Credit Card Strategies For A Stress Free Vacation

July 2, 2007

How can you enjoy your vacation when you have no money to spend?  It’s kind of hard to do since most trips involve spending money on food, lodging, travel, gifts, etc.  On most vacations, no money means no fun!

Credit Instead of Cash
On the second day of our recent trip I had a panic attack when I couldn’t find my wallet. Luckily, I wasn’t carrying much cash because I had brought along credit cards to cover our expenses.  If you lose cash its money down the drain but if you lose your credit card you’re not out any money.  Even if someone else finds your card goes on a spending spree the credit card company won’t hold you responsible for the charges if you report the card lost or stolen.

One thing to keep in mind for an international trip is that some credit card companies charge extra fees if you use your credit card in a country outside of the US.  For example American Express charges a 2% fee of the purchase price of anything you buy internationally.

Carry a Backup Card
If you do lose your credit card you’ll feel much better if you have a backup.  Don’t keep both cards in the same place, I gave our Chase Visa to my wife and kept the American Express Blue Cash in my wallet so if one of us lost our bag we’d still have the other card as backup.

Another reason to carry a backup is in case one of your cards reaches its limit. On our honeymoon, the hotel put a hold for almost $1000 on our primary card as a deposit, even though we’d already paid for the room. I didn’t know about the charge until one night at dinner when my card was declined because the dinner bill would put us over our credit limit.  Luckily we had a backup card otherwise we’d have been washing dishes to pay for dinner, not very romantic.

Use a Rewards Card
Why not earn cash back, airline miles, or hotel points for your next vacation while you’re enjoying this one?  There are specific hotel cards for Hilton & Marriott and airline cards for United, Delta, American Airlines, and US Airways.  Or there are more generic cards such as American Express Blue Sky, Chase Travel Plus Platinum, and Citi Premier Pass whose rewards points you can use on a variety of hotels, airlines, and car rentals.  Using a rewards card can help you prepare financially for your next trip while you’re relaxing on the current one.

Be Card Smart
Of course credit cards do bring the temptation to spend more on your trip because it’s easy to charge it now and worry about the payments later.  If you can avoid this mental trap then using these credit card strategies can help you spend less time worrying about paying for your fun and more time enjoying it!


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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12 Responses to Credit Card Strategies For A Stress Free Vacation

  • kitty

    Ben, you are welcome. One thing about ATMs – their fee is usually fixed regardless of the amount. So it makes sense to take out the max the particular ATM allows (except when at the end of the trip, but you can plan ahead) and keep extra cash in the hotel’s safe deposit box. This way you’ll further minimize the charges.

  • Ben

    kitty, I didn’t realize the traveller’s checks exchange rate was worse than credit cards or ATM withdrawals. Thanks for the ATM tip!

  • kitty

    Angie: you are loosing on the exchange rate when you exchange traveller’s checks or cash. You get much better exchange rate using credit cards/ATMs – you get interbank exchange rate rather than buy/sell rate that banks, American Express offices or exchange places use. There may be some charge with some ATMs and credit cards but you still get better deal than changing dollars or traveller’s checks. These differences add up.

    So if you don’t like credit cards consider using debit card to a checking account where you don’t have that much money (in case it gets stolen). Put the same amount there as you take with traveller’s checks and use it. Just an idea.

    I used to carry traveller’s checks in addition to credit cards (for places where they don’t take cards) until I realized that I am loosing on the exchange. Now I only use ATMs for cash. I have a separate checking account where I usually have a relatively small amount of money, just about enough for expenses other than air/hotel. So I usually take one credit card, one debit card to use plus either credit or debit card as a backup in case the card gets stolen. I keep the backup card in the hotel’s safe.

    One other thing. In some countries ATMs are uncommon or charge too much and only expensive places take cards. Traveller’s checks are also a hustle in these places. Russia is one such example. When travelling to such countries, you pretty much have to carry cash. If you go to Russia, please make sure you take only clean and new bills. It is very difficult to exchange bills that have something written on them or that look worn.

  • Ben

    I haven’t ever used traveller’s checks before. What kind of fees are associated with purchasing and cashing them?

  • Angie Hartford

    I’m a big fan of traveller’s checks. Remember them? They also help avoid the trap of overspending via the use of credit cards.

  • Ben

    Good point MoneyChangesThings! I called my credit card company to ask about purchases in foreign countries and they mentioned they had logic in place to look for any purchases 100 miles away from my registered zip code.

  • Bill

    Another thing to consider is have back up info- account numbers, phone number to bank etc. uploaded on a password protected site so you can access it in the event of an emergency.

  • CreditCard Friend

    You are absolutely right that credit card can be really great while you are travelling. Especially if you are an active traveler. You can earn bonus miles and hotel stays, meals, etc and be not afrad of loss.

  • Ben

    That’s an interesting perspective MoneyNing. I can see how a little cash might come in handy in that situation.

    I’m not saying carry no cash at all, just don’t bring gobs of cash with you and use your card instead.

  • MoneyChangesThings

    ANother pointer: if you’re going to be traveling let your credit card company know. Their systems are set up to trigger attention when your card is used in weird places and sometimes they deny charges if you can’t confirm your whereabouts.

  • MoneyChangesThings

    On a trip to Germany about 10 years ago, I mixed up my two ATM cards and when trying to withdraw money, after I put in the wrong PIN number a few times, it CONFISCATED my ATM card! My husband’s parents are survivors of Nazi Germany. There we were a generation later, and upon entering the country all our assets were frozen. Very traumatic.
    Thanks goodness for the credit cards we carried! And forget about trying to have a new ATM or credit card sent to you on a vacation. Even if you are in the same place for a few days, odds are your card will not arrive.
    Great point to have a back up plan.

  • MoneyNing

    Actually I would add that you do want to carry some cash when you go on vacation where you unforunately get robbed. You are much more likely to walk out alive if the person gets some money from the encounter. It doesn’t have to be much, and I know it hurts but your life is more important.