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Video: The Points Guy talks travel perks

Wondering how your credit card can smooth travel hassles and help you fly for free? CCG Editor at Large Erica Sandberg hung out with Brian Kelly, founder of ThePointsGuy.com, to find out how to maximize your card’s travel rewards during the holidays — and year round.

In the video, Kelly talks about his time as a road warrior, the upgrades he’s snagged and how rewards newbies can become seasoned travel hackers.

 

Credit Card Hiccups I Ran Into Traveling Abroad

I just got returned from a trip to Germany. As I wrote a couple months ago, my plans to get a prepaid card to take with me were thwarted — so I planned on using cash for everyday expenses and a card for the bigger stuff (and emergencies) if necessary. Germany is, for the most part, still a cash-based society, so my boyfriend (and traveling companion) and I were prepared to live nearly plastic-free for a week.

Overall, it was smooth sailing — and spending. We had plenty of money for beer while there and for chocolate to take home. We did, however, run into a few relatively tiny card-related snags:

Kiosks at train stations: Because we were spending nearly a week in Berlin, we opted for a seven-day transit pass, which gave us unlimited access to the city’s mass-transit system. Because we were trying to save our precious cash, I intended to buy our passes (26 euros each) with a credit card.

When I got to the underground station near our hostel, however, I found that the kiosk accepted only chip-and-PIN cards, the type of bank card used throughout Europe. It wanted nothing to do with my U.S.-issued magnetic-stripe card. The station was one of the underground system’s smaller ones, so there was no manned ticket booth. Plus, while I had enough cash on me, the kiosk accepted nothing above a 10 euro bill. I had nothing smaller than a 20 euro bill. So I walked the half mile back to the hostel and asked for change at the front desk.

I’m not the only traveler to run into this issue. Jesse Emspak wrote about a similar occurrence in Amsterdam for Discovery News. He learned, as I did, that the Visa and MasterCard logos on the side of a machine don’t always mean your Visa or MasterCard is welcome.

It’s not easy to use credit cards at hostels: We pre-paid our longest (six-night) hostel stay in Berlin. But we stayed in two other hostels for one night each. To conserve our cash, we decided to try using my credit card to pay for our accommodations. The first hostel, in a small town, did not take credit cards, which is common in smaller establishments, according to The New York Times’ Frugal Traveler blog. At the second hostel (where we stayed at the end of our trip), credit cards were welcome — in exchange for a 5 euro fee. We were low on cash by that point, so we surrendered the 5 euros.

Lack of ATMs: My bank partners with Deutsche Bank, meaning I get free ATM withdrawals from any of that bank’s ATMs. We carefully mapped out all of the bank’s locations in the cities we’d be visiting. After finding a Deutsche Bank ATM without a hitch in the center of the first small town we visited, we figured finding others in the two larger cities we’d be in would be no problem. My boyfriend suggested withdrawing extra money at that first ATM we found, but I was uncomfortable with carrying too much cash. That backfired.

We did not see a single Deutsche Bank ATM during the rest of the trip, until, ironically, we reached the airport to go home. Turns out, those Deutsche Bank locations we’d mapped out were bank locations — and not all banks have ATMs. We managed to find one with ATMs (after walking nearly a mile out of our way), only to get there after 5 p.m. The ATMs were locked inside the building.

With our vacation time limited, we decided hunting for free ATMs wasn’t the best use of our time. So we decided to flex our frugal muscles instead and rationed our remaining funds. In a real emergency, we could have pulled out money from one of the many ATMs owned by other banks. Those ATMs, however, would cost 1 percent of the amount withdrawn, a $5 out-of-network fee charged by my bank and a fee of 3 to 5 euros from the ATM itself. I found that cost a bit hard to justify.

During our last two days, we did run low on cash. Luckily, our hostel offered free breakfast and dinner — a welcome surprise that left the staff wondering why we were so excited about spaghetti. We ended our trip with 15 euros to spare.

Fortunately, none of these problems derailed our vacation. We were lucky we didn’t encounter any major, vacation-ruining problems, such as getting caught with no cash and having our cards stolen. If you’re planning on leaving the country with your card, check out this advice on traveling with plastic from around the blogosphere:

Money Under 30 warns about several inconveniences and risks the come with using cards overseas — from being charged extra to exceeding your credit limit.

20s Money points out some of the advantages of taking a card abroad.

Life then Finance lists some of the fees that come with swiping your card in foreign lands.

Nomadic Matt has some tips and tricks that will save you money (or even earn you money) while traveling, from playing with the exchange rate to hunting down free ATMs.

 

Prepaid Cards for Travel are Pricey, Hard to Come By

I’m taking a trip to Germany later this year, and that has me thinking: What’s the best way to spend money over there? Using my debit or credit card entails foreign transaction fees. And I don’t exactly fancy carrying around enough cash to finance the whole trip.

