Before leaving for his honeymoon, Derek called Bank of America to make sure he could rely on his debit card while he was in Japan. Bank of America assured him that he would have no problem accessing money. Yet on the third day of his honeymoon, neither he nor his wife could draw cash from their cards, stranding them with only $15 in cash.
My wife and I went on our honeymoon in March of 2006. We both had saved about $2,500 to spend on our ten day trip. Rather than paying currency exchange fees and carrying a huge amount of cash with us, we opted to carry our Bank of America Visa debit cards with us and withdraw smaller amounts of cash at Citibank ATMs (which only have very minimal cash withdrawal fees).
Both of us called Bank of America’s customer service about two weeks prior to our trip and went through the whole ridiculous ID verification nonsense you talked about. We spoke to their fraud protection department and let them know on each of our individual cards that we would be in Japan during that time and that we would be making frequent large purchases and cash withdrawals on our cards. They assured us that everything was taken care of and we’d have no problems using our cards while we were in Japan.
On the third day of the trip, we went to Akihabara to make some video game purchases. I found the only Wii system we saw the entire time we were on the trip and tried to buy it. My card was declined, which was incredibly embarrassing and difficult to deal with because of the language barrier. My wife tried her card and it went through, thankfully. The next shop we came to had something she wanted to purchase, at which point her card was declined. She paid with the cash she had left over, leaving both of us with about the equivalent of $15 total in cash.
We assumed we’d hit some sort of daily limit and thought we’d just get more cash out the following day and it’d be fine. When our cards were both declined at the ATM the next morning, we got worried. We spent the last of our cash on the cheapest phone card we could find so we could call the bank and get this mess taken care of. We scoured their website looking for a 24-hour customer service number but couldn’t find one (with the time difference between here and Japan, they had just closed their main customer service department and it would’ve been 10 or so hours till it opened again). We tried calling the other 24-hour numbers to see if there was a way to get to someone that could help us.
We ended up having to spend an entire day sitting in our hotel room doing absolutely nothing waiting for their customer service department to open. We didn’t have any money for food and all we were able to eat was a few candy bars we had picked up a few days prior. When we finally got to talk to someone that night, they said we should’ve tried the 24-hour number and that the other people we spoke to should’ve given it to us. Both cards had been frozen due to unusual activity and they basically said it doesn’t matter that we told them exactly what we were going to be doing. They assured us we wouldn’t have any more problems this time, but when we went to get money out (about a mile away from the hotel) my wife’s card was declined again. After walking back to the hotel and getting it fixed again, we were able to use our cards for the rest of the trip without a problem.
Still, we wasted an entire day on our honeymoon in Japan, wondering if we would even be able to fix the problem at all. When I called customer service when we got home, I was told that the problem was our fault because we were relying on those two cards. Their reaction to what happened was that I should’ve had other credit cards or cash available in case there was a problem with our Bank of America cards. It took me more than six months and countless phone calls with threats to move my accounts (two checking, two savings, a money market savings, and a mortgage loan) over to another bank for them to take any responsibility and offer me a $300 credit for the time lost and the poor experience.
Sorry for the lengthy email, but I couldn’t resist when I read your article. Bank of America has absolutely horrible customer service and more people need to be aware of it. I’m glad someone with access to a widely read forum was able to post this sort of information and get the word out.
Don’t rely on a single bank or form of payment, especially when traveling. Treat your money like an investment and diversify.