Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Blocked cash cards - time for action

How often do travellers have to complain before Natwest stops automatically blocking debit cards the moment they are used at foreign cash machines? It is now happening with monotonous frequency.

The bank, to be fair, provides an emergency telephone number which customers can call when it happens. I have used it and it works. But calling is not always convenient - if your mobile phone battery has run down, for example, or if you are in a hurry at an airport.

The computerised system, says the bank, is programmed to respond to "unusual activity". There is a lot of fraud, it says. The aim is to protect the customer. But when does unusual become unusual? Using the card at a different branch of Sainsbury's, in another British city? Elsewhere in the EU? And is it churlish to suggest the purpose, in reality, is to protect the bank?

Surely the system could also be set up to allow customers to record the destinations they are travelling to so that using the card abroad does not automatically trigger an alarm.

Come on Natwest. This is becoming tedious. How about showing some initiative and tackling the issue?

Car rental - another moan

This correspondent has often commented on the problems of car rental. Here's another: I picked up a car recently to be told, as expected, that it should be returned with a full tank to avoid a premium fuel charge. The gauge showed full as I drove away but dipped rapidly. Subsequent observation indicated that, for the car in question, it hovers around the full marker for maybe 100 - 150 kilometres.

I'm not suggesting any deliberate attempt to chisel extra revenue - and even if I though there had been it would be impossible to prove. But the lesson, I suppose, is that you should keep an eye on consumption and if you think you have been provided with less than a full tank to start with, don't be too conscientious about refuelling at the very last service station before returning the car.

Of course, the problem would be solved if car hire firms simply refuelled at normal petrol/diesel prices - or built a small premium into their rates for any inconvenience. But despite improvements in recent years, simplicity is still something they struggle with

Friday, 1 May 2009

Holiday cost comparisons - be sceptical

Another of those meaningless holiday price comparisons which appear every spring - this time from Post Office Travel Services.

Its Holiday Costs Barometer shows prices for a basket of goods in various popular tourist countries, showing, for example, the relative price of a three course meal for two with a bottle of house wine - and a cup of coffee,

But how to compare like with like? Is that £3.83 coffee cited by the barometer in Greece a cappuccino at an outside table on the seafront - or a small, strong Greek coffee which might cost 90 pence. And is that £1.91 coffee in the US a single cup - or the unlimited supply often available for the price?

And how about that three course meal. How can you possibly compare a Greek salad and a moussaka with a French prix fixe? Not to say that one is better than the other - that depends on your taste and mood at the time - just that they are totally different experiences.

Does it matter? In that newspapers tend to report such surveys dutifully - and in that these comparisons may exaggerate the real price of one country vis a vis another, I think it does.

Besides, isn't a fool someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing?