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.