Wednesday, April 9

Italy's Tourism-Based Economy??

When are the luminati over at TrenItalia (Italy’s Train Co., the illustrious Ferrovie dello Stato) going to catch onto the idea that Italy is a country which is counting on the tourist dollar, or, rather, the tourist euro (since the Europeans are pretty much the only ones who can afford to visit these days)?
At Trenitalia, it’s almost as if the web designers like to view their work as a modern-day Rubik’s Cube. He who solves the puzzle is rewarded with a roundtrip ticket (paid in spades, by you, of course).

Here's a typical day-in-the-life of a foreign Business Traveler (who is fortunate enough to know Italian):

- Go to It redirects to the user-friendly, followed by a gazillion other words and symbols.

- Pick your trips. No problems there. Put them in your shopping cart.

- Try to pay using a foreign credit card. You must log in.

- Log in doesn’t work. They say you need a new password (your password is fine, but, it’s probably been deleted for inactivity or some such nonsense). You make a few attempts. You’re timed out (why they need to time you is beyond me).

- You decide, after being forced to repick your itinerary 3 more times, to sign up as someone new (it’s about my 29th alias here). Go to inbox to collect their pseudo password, which does not work until you click in and change it.

- Back to your page, you try to retrieve your shopping cart. Deleted. I still have books to purchase on Amazon over the last 8 months. Amazon even adjusts the prices (except at Amazon, they often go down…)

- Start your ticketing all over again. After inserting 6 tickets, you go to Purchase. Rejected. You’re notified that the max no. of transactions is 4. Now that’s one for Business 101 -- Limit number of purchases for absolutely no apparent reason other than to lower revenues.

- So, you try to go to your list to delete out those last 2 tickets (all the while thinking, Lord in heaven, I’ll have to go through this again??!!) Meanwhile, your shopping cart has been annulled. Start over.

- 4 tickets this time. Go to cart. Everything looks pretty good. Make purchase. Your purchase does not go through (back to your pet foreign credit card theory). Your cart is annulled.

- Try calling ticket phone line where, I must say, the people are kind, courteous, and very well-informed. Only thing, she can’t hear me (there is so much noise in the background, I truly believe her). I call back.

- After sitting through a recording governing laws, procedures, and the entire Italian white pages, I get to the person, plead my case, but the line goes dead. Three more attempts to call back, the lines are now busy.

- Fifth call now. Eureka! They do my ticketing for me. But, I can’t take advantage of the 20% discount for Saturday travel. Finally, after a bit of pleading (back to Rule #2 for living in Italy, ‘never take no for an answer’), she tells me that I can get the discount if I go from Milano to Florence only. Great. I’ll take it.

- I then ask for a ticket from Florence to my final destination. We can’t issue those, as those are Regional Trains. Huh??? Aren’t you the train company for all of Italy? Yes, but no phone sales on regional trains. I will give a handsome reward to anyone who comes up with the rationale behind that one.

- Ready to purchase my single, one-way ticket (I needed 6 in total). Except they can’t accept foreign credit cards either. So, I can’t get a ticket. Back to Rule #2.

- I ask if she can, in the very least, reserve the ticket for me (she can). I have 24 hrs. to pick it up at one of the machines.

I am quite uplifted at this point, as, I have outwitted the system. Applying my dietrologia conspiracy theory, I believe they don’t allow foreign credit cards because they don’t want all us rich foreigners getting the online discount of 5%. I think someone should inform them of the dollar/euro exchange rate.
In any case, by having her reserve the seat, I still get the discount anyway. Ha ha ha.

- I offer this theory to the lovely ticket lady on the other side. She states quite confidently that it’s actually my credit card company’s fault and not a policy of Trenitalia. I thank her for her help, and I call Amex just to be sure. The Customer Service guy has a hearty laugh. I’m glad I could make his day.

