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You're making travel plans, creating your packing list and asking friends to recommend must-see sights for your upcoming vacation. But before you head to the airport, there's one more thing to check off your list: telling your credit card company about your trip. Here's why.
Why You Should Notify Your Credit Card Company
Credit card companies are always on high alert for potential fraud. If you live in Peoria and your credit card company sees your card being used to make purchases in Paris, alarms may go off. That's a good thing if it prevents a thief from using your stolen credit card. It's not so good if your credit card is denied at the Louvre ticket office and you miss your chance to see the "Mona Lisa." Having a transaction questioned or denied can put a serious dent in your trip.
How to Set a Travel Notice
Setting a travel notice is easy to do. Simply visit your credit card company's website to get instructions. Many card issuers allow you to set up a notice on their website or using the card's mobile app. Others require you to call by phone to notify them.
Some credit cards, such as American Express, don't allow you to set up a travel notice. American Express says the practice isn't necessary because its fraud detection capabilities can recognize when you're traveling overseas. However, they still recommend making sure your contact information is up to date in case they need to contact you.
If you do set up a travel notice, you'll be asked to provide the dates you'll be traveling and where you're going. If you're traveling to multiple countries, make sure you know all of your destinations and dates before you start the process of setting up a travel notice. If your flight has a layover in a country that's not your final destination, let the card issuer know about that too—you never know when you might need to use your credit card in the airport.
If you haven't already done so, it's a good idea to download your cards' mobile apps before you head out on your trip. Having the app handy can make it easier to contact the card issuer, track your spending or cancel a lost card during your travels.
What to Consider When Traveling With a Credit Card
Which credit cards are worthy of a spot in your wallet when you're headed overseas? To make the best choice, consider these factors:
Is the card accepted at your destination? In general, Visa and Mastercard are the credit cards most widely accepted outside the U.S. Just as in the U.S., American Express and Discover cards are accepted at fewer locations overseas, so if you bring one of those cards, make sure you have a Visa or Mastercard in your wallet as a backup. The credit card issuer's website may tell you where the card is accepted outside the U.S.; if you can't find that information or are traveling to an out-of-the-way location, contact your credit card company to see if the card is accepted there.
Does the card charge foreign transaction fees? Many cards impose a foreign transaction fee (generally 1% to 3% of the transaction) when you use them outside the U.S. Some merchants use what's called "dynamic currency conversion" to charge your purchase in U.S. dollars. This eliminates foreign transaction fees, but the currency conversion fee is generally much higher. Your best bet? Look for a credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.
Does the card include travel insurance? Many credit cards offer travel insurance perks. Will you be renting a car? If you use a card that includes free rental car insurance, you can decline the optional (and expensive) coverage offered by the rental company. Other cards offer roadside assistance you can call if you have car trouble.
Using the right credit card can help protect you from both major and minor disasters. Many credit cards provide trip delay coverage, trip interruption coverage or trip cancellation coverage, which can reimburse you for covered delays, cancellations or trips cut short by illness or natural disasters. Some cards include baggage delay insurance, which can reimburse you if your baggage is delayed beyond a certain number of hours. Others provide 24/7 emergency assistance, such as medical or legal referrals, which can be invaluable when you're traveling.
For any type of travel insurance coverage, make sure you fully understand what is covered and what you have to do to qualify for coverage. For example, if you want to be covered for baggage or trip delay insurance on a flight, you'll need to pay for your flight with that card.
Does the card offer travel rewards? If you have a credit card that offers travel rewards, try using your points or miles to book your trip. You may be able to use rewards to get complimentary or upgraded flights or hotel stays, or credits towards shopping or dining at your hotel or resort.
Many travel rewards credit cards also offer extra travel benefits like priority boarding or the use of airport lounges. Check your card's fine print ahead of time to see what's available to you so you can make the most of these perks.
During your trip, using your travel rewards cards for purchases such as meals or entry to museums and attractions can help maximize your travel rewards, earning more miles or points toward your next trip.
It's always wise to bring more than one credit or debit card on a trip, just in case one is lost, stolen or left behind in a restaurant or shop. Don't forget to check your cards' expiration dates—you don't want to be stuck overseas with a card that expires in the middle of your trip.
Safe and Secure Travels
Once you've chosen the credit cards to bring along, protect yourself by putting the account numbers and customer service phone numbers for each card into your phone. If your card is lost or stolen, you can quickly report it without having to search online for a phone number—which can be tough to do if you're somewhere with spotty Wi-Fi or cellular coverage.
Informing your credit card company of your upcoming travel plans may seem unnecessary, but it could save you headaches you'd rather not encounter on vacation. Doing so ahead of time helps ensure your trip is memorable for all the right reasons.