This is it. The first official product review on ThePointSoldier.com, and as such, will be on something we all carry (or not and only dust off before a PCS/TDY). Of course I’m referring to the infamous Citibank Government Travel Card (GTC) and what grief it has caused for so many of us. I’d like to address some points that I believe are key to a frustration free PCS using this card.
My personal experience with the Government Travel Card has taught me just about everything I need know about it. The first time I used the card was during my PCS from Germany to Virginia. The day before my travel began, my Battalion S-2 placed the card in “PCS status”, which basically means the payment due date gets deferred to 120 days after closing of the billing cycle, instead of the usual 61. This card is technically not a credit card at all, but rather a charge card. That means you’re not allowed to carry a balance, think of traditional American Express cards. As it turned out later during an unrelated call to Citibank, the card was actually never placed into PCS status, but the customer service rep kindly did it for me. Always verify everything! I started my journey bright and early (or rather dark and foggy) the following morning. The headache began not much later, when our Air Mobility Command (AMC) flight from Germany to the U.S. was delayed. The crew showed up roughly 3 hours late, looking like they enjoyed one too many Hefeweizen the night prior. Needless to say, I missed my connecting flight to Newport News, VA when we got to our destination. I immediately called Sato Travel and reported the incident and was promptly re-booked for the next morning, as there were no more flights to PHF that evening. I also needed a Hotel room for the night and booked that through Sato as well. The rest of my journey went by smoothly and I landed in Newport News the following morning. When I in-processed my new duty station, I decided to print out my statement from Citi, because after adding up all the receipts of my trip, I still ended up being several hundred dollars short of what the actual trip cost, and how much I owed Citi. It took about an hour of comparing paper receipts and highlighting every charge on the statement in different colors to try and match them until I could finally piece together what actually happened:
- Citi charges foreign transaction fees on the GTC. Those obviously don’t show on receipts and need to be claimed separately.
- AMC charges a $49 transaction fee. Since my initial flight leaving Germany had to be changed several times, those added up quickly and, again, no receipt for any of it.
Now it gets tricky: Sato books flights in the local currency of the country you’re booking from. So in my case, the American Airlines flight that took me from the AMC hub to Newport News was charged in EUR. Of course Citi charged a foreign transaction fee, but more importantly, I received my refund for my missed flight (due to the AMC delay) back in EUR and was then rebooked in USD, because I now talked to a Sato agent in the U.S. When Citi converted the incoming EUR amount into USD, I received considerably less than what was originally charged for the flight. That is because the reconversion rate is always different than the conversion rate when exchanging currency. In addition, the two transactions happened on different dates, so the exchange rate was different entirely. The difference was enough for me to want to claim it, but, trying to explain that to the, very patient, Finance clerk, proved quite difficult. She told me that in her 15 years there, she had never seen anything like that. That made absolute sense, since the advent of mass GTC applications was only a few months old at the time, and the Army was actually the Guinea Pig for the project, according to www.defense.gov.
In the end, everything was submitted and, a after dozen or so phone calls to the Air Force AMC to get a memorandum verifying their delayed flight and a few hiccups at dfas, I finally received my travel pay in fragments over the next 9 months.
The most important lesson to take away from this experience is to always check your actual Citibank statement, just as you would with your personal account. Most people I talked to also ended up short on one of their trips and paid the difference out of pocket. They did not feel like dealing with Finance over the issue. Totally understandable, I just decided that in my case, it was worth the trouble.
The Government Travel Card is not all bad. Although an entirely useless “travel” card in my opinion, as it charges foreign transaction fees and offers zero travel benefits to us, it does serve its purpose. According to an article on www.defense.gov, the GTC is essentially a sort of cash back card for the government. Every time we use it, the Service (in our case, the Army) receives a rebate. With roughly 1M potential cardholders in the Army alone, that really adds up and the move is actually a really smart decision. That, however, doesn’t change the fact the card is a really poor travel card overall and the government could save a lot more by just negotiating a better deal with Citi, and maybe even work in a perk or two for the card holders as well.
What are your experiences with the Citibank Government Travel Card and what benefits (i.e. Wifi hotspot access with Boingo or ThankYou Rewards membership) would you like to see?