After my ticket was purchased and before traveling to the Philippines in Jan of this year, I read a travel warning which was posted on the U.S. State Department’s website from the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines dated January 6, 2012. It warned against possible terrorist attacks on U.S citizens, and the attacks could be indiscriminate and occur in any area of the country, including Manila. Manila was my destination! I was more worried about terrorist than thinking about being gouged and ripped off by a local merchant located inside the departure area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in the Philippines. The merchant’s name is “MARISAN” Mercantile, INC.
Two days before I was scheduled to leave Manila, I received an emergency phone call that I needed to come home as soon as possible. My friend got me a ticket quick, so I arrived at the airport within 8 to 10 hours which was at 4:00 am, Manila time. After going through various security checks and scanners, I had 15 minutes to spare before boarding my plane for Tokyo. I needed to buy a few souvenirs, so I stopped at the closest shop on the way to my gate. The first shop I spotted was MARISAN, an art and handicraft souvenir shop. I kindly mentioned to the ladies behind the register that I only had 15 minutes to shop in order to catch my plane, so they rang up my merchandise immediately.
I grabbed a few souvenirs, and some of the things they would only accept cash for them. They gave me only one receipt which I signed, and the total was 20,250.00 PHP. Little did I know it was $475.00? They knew I was in a hurry; therefore, they took advantage of my situation. They would never see me again once I boarded my plane. For example, one table-cloth, and it wasn’t made out of Gold was $202.00. I only found this out after I saw the false receipt that the merchant provided to my credit card company after I had returned to the U.S. and decided to dispute some of the charges with this merchant. MARISAN never gave me a break down of the items that I had purchased from them. The receipts they provided to my credit card company were written after the fact, because they didn’t even list all the items that I purchased. It was all messed up, and I told my credit card company when I had first arrived home and the dust was settled, I was just going to forget about it. However, every time I looked at the stuff I had purchased from this merchant, it made me angry… I finally decided to call my credit card company four weeks later, and I put in a dispute for $225 of the $475 total. Guess who I spoke with on the phone? You guessed it, a representative live from Manila. I explained to her the story and that the total amount of the receipt was 20,250.00 Pilipino pesos. She told me right out that there is no way you could have spent that kind of money in a souvenir shop within a few minutes. She also brought up the fact that in the Philippines, things are much cheaper… She set up my dispute claim immediately! Of course, the merchant fought it tooth and nail with hand written falsified itemized receipts. Some things were missing from the receipt, and for other items, the prices were over inflated. The receipts weren’t consistent with what I truly purchased and the market value for the products.
In the end, my credit card company put back into my account $200.00. I affirmed with the manager that it was very disheartening for me that they had to give me the money back and not the greedy MARISAN INC…. I vowed to him that I would put it out there and warn travelers to be careful of this merchant when departing NAIA, from Manila. The manager I spoke with said that he has been to Manila because of the huge call center located there, and he understood my situation.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly loved the Philippines and the people are great. I would for sure go back there to visit someday, but I will never tell a merchant I am in a hurry to catch a plane or sign a sales receipt without an itemized list, especially in another country. Most shops in major international airports around the world are setup with technology, and they scan each item purchased so they can give you an itemized receipt. That way the customer can see the itemized list, so he or she can fill out the Customs form and easily declare what one had bought from that country. This merchant hand wrote the items purchased after the fact, and they had a register from the 1970’s and it was located inside an international airport.
Americans and everyone in the world, while traveling internationally, be very careful for your safety first! Secondly, make sure you understand the conversion rates so you don’t get home and wish you had known… Finally, never tell the merchant you are in a hurry and have to catch a plane within minutes because they may very well try to take advantage of your desperate and time constrained situation.
There is a message learned from my travel to Manila. I have traveled to many countries and dealt with conversion rates but never had to learn this lesson. It helps me to be a little smarter the next time I travel somewhere else in the world…