We're deep into the summer, and for many parts of the country, it's been a really hot, sweltering one at that. If you haven't been on vacation, and you're killing time reading this in the midst of work or surfing the Internet in your spare time, well, I'm guessing you're probably like me. You'd rather be off somewhere at a water park, or scuba diving, or hiking a trail in some mountainous but very shady terrain, and daydreaming about taking a trip somewhere.
So in preparation for that vacation that I hope you get to take soon, I thought I'd offer three bits of advice for anyone planning on taking your credit card on vacation.
1. Call your credit card company and let them know you're going on a vacation
I know you have plenty of other things to do, like finding a place to board your dog or putting a stop on your mail. Don't forget that there's sunscreen to buy and securing hotels and making your friends and family jealous on Facebook by telling them where you're going, even though you know you should wait and say nothing until you're back since your house won't be guarded by anything more than a few potted plants. Why on earth would you, or should you, call your credit card company?
Because credit card companies have been vigilant about combating identity theft, and some might say they're becoming a little too vigilant. I have one colleague who recently purchased an airline ticket for a friend, only to have it declined the next day. She wasn't told about it, so she ended up losing the ticket and the low price. When she called the credit card company to ask what happened, she learned that it had been declined not because she didn't have the money on the card; the company thought it was a fishy purchase.
So imagine what your credit card company might think if you live in Boise but suddenly are shopping up a storm in London or Thailand? Granted, if you're using your card for everything -- plane tickets, purchases at the airport, the hotel… the fraud department will probably figure it out, that you're traveling and that this isn't some case of a two-bit con artist in a far-flung land and getting hold of your credit card number. Still, it can't hurt to forewarn them, and thieves can steal a credit card and then use it for a plane ticket, purchases at the airport, a hotel…
I've heard enough horror stories from people who have gone on vacation, only to have a well-meaning fraud investigator freeze up their card, that if I were funding most of my trip with a credit card, I'd definitely alert them.
2. If you're going to another country, look for a card that doesn't have foreign transaction fees
That's becoming easier to do, fortunately, as more credit cards drop these fees. But if you can't get a card without them, I wouldn't fret. Foreign transaction fees are typically around three percent for each purchases made overseas. If you're on a vacation overseas and charging $4,000 on a credit card that has foreign transaction fees, you've just added another $120, which may feel like a drop in the bucket at that point. But, still, if you're frugal and resent added fees, it's worth looking into.
Oh, sure, like you need me to tell you this. Still, an article about traveling with credit cards would fall short without that reminder. After all, it's very easy to budget for hotel and travel costs while forgetting that you will likely be tipping hotel staff, going on expensive taxi rides, buying overpriced souvenirs for your in-laws and that airport food is often marked up far higher than non-airport food. That stuff adds up. Travel websites, like budgettravel.com, can help you get a good idea of costs that will need to be added to your travel budget.
So what are you waiting for? Go take that well-deserved vacation! To paraphrase what the flight crews always say at the end of a journey, I realize you have a choice in your reading material on the Internet and could have chosen something else to peruse. I do hope you'll come back again.