Thursday, August 31, 2017

Maximize Those Rewards


Thinking about travel credit cards…do I really need one?

While only you can answer that question for you, if you’re going to travel very much, it can definitely be worth it. Why?

Things like travel insurance, protecting your rental car, luggage issues, and emergency services may be covered with your credit card. These might not seem important to you at the time you sign up. But, they will be crucial during that one time when your luggage is lost and you’re heading out with 27 kids on a tour of Rome, or your rental car gets a parking ticket in a small town in Germany.

Yep…both have happened to me.

Recently, I was asked to collaborate with U.S. News & World Report regarding travel credit cards. As a nationally recognized publisher of consumer advice and information, they conducted a nationwide study of consumers who own credit cards.

From this study, they created a guide which shows travelers how to best use their cards and get the most from them.

Finally, something that compares cards and gives me information that makes sense.

Throughout the next month I will post results from that study. Hopefully, you will learn something about your credit card.

The link to the entire study is https://creditcards.usnews.com/travel#heading2

Back to the question…do you need one? Check out some things to think about.



Pick the right first travel card.
When you’re first starting out with travel cards, select one with a general miles program that gives you the flexibility to earn rewards for all spending and redeem with the largest variety of brands. Unless you spend large amounts on travel expenses with a particular brand, airline and hotel cards offer less flexibility and savings.

Combine a general travel card with a cobranded or loyalty card.
Used in tandem with a general travel card, an airline or hotel card makes sense for frequent travelers who are comfortable committing to one particular travel brand. This combination allows you to use the cobranded card to earn bonus points on the cobranded airline/hotel spending and use the general travel card to still earn bonus points in non-travel spending categories. You want to make sure your general travel card is allowed to transfer points to the cobranded card, for maximum value.

For example, Chase Sapphire Preferred works well with the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program. You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards by spending with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and transfer them to Southwest to either book with miles, or earn double miles by booking with your Southwest Rapid Rewards card. Cortez says he’s a fan of this card combination particularly for casual travelers, as Southwest offers 100 percent award seating availability and doesn’t charge a fixed amount of miles for flights, allowing travelers to find some good bargains on their tickets.

For a general travel/hotel combo, the Hyatt Credit Card also works well with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. You can earn points with either card and also transfer your Ultimate Rewards into the World of Hyatt rewards program. 

Maximizing Your Card Benefits Abroad

Knowing how your travel credit card works and what benefits and protections it offers (or doesn’t offer) can help you solve some of the problems that may arise when you're abroad.

Avoid foreign transaction fees.
If you’re not sure if your card has foreign transaction fees, check with your bank when you notify them of your upcoming trip. You can also verify with them that your card has EMV smart chip technology, which is the most compatible with foreign merchants and provides the best security.

Avoid dynamic currency conversion.
Many foreign merchants let you choose to be charged in local currency or to pay with dollars through dynamic currency conversion. You should always opt for local currency, as the exchange rate will likely be poor and/or have a fee tacked on top. It’s always good to have cash on-hand regardless in case a store or restaurant won’t accept your card.

Know who to contact in an emergency.
Signature Visa cardholders have free access to a 24/7 benefits administrator who can provide medical referrals, contact loved ones and arrange for payments. Likewise, Citibank cardmembers can receive round-the-clock referrals and other help with medical and legal emergencies.

Some programs, like Visa Signature and World Elite MasterCard, provide 24/7 global services for card-related needs and expedited card replacement, and Visa gives an emergency cash advance or Western Union wire transfer within two hours of approval by your bank.

For common travel medical emergencies, an officer from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate can help connect you with treatment services, inform loved ones and facilitate the transfer of funds, if necessary. All medical expenses will be your responsibility, however.

Take advantage of travel insurance.
MasterCard and Visa both include travel protections through their cards, as well as travel insurance for an additional cost. World Elite MasterCard offers members international travel accident and medical expenses coverage up to $1 million each, plus trip inconvenience protection and luggage protection.

