Sunday, October 28, 2007


Problems With Your Plastic

The complaints dribble in every month or so: Someone runs up a big hotel charge or other bill in Europe, then is caught flat-footed when a vendor won't accept a U.S. credit card . The issue: Many countries in Europe have switched to a "chip and PIN" system, meaning credit cards are embedded with microchips, and instead of signing receipts, users type in a PIN.

Obviously, cards with a magnetic strip -- the old "swipe and sign" cards issued in the United States -- are still widely accepted, or the howls of complaint would be deafening. MasterCard, Visa and American Express representatives say every business that accepts their cards must agree to accept swipe and sign as well as chip and PIN.

"It shouldn't be an issue," says Tom Sclafani, an American Express spokesman in London. So why are problems still reported?

"There might be the occasional person at the till who didn't get the memo, so to speak," says Sclafani, an American who uses his U.S.-issued credit card in London. In the first few weeks after the United Kingdom switched to chip and PIN last year, Sclafani says, he was told "fairly often" that his card wouldn't work. But each time, he insisted the cashier try the card , and each time it went through. He hasn't encountered a challenge since the early days of the switch-over, he says.

But problems still occur, says Mark Ashley, editor of Upgrade: Travel Better, a blog that occasionally buzzes with complaints from frustrated card users. His advice: Ask to speak to a manager . That usually works. Also, beware of self-service machines , particularly at train and gas stations. Plan ahead; buy train tickets when stations are staffed , and don't wait until your gas tank is empty to look for a place that takes your card or cash.


Good News: We're Still Traveling Abroad

Among the revelations from last week's Travel Industry Association of America news conference:

* The weak U.S. dollar hasn't reduced American travel overseas. Outbound travel was up 1 to 2 percent this year, and the same is expected for next year. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that more Americans are turning to destinations where they can get more for their limp currency . Eastern Europe, India, China and South America (particularly Argentina) might cost more to get to, but your dollars stretch once you're there.

* Eighty percent of travelers polled consider themselves environmentally conscious, and 53 percent say they'd be more likely to choose a travel provider who demonstrated a commitment to environmental responsibility. Of those, however, only 13 percent were willing to pay more for greener suppliers, and most said they'd balk if the cost was more than 10 percent higher. Then again, 52 percent said "maybe" they'd pay more to be green.

* Congress and the Department of Homeland Security continue to differ on when Americans should be required to have passports to travel by land or sea to Mexico, Canada and other countries in the Western Hemisphere. The DHS has urged this summer; Congress has said wait until June 2009. TIA experts are betting on the latter.


Check the latest on the California wildfires and how they could affect travel at and Although flight delays to and from Southern California were "minimal" as of press time, according to Web alerts, most airlines are allowing customers to change their flights without penalty. Find more details on how tourist attractions have been affected on our blog, Travel Log, at http:// . . . Windjammer Barefoot Cruises might stage a comeback. As CoGo has reported, the line had canceled all cruises and needed help to survive. Now Joey Burke, a son of the founder, says he thinks he can have one ship ready to cruise next month and hopes to get the other three underway in the future . . . The Second Avenue Deli, a New York institution, will reopen next month at 162 E. 33rd St. between Lexington and Third. The authentic kosher deli was operated by Holocaust survivor Abe Lebewohl from 1954 to 1996; his brother Jack kept it going until rent hikes forced him out of the original Lower East Side location last year. Jack's son Jeremy will take over at the new location. The other three renowned Jewish delis in the city -- Katz's, Carnegie and Stage -- aren't kosher.


An Early Gift

Southwest has sale fares for holiday travel, Dec. 20-Jan. 6. Fares from BWI range from $49 to $99 each way. For example, round-trip flight to Raleigh-Durham, N.C., is $119 (including $21 taxes); fare on other airlines starts at $188. Sale fares are sold out in some markets on busiest travel dates. Purchase at by Oct. 29.

Reporting: Cindy Loose

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