Capital One Pockets Traveler's $6000, Ruins Vacation

Mike and his wife are backpacking their way around the world, and like a smart consumer, before they left he looked around for a credit card without a currency conversion charge. Capital One is fee free, which in theory makes it ideal for travel. In reality, there are hidden costs, and they’re called human stupidity and random interpretation of the rules. As a consequence, he’s “pre-paid” $6,000 onto a Capital One card that has been red-flagged and frozen, and Capital One refuses to budge—even though they acknowledge there are notes on the account that indicated he would do this before he did it, and even though they’re the ones who told him to pre-pay.

The problems began when Mike discovered his new card would have a credit limit of $1000, far below what they’d need for such a long time away in multiple countries. Capital One wouldn’t increase the credit limit, but they told him he could pre-pay above his limit—in effect, turning it into a Capital One-branded debit card.

Before he did any of this, he verified that it was allowable, first via the enrollment agent when he applied for the card and then again when he called to activate it. But when he tried to pre-pay online, the transaction was rejected, telling him: “You are only allowed to transfer up to 110% of your current balance. Your current balance is $0.00.”

I once again called Customer Service, dreading the hold times and quality of service that I would surely be in store for on the day after Christmas. I slowly and carefully explained everything: the trip, the limit, the conversations with earlier reps. The agent told me that if I wanted to pay an amount that was more than 10% over the current balance, I would have to mail them a check. It couldn’t be done on the website or over the phone.

I again asked for a higher limit, and was told it would come naturally when the time was right. When would the time be right? “Oh, that varies.” Varies? Like what? Months? Years? “Oh, it should probably happen within a year.” Giving up hope of a higher limit and now wary of believing what the reps tell me, I went over the plan step by step: I would write a check for $6000 and mail it to the address he had given me. A few days after it arrived, I would be able to charge up to $7000, using my credit card like a debit card. He confirmed all of this, but I still insisted he make a note on my account and read it back to me. I also spoke to the Fraud Department, repeated my whole life story, and begged them not to place a hold on my account if our travel looked like suspicious activity. I started to enumerate the dozens of countries and expected dates, but he cut me off and said he would make a general note that we were traveling.

Not the most comforting CSR interaction, but Mike mailed in the check and hoped for the best. A week later, his card is rejected in Costa Rica. The reason?

[The account specialist] told me that a $6000 deposit on a zero balance was a huge red flag, and there would be a mandatory hold on my account. I started to explain everything, but he cut me off: “You have to understand, there are rules. I know you wish you could make the rules, but these are Capital One’s rules.” I was rather upset at being talked to like a fifth-grader, but I set that aside to focus on the matter at hand: how could I get the hold removed as quickly as possible?

I spent the next hour talking to him, his boss, the guys in Fraud, and even the fancily-named Account Supervision department. They all confirmed that: (1) Yes, the notes from the December 26 call clearly show that I did exactly what the rep had told me to do, (2) Despite that, this was still my fault because I shouldn’t have listened to him, and (3) There was absolutely no way the hold would be removed.

Mike’s biggest problem is that he got the Capital One card at the last minute—which is one reason he wrote in, to make sure other people who attempt the same money-saving tactic give themselves six months or more after opening the card before they try to pre-pay:

    Some final tips for anyone who might be planning a similar trip:
  • Definitely shop around for a card with a low or nonexistent foreign currency fee; it adds up!
  • Get the card as far in advance of the trip as possible. I was told multiple times that if my account had been more than six months old, they might have been able to work with me, but as a new customer I was screwed.
  • Once you get the card, use it enough that they raise the limit, so you can avoid everything I’m going through.
  • Add someone back home to the account so they can act on your behalf.
  • Consider doing all of the above with multiple credit cards; it’s not likely that they’ll ALL leave you high and dry on New Years Eve.

If you live in a state where it’s legal to record your customer service calls, you should consider that as well, so that you’ll have evidence to help persuade the company to take responsibility for their CSR’s promises.

(Thanks to Mike!)

“Is It Legal To Record My Customer Service Calls?”
(Photo: Getty)