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During our trip to Paris and Luxembourg back in May, we ran into a small issue midway through the trip: every card I had with no foreign transaction fees was being declined. This was odd, as we had been traveling for a few days, and I hadn’t had any issues. I hadn’t notified any of the banks regarding our travel plans, a bad habit I’ve gotten into. But they haven’t helped my laziness, as nothing has ever been declined. Until this instance.
Why don’t any of my cards work?!
During our third day in Paris, I found that none of my credit cards would work. When purchasing some items from a local market, I first tried my Chase Sapphire Reserve, which was the primary card I’d been using during our trip. Declined. Guess I gotta VoIP call Chase over the fairly poor WiFi at our hotel (SEE: Crowne Plaza Paris Republique Review). Then I handed over my Cathay Pacific Asia Miles Visa issued by Synchrony Bank, as it earns 1.5x Asia Miles on overseas purchases. Also declined. I’d previously only used this card for one transaction in Paris, and it had gone through just fine.
This was perplexing. I had to reach back into my wallet and pay with my dwindling cash supply. I had a couple other cards, but none of them waived foreign transaction fees aside from my Platinum Delta American Express. But I hadn’t found a merchant who accepted it yet.
Future purchases were also declined on both cards. I figured I’d just have to call both banks later. I ended up shelling out over €30 cash that afternoon, which was unfortunate, as I was *really* trying to avoid a second run to an ATM.
At least it was only temporary
That evening we headed back to the same market to pick up a few more things. I figured I’d have to pay in cash yet again. But I wanted to give the card another try.
As soon as I pulled it out of my wallet the cashier asked me something. My French is thus far hopeless, and all I caught was “Visa.” I showed it to her, as it was indeed a Visa. She made a motion to me not to use it. Okay, then. Gotta dip into my dwindling cash yet again.
Due to the crappy internet at the Crowne Plaza, I gave up trying to call Chase that evening. But the next day revealed the root of the problem.
Carry more than one card type with waived foreign transaction fees
When we arrived at our first stop of the day, I tried my Chase Sapphire Reserve card again, expecting it to be declined just like the previous day. To my surprise, the transaction processed normally. I must have looked surprised as well, as the English-speaking cashier at the shop in the Gare du Nord asked me if something was wrong. I explained the situation from the previous day, where my cards were declined everywhere we went.
She had the answer: the Visa network had been down the whole day throughout much of Europe. As they are the largest card issuer, I’m sure the majority of people were affected. This outage was due to a hardware failure and was limited to just Visa. Had I added a fee-free Mastercard to my wallet, I would have had no issues.
So that was the lesson: carry more than one card type. I typically only carry two cards without foreign transaction fees, and both are typically Visas. I’ve been careful to make sure I have one with more than one issuer, in case one gets declined, but I’d never thought to carry more than one card type.
This was a fluke more than anything, as I’ve never heard of the Visa network going down. But it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.