As you plan your summer vacation, you most likely check out reviews of restaurants near your hotel, print out your confirmation information and make sure that everything you will need for your trip is packed in your suitcase. A little bit of planning will go a long way to ensuring a more enjoyable trip with less stress and more umbrella drinks.
CardRatings.com wants your vacation to go as smoothly as possible, so here are seven things you should do related to your credit cards before you set out as well. After all, those little pieces of plastic could have a big effect on your vacation plans.
1. Call your credit card company
Credit card companies monitor charges to detect theft, and if they notice that the charging patterns are different, they will often deactivate the card until they verify that the card has not been stolen. “If you don’t travel much or are going out of the country, give your credit card company a call before you go to let them know about your plans so that they don’t shut down your card,” says Beverly Harzog, credit card expert, author and consumer advocate.
2. Make sure your card is active and verify limits
It may seem basic but many people who do not use their credit cards regularly or who decide to use a little-used card actually find out while on vacation that the card is inactive. “There is no legal obligation by the issuer to notify the card holder that account has been closed, and many issuers do not contact the card holder, especially if the credit card is closed due to inactivity,” says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for SmartCredit.com. He also says that sometimes issuers will lower credit limits and he recommends verifying the credit limits of all cards you are taking on vacation.
3. Research any travel discounts offered by your card
Many credit card companies offer discounts on specific car rentals, hotels and even experiences for their card holders. While planning your vacation, check your credit card website and give the customer service department a call to find out about any special deals, partnerships or perks your card issuer may offer.
4. Strategize to earn the maximum reward points
Credit card companies often offer bonus rewards points for specific types of purchases made on their cards. “If you have a rewards card, check the rewards program for any specials and take advantage of any bonus points available,” says Harzog. “A common bonus is additional points on gas purchases. If your credit card is offering bonus points on gas purchases, you should make all gas purchases on this card.”
5. Determine hold amounts for your vacation expenditures
Check to see if your lodging or rental car company is going to put a block on your credit card for the full amount of the purchase during your vacation. “If a hold is placed on your card, then you are reducing your limit by that amount. If you have a $5,000 credit limit and your hotel puts a $2,500 hold on your card, then you essentially have a $2,500 limit to use on your vacation,” Ulzheimer says. He also strongly recommends using a credit card instead of a debit card for vacation purchases because if the merchant places a block on your card, the money in your checking account will be frozen.
6. Make a list of your credit card numbers and customer service numbers
If your credit card gets stolen on vacation, you most likely will not have access to your statements or other information with the phone and account numbers you will need to close the account. Harzog recommends creating a list of all your credit card account numbers that you will be taking with you along with the customer service phone number. “Hide this list in your suitcase or give it to a trusted relative who will be staying at home. This way if the worst case happens, you will be able to quickly contact your credit card company,” Harzog says.
7. Consider your utilization percentage
If you are going to be charging most of your vacation expenses, be careful that you are not inadvertently negatively affecting your credit scores by having a high utilization percentage. Ulzheimer explains that if you have a $5,000 limit on your credit card and charge $4,000 worth of vacation expenses, then you will have an 80 percent utilization, which is considered to be very high and will most likely affect your score. “Before deciding which credit card to use for the trip,” Ulzheimer advises, “be sure to do the math with your estimated expenses compared to your limit.”
By including these simple credit card planning tips into your pre-vacation routine, you can save money, hassle and hopefully even earn rewards for your vacation next summer. Your umbrella drink awaits!