Vatican City forced to go cash only. Also, visitors allowed limited cell phone usage in North Korea.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the March 2013 issue.
Eaves in Biwon, a six-acre private garden at Changdeok Palace in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: ©Gina Ellen/123RF

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 445th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. Champagne all around — ITN is beginning its 38th year of publication!

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If you’re reading ITN for the first time, see what all the excitement is about and join in.

I’ll start us off with some news in the world of travel.

At press time, all transactions for museum tickets, souvenirs and other items purchased within Vatican City had to be made with cash. Normally, visitors have been able to use credit cards or debit cards or access nearby ATMs, but on Jan. 1 the Bank of Italy stopped Deutsche Bank Italy from continuing to provide electronic payment services inside Vatican City.

Vatican City is not a member of the European Union, and EU rules forbid its member-nations’ banks (which include Deutsche Bank Italy and the Bank of Italy) from operating in non-EU countries unless adequate regulations are in place to counteract money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

In July 2012 a report by Moneyval (a department of the Council of Europe) gave the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), more commonly known as the Vatican Bank, a passing grade on transparency but failed it on seven key areas related to fighting money laundering.

Moneyval’s report was pointed in its criticism of IOR management, which is being investigated by Italian magistrates looking into money laundering. The report was cited by Bank of Italy as its basis for suspending the credit card transactions.

All electronic payment services within Vatican City are handled by Deutsche Bank Italy. Meetings and negotiations have been taking place between Deutsche Bank Italy, the Bank of Italy and the IOR. The snafu is costing the Vatican an estimated $40,000 per day.

North Korea strictly controls the Internet and mobile phone access of nearly all of its citizens, and prior to Jan. 7 the cell phones of all foreign visitors were collected at the airport and then returned to the visitors when they left the country.

Now, however, visitors who have a WCDMA 3G mobile phone can fill out a registration form with the phone’s IMEI number at Customs, purchase a SIM card at the airport to insert into the phone and then freely make international calls, accessing the 3G cell phone network of Koryolink, an Egyptian/North Korean company.

No local calls are possible because the local system will not interact with Koryolink. Foreign embassies and a few international hotels can be reached because they have international numbers.

The SIM card costs €50 (near $67), and calls made will incur an additional, unspecified per-minute charge, one which, in a new account, was described by a tour operator as “very expensive.”

Access to the Internet by visitors is still forbidden but perhaps not for long. Boosting tourism, North Korea is also allowing more frequent flights and train trips from outside the country… even as it rattles its own cage by testing nuclear weapons and missiles and, on Jan. 24, declaring the US its “sworn enemy.”

In my November 2012 column, I pointed out that anyone booking a multileg flight in the US and wanting his luggage to be interlined — that is, automatically forwarded from one airline to another along the whole route — will have to be careful that all of the flight legs have been booked on a single ticket. Otherwise, with some airlines and in some cases, he will have to pick up his bags at one or more of the stops and recheck them with each separately ticketed airline.

An e-mail from ITN subscriber John Quin-Harkin of San Rafael, California, drew my attention to an incorrect statement I made. I wrote, “Previously, ‘interline’ agreements between airlines allowed baggage to often be checked through to a passenger’s final destination no matter how many tickets the itinerary involved and no matter which airlines were used.”

I should have written, “Previously, ‘interline’ agreements between airlines allowed baggage to often be checked through to a passenger’s final destination no matter how many flight segments the itinerary involved and no matter which airlines were used.”

Aside from that, I’m bringing this issue up again to point out a few things.

First, stay calm. Multileg flights with airlines belonging to the same alliance or involving airlines with code-share agreements usually WILL be written on a single ticket, meaning those airlines will continue to check each other’s passengers’ baggage through, same as always.

How can you tell if the multileg flight you have booked is on a single ticket or not? If a single ticket has been purchased, only one ticket number will have been assigned, no matter how many flight segments and flight numbers are involved. The ticket number I’m referring to is sometimes called the “alphanumeric record locator.”

Of course, we’re accustomed to rechecking bags between flights already, as not all airlines have interline agreements. Some low-cost carriers in the US choose not to participate in interline agreements at all, Southwest Airlines being one example. In Europe, easyJet and RyanAir do not, nor do a number of smaller airlines around the world.

The point is that, while interline agreements are currently widespread, they may become less common, so the “alphanumeric record locator” is something for travelers to remain aware of, particularly those who book their own tickets online.

For do-it-yourselfers, it always helps to allow plenty of time between flights, rather than schedule tight connections. Also, it’s a good idea to carry the contact info of all the airlines involved in case there’s a problem and flights need to be rebooked while in the airport.

A reminder — although, as of last year, airlines in the US are required to disclose all fees at the time of ticket purchase, the DOT allows each airline to, instead, merely state on its website that additional fees might be charged, so long as links are included to the other airlines’ webpages where their baggage policies can be found.

Finding those links, however, may involve scrolling to the bottom of the last webpage.

On this subject, the following was pointed out by former ITN Contributing Editor and longtime travel agent Steve Venables of Woodland Travel (Woodland, CA; 530/662-5491):

“When two tickets are issued separately for a flight itinerary, the first airline has no obligation to connect the passenger and his baggage with the second.

“Ordinarily, when one ticket is issued for a series of flights, the airlines involved are obligated to see that the passenger makes his connections. If it is an airline’s fault that a connection for an international flight was missed, this guarantee by the airline may even include providing overnight accommodations and meals for the passenger and rebooking him on later flights.

“With separately issued tickets, however, the first airline completes its obligation to the passenger when he reaches his destination on that ticket. If the passenger misses the second, separately ticketed flight, even if it’s not his fault, he could be treated as a no-show or a late check-in by the second airline — and neither airline is obligated to be helpful in accommodating him.

“I’ve seen cases where, because the flight was late, the passenger simply skipped claiming his luggage in order to make his connection, but because his bag was checked only to the connection point, as the first ticket indicated, it ended up in lost-and-found at the connecting airport.”

Subscriber Joe D. Roberson of Opelika, Alabama, wrote, “Love ITN and read it cover to cover every time.”

David Irving of Media, Pennsylvania, wrote, “I shared my October 2012 issue with several travel agents on a Jamaica ‘FAM’ trip and they were impressed with the travel content and with the absence of the glossy photos of models staring into ‘travel space’ that clutter up so many alleged travel magazines.”

Ed Gorlin of Lexington, Virginia, wrote, “I have read that many subscribers request complimentary copies be sent to friends. I have made these requests also and gotten many thanks. A great Christmas, birthday, retirement present, etc., is a subscription to ITN.”

Keep those e-mails and letters coming. ITN remains a community effort, and we want your travel recommendations and warnings, your comments and your suggestions.

We also want to know where you went last year, and any subscriber who replies will be eligible to win one of a number of prizes we’re giving away, among which is a 50-dollar gift certificate for Magellan’s Travel Supplies.

Write up a list of the nations you visited anytime in 2012 and address it to Where Were You in 2012?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravel

We’ll announce the results — and the winners — in an upcoming issue. Write in!