Summer is the season for sunshine, superhero blockbusters, beaches, barbecues, and of course, vacation. With kids out of school, temperatures rising, and a harsh winter behind you, a relaxing trip to a tropical destination might be exactly what you need. According to a survey by Orbitz, of more than 750 people, 88 percent of Americans plan to take a summer vacation this year, up 11 percent from 2013, with more than half of travelers using reward points to book hotel and airfare.
“The majority of consumers said that they would redeem credit card points on their summer vacations so if they have been using a card with good travel rewards, it could be a big help in offsetting summer vacation costs,” said Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor of Orbitz.com.
Summer vacations can be rejuvenating and refreshing, but also costly if you aren’t careful with how you use your credit card. With so many Americans planning to travel this summer, it’s essential that you take the necessary steps to have a vacation that’s good for your body — and pocketbook. Don’t let the warm weather cloud your judgment and spoil your vacation.
As an avid traveler, I’ve made some hefty summertime mistakes with my credit card — check out the top five. Don’t go down the same route.
1. Paying for all or most of your vacation with a credit card.
I didn’t max out my credit card paying for my vacation to India, but I sure did pay for a big chunk of it with my card. My thinking at the time was that I would charge a couple thousand on my new card and pay it all off before I was charged for interest. It’s neither a move I would recommend nor something I would do again today.
Interest rates on credit cards can be incredibly high and maxing out a card to pay for your vacation can be very expensive in the long run. If, for instance, you decided to charge a $3,000 vacation on a credit card that has a 17 percent interest rate and decided to make only the minimum monthly payments, it would take you more than a decade to pay for that trip. That’s a large price to pay for just a few weeks of fun.
2. Not calling your credit card company before leaving.
I’ve never experienced this problem firsthand because I always make sure to call my credit card company — even if I don’t plan on using the card (I like having it with me in case there’s an emergency). But I have friends frantically call their credit card company at the airport just before we board a plane for departure. Why invite that type of stress into your life? A little planning can go a long way.
After you’ve told your friends, family, co-workers and the random guy across the hall that you’re leaving on a trip to Fiji, be sure to inform your credit card company (or companies) and bank that you’re leaving the country. That way you can actually use your card abroad. Also, write down their toll free emergency numbers in case you lose your card or it’s stolen while traveling. Store those numbers in a cool, safe place.
3. Doubling down on insurance.
I’ve bought travel insurance for some trips and left home without it on others. Many people consider travel insurance nonessential, but it can be helpful in certain situations. If you’re in poor health or have a loved one back home who might need you at a moment’s notice, for instance, it might be worthwhile to purchase insurance. If you’re 65 years old and planning a trip to Nepal, where you plan to eat tons of street food, spend a few days at the foot of Mt. Everest, and go paragliding in Pokhara, you might consider purchasing it. But if you’re relatively fit, in your 30s and staying at an apartment you find on Airbnb, well, it might make less sense for you to purchase insurance.
Regardless of where you stand on the travel insurance debate, you might want review your policy to see what perks your credit card offers. Some of the typical travel perks might include airline miles and hotel discounts, but your card might offer additional rewards and protections that you don’t even know about — like travel insurance coverage.
Visa Signature cardholders receive accident insurance coverage when they use their card to pay for travel tickets. And any Visa Signature cardholder can utilize Travel and Emergency Assistance Services 24 hours a day at no additional charge. Meanwhile, Discover has a car rental insurance plan that provides $25,000 of secondary collision damage when cardholders rent a car using their card and decline coverage offered by the rental agency. And when Discover cardholders purchase airline tickets with their card, they’re also eligible for up to $500,000 in flight accident insurance.
These are just a few examples of the type of insurance coverage you might not even know you have by simply using or owning a credit card. Check your policy to see what coverage your card offers — read the fine print or call a customer service representative to explain your card’s benefits.
4. Using the wrong credit cards.
Like many other Americans, I don’t — or didn’t — take advantage of the rewards earned from using my credit card. A recent survey by J.D. Power found that about a third of credit card holders aren’t aware of the benefits associated with their card. That means a third of you out there could be losing out on valuable benefits like free miles, cash, and other rewards you get for simply swiping your credit card.
Understand your card’s benefits and rewards. Seriously. Don’t make the same mistake I did and not take advantage of your credit card’s perks, especially during the summer travel season. Most cards offer some type of benefit, like travel insurance coverage or fraud protection. At the same time, don’t just assume your card is giving you the best deal when it comes to summer travel perks.
Some credit cards offer better cash back rewards on gas if you plan to log a lot of miles this summer. The PenFed Platinum Cash Rewards Visa offers 5 percent cash back on gas, for instance. That’s a great deal considering other cards might offer 1-3 percent cash back on gas. Other cards waive foreign transaction fees — a great money saver if you plan to spend a few months backpacking around Europe.
5. Not reviewing your credit card statement.
Before going paperless, I received my credit card statements in the mail. I will confess that I didn’t always check it as vigilantly as I should have. Don’t make the same mistake — especially if you have just come from a big trip abroad.
If you used your card frequently while traveling, you’ve increased your risk of being compromised. You need to go through your statement line by line and notify your credit card company immediately if you don’t recognize any charges. While checking your credit card statement, review whether you spent more than your original budget (you set one, didn’t you?). Obviously you know that spending 60 euros for dinner in Paris isn’t going to cost you $60. But if you’re like most people, you make an educated guess about how much you’re actually charging (around $81, by the way) to your card, but you won’t know the full amount until you check your statement. Also, look at the foreign transaction fees you were charged. Seeing these fees in dollar amounts might help you come up with a better budget next time you travel.
With any luck, you’ll be able to avoid these summertime credit card mistakes and have a stress-free vacation.