Visa Signature’s plan offers cardholders and their immediate family members Common Carrier Travel Accident Insurance (for accidents involving your airline, train or cruise ship) up to $500,000 and 24-Hour Travel Accident Insurance for injury, dismemberment or loss of life up to $100,000.

Only 15 percent of credit cards offer travel cancellation insurance, and due to the lack of medical coverage and routine exceptions to Common Carrier protection, the benefits are limited. You may want to opt for third-party travel insurance for fuller coverage.

Protect your rental car.
Your personal car insurance policy probably will not cover foreign travel, so you’ll need to purchase auto insurance in your destination country, preferably at an equivalent level of coverage to what you carry at home.

Travel cards with Visa Signature and World Elite MasterCard benefits offer auto rental collision damage waivers that provide reimbursement over and above any primary insurance you have for towing, loss of use, theft and/or damage to the car up to the full cash value of most rental vehicles booked using that card.
There are restrictions, however, including the country of travel, type of vehicle, age of the vehicle and length of the rental period. And you’ll be required to refuse the collision damage waiver at the car rental counter. Third-party liability, personal accident and personal property coverage will not be included with your card’s coverage, which is why TripAdvisor Travel Advocate Wendy Perrin advises carefully considering which of your credit cards will give you the best coverage (and not result in an increase in your insurance premium).
Be sure to file your claim as soon as possible because time limits are strictly enforced, and have as much documentation as you can. This includes copies of the accident report, rental agreement and receipt, repair estimate, police report and plenty of photos.

Additionally, in some countries, you will need an International Driving Permit. An IDP can be purchased from AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a $20 fee with a valid driver’s license, two passport pictures and a completed application.

Get help with your lost luggage.
Many travel rewards credit cards offer benefits to help you deal with lost luggage. The Lost Luggage Locator Service of Visa Signature can assist with the airline’s claim process or arrange for replacement items to be shipped to you. Both Visa Signature and World Elite MasterCard guarantee users reimbursement for lost or delayed baggage of $100 a day for three days.

Airline liability can be complicated for international travel. Your rights are laid out in either the Warsaw Convention or the Montreal Convention, depending on which country you’re traveling to. Frommer’s has a good breakdown of what to do in the event of lost luggageunder either scenario, plus best practices for avoiding lost bags in the first place.


Monday, August 28, 2017

I'm Confused...Which Travel Card Do I Need?


You thought you had the best travel credit card.

Then, you see an ad on TV and you begin to wonder. That one sounds better than yours. Or, does it? You’re confused.

Maybe you should get both. How do you know?

Recently, I was asked to collaborate with U.S. News & World Report regarding travel credit cards. As a nationally recognized publisher of consumer advice and information, they conducted a nationwide study of consumers who own credit cards.

From this study, they created a guide which shows travelers how to best use their cards and get the most from them.

Finally, something that compares cards and gives me information that makes sense.

Throughout the next month I will post results from that study. Hopefully, you will learn something about your credit card.

The link to the entire study is https://creditcards.usnews.com/travel#heading2

Is a travel credit card right for you?
Make sure you meet these requirements before signing up for a travel rewards credit card.
  • You travel frequently. If you don’t consistently spend on airfare, hotels or other travel expenses, consider a cash back credit card instead. They have fewer limitations on redemption and might save you the cost of an annual fee.
  • You have a good credit score. You have the best chances of being approved for a travel credit card if you have a FICO score of at least 700.
  • You pay off your balance each month. Because travel credit cards have higher-than-average APRs, you should only get a travel card if you can pay off your balance each month.
To find a travel card that meets your needs, evaluate each card using the following criteria:
  1. Pick the right rewards program for you.
  2. Calculate earning potential.
  3. Factor in sign-up bonuses.
  4. Calculate redemption value.
  5. Subtract annual fees.
  6. Understand travel benefits.
  7. Avoid foreign transaction fees.

