Your credit card doesn’t work, Sir!

Imagine my surprise when my attempt to buy a good friend dinner failed that way earlier this year. Imagine my dismay when (after said friend had put the bill on her card; different brand) my ATM card failed, too, and I suddenly seemed stranded wit…

Imagine my surprise when my attempt to buy a good friend dinner failed that way earlier this year. Imagine my dismay when (after said friend had put the bill on her card; different brand) my ATM card failed, too, and I suddenly seemed stranded without access to money. All that was, incidentally, right in the middle of a longer trip abroad, and I knew I’d still have a bunch of hotel bills to pay — and no way to just walk to my local bank branch and get cash, since that was some 4000 miles away. Fortunately, things had sorted themselves out the next day; when I called, I was told they had a “computer outage” that night.Disquieting, though, that a single computer outage was enough to knock out both my ATM card and the Mastercard. One might have hoped these were running on different systems.A similar (but less embarrassing) experience today: Amazon bounced a Visa card that I’m essentially only ever using with them. When I called CETREL, I was told that, well, all was right with my card, but “Visa International is down today.” When I grumbled that this was the second bounced card this year, the reply was a stunning, “well, ya know, they’re down the third time today.”I can’t think of any better advertising for having credit cards with more than one company (and ideally in more than one country), but I’m also surprised how the systems that we’ve come to rely on for payment seem to have significant single points of failure built in — unfortunately, points of failure that apparently can collapse without the impact of major catastrophic events.I, for one, am now seriously considering to get another card from another brand, and am also thinking of keeping a reserve of travelers cheques or cash around when I’m on the road.