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 credit card travel tips.
Call before you go
Especially if you're traveling overseas, it's always wise to alert your credit card company. Otherwise, if you start charging purchases in Canada, your credit card company will likely flag those as suspicious. They might try contacting you by phone to verify the transactions. Or they could simply freeze your card, wreaking havoc with travel plans.
To avoid those scenarios, call your issuer using the number on the back of your card. Many 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 when you'll be traveling and the countries you'll be visiting.
Get your freebies
Many consumers aren't aware of little-known benefits that come free with their credit cards, said Ed Perkins, a longtime SmarterTravel.com writer. The perks can range from free referrals if you need a lawyer or a doctor in a foreign country (the referral is free, not the professional services) to hotel room upgrades. 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.
The biggest benefit, said Perkins: coverage for damage to a rental car. If the damage occurs in the United States, 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 damage.
Know the numbers
Keep a copy of your card's toll-free customer service numbers, separate from your wallet, in case you need to report a loss or theft.
Chip or no chip?
If your credit card has been around awhile, it's probably not imbedded with a microchip, a security feature that makes it harder for cyber thieves to steal your information. These so-called microchipped cards are standard in Europe, but many Americans don't yet have one (although they're becoming mandatory by October 2015).
In most cases overseas, "a standard old American (magnetic-) striped card will work most of the time, in most places," said Perkins. Overall, "If your bank offers the option of getting a chipped card, I recommend it."
Pay bills in advance:
Don't forget to pay off credit card bills before leaving, so you don't come home to unanticipated late fees or other penalties. Especially if you'll be gone for an extended period, you can pay your monthly bill ahead of time or set up an online automatic payment.
Check your limits:
If you'll be charging lots on your trip, be sure you've got enough available credit on your card.
Most credit cards add a 1 to 3 percent currency conversion fee to the cost of any purchase outside the United States, even when you pay in dollars. Some cards however, like Capitol One, have eliminated it entirely. If you have more than one credit card, check the fees and use the one with the lowest foreign transaction fee.
When traveling overseas, you will likely be hit by ATM fees when you're getting cash withdrawals in local currency. There are a couple of ways to minimize these fees, which can be as high as $5 per transaction.
• Call your card issuer to ask if it has partnerships with bank ATMs in other countries.
• Use a debit card from a credit union, which tends to have lower fees than a bank card.
• When doing ATM cash withdrawals, get large amounts so you're not making frequent ATM stops and incurring fees.
• Perkins said he typically uses a Bank of America debit card, which charges no fees for ATM withdrawals at its partner banks in France (BNP Paribus), Germany (Deutsche Bank), Canada (Scotiabank), China (China Construction Bank), Mexico (Banco Santander), Italy (BNL d'Italia) or Britain (Barclays).
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 fees.