Getting stranded in Laos with a lost debit card – and no foreseeable way to get money anytime soon – was a terrifying experience I’ll never forget.
The title of this article is something of a misnomer because I didn’t exactly lose my debit card – I was faced with having to cancel the card because of fraudulent charges which, when all is said and done, is just as bad as having your card eaten by an ATM or dropping your wallet off of a waterfall.
But let me back up a second. Before heading to Laos, I had booked several flights through an absolutely heinous online travel site called Edreams.com. Yes, I’m naming names because my experience was that bad.
I booked two flights for $430.70 each using my debit card. When I checked my bank account, I saw three charges from Edreams.com – 2 for $430.70 (ok, right, everything fine there) and another charge for $475.
What the hell was that third charge all about? I immediately went to their website and looked for a customer service phone number. After some digging, I found one, but when I called there was no answer.
I don’t mean I was put on hold to listen to elevator music – I mean there was actually no answer at all, like I was calling someone in 1985 before answering machines were invented.
So I emailed them and said “Hey, I booked two flights, what is this third charge?”
Here was the response I got, verbatim:
In our system we have only two bookings, the amount charge of 430.70 USD is an incorrect charge made by the system for booking ZVYCG8 which to date we have to inform you that the fare has increased to 495.00 USD.
For booking Z9LSU3 the fare has also increased to 495.00 USD.
The increase is because t e airline informs us that the original fare offered is no longer available.
Please indicatge action tot ake with the bookings if we can go ahead and make the charge or cancel the bookings.
Sorry for the inconvenience.
First of all….huh?
Second, let me get this straight.
You offered a price, I took it, and now, after I’ve already paid, you’re telling me the price has suddenly increased? Guess what Edreams – that’s on you.
And let’s sort something else out here – because the price of the tickets had increased, you decided to simply CHARGE ME FOR A THIRD TICKET?! WHAT?!
I could almost (almost) understand it if the fares had increased and you’d charged my card the higher-priced fare. But to randomly charge my card hundreds of dollars without my permission was completely ridiculous!
I was so turned off by that email…
… by their failure to even acknowledge the third charge (which had already cleared my checking account by the way), and by their complete inability to spell, that I took them up on their offer to cancel the bookings altogether. There are plenty of other reputable travel websites out there that would be happy to take my money, and that would probably only charge WHAT THEY SAID THEY WOULD CHARGE ME.
But then it got worse.
Edreams sent me the following email:
“the two amounts have been refunded from our side. They will now take few working days to reach your account.”
The TWO charges? Don’t you mean three? Edreams never refunded me the $475 they withdrew from my account.
Luckily my bank picked up the slack and refunded the money to my account (props to Chase – they’ve gotten me out of about 12 check card-related snafoos in the past two months alone. Plus the customer service people are always in a good mood, even when I’m a complete bitch.)
A month went by and I hadn’t given any thought to “the Edreams Incident,” except for the occasional surge of murderous rage that overtook me if it happened to cross my mind.
Then I happened to check my bank account.
Now keep in mind that I hadn’t bought anything else from Edreams since the Incident – why the hell would I? After such an awful experience, I would never search for flights on that website again.
And yet there it was, plain as day – a charge from Edreams for $795.
[Insert a cacophony of expletives here.]
I called my bank, they said to contact the merchant.
I called Edreams, who actually answered the phone only to say “Email us.”
I emailed them, no response. Days passed, and still no response.
My bank then said we’d probably have to declare it a lost debit card, close it, and they’d issue me a new one.
Fine. Great. No problem.
Except how the hell was I going to get a new debit card mailed to me in the middle of Laos?
A debit card is not the kind of thing your bank will mail overseas, let alone to some random address in a remote Lao village. Not that anyone in a remote Lao village even has a mailing address.
I had set myself up for a major fail. This debit card was the only way I had of getting any money. The one credit card I had was maxed out – I could make a payment but it would take up to 10 days to post. All of the ATMs I’d been to up until that point would only let me withdraw 1 million kip (about $100) at a time, and that was certainly not going to last very long.
I started to panic – where was the bank going to send the new debit card? How would I get it in Southeast Asia? What would I do for money in the mean time? How long could I possibly make $100 last?
When all was said and done, most of my worries were for nothing. The people at Edreams were such impossible jerks (AKA no response to my emails until a week later when they claimed “we only have two bookings on record for you.” Really? Two bookings? Do you mean the bookings you cancelled?!), my bank ended up letting me keep the card open. (something about their failure to respond meant my claim could be approved.)
But I learned my lesson.
I will never, ever book international airfare using a debit card again. If I had used a credit card, I would’ve been able to complete a charge back with no hassle and wouldn’t have had to worry about closing the card.
Even if you have a lost debit card — I learned that you can always get money somehow.
It’s just not always the most convenient (or cost effective).
I could’ve had a friend or family member send me cash via Western Union. I also could’ve spoken to the branch manager at the bank where I first opened up my account. Branch managers have infinitely more power than call center reps, and he most likely could have sent me the card in SE Asia using FedEx.
The takeaway is to always have a backup plan.
Cash is king in many parts of the world, so you need to have multiple ways of getting it in an emergency. Don’t rely on one card, and certainly not on a debit card. Flights should always be booked using a credit card. If you need to reserve a hotel room be sure to use a credit card as well – I’ve heard many stories of people getting charged for additional hotel bookings after they’ve left a hotel.
Have you ever had a stolen or lost debit card? How did you handle it?
Rebekah Voss is the Chief Snarketing Officer at SnarkyMarketing.com and the creator of TheHappyPassport.com, a travel inspiration site for the 30+ solo female adventuress. Please leave a comment below and Rebekah will get back to you asap!