Who offers real chip-and-PIN cards in the U.S.

Chip cardMost of the rest of the world has adopted more secure chip-and-PIN credit cards–which can cause some problems for Americans traveling overseas.

When we were in Italy two years ago, we found our old-school magnetic-stripe cards wouldn’t work in automated kiosks. That included our British Airways card, which had a chip, but no PIN. Without a personal identification number to punch in, it was useless.

Unfortunately, many articles about where to get chip-and-PIN cards in the U.S. make the mistake of thinking chip-and-signature cards are the same thing. They’re so not.

Because we’re going to Europe again soon,  I hit up Bill Hardekopf of LowCards.com for a list of U.S. issuers that offer the real deal. The few organizations on this list have many members that travel overseas. And here they are:

United Nations Federal Credit Union.. If you don’t actually work for the UN, you can become a credit union member by joining United Nations Association ($25 membership fee).

USAA. You must be a member of this financial services organization for active-duty military, veterans and their families.

Andrews Air Force Base Federal Credit Union. “You can  join by becoming a member of the American Consumer Council which is open to all so essentially is open membership,” Hardekopf said. Membership is $5.

State Department Federal Credit Union. Same deal: you can  join by becoming an American Consumer Council member.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union. You can join this credit union is you’re a member of one of a host of associations. If you’re not already a member of one, you can join Voices for America’s Troops for $15.

Or you can just wait, if you don’t have an overseas trip planned. True chip-and-PIN cards should be here by October 2015, when merchants without the terminals to process the cards and banks that have failed to issue them will have to pay for fraud. As Ron Lieber of the New York Times put it, “It’s an elaborate game of chicken, fitting for an industry where the major players spent years embroiled in a lawsuit.” Ultimately, though, more secure cards will benefit banks, merchants and consumers.

 

 

 

Hacking Hawaii

DSC06577“It’s beautiful, but so expensive!”

More than one friend has told me they were blown away by how much their Hawaiian idyll cost them. They were prepared for hefty airfares, but the daily costs of living are what got them.

Here’s what we did to keep the bills down during a recent trip to Maui:

Used points and miles. Home exchanges, AirBnB and even camping are options to minimize lodging expenses, but we like nice resort hotels with fancy pools. Fortunately, hotel rewards programs typically give you a much better bang for your buck than most airline frequent flyer plans. You typically have to pay a $25 to $30 daily resort fee and you may have to pay for parking, but that’s way less than the usual $350-and-up rack rate. Both resort hotel rooms had refrigerators, which made it easier to:

Eat like a local. There are some wonderful restaurants on Maui…and many that charge a lot for a mediocre meal. We stocked up on breakfast foods, healthy snacks and lunch fixings at a local Safeway, then pestered locals for recommendations to holes-in-the-wall with good food and low prices. The people who work at resorts or who guide adventures are often a wealth of information, since they’re trying to live on not-great salaries in an area with a high cost of living. (Just avoid the concierge desk, since those folks may have incentives to steer you to pricier places.) We booked a few dinners at some Frommers-recommended restaurants that we thoroughly enjoyed, knowing these pricier places were offset by our thriftiness elsewhere.

Eschew resort prices. One of our hotels charged $20 a day to rent a snorkel set. Steps away an independently-run kiosk charged $25 for a week. In Lahaina, a shop charged $9 a week. Activities offered through the resort (parasailing, kayaking, snorkel trips and so on) also had big markups. The convenience simply isn’t worth the cost, in most cases. Booking adventures and excursions directly with the provider online can save you a bunch of cash. A good guidebook can steer you to the best outlets.

Put everybody on an allowance. Our daughter was allowed to bring $100 of her savings to buy souvenirs. I set a daily allowance for our spending as a family, and we stuck pretty close to it (excluding what we spent for Christmas and other gifts). Knowing how much you’ve got to spend makes it easier to say “That’s it for today” when you’ve reached your daily limit, knowing you can schedule pricier excursions, meals or purchases for tomorrow.

Check out farmers markets. We didn’t get a chance to do it this visit, but on previous trips we’ve enjoyed fresh fruits and vegetables at good prices as well as crafts and artwork produced by locals. Maui has farmers markets in several locations.

Enjoy the free stuff. I had a great time watching an evening hula show at an outdoor shopping mall. The performers may not have been as dazzling as the fire dancers at the hotel luau, but they were more authentic (fire dancing is a Samoan, not a Hawaiian, specialty) and lovely to see. In previous trips, we’ve enjoyed free open-air concerts and demonstrations of various crafts. Splashing in the pool, swimming in the ocean and talking long walks through beautiful scenery are always highlights of our trips. You can check the local newspaper and search for “free stuff to do in Hawaii” online for more ideas.

 

 

 

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