1. Pick the right rewards program for you.
Your travel credit card will work either in conjunction with the loyalty program of an airline or hotel chain or with the rewards program of the bank or credit card company that backs it. Each program has its benefits as well as unique terms and conditions for earning, redeeming and transferring points.

Loyalty airline programs
For some travelers, their loyalty to any particular airline lasts only as long as that airline offers the cheapest flights. But frequent flyers are often willing to forgo initial cost savings in exchange for benefits down the road. Which airline’s program works best for you will depend on several factors regarding the loyalty program and the airline itself.
Popular airline programs:
Loyalty hotel programs
When you look for a hotel, do you prioritize value or luxury? The answer will help you determine which hotel rewards program is right for you. As with airline loyalty programs, your earned points may only be eligible for redemption with one hotel chain and its affiliate partners. Some hotel rewards programs have partnerships with other brands, such as Marriott Rewards, which allows members to redeem and earn points with The Ritz-Carlton Rewards program.
Popular hotel rewards programs:
General points program
Using a general travel credit card enters you into the rewards program for the bank or credit card company that backs it. While you will have access to the broader redemption platform for that provider’s network of credit cards, you’ll still receive the best value by redeeming for travel through the platform or using the platform to receive statement credits for travel purchases made on the card.
Examples:
Maximizing your rewards means matching your goals and habits with the appropriate type of travel rewards program. If you want deluxe benefits that come with elite membership status, an airline or hotel card is the way to go.
However, if you don’t travel as often and want maximum flexibility when you do, as well as a broader range of earnings categories, a general travel card is usually the smartest choice for your first travel card. Frequent flyers often find that adding a second, cobranded loyalty card to their wallet makes sense once they’ve established a favorite airline or hotel chain.

2. Calculate earning potential.
Travel cards earn rewards at different rates for spending in different categories, so you have to analyze your spending habits to determine which card will help you maximize your points. A good travel card will have a range of purchases that qualify as travel spending. These purchases can include:
  • flights
  • stays at hotels, motels, timeshares and campgrounds
  • car rentals
  • cruises
  • trains
  • buses, taxis, limousines and ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft
  • parking lots and garages
  • bridge and highway tolls
  • meals and other nonlodging expenses at hotels
Depending on the type of card, these purchases can earn between 1.5 and seven points. The highest points tend to come with hotel cards, while airline cards typically award double to triple miles for flight purchases. All other purchases, often referred to as everyday spending, typically earn between one and two points per dollar spent.

3. Factor in sign-up bonuses.
The most lucrative travel cards offer bonus points to those who meet a certain level of spending by a specified date, usually within three to six months. These bonuses can be worth hundreds of dollars. For example, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards card offers 50,000 points when you spend $2,000 in the first three months, and the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card offers 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months.

4. Calculate redemption value.
Every travel card carries a rate at which points or miles are awarded. However, what those points are worth to you depends on the value you derive from redeeming them, as well as your preferences and priorities.
For general travel cards, point valuation is simple math: your number of points multiplied by the redemption rate, often a rate of 1 cent to 1 point. On the surface, award travel with airlines or hotels is also straightforward: The typical cost of a flight or room is divided by the number of miles you need to book an award flight or stay.
But airlines and hotels frequently adjust the price of award travel based on award level, award availability, time, destination/location, fare/hotel class, demand and other factors. All of these changes will affect the value of your miles, making valuation for airlines in particular “extremely complicated,” according to Dubash. “You’ll see estimates all over the place.” He and Cortez both cite 2 cents per mile as a general standard for miles with the major airlines, while the value of miles with smaller airlines like Southwest and JetBlue may fluctuate higher or lower than 2 cents.
Other factors that affect the value of your rewards program include:
  • whether there are fees for checked bags, foreign transactions, etc.
  • whether your points can be transferred to another loyalty program and at what ratio
  • how easy it is accrue and redeem points and whether you face blackout dates, seat restrictions or other limitations
  • the quality of perks available to you once you reach top-tier elite status
5. Subtract annual fees.
Credit card companies entice new users by waiving the annual fee for the first year, which typically ranges from $40 to $95, although it can go as high as $450 per year. Once the fee kicks in, be sure you’re earning enough rewards or enjoying the other card benefits to compensate for it. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard’s $89 annual fee activates in the second year, but you might easily save that amount through the card’s discounts on car rentals, vacation packages, charter flights or flights with one of its airline partners.
There are also excellent cards on the market that don’t carry an annual fee. For example, the Discover it Miles card is a no-fee card that doubles users’ rewards at the end of the first year of use, has no foreign transaction fees and offers a flat 1.5 percent rewards rate on all purchases, including nontravel expenses.

