Friday, November 18, 2011

MC Fiasco Aftermath and Beyond

Thinking that my troubles were finished when I received my emergency card in Jakarta, they still hadn't quite all been resolved. Issue number one was not even being able to check in to the hotel because my credit card hadn't arrived at that point, and without a valid card, they wouldn't let me check in. Now, I could have paid cash, but I didn't know how much they would have wanted me to pay for the deposit, and I had tried to find out in advance by emailing them, but with the language barrier, that didn't work out so well as people on the other end couldn't figure out what I was trying to ask them. So I had to wait. My colleague from another university was at some meetings, but I knew he was going to be back at the hotel within a couple of hours, so I sent him a text to see if he'd be able to use his card to check me in, and that way, I could at least get a room and then wait for my card to arrive that day so I could still pay with my own card upon checking out. By the time he returned, and I was able to check in with his card, my own card had already arrived, but the transaction had already taken place, so the clerk swiped my card just to see if it would work, and it didn't, so at the time, I thought it was just as well that my colleague was there to help me out.

I decided to phone MC to find out if I had to activate the new card, and they said that I didn't, but that the reason it didn't work was likely due to the fact that with these emergency cards, they have to punch in the number manually because they can't be swiped. I made a couple of insignificant purchases the next day to try to see if it would work, and still, even with the manual entry, the card still didn't work! I called them later, and I found out that the reason it didn't work is that the card had already been blocked because when they tried to swipe the card rather than do the manual entry, the card got blocked again, so I ended up having to get MC security to unblock the card. I'm happy to say the card worked for the rest of the time, except for a brief scare at the Sheraton in Surabaya, although it turned out it was something wrong with the hotel itself, not my card, thank goodness.

Other than that, I can't really say a whole lot else happened on my trip. In Hong Kong, it was great to meet up with old friends (i.e. recruiters I've met on other trips) and hang out with them. One of these guys, who happens to be Chinese, was able to introduce us to some interesting foods there. He took us to this place where they have good desserts, and I tried what he was having as he had recommended this coconut milk served warm in the shell. There were some gelatinous bits in it that I didn't think about, and then all of a sudden, he took another look at the menu and said "Ohh, I had better wait until you finish to tell you what's in it." Well, then I had to know, so he informed me that I was eating bird's nest and we ended up learning is called "harsmar" in English, although I'm not really sure if that's a word. In any case, for those of you that don't know, bird's best is sparrow saliva, the kind that's used to glue their nests together. Harsmar is also a questionable food, in my opinion. The taste was quite okay. It's not that I would seek out these foods, although it adds to my repertoire of weird things I've eaten, but the thing I don't understand is at what point someone decided these are things that should be eaten. I mean, Fallopian tubes of toads? Bird spit? That's the part I don't get. In any case, it's all part of the adventures of my life, right?

Let's see if I can muster up another entry for Indonesia :o)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Travel Advisory - The MC Fiasco

What an experience I've had the last several days. I'm not even sure what the best solution is to this situation I went through. There are things I and my office could have done better, but let me share the story, and please use it accordingly as you travel.

I checked out of my hotel on Friday morning from my hotel in Kuala Lumpur, and I went about my school visits that day. Our driver had arranged for a taxi for me to take me from the last school I could visit to the airport so I didn't have to return to the airport. When I got to the airport, I had to pay a bit of an excess baggage fee, so I tried to pay for that with my credit card, only to learn it was being declined after two tries. So I went to get cash, chalking it up to the system being down. I've had that happen to me before where the card didn't work somewhere, but it worked without problems before and after, so I didn't think anything of it.

When I arrived at my hotel in Hong Kong at around 10pm, I was a little concerned about the fact that I hadn't enough cash to pay the taxi because I thought I had enough for it, based on what I paid last time. I had to exchange some of my US cash right then and there to pay him--at least $50 minimum, so I'm glad I happened to have that much on me. When I got that settled, I went to check in, and my card was declined again. The guy at the counter tried it about 5 times with different amounts as we thought perhaps I had unwittingly gone over my limit and would need to make a payment, but nothing worked. He asked me to make a cash deposit of HKD500 (about CAD60), but I only had 300 on me, so they decided that would have to do. As soon as I got to my room, I connected to the internet to get a number to call MasterCard, and I was able to find that they had toll-free numbers for all over the world for emergency services.

