Getting Tickets on a French Train

Getting tickets on a French train could be renamed “Why is our U.S. banking system so antiquated?

Warning. This post names names.

My trip on Le Chemin de St. Jacques starts in Le Puy. I tried to get train tickets on the French railroad, SNCF. All was going well on the web. My French lessons and discussions were paying off.

But once I tried to pay, trouble started. First, they wouldn’t accept my American Express card. Then it rejected my Wells Fargo Visa card. I called Wells Fargo Visa three times and got three different answers from each person who tried to help me.

First, my credit card was not authorized to make international transactions and I had to call them on that. Excuse me?? What are they, my mother?

Once Wells Fargo approved my ticket purchase, SNCF still didn’t accept the card. And it was very clear. If the French Railroad had issued me a reservation, I’d have to pick up the tickets using the same credit card which, you guess it, needs a chip. It turns out that all credit cards have them outside of the U.S.

So I went to my local Wells Fargo bank in Asheville and explained to the banker what I needed. A few phone calls later, he said that it was only offered by invitation and I wasn’t invited.

Only certain banks are offering them in the U.S. but I’m going to find one that does. And when I do, I’ll leave the antiquated bank I’ve been dealing with.

In the meantime, with a lot of help from my friend, I was directed to a British website that offered train tickets in Europe. I was able to book my train travel with Loco 2. They charged a hefty fee for the privilege of using my American style credit card.

Why not here?

After doing a little searching, I came to the conclusion that the ordinary credit card company is not offering chip and pin because Americans are not asking for it. Wrong!

And chip and pin is different from chip and signature. Some American companies offer chip and signature but that’s not as good as with a pin. It is almost impossible to get a chip and pin card in the US – I didn’t say impossible.

The credit card companies think you have to be a rich  business traveler to need the chip but it’s the opposite. Those of us traveling in remote places are more likely to need the same credit cards that locals use.

I’m going to keep looking. In the meantime, check your credit card, if you’re going on the El Camino.

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