Whilst the folks in the USA are happily churning away and earning a million points per year, or getting 5 points per dollar with triple bonus on travel expenses, The Netherlands seems stuck in the mid-1980s with their lack of acceptance of credit cards.
There are only two train stations in the whole of this country which accept credit cards: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and Amsterdam Centraal. Even then there is a €0.50 surcharge on buying any ticket. To buy a ticket from a manned desk that attracts the €0.50 surcharge too. The only way to avoid paying this fee is to use the automated kiosks and pay by coins or Dutch debit card. Even still not all machines accept coins, and none accept notes!
Let me recount coming to The Netherlands for a job interview this time last year. It was a day trip from London, and when I arrived at Schiphol I had to take a 2 hour train ride to the Drenthe province in the North. Since return train tickets cost precisely double that of a single, I decided to buy one ticket at Schiphol with the intention to buy the return leg in the evening on my way back, in case my plans had to change for any reason.
At around 30 seconds past 5pm I arrived at the train station for my return journey. I went to the ticket machine to find out for the first time that I couldn't buy my return journey because it didn't have a coin slot. (I didn't have €24 in coins anyway!) It only accepted Dutch debit cards, which I didn't have. I remember the time well because the Dutch Railways agent at the ticket office had just locked the door and gone behind her desk to count the money and refused to help me. I met someone else who had travelled from London for the day and was in the same predicament. We had around €50 in notes, but no method to pay. Eventually we had to jump on the train without a ticket and hope the ticket inspector would accept our story.
As it happened he/she never showed up. So for Dutch Railways they lost €24 of revenue from someone who was willing to pay it.
It's a similar story in supermarkets. It's only possible to pay with cash or with a Dutch debit card. Foreign debit cards are unusable.
For day to day use, Visa and Mastercard are the two card you'll ever be able to use. American Express is not welcome in the high street. The only places that will ever take Amex are in the multi-national chains like Hilton, and some car rental companies.
But the funny thing is that I know so many Dutch people who like to collect points and follow loyalty programmes etc. There's a programme here called Air Miles (which by the way is utter crap) which everyone is a member of, but the general public are so against credit cards. I work in an office full of geniuses, but the thought of holding any sort of credit card, even if only for extra protection on internet purchases, is met with a cold nonchalance.
However…if American Express decided to release a card with a 100 000 point sign up bonus, rather than their stingy 8000 MR offering, then I believe things would change. This sort of number is enough for the layman to fly to another continent and back, and the Dutch love a good deal. I can foresee mass sign-ups, and shops would almost be forced into accepting Amex so people can trigger their holidays of a lifetime. Or maybe I'm just dreaming.
They say when you move to a new country you should embrace their culture and adapt to it…but I find it totally irrational that things like ticket machines don't accept foreign cards! What kind of message does that send to tourists visiting this country?
And as for Amex…well earning points on spending is such an important part of my life that I simply buy things from the UK and spend as little as I can in NL. Too bad they're missing out on quite a decent portion of cash!
So what do you think? Am I whinging too much, or do I have good reason to hate Dutch commerce? Should I make more of an effort to accept how things are, or am I justified to circumvent things the way I do? What are your experiences around NL using your cards? Leave a comment below!
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