I learned that between the time I checked out from my hotel in KL on Friday morning and tried to pay my excess baggage fee that afternoon, some 7 or so hours later, someone in Canada had used my card number somehow to pay for gas a Canadian Tire in Richmond. MC thought that was suspicious and blocked my card. So I ended up having to call another MC number in order to request an emergency card. According to their web site, they can actually produce one in 24 hours, so I figured I'd have one before I checked out from my hotel the following Monday. To make a long story short, once I got everything sorted out, they weren't able to get my card to me until Tuesday, which meant I'd already be in Jakarta by that time. What that meant was having to pay my full hotel bill by cash in Hong Kong and potentially not being able to check in at the hotel in Jakarta unless my card was already there, as the only thing MC couldn't tell me was the exact delivery time for the card. The annoying part is that my own bank, which is where my card is issued, didn't respond to these types of requests before 10am EST. Some emergency hotline! That delay didn't help anything, and I had to wait several hours before they would be able to respond to my request for the emergency card.

I don't really have tons of extra cash in my account, quite often, so thankfully I was able to take some out of my dad's account as we have a joint account exactly for this purpose, in case of emergency. Now, I wasn't sure what my dad's withdrawal limit was, I tried to take out the maximum from an ATM. I used the wrong PIN at first as I couldn't remember which one I use for that card. The initial amount, the machine said it didn't contain that much cash, so then I tried a smaller amount, and that worked, so I was able to take out half of what I needed, and then I tried another bank, thinking I might be able to get more, so I tried twice, and I couldn't get anything as I had apparently exceeded my limit. The hotel would have to live with it, and I'd have to pay them the rest the following day. That night, though, I got a phone call in the middle of the night. Thinking it was my alarm in my groggy state, I turned it off to realise I had answered a phone call, and it was my dad's bank, telling me that they suspected fraudulent activity because of all these attempts to withdraw cash from ATMs in Hong Kong. I explained to them the whole situation, and after some security questions, they were convinced that there was no fraud and unlocked the card. Imagine what would have happened if that had been locked, too! I don't even want to think about it.

Anyway, I was able to get to Jakarta ok, but as I suspected, they weren't able to check me in to the hotel because I didn't have a valid credit card on me, and my emergency card had not yet arrived. I wasn't sure what to do. Again, I didn't have enough cash on me for a deposit, and I didn't know what time my card would arrive. I had tried to email them the previous day to ask what I should do or what they would advise in this situation, but unfortunately, language issues prevented anyone from understanding what I was asking, so that didn't help at all. It suddenly occurred to me, though, that I would be able to get some colleagues already here in Jakarta to help out if necessary. Since the card is just to hold the room, my one colleague staying at the hotel could use his and at least I'd have a room while I wait for my mail. He was out at meetings, but I sent him a text to ask, and he was fine with that, so I just had to wait for his return, which was just a couple of hours after I arrived at the hotel. I call him my knight in shining armor at this point because I feel like he rescued me and saved my life!

By the time I tried checking in the second time, the credit card had arrived, but we didn't know that until the transaction with my colleague's card had already gone through, but at least I have it now, and it should help me get through the next few days until I get home. What an experience!!

In the meantime, everyone around me, from recruiters to Canadian government people, to the really good customer service overall that MC gave me, has really helped. People on Facebook have poured out their love, prayers, and words of encouragement as well as even financial help if need be. It's amazing, and I am blessed. I got a free taxi upgrade from a sedan to a minivan from the airport to the hotel, and then when I checked in successfully, they gave me a bit of a room upgrade as well, so it was like walking into heaven when I arrived, even though I've stayed in ever nicer rooms. But after an ordeal like the last several days, I don't even want to leave, and I feel like I can finally rest. Exhaustion has hit me like a ton of bricks! I can say I'm also glad MC is looking out for me, but it's just that the timing was so poor. Had this happened in Canada, it wouldn't really have mattered because I don't use my card that often there. But be warned, travellers. Have a backup plan! I'm going to check what measures my office has to prevent this from happening again!