6. Understand travel benefits.
Travel benefits can be practical tools, discounted pricing or luxe perks. Common benefits include no foreign transaction fees, access to 24/7 concierge or customer service lines, free baggage and travel insurance. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card comes with trip cancellation/interruption insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, car rental theft and collision coverage, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, 24/7 customer service and more.

The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier credit card and Business credit cardprovide A-list status users with priority check-in and boarding, free same-day standby and dedicated customer service. Members of the top two tiers can get free in-flight Wi-Fi and free flights for a friend every time they fly.

The Marriott Rewards Premier credit card comes with zero foreign transaction fees and a free night stay every year after your account anniversary. Members at the introductory level get free in-room internet, while the upper tiers promise lounge access and breakfast, free room upgrades, guaranteed room availability, late checkout, elite customer service lines and arrival gifts.

7. Avoid foreign transaction fees.
The best travel cards don’t charge a foreign transaction fee, which is typically 2 to 3 percent on every purchase. Since these fees can be greater than any rewards you earn, frequent overseas travelers will want to make this card feature a top priority.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Cheers...





No chairs…just a few stools. 

No tables…just a long wooden bar and some upturned wine barrels. 

Dozens of well-used, copper pots hang from the dark, wooden ceiling. 

Tour groups wander in…but don’t stay for even one glass. Locals stop at the same time each day…and the bartender never asks what they want. He just knows.


Warm and cozy, this original bacaro has been catering to the workers of the Rialto Market, tourists, and even supposedly Casanova since 1462. Like so many things in Venice, it’s not easy to find. Even with a map. It’s tucked in a


Cantina Do Mori, in Venice, gets my vote for a mid-morning glass of Prosecco and an afternoon glass of house red wine.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Park Your Car...Or Not?


You can’t wait to get on the plane to France, Denver, San Diego, or somewhere. It doesn’t matter. You’re excited to go.
But…you have to get to the airport and then leave your car. If you’re gone for an extended period of time…it may cost you a bundle.
What do you do?
This is an excellent site for all things travel. Check out their deals on shuttle services to and from the airport.
To make this even sweeter…save 10% with coupon code JUL17A
Here’s an example of some info they have posted:
Top reasons to use an airport transportation service
These are the main reasons we recommend using an airport shuttle instead of parking at the airport:
·         It’s fast and easy to check rates online and choose a vehicle that best suits your needs and your budget
·         You can pre-book well in advance of your travel day so there’s one less thing to worry about in the busy days leading up to your trip
·         Unlike most taxis or ride-hailing services, with the provider we recommend, your fee is set up front and there is never any surge pricing
·         It’s a snap to select exactly when and where you want to be picked up for your ride to the airport (and dropped off upon your return). Examples include your home, office, hotel or school/university.
·         The driver drops you off right at your terminal and will help you with your luggage. They same applies when you fly back into the airport.
·         Drivers are professional, have had background checks and are safety trained. They’re also required to carry liability insurance coverage.
·         You can make one-way, roundtrip or multi-leg advance reservations. Super convenient!
For more great parking and travel info, check out this site from Jennifer Church.

Airport Parking Helper


P.S. If you've got a trip coming up, you can grab coupon codes for off-airport parking, hotels with free parking, shuttle services and more by visiting our Top Travel Deals page.

Remember, lots fill up quickly in the busy summer travel seasons, so don't delay!