Bank of China offers expanded yuan service

The Bank of China has begun offering its customers in New York City and Los Angeles services in yuan, Bloomberg reports. Services include deposit, exchange, remittance, and trade finance. Business customers may access these services in New York City and Los Angeles, while at the moment individual customers can only access these services at the New York City branch.

What does this mean for travelers? Not much, yet. If you’re one of the many English teachers in China you can send money home more easily, but that’s about it.

It’s the long-term view that’s interesting. China is obviously trying to expand the range of the yuan (also called the renminbi) beyond its borders. In fact, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said as much last year when he expressed worry over how much China’s international assets are dominated by the dollar. This move allows international trading in yuan, which is sure to attract more investment and, if it’s successful, bolster the currency’s strength. It’s already at an all-time high against the dollar. The New York branch’s general manager says the move will eventually lead to the yuan being fully exchangeable with the dollar.

This will encourage further investment in China and could lead to more foreign businesses opening up shop there. It would also make it easier for international travel businesses to have offices in China. A yuan that’s strong against the dollar, however, will make trips to China more expensive for Americans.

Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the Chinese economy. More and more Chinese are traveling abroad, and with greater access and use of their currency, those numbers will only increase. The World Trade Organization says if current trends continue, China will have the largest share of the world’s tourism industry by 2020, with 8.6 percent of global revenue.

Could yuan become another international currency like the dollar and the euro? Could we see money changers accepting them in more destinations? Only time will tell.

[Photo courtesy user Polylepsis via Wikimedia Commons]

Treasures of ancient Egypt discovered at bank

The Al-Ahly Bank has recently handed over two hundred ancient Egyptian artifacts that have been sitting in safety deposit boxes for a century.

The artifacts were collected by expats and visitors in Egypt and deposited in the bank in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were never recovered and sat untouched for years. The artifacts include Islamic coins and statues of Egyptian deities such as Hathor, pictured here.

Egypt has been fighting for the return of archaeological treasures taken by various countries in the past. Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, has spearheaded the fight and got an unexpected victory when the bank announced it had artifacts and was handing them over.

The artifacts are now being studied and will hopefully appear in one of Egypt’s museums sometime soon.

[Image courtesy user Néfermaât via Wikimedia Commons. This is an image of a Hathor statue from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and not one of the recovered artifacts]

Airlines not alone in poor customer service studies

The Airline Quality Rating report was released last week, exposing the five worst airlines in the United States. It’s fun to beat up on the airlines … as it is to beat up on other companies and industries notorious for poor customer service. So, this made me wonder just how the airlines stack up against everyone else.

Back in August, the American Customer Satisfaction Index rated hundreds of companies and came out with the results. Some airlines are in there, of course, but they aren’t alone. I took a look at the bottom of the barrel – 18 companies featured by Business Insider – and saw that the airlines were well-represented but far from dominant.

Telecommunications companies led the pack, accounting for a third of the list, with airlines next – four companies accounting for 22 percent. Banking followed with 17 percent. Strangely, social networking contributed two companies, with both Facebook and MySpace getting poor marks for customer service. Insurance, restaurants and utilities each contributed a company.

The airlines that got the nod will look pretty familiar: in fact, they’re four of the five identified in the Airline Quality Rating report. American Airlines took the #12 spot, immediately behind Facebook and MySapce. Delta and US Airways took the next two positions, with United Airlines at #17.

The worst company for customer service was AT&T Mobility, with DirecTV and Citibank behind it.

Problem with using credit card in Europe? Try these

This read by Ed Perkins of Tribune Media Services reminded me of a problem I had in Amsterdam this past December. When trying to buy a train ticket at one of the kiosks with my credit card, I was asked for a pin number. If I have one, I can’t know it. I ended up going to a booth with a person to buy the tickets with Euros since the ticket kiosk didn’t take cash (I don’t think, or why wouldn’t I have done that?). I had hoped to use the kiosk since that would have been faster.

According to Perkins, credit cards issued in the U.S. don’t have chip-enabled cards like European banks are using. This can create problems once in awhile for those of us trying to use an American bank issued card. However, unless you are at a place like a kiosk where a swipe is required, and there isn’t a person involved in the transaction, you shouldn’t have a problem because the credit card should be able to be used without a pin.

  • If the clerk or waiter asks for a pin, let them know that the card is good with a signature on the back and I.D.
  • If the person still doesn’t want to use the credit card, ask to see the manager and see if that works.

Perkins suggests having a debit card as well so that if needed, in a pinch, you can get money out of an ATM, however don’t use the debit card to get money at other times or you’ll be dinged more in fees than if you had used your credit card.

In my case, I did use my credit card two times without trouble. Once at the Pancake Bakery in Amsterdam and the other time paying for tickets for the canal boat ride in Copenhagen. The rest of the time I used cash. I would have used my credit card (and cash) more on my last day in Denmark but I was PICK-POCKETED! Robbed! So sad. On the upside of that experience, I spent less money. [Smarter Travel]

Hidden Credit Card Charges When Charging Abroad

Do you use a credit card when traveling abroad? I do.

While having a stash of cash is always necessary, it’s also convenient to be able to reserve rooms and pay for the occasional item using your Mastercard or Visa. Be careful though; some (if not most) credit card companies will charge you a premium for using their card in a foreign country. Mastercard and Visa, for instance, charges a 1% “currency conversion” fee for each foreign purchase. And often times the issuer will tack on additional charges — usually 2% — for the convenience of using their card while traveling. This brings the total charge up to 3% for each purchase. It can add up. has a handy chart that shows what sort of additional charges you can expect from major banks. Most end up hitting you with 3% on top of your total purchase price. There are a few banks, however, that go as far as waving all fees, making a foreign purchase the same as a local one. If you’re traveling long term, it might be a good idea to go with one of those banks.

I’m lucky. My bank (USAA) doesn’t charge any additional fees, so I only get hit with the1% conversion fee from Mastercard. [via]