Why your credit card might not work for in-flight purchases in Europe

Oct 13, 2019

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If you’re a frequent TPG reader, you probably have some great credit cards for foreign travel. Almost certainly, you know how to get around without paying pesky foreign transaction fees, so your travels abroad should be pretty seamless from a payment perspective.

But, if you’re headed to Europe, beware: not all chip cards are created equal, and your card may be declined in some places, including while trying to make in-flight purchases on certain airlines, as TPG himself experienced on Ryanair.

The issue comes down to how your transaction gets verified. For a long time, Europe has been using a chip-and-pin standard for its credit card transactions. Chip cards have only become common in the U.S, in the last five to 10 years, and even so the system used in the U.S. is different from the one in Europe.

American credit cards work on a chip and signature system. While shoppers in Europe enter a personal identification number during a chip transaction at checkout, American buyers are supposed to sign their receipts to verify that they are the person whose name is on the card.

The top chip and PIN credit cards

Some European payment terminals require a pin for every transaction, and will decline cards that do not have the feature enabled.

For those times when you’re cashless and out of luck abroad, travel guru Rick Steeves has some great tips for what you can do if you’re having trouble getting your card accepted at a chip-and-pin terminal.

Featured photo by Jean Arnas / The Points Guy UK

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