News for the Hyatt Visa: SmartChip Tech & No Minimum Spend

First of all, a hat tip to Mommy Points for sharing with us Chase’s new offer for the Hyatt Visa credit card. Apparently all the details are the same except it now provides TWO free nights at any Hyatt hotel after the first purchase instead of just one. Previously the second night was received after spending $1,000 in three months. I’ll have to get Megan to add this to her next churn.

I’m a big fan of this card even though I have no idea where I’ll use my free nights. There is an annual fee, but I’ve gotten discounts on resort fees, free WiFi, and better rooms thanks to the complimentary Platinum Gold Passport status. I also used it just last night to pay for my Bahrain entry visa with no forex fees (though the app was denied :( ). Each year you receive an additional free night that could be worth the $75 annual fee.

  • Two award nights at any Hyatt property
  • One anniversary award night at category 1-4 properties
  • No foreign exchange fees
  • Complimentary Platinum status with Gold Passport
  • $75 annual fee, and NOT waived the first year
  • Current Platinum members get two suite upgrade vouchers for paid rooms
  • Current Diamond members get two free nights in a suite instead of two regular nights

But that’s not all…

New SmartChip technology is not what we Americans need

Kudos to MilePoint members Jenny & Curt who let us know yesterday that Chase will be issuing new cards to Chase Hyatt Visa cardholders with new SmartChip technology.

Chase Visa frequently asked questions

Unfortunately, SmartChip is not the same as the Chip & PIN technology used by credit cards in most of the world (just as we Americans continue to resist the metric system).

Q. What if a merchant asks for a PIN during the purchase?

A. Simply follow the instructions on the point of sale terminal to complete the transaction. Explain to the merchant that your card is Chip with Signature and a PIN is not required or necessary.

Yeah, good luck with that. While some foreign retailers won’t give you too much hassle about signing your credit card receipt, particularly at hotels and nicer restaurants, I’ve often found it to be easier just to pay with cash.

Both and Consumer Traveler have some good tips for dealing with U.S. credit cards in Europe and around the world. However, I take issue with some of Consumer Traveler’s recommendations, like Tip #3.

Virtually every credit card processing machine in European restaurants, hotels and stores can process a magnetic-strip card as well as smart chip cards. It just takes a few extra steps. Ask for a manager or ask the clerk to simply follow the instructions that appear on the machine. Human beings can make your card work.

~Consumer Traveler

Well, no, not really. If I don’t speak the language, asking the clerk to follow the screen’s directions is going to be tough. Even if we do speak the same language, I already have trouble getting people to read the screen and follow directions. How many times have you been frustrated by a lazy gate agent, who at least understands the system he or she is working with?

Now imagine an underpaid server who speaks a foreign language and just knows to plug the card in and hand it to the customer for a PIN. If they’ve never had to follow directions from their handheld terminal before, they’re not going to be happy they got stuck with the “stupid American,” and I just like to avoid unnecessary confrontation. Obviously, automated kiosks appeal to me in these cases, which brings us to Tip #4.

If using an automated machine and your card is rejected, such as some ATMs, new parking meters, newer gas station pumps and railroad ticket machines in some French and Spanish train stations, go to the ticket window or see the station attendant. The transaction can normally be processed there. If the bank, gas station or ticket window is closed, you are out of luck.

~Consumer Traveler

Ha! What if there is no attendant? This is fairly common but to be expected in places like subway stations or rural train stations where either almost everyone already knows what they’re doing or there just isn’t the traffic to justify hiring an employee. When I visit Paris, I have to plan in advance to either have coins for the Metro vending machine (no bills) or look up which stations have a staffed ticket office. And good luck getting foreign coins from your bank at home.

So where can you get Chip & PIN cards if you live in the U.S.? Well, my first answer would be that you try to open a foreign bank account, but that starts to create tax hassles and who knows what else. You could get a preloaded cash card from Travelex, but that can be expensive and they don’t always have the best currency exchange rates.

There are some reports of U.S. banks beginning to offer Chip & PIN cards to certain customers. Wells Fargo announced a pilot program targeting customers it identified with extensive international travel, but there’s no word on when it will roll out to everyone else. Andrews FCU is the only bank/credit union I’m aware of that offers Chip & Pin cards to U.S. customers. You can read about one member’s experience applying over at FlyerTalk.

Many banks are beginning to take this more seriously. A discussion thread has been running at FlyerTalk for the two months, and they’ve set up a publicly accessible GoogleDocs spreadsheet with some of the current offers or plans for Chip & PIN as well as Chip & Signature. Finally, MilePoint member Jetsetr shared a few relevant links on the pros and cons of Chip & PIN cards if you want to read up on them further.

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