Why should you travel with a credit card?
The days of travellers’ cheques are long gone; even travel money cards seem to be on their way out. But what about a credit card? We say, this is a Must Have these days, for multiple reasons:
Hotel check in
Most hotels insist on logging a credit card in order to allow you to check in; they will not accept cash or debit cards. This is to cover them in case guests use the mini bar, damage the hotel room, or refuse to pay on check out. Even if you have paid before arrival, some hotels will still not check you in without a card.
For example, we had a single client who arrived at a hotel in New York and did not have a credit card. As a result, they would not allow her to check in and she ended up sitting in the lobby for 3 hours in the middle of the night while we (in a different time zone) tried to make an alternative arrangement for her. This is unnecessary stress so rather have a credit card with you when you travel.
Car hires usually insist on a credit card in order to take the car, even if you’ve already paid for your car hire in advance and left a security deposit. This is to cover them in case a renter doesn’t return the car or damages it so much that the cost of repair is much higher than the deposit. It also covers them if the renter gets a traffic violation fine, which may only get sent to the company long after the car has been returned. With a debit card, there might not be sufficient money in the account to cover it. Therefore, if you are renting a car, you will need a credit card. Remember, the card needs to belong to the main driver of the car.
You can withdraw cash in foreign currency from most ATM machines in most countries using a credit card. There will be additional charges for this but it’s still very convenient if needed. Additionally, sometimes, the exchange rate you get when using one of the major credit cards may be better than when using a bureau de change or getting cash at your bank. However, be aware that there may be a foreign transaction fee which could be steep. Ask for the Ts & Cs of your credit card to be sure what costs you could be in for.
Some credit cards offer travel insurance or purchase protection for travel which you paid for with the card. Check all the fine print first before relying on this as additional insurance (e.g. for medical) may be required.
If you lose a stack of cash, it’s gone for good. If you lose a credit card, it’s usually pretty quick and easy to put a hold on the card in order to stop anyone from using it. By the time you put a hold on a debit card, money may already have been removed from your account and it may be much harder to get this back. It also tends to be easier to reverse fraudulent charges made on a credit card via your bank, for example, with chargebacks.
There may be rewards for using your card for travel such as air miles, points, or cash back – check with your bank or look for a card that offers these. This means you could be earning while you’re travelling.
Unfortunately, things can go wrong. Even if you prefer to stick to cash, debit, or a travel money card, if something major goes wrong, for example, you’re in an accident or fall ill, all your luggage goes missing and you need to replace it immediately, or you urgently need to book a plane ticket home (just some of the things that have happened to our clients), having a credit card can give you that emergency backup that you need.
Important notes on travelling with your credit card
- Research different credit cards to find out which will suit your travel needs best. Look for cards that offer travel and purchase protection, low foreign transaction fees, rewards, wide acceptance, and ease of use (and blocking, in case of theft).
- It is important to advise your bank before you travel that you will be using your credit in another country. If you don’t, many banks will flag your card and it could be blocked, leaving you stranded with no access to money.
- If the card is only to be used for emergencies or to hire a car (for example), be sure to stick to this (making it harder to access may help you here, for example, wrapping it in foil or keeping it separate from other money).
- Check the destination country and make sure your card is accepted there (for example, some places don’t accept American Express but do accept Visa) and if you need a specific type of card (e.g. ‘chip n pin’).
- Be aware that there may be higher admin costs involved in withdrawing cash from ATMs using your card and budget accordingly.
- Remember to pay off the card afterwards quickly to maintain a good credit score.
- We recommend still carrying cash as some places, particularly in rural areas or at markets, may not accept cards.