Booking Machu Picchu – Verified by Visa rears its ugly head

PeruRail says, “We accept any credit card,” and then promptly goes on to require a card with Verified by Visa or MasterCard SecureCode. This earlier post discussed these and the AmEx workaround for Air Asia and Indian airlines. But Peru made it all the harder, not accepting AmEx. Depending on the country you are from, this may be a non-issue or a major hassle. The Rapid Traveler went through all his cards and only turned up one, the British Airways Visa Signature that worked, and even that was not enough.

The Rapid Traveler was walking through Lima Airport on his layover en route to Easter Island when he noticed an advertisement from the government on Machu Picchu, giving a web address to order tickets and check the daily quota. Alarm bells went off! The Rapid Traveler had not made advance plans since he was unsure of his dates at the end of the trip and failed to check updated information. Since the 2010 mudslide, visiting Machu Picchu has gotten a lot more complicated. As he learned, it is now essential to book in advance. He was saved by the off-season, but has spent many hours over several days in frustration sorting it out.

Before getting started, with buggy sites like these, the best bet is to use Internet Explorer and allow all pop-ups on the site. These government-run websites love to throw pop-ups at you and if you try to allow when one is blocked, the page will reload and cancel out.

First up is using the government site to book a non-refundable, non-transferrable, non-everything ticket to Machu Picchu, choosing among the basic ticket, ticket + museum, ticket + mountain (7 am or 11 am), and one other with no explanation given. The process is tedious, requiring purchase, then another log in to claim and print the tickets. This helpful site is a good guide but does not include the proviso that a Verified by Visa/MasterCard SecureCode card is needed. And once you have an error with a card, the system will not let you start over anew because it detects a duplicate record, so you need to go back and keep trying to pay the first record or (possibly) wait the stated six hours allotted to pay and start over, if really having issues. But this was a relative breeze compared to booking training tickets with PeruRail.

Peru Travel: The Peru Rail Machu Picchu service

Photo by Latin America for Less

The PeruRail site looks professional and has good search functionality. It is worth noting that train, foot and hoof are the only ways to access Machu Picchu. The Rapid Traveler opted for booking two one-ways instead of a round trip and that was his undoing.

First up was a one-way from Sacred Valley – Machu Picchu, because earlier that day he will see Sacred Valley sites rather than bypass them with the train from Cusco. Booking went well and his e-ticket printed out fine.

Then the return, Machu Picchu to Cusco and “Credit card rejected. Transaction was not billed.” Thinking his card issuer, Chase, had blocked the charge as possible fraud, he got them on the phone and they said no charges came through, no fraud issues, travel notification in place, clear to proceed.

Well, not really proceed. He tried many times, tried all his cards, always errors. Each time an email came back saying someone would contact him in 24 hours. 24 hours passed, no word from anyone, he retried and the same result. At this point the train he wanted turned to “sold out,” though perhaps he had a dozen half-claimed seats. All the while battling with horrid Easter Island internet connections dropping in the middle of purchase attempts.

He searched various forums and eventually came across an item by a person who called PeruRail and was told their system only allows one purchase per credit card. Totally insane! His experience exactly mirrored mine, while others held out hope that someone would eventually reply to emails.

This morning a representative of PeruRail wrote apologizing for the inconvenience (why not fix the issue?!) and requested an email with signed scans of forms, scan of passport, scan of credit card, all great stuff to be sending on insecure email. But the alternative is to hope the few trains do not sell out by the time he gets there and his schedule does not allow for a multiple-day stranding.

The Rapid Traveler always keeps scans of his passport but had to locate the one scanner on Easter Island to scan his credit card. Hopefully it will go through and there will not be massive fraud.

This all should have been sorted out pre-trip, so hopefully this serves as a caution to those hoping to pop in to Machu Picchu: figure it out way in advance. The alternative is working with a local travel agency, but a cursory glance at the forums makes it sound like PeruRail might be the easiest and most reputable of the lot to deal with.

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