It’s May: The school year is winding down; summer travel plans are revving up. Whether it’s a road trip on the nation’s freeways or a jet flight across the world, chances are you’ll be using a credit card on those travels.
Before you depart, here’s a roundup of some good-to-know credit card travel tips.
To avoid those scenarios, pick up the phone and call your issuer, using the number on the back of your card. Many card issuers let you do the same thing online. Log onto your account and look for “travel notification” or a similar tab, where you can fill in the dates and countries where you’ll be traveling.
“We strongly encourage our customers to contact us when traveling, whether they’re in the middle of a trip or about to leave,” Rob Tacey, a JPMorgan Chase spokesman, said in an email.
In some cases, he said, the company notifies its frequent travelers that it’s not necessary to notify the company in advance, because it’s already aware their card is often used far from home. But generally, it can’t hurt to call your credit card issuer and alert it of impending trips.
Also, many travel experts recommend carrying two credit cards, keeping one as your backup in case your main card is lost or stolen.
Among the best freebies: Coverage for lost or damaged checked baggage, up to $500 beyond what you might receive from the airline. Most U.S. airlines will cover up to $3,400 in cases of lost baggage, said Perkins, but certain items are excluded, including cash, family heirlooms or expensive technology, such as computers.
“If you packed an expensive camera in your checked baggage, some cards will cover up to $250 per lost item. … It’s not a lot, but it can make a difference,” Perkins said.
The biggest benefit, said Perkins: Coverage for damage to a rental car. If the damage occurs in the U.S., the credit-card reimbursement is generally secondary coverage that kicks in after you first file a claim with your insurer. If it’s an overseas rental car, which usually isn’t covered by U.S. insurance, the credit card coverage may be your only option to recoup the cost of damages.
“It’s one really big-dollar benefit. It can amount to hundreds of dollars,” he noted.
Some card issuers also offer small amounts of compensation for delayed flights.
In all cases, to find out what your card covers, read the fine print in your service agreement or look it up online.
When traveling overseas, you will likely be hit by ATM fees when you’re getting cash withdrawals in local currency. There are a couple ways to minimize these fees, which can be as high as $5 per transaction.
In general, Perkins recommends using a debit card to make cash withdrawals (because of lower fees compared with most credit cards). For large purchases, like hotel stays, car rentals, shopping, etc., he says, use your credit card.
And Perkins noted: At all costs, avoid going to a currency exchange office or airport kiosk, which typically charge high currency conversion fees.
In most cases overseas, “a standard old American (magnetic-) striped card will work most of the time, in most places,” said Perkins, who uses both chipped and non-chipped cards and rarely encounters a problem. He said certain situations, such as trying to use a self-service gas station or ticket kiosk, may cause a card to be rejected.
Overall, “If your bank offers the option of getting a chipped card, I recommend it because it decreases the chances of running into a problem.”