So, the next morning…
- I am forced to purchase a full price ticket from the machines (which happily accept foreign credit cards).
- Upon arrival in Milano, I go to another machine to pick up my Saturday tickets. Code number she gave me is invalid. I have to pay for a full price ticket. Trenitalia gets the last laugh.
- I then proceed to the nearest travel agent (although I sincerely debate making a very slight detour into the rental car company booth), to start all over and purchase all my tickets, with discount.

I know, in my heart of hearts, that these tortuous machinations will, in the end, keep my brain nimble and my body supple…so all is not in vain.


Anonymous said...

Yes, i had a similar was not so fun!!!
You can not even see the price of the tickets!

Anonymous said...

based on your experience what is the friendliest credit card accepted in italy? Visa, Mastercard, american Ex?
grazie per la bellissima blog!

Anonymous said...

NOT AmEx, but Visa and Mastercard are everywhere and they are accepted at most brick-and-mortar stores. I have had spotty luck in ANY country (including the US) using my Swiss credit card over the Internet (except in Switzerland, of course. Amazon and Expedia are exceptions, they figure out a way to take everything!). BTW, if you need a cab to take a credit card, you should also inform them when you call for the cab. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

good one :-) unfortunately, sounds pretty typical for life in the 'bel paese'

i mean, nothing is easy. 'cut and dried' non esiste.


Irreverent Italy said...

I agree fully with CT. But remember, the cards (all of them) are accepted in the machines placed all around the station as well as at the ticket counters.
You avoid the lines, but you don't get the online discount and, they're in English too (as long as you Yankees know what the English flag looks like).
You can spot them by the numbers of Japanese tourists huddling around them.
Also, never ever jump on a train sans ticket. They elicit hefty fines of 50 euro for that & shake down the tourists on that one. And, finally, always always, take the train that your ticket is for. Again, you will be fined.

Oh-more train etiquette...Maybe I should just post an entire blog? As far as little trains (like to Tuscany or Puglia or wherever) are concerned, you have to punch your ticket in little yellow machines at the top of the train track. Or else you'll be fined.

I like to call these little inconveniences, a 'tourist tax' as no one tells you to do so.

Anonymous said...

Would you please get a local credit card and stop frustrating the Italians!!!!! Grazie!

Anonymous said...

"Would you please get a local credit card and stop frustrating the Italians!!!!! "

HA!!!!! And pay the ridiculous fees both banks and credit cards charge in Italy?? I was blown away when I got my first Italian credit card and found out that i actually had to PAY for it, something like 30 euro a year whereas in good ol' US of A- the majority of credit cards are FREE and to top it all off they give you benefits, like airline miles, cash back, store vouchers, and lots of other wonderful things. They THANK you for using a card instead of penalizing you.

Irreverent Italy said...

According to Wikipedia, there are over 36.5 Million visitors to Italy each year -- obviously from foreign countries.
Wouldn't it make some sense for them to be a bit less intolerant to accepting their credit cards?
But, hey, the machines DO accept them and, it's a vast improvement over the WE TAKE CASH ONLY system in place up through the '90s.

Irreverent Italy said...

I might add, those 36.5 million visitors and likely card holders total more than half the Italian Population which registers about a 2.8% credit card usage rate.
By the way I figure, they shouldn't accept Italian cards & go with the foreign ones!
But that's called, customer service.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that the call center for Trenitalia charges you a hefty per-minute fee, just as an added bonus

Irreverent Italy said...

You have got to be kidding me! Great. I was on the line with them between all the calls for at least 30 mins. Will keep you posted on the damages.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I like your blog - I'm a travel writer who's working on relocating to Italy at the moment, and I'm interested in getting in touch with you... But I can't find an email address for you here! If you'd be so kind as to contact me, I'd be very appreciative! Thanks. :)

Mezzos@ngue said...

Hi I am from Italy and I left the country because of all the things that do not work over there, like "Trenitalia". Great Blog. My mate Bacco wrote about your blog on ours one.

Mezzos@ngue said...

One Tip: in Italy often credit cards are not accepted because of the fees. Very smart... not at all! Better lose a customer to don't pay a 2% fee, or pay it and get a new customer? Too difficult question. SIGH