Dec 162011

For the past few years I’ve been using a Virgin Mobile cell phone every time I spent time in the United States. Because this was happening only once a year (meaning the rest of the year I’d be outside of the US and any US signal) I would use a plan that was good for a month and then just stop topping up until I would get back into the country. Of course this meant that I would lose the phone number and get a new one every time I got back; but since this was a holiday phone (in different places of the country with different contacts) that was totally fine. Besides, I know people who change their phone numbers (and email addresses) almost every month – and yes, I am being a bit dramatic here btw.

This year’s trip to Miami shouldn’t be any different: (re-)activate phone (=get a new number), top-up, fire away (=get to know ppl and write lots of texts).
However, this time it turned out to be sort of a chore, which I’ll be trying to document here.

Like I said, the first step would be to activate my phone and get a number. The last time I did this I was using the dial programming code ##847446# (which works on every VM phone), following the steps and getting a text with the new number. However this time the process couldn’t be completed and I got a note to call customer service (1-888-322-1122). Trying to do so failed with an announcement “Sorry, your phone has not been activated, yet. Please call customer service“. Great, so I can’t call customer service to activate this phone using the phone; furthermore the hotel would charge $1/min for toll-free numbers (very logical I have to admit). Luckily I also brought my home iPhone and the hotel offered free WiFi, plus I have an American VoIP account.
Using my iPhone and VoIP I finally called customer service and went through the steps of activating the phone: get a new VM account (unlike the last time, when I could just re-use the old one) with a new number, program the phone with the new MSN and MSID and getting an activation notice. However, in order to top up I again had to link my PayPal account to VM (would have been too easy if I could have just reused the old VM account where that step had already been done last year -_-).

Getting off the phone with support I went onto the website, logged into my new account and started out to connect my PayPal account. Having done that I wanted top-up – right away just like last time. However, for two reasons I was unable to complete the process: it took me a long while to figure out what the exact amount for topping-up was (would be so easy if you American guys could include VAT before labeling the total – just like the rest of the world -_-) and second the form field didn’t let me put in cent values.

Means, I would call the service line again. This time with the newly activated phone ;).

I described my problem and the woman said it would be no problem to issue the PayPal payment over the phone. Her telling me the final total and me giving her confirmation to hit “go”, it didn’t go through. Also following tries returned an error and she put me on hold in order to find out what the problem was. After a few minutes she got back to me and told me that this was a very rare issue and I should wait 4 hours and try it again. Apparently sometimes there is a grace period that needs to pass until the PayPal connection can be used.

It being in the middle of the night already I decided to get some rest and give this a rest until morning.

Before I’d call their number again I wanted to give it a last shot. But on their website I couldn’t use the PayPal option anymore. Great. Instead I then tried to use my credit card – however they require a US address and entering my hotel address didn’t work (even though it was just an electronic billing address).

So there I was dialing customer support again. Explaining the situation didn’t really help, but this time it even got worse. The woman blamed PayPal and something being wrong with that account – yeah right, as I had also just used it for something else and it aas working just fine. Nevertheless she didn’t give into giving the PayPal option another try, but instead she insisted on giving me the support number offered by PayPal. So much for that.

Honestly I didn’t even bother calling PayPal because I knew there was nothing wrong with the account. I basically gave up on “just pay as much as needed for exactly one month use” and went to a local store buying a top-up card, which – of course – wasn’t available with the amount I needed.
Therefore I ended up paying more than I actually needed plus wanted, but maybe that money is staying in my account without expiring and I can use it next time I get back.

Upside is, I’ve used the phone a lot during my stay and it’s just absolutely necessary to stay in contact with local people (or folks that are currently around the same area).

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