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Traveling with credit cards: 6 things to do before you leave

by Barbara Marquand

Credit cards make ideal traveling companions, eliminating the need to carry lots of cash, making hotel reservations and dining out a snap, and even providing bonus rewards. Also, credit cards can provide one of the best currency exchange rates for all of your memorable purchases.

To ensure smooth sailing with your credit cards, complete these six chores before you leave home.

1. Consider taking a rewards credit card

Take credit cards that offer the best rewards and travel discounts. Pack at least two -- one for backup in case one card gets lost or stolen -- but don't take more credit cards than you need.

2. Traveling abroad? Ask about foreign transaction fees

Credit card companies charge a fee every time you buy something in a foreign country. If you're traveling outside of the country, choose cards that don't charge foreign transaction fees to avoid paying anywhere between 2-5 percent on each purchase abroad. It may not sound like a lot at first, but all those small amounts add up quickly.

3. Call your credit card companies

It's a good idea to contact your credit card companies to notify them that you'll be traveling. When banks spot unusual out-of-town authorizations, they may decline the transaction. Taking a few minutes to avoid this situation will help your trip go smoothly. Some issuers even have easy-to-use forms online for trip notifications.

4. Check your credit card limits

Check your credit card limits to make sure you have more than enough credit before you go. Allow for plenty of cushion. When you check in, a hotel typically places a temporary hold on your credit card that exceeds the cost of your stay to cover any extra charges you might run up. The hold is removed after you pay the final tab, but even a temporary hold could trip you up if you run close to your limit.

5. Protect credit cards from thieves

Decide how to keep the cards separate in order to decrease the chances of both being stolen. If you're traveling with a partner, your spouse can carry one, and you can carry the other. Or stash one in your wallet and the other in a money belt.

6. Write down your credit card companies' phone numbers

Pack the customer service numbers for each of your credit cards, so they're handy in case your cards get lost or stolen.

These precautions can help you save money and ensure you have the financial backup you need on your trip. Bon voyage!

Published 02/21/13

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