Thursday, October 9, 2008

Taking Your Credit Card on a Holiday Getaway

The holiday season around Christmas and New Year's is a popular time for American families to get away for a while and go on vacation. If you are looking forward to a little holiday trip of your own, a credit card can be the best and safest way to pay for various travel costs. Even so, it pays to take some precautions when traveling with plastic.

For overseas travel, vacationers will want to choose a credit card that is widely accepted. Looking at a guidebook for the region you plan to visit can give you an idea of which credit card to bring along. Choosing a credit card from American Express, Visa, and MasterCard is generally a safe bet, since they are the most widely accepted.

But even if your credit card is accepted abroad, there may be foreign transaction fees involved in making payments overseas. In fact, some banks even add fees to a bill when the merchant conducts the transaction in U.S. dollars. To find out how your bank treats credit card payments outside the U.S., give them a call before you leave for vacation.

Although you may have been aware of fees your bank charged in the past, a number of issuers have made changes to when and the amount of fees levied on foreign transactions. If you want to avoid foreign such fees altogether on your trip, a Capital One Card may be a good choice, since the issuer does not charge foreign transaction fees.

While you are on the phone with your credit card issuer, let them know of your vacation plans. If you fail to update them, the unusual card use may get flagged and cause them to block further charges, since the issuer may think that your credit card or account data has been stolen. Although it is easy enough to give the issuer a ring if such a shut-off occurs, it's better to avoid the hassle of calling while on vacation by taking precautions in the first place.

Also, you should get a phone number to call in case your credit card actually gets stolen, since the 800 number you currently have likely will not work outside the U.S. And, find out how the issuer will get a new credit card to you wherever you are traveling should you lose your plastic or have it stolen. Often, the issuer can have a new credit card couriered to you with a day or two.

Separately, double-check your credit limit and card expiration date before you leave. It could really foul-up your trip to suddenly discover that you are unable to pay for various vacation expenses once you are on vacation.

Shortly before you leave, it is a good idea to store your credit card account numbers somewhere safe, such as a password-protected location on the web, in case your plastic is lost or stolen while away from home. Another idea is to carry credit cards from more than one bank, with the second credit card acting as a back-up should anything happen to the first. Choose a back-up credit card from a separate bank, just in case the first bank shuts off your credit for any reason.

While on the vacation, try and stick to using just one credit card, which will make it easier to budget and to keep track of all your spending when you return home. A credit card is safer than cash in case you are robbed, but it still should be stored away in a hidden place like a money belt.

As you make payments, hang onto all the receipts from your vacation spending. That will make it easy to ensure there are no unusual charges when you get your statement, since you do not have the same rights to dispute charges made while abroad as you do back in the U.S. And, in case anything crops up later on a credit card statement, hang onto receipts from foreign countries for longer than usual.

Meanwhile, if you decide to pay with a credit card at a given location, first make sure the restaurant or merchant accepts the plastic in your wallet. While some foreign merchants may proudly display a given credit card insignia, taking that credit card may be an entirely different matter. Therefore, it pays to have a little extra cash on hand just in case you find out you cannot pay with your credit card when the bill arrives.

Also, be mindful of double billing when reserving a hotel or rental card with your credit card if you then decide to pay in cash. If your are charged twice but don't have your cash receipt as proof of payment, you will be out of luck. Instead, it is generally better just to pay with the credit card number the hotel or car rental agency already has on file.

Another thing to be aware of is when paying a restaurant tab with a credit card and leaving a cash tip, a dishonest waiter could fill in the space on the receipt for adding on a tip. To avoid this, you can note in the space provided that the "tip is one the table," or a similar remark, to prevent an additions without your consent.

Although there are some issues to be aware of when making payment with a credit card on vacation, you are still afforded a level of ease and protection not offered when using cash, a debit card, or check. Furthermore, with all the exercise we give our credit cards during the rest of the year, don't they deserve the chance to travel at holiday time?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice articles. Keep up the great work Steve!