Friday, September 26, 2008

Credit Card, ATM, Cell Phone, GPS Europe Travel Updates

We tried some new cards and toys in Europe this month, and thought we’d give a quick wrap-up.

Our Garmin GPS worked well, but had some of the same limitations we’d noticed in the states. Even with the newest maps, it still didn’t know of some intersection/roundabout changes, and it sometimes tried to take us on bizarre routes. Nonetheless, it was a great tool, but we wouldn’t drive with the GPS alone and without maps.

Our Capital One Visa worked every time. Every merchant (even tiny, out-of-the-way petrol stations) accepted our swipe card (nearly all Euro cards are now “chip-and-pin”). Our JCB card was not accepted at a merchant (a pub) that advertised JCB acceptance.

The Schwab ATM card also worked flawlessly, and previous use has indicated that any ATM fees will all be rebated. That means the old advice of getting large sums fewer times can be put to rest. If you’re uncomfortable carrying large amounts of cash, you can hit the ATM (“cashpoint” in Brit-speak) as frequently as you like and not worry about ATM fees.

We used several mobile (cell) phone chips this trip. A very old Orange (UK) chip that we figured was long dead still worked with what little time we had left on it. A new Vodafone (UK) chip also worked great. The UK chips are easy to top up all across the country, in shops and even at ATM machines. We chose Vodafone because they allegedly had the best coverage in Scotland, and that appeared to be so. Vodafone also has a plan (their Passport sevice) where you can set up international roaming in some countries (mostly in Europe, but also Australia and New Zealand) that costs the same as UK calls. Roaming in other countries still works, but charges are higher. In addition, we tried our 09 (Iceland) “international” chip, and despite being a “call-back” type system (dial, wait, your phone rings, answer that ring, and then get connected) it also worked every time we tried it.

Finally, despite our frequent complaints about car-rental ripoffs, we were quite pleased with the car, price, and service we received from Hertz (we rented at Heathrow and drove throughout England and Scotland). We paid for the rental using an American Express card, which gave us primary CDW coverage for only $20 for the entire rental period – a bargain at only a buck a day in our case.