at hand protects against issues like the one Aurelio encountered.
In addition to packing an assortment of physical cards, I recommend loading several onto a mobile payment app like Apple Pay or Samsung Pay. Mobile payment acceptance continues to grow quickly, so this is an easy way to provide yourself more payment options without having to find space in your wallet. Finally, you should always bring cash when you travel, and have a plan for how you will access more if needed. A debit card you can use to make ATM withdrawals is a great option, especially if you can avoid fees. You shouldn't rely on your credit card as a source of cash, since cash advances come with hefty fees and exorbitant interest rates, but it's worth knowing how to use the cash advance feature in case of emergencies.
Related: Best cards with no foreign transaction fees
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Aurelio a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't respond to each story individually, but we'll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!