The London Olympics have not yet begun, but they have already caused a “scramble for cold, hard cash in the pricey British capital,” the AP’s Cassandra Vinograd and Gregory Katz are reporting. Some of the commotion is caused by good old-fashioned ignorance and can make for a good laugh. And yes, some of it would be at the expense of fellow Americans who believe that they can use dollars in the U.K.
But there is more to it than that. The AP reports that Visa, which is an official Olympic sponsor, will not allow any other card brand to be used at the Olympic venues. I don’t know if such a ban had been imposed in other Olympic games which Visa has sponsored over the years, but whether or not that has been the case, this is an incredibly consumer-unfriendly act. It seems to me that the only way Visa can benefit from it is if consumers don’t know what they’ve done. So let me spread the word.
Should You Hide Your American Accent?
First, though, I just had to give you this gem from the AP’s piece:
“I’ve had people asking me whether they should pay in British pounds or euros,” said Alex Singer, a 27-year-old London cab driver. “I’ve also had Americans thinking that they can pay me in dollars.”
Actually, I think I’ve identified the issue here. The reason this cab driver is singling out the American tourists (and I presume that Americans who reside in Britain would have learned over time that the legal tender in this country sports Her Majesty’s portrait) is that they carry dollars and he can recognize them by their accents, whereas he might not be able to do so if his passenger was, say, Lithuanian. Of course, one plausible counter-argument would be that he should also be able to identify Italian or French tourists by their accents, but you have to admit that this could not be achieved with the same degree of certainty.
Anyway, for any Americans planning a trip to the U.K., Britain’s legal tender is the pound sterling, not the dollar and certainly not the euro, so please don’t allow yourself to become the butt of a cab driver’s silly jokes. Now let’s move on to Visa’s actions at the Olympics.
The Olympics Take Visa and Nothing Else
So here is what the AP is telling us:
Since Visa holds an exclusive sponsorship for the London Olympics, people at Olympics venues will either have to use cash, Visa credit or debit cards or go to kiosks where they can use other credit cards to purchase a special Visa prepaid card.
Think about that. You can still use your MasterCard, American Express or whatever type of card you might have in your wallet, but only to purchase a Visa prepaid card. It’s like exchanging your dollars for pounds when entering the U.K. Only that a credit card is supposed to be a much more flexible payment method. And to ensure that no one can circumvent the rule,
Visa has also removed 27 ATMs from Olympic venues and replaced them with just eight Visa-only cash machines. The company says, however, it doesn’t expect any problems due to its exclusive Olympic sponsorship.
But there is more. A Visa executive goes on to explain why there will not be any problems: because 98 percent of Britons own either a Visa credit card or a Visa debit card and he’s calculated that 80 percent of all Olympic visitors would be from the U.K. Well, if you have such a stranglehold on the market, what are you afraid of? Moreover, why inconvenience a tourist who may have only brought her MasterCard to the games? Visa’s strategy clearly seems to be to cause so much inconvenience that people feel forced to open up Visa card accounts. I don’t know about you, but I really, really don’t like it when businesses take advantage of their customers and hope that Visa will hear about it at the Olympics.
We are warned that London ATMs may run out of cash during the Olympics so, if you are going, make sure to exchange your dollars for pounds before getting there. Also, when in a cab, act as if you know what Britain’s legal currency is and, just in case you get it wrong, speak with a Lithuanian accent (or Estonian or Latvian, if you can fake it better) so that the cabbie can laugh at someone else’s expense for a change. Also, when having a coffee in between two Olympic swimming races, insist on paying for it with your MasterCard or American Express and make a huge scene when your request is repeatedly denied. Then go back into the stadium and enjoy the next race.
Image credit: Visa.com.