This is the second installment of a week-long series documenting Emily’s experiences with plastic in Europe.
French ticket machines don’t like American cards
In Paris, the public transportation systems are highly integrated. In subway stations you can buy a ticket that will work interchangeably on the subway, bus or commuter rail. Tickets are bought through automated machines or from a person (if the counter is manned, which it often is not). The worst part? The machines don’t accept American credit cards or euro bills. They take coins and European cards only.
Europe uses 1- and 2-euro coins in addition to many cent denominations, so if you use cash frequently, you’ll likely have enough coins (it’s not uncommon to be handed 4 euro of change in coins). But if you are at the end of your coin stash or have been relying on cards, you must pray a warm body is at the booth. If someone is, they can accept bills or American credit cards as payment.
Unfortunately, the ticket booth hours are odd. I was in one major subway station on a weekday afternoon, and nobody was at the ticket booths — fortunately, I had enough coins to use a machine. I was in another large station on a late evening, and someone was there selling tickets, so I was able to save my coins and use bills or a card. From that point on, I made sure to always carry a decent amount of coins in case I needed to use a machine. Bus riders who have cash can buy their ticket directly from the bus driver, so that is an alternative for the coinless, though the transaction slows down the ride and aggravates passengers (or me, at least).
Credit cards to pre-order and pick up train tickets
Here’s one nifty thing I found out about the English train system. I needed a ticket to go from the English Lake District to Manchester Airport, where I was going to catch a flight to Germany. Because I like planning ahead, I wanted to reserve a place on the train before I even left the States. I tried to buy the ticket online on several sites, but was unable to complete the credit card transaction because my home address did not have a U.K. postal code.
I finally found a site that let me order with my American address, and it told me to remember which credit card I put the purchase on because it would be the card I would use to redeem my tickets in automatic machines. It also gave me a confirmation number to use in case something went wrong.
When I arrived at the train station, I found an automatic ticket machine in the ticketing area. I popped in the card I used to buy the ticket, and after a few seconds, it found my purchase and spat out my ticket and receipt. That was it. I didn’t have to wait in a long line or anything. Just hop on the train. Cool!
See related: Credit card postcards from Europe: Vol. I, Credit card postcards from Europe, Vol. III, Credit card postcards from Europe: Vol. IV