All your bags are packed and you’re ready to go. However, before you head on that vacation, make sure you’ve packed more than one way to pay for all that fun you’re going to have. True, cash is king, but on vacation using a credit card is easier and offers more protection than toting around a wad of cash. Here are a few things to keep in mind when using your credit card on vacation:
Take Two (or more) With You
The last thing you want is to plan on using a specific credit card only to find out it is not commonly accepted at your destination … after you’ve already arrived. Save yourself the headache and take more than one type of credit card with you on your trip. It’s a good idea to call a few hotels, restaurants and tour guides to double-check your card will be accepted (bear in mind that what you’re told over the phone could be incorrect).
For some destinations, you may need to replace any magnetic stripe cards with the chip-and-PIN variety (if you haven’t done so already). Plus, if you take more than one card you have a replacement in case of theft, or if a card issuer accidentally suspends your account.
Let Your Credit Card Company Know You’re Leaving
Getting your credit card declined when you’re trying to pay for scuba diving with sharks in the Bahamas is a major buzzkill, but it could happen if you don’t let your credit card company know you’re on vacation. Most credit card companies use security software to monitor your account and fight fraud, which means they may put a stop to spending activities if they see behaviors outside your usual Starbucks and Costco spending. A simple call to the credit card company in advance, letting them know where you are going and how long you’ll be gone, can save you the hassle of calling after the card has been declined — and the bucket list moment has passed.
Ask About Foreign Fees
While you’re on the phone with your credit card company, it’s a good idea to ask about extra fees that could pop up. These include foreign ATM fees if you plan to get cash out with your credit card as well as foreign transaction fees and foreign currency conversion fees. Foreign transaction fees are typically around 3 percent of the purchase price and incurred when you purchase something abroad. For example, if you head to Italy for two weeks and charge $3,000 to your credit card, fees could be up to $90 additional on your statement. Credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees are worth researching if you frequently travel abroad.
Currency conversion fees, also called Dynamic Currency Conversion or DCC, are vendor fees charged to cover the cost of converting transactions from a foreign currency into U.S. dollars (or whatever the national currency is where you live). A vendor in France, for example, may ask if you want to see your restaurant bill in U.S. dollars instead of euros. This saves you the hassle of doing the conversion in your head (or more likely on your phone), but it comes at a price. A vendor is required to ask you at the point of sale before using DCC; if you decline your credit card company will simply do the conversion on the back end and it will appear on your statement in U.S. dollars.
Check Your Limits
If you don’t already know your credit limit be sure to look it up before you go. It’s a good idea to keep your balance to around 30 percent of your overall limit, but if a true emergency comes up on vacation it’s nice to know how much room you’ve got. Also, be sure to check with your credit card company to see if you have a daily spending limit or daily cash advance limit. Remember, it’s best to use a cash advance only when absolutely necessary — you’ll get hit with a cash advance fee and a higher interest rate, plus interest often starts accruing immediately. If you’re lucky, you may have one of the few credit cards that don’t charge cash advance fees or keep fees to a minimum.
Keep Them Separated
As stated previously, it’s a good idea to travel with more than one credit card. For safety purposes, it’s smart to keep your credit cards in separate places when you travel: one in the hotel safe, one in your purse, etc. If you fall victim to theft or lose the card you’re carrying, you’ll have another available to replace it.
Get Security Smart
Keep your credit cards safe from skimming devices by paying attention when you swipe at ATMS, gas pumps and restaurants. At card readers, look for signs of tampering or an overlay stuck on with temporary glue or tape. At ATMs, check for hidden cameras that record PIN information.
Monitoring account balances will help you detect fraud early, but avoid using Wi-Fi to log into your account. Skip Internet cafes and hotel business centers or any public computer when logging into a site with sensitive information. Stick with your smartphone or credit card company’s app.
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