Traveling? Don't Forget to Pack the Plastic
By Gerri Detweiler
The Union Credit Doctor
If you are heading out on vacation, don’t forget to pack the plastic. Credit cards are one of the safest and most convenient ways to pay for expenses while you travel. Still, there are a few things you’ll want to know to avoid bumps along the road.
Avoid Hassles: Traveling far from home? Planning to use your card more often than usual? Call your card issuer to alert them to your plans. Issuers may temporarily block new purchases if they see a pattern of unusual activity, so let them know ahead of time what you are up to.
Be Prepared: You are protected against unauthorized purchases on your credit card, but if something does go wrong, you’ll want to report your lost or stolen card quickly and get a replacement card if needed. Before you go, make a note of the phone number for reporting lost or stolen cards. (If you are going abroad, make sure you have a number that will work outside the U.S.) If you take more than one credit card with you, consider keeping them in two different places (or with two different people in your group). If one is lost or stolen, you will have another as a backup.
Research fees: Many credit card issuers assess foreign transaction fees for purchases made in another country, including Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. Foreign transaction fees may range from 1 – 4% of the purchase amount, so find out ahead of time how much that fee will be, and factor it into your vacation spending. Also, check out the cost of cash advances in case you need to tap your card for cash.
Tip: The Union Plus Credit Card features a 1% foreign transaction fee, among the lowest in the industry.
Watch for Holds: If you rent a car or stay in a hotel, a hold may be placed on your account for the estimated cost of the stay (or rental) plus extra for incidental expenses. This hold essentially freezes a portion of your credit line, and in the case of a debit card, blocks the use of those funds in your bank account. Make sure you have enough credit (or funds) available, especially if you have an expensive hotel stay planned, or you will be moving from one place to another. If you hold a reservation using your card but then pay cash, be sure to get a receipt showing you paid cash - and hold onto it just in case your card is charged.
Check your limit: Some credit card issuers have lowered credit limits recently, so be sure to check your limit and your available credit before you leave. You may also want to find out whether you can set up online or text message alerts to notify you if you are getting close to your limit.
Double Check Your Math: Making purchases in a foreign currency can get tricky. Watch for simple mistakes like a total that reads “100” instead of “10.” Don’t sign a credit card slip if the total is blank, or an unscrupulous merchant can fill it in with any amount. And that brings us to the next tip…
Keep Your Receipts: Don’t discard receipts from your trip until you have reconciled them with your statements. If you need to dispute an item, you’ll have sixty days from the date the statement on which the mistake occurred is mailed to you to lodge your complaint. A receipt can help back up your side of the story. Follow the instructions on your billing statement for disputing a charge, and if the amount is large, be sure to put it in writing.
Dig Into Discounts: Your credit card may entitle you to discounts or rebates on travel purchases. For example, some airlines currently waive the checked baggage fee if you use their co-branded credit card to buy your ticket. Others offer perks that may include free collision damage waiver if you rent a car and use your credit card for the purchase. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
Travel Tip: Union members are entitled to discounts on car rentals, cruises and more through the Union Plus Travel Center.