Last time I was in Germany (when I was younger and much, much less wise), I used my debit card to withdraw cash at ATMs whenever I ran out. When I got back home, an account statement full of nasty ATM fees awaited me. A logical solution for this trip, I figured, would be a prepaid card. Unlike cash, you have some recourse if it gets stolen — just report the theft to the card provider to shut down the card and thwart the thief (who would need a PIN to get the funds anyway). Plus, a prepaid card wouldn’t be tied to my bank account, helping me lessen my risk of identity fraud. Finally, the budgeting angle appealed to me. I’d have only the money on the card and no more — with, of course, the option to reload if absolutely necessary, for emergencies (or good German beer).

The prepaid options for Americans traveling abroad, however, aren’t exactly without costs and inconveniences. In fact, I’ve concluded they’re more trouble than they’re worth. Here are some of the options I looked into. If you make it all the way to the end of this blog, I’ll share the plan of action I decided on.

Prepaid cards for travelers

1. MasterCard Cash Passport

The good: At first blush, this card was a shoo-in, and it’s the first result if you run a search for “prepaid card for travelers.” You can load the card in foreign currency (including the euro),  meaning you lock in the exchange rate on the day you load the card. Because you’re doing all your spending in euros, you avoid foreign transaction fees.  Cash Passport also provides 24-hour global assistance, in case your card is lost or stolen.

Even better, there’s a chip-and-PIN version of the card, meaning it uses the security technology that’s becoming more common in European card readers. While you can usually still use a U.S. card with a magnetic stripe in Europe, you may have to explain it to the cashier. In my experience, cashiers have shaken their heads and handed my funny-looking card back to me, especially in off-the-beaten path locations.

There are no fees to load the card and no card purchase fees, either — only an ATM fee of €1.75. The issuers make money by offering a less favorable exchange rate — just as currency exchange places at the airports do.  If I were to load $500 onto the card, I’d get €351 euros. I’d get €389 if I picked up cash from my bank before leaving.

In other words, I’d be paying $38 for the privilege of the Cash Passport. Ultimately, I decided I’d be willing to pay the price, for the added security and for the convenience of not having to worry about foreign transaction fees.

However…

The bad: I can’t seem to get my hands on this card. Although you can order online via the U.K. site, the U.S. site instructs you to go to a participating bank or Travelex location. Problem is, the bank that issued the card (Suburban Bank) just discontinued it. And, although there’s a Travelex location near me, Travelex has temporarily discontinued the card as well. The rep I spoke with said they were hoping to offer it again by June — and I’m traveling in May, so that’s cutting it close.

2.  Visa Travel Money

The good: This card comes with some travel insurance protections, including lost luggage cover for up to $1,000 if your baggage gets stolen. It also provides 24-hour emergency services or everything from replacing the card, to making emergency travel arrangements, to finding a local doctor. You can reload the card via phone or online from anywhere. As an added perk, you get 90-day purchase protection, which covers you if the goods you bought get damaged or stolen.

You can get a card by ordering online or using the website to find a location that sells them. If you’re doing the latter, though, be sure to call ahead. While the website indicated that my local supermarket chain offers them, none of the five locations I called had them in stock. Three of those locations had never heard of the card.

The bad:  This card is fee-heavy. Fees vary slightly, depending on where you purchase the card, but, at worst, expect to pay about $5 to get the card, a $3 for foreign ATM withdrawals, a $6 monthly maintenance fee,  a 3 percent foreign transaction fee (because the card can be loaded only with U.S. currency) and re-loading fees (which vary, based on the amount loaded).

3. Other banks’ travel cards

I called up my banks to ask if they had prepaid cards that could be used abroad. One of them did. Reloading the card from abroad wouldn’t exactly be convenient however, as the only options are direct deposit or a visit to a branch (the bank doesn’t exist overseas). That means I’d have set up a direct deposit and schedule it for while I’m away — or predict exactly how much I need in advance and hope I don’t run out of funds.

The fees are pretty hefty, too and nearly identical to those on the Visa Travel Money card. I’d have pay to get the card, pay per month, pay for ATM withdrawals, pay for customer service calls and pay for each transaction.

My game plan
Disappointed about the prepaid card offers, I called a family member who lived in Germany last year, and asked for advice. She pointed out that, while most German merchants are getting increasingly better about accepting plastic, many shops, small restaurants and tourist attractions still take only cash. So why would I be willing to pay so much to get a prepaid card that may not even be useable?

I also had a chat with the bank that issued my debit card. If I use the ATMs at the German bank it partners with, I’ll be charged no fees. That bank has ATMs all over the cities I’m visiting. If I can’t find one, I’ll have to eat a $5 fee plus 1 percent of the withdrawn amount (and any fees assessed by the bank that owns the ATM).

Because my travel buddy and I have prepaid for our accommodations (our biggest expense), the only money we’ll need to carry is for meals and entertainment.

So our solution is a simple one: We will get enough cash in advance to cover the first half of our trip (which is 9 days long). Then, we will find an ATM (hopefully a free one) and make one withdrawal halfway through the trip. I’ll also store a credit card in the locker we’ll be renting at our hostel, in case of an emergency.

I’m hoping some of you globetrotters can chime in with advice. Have you had any luck with prepaid cards for travelers? Any other tips for spending abroad?

And now, whether you’re trying to save money while traveling or staying home, here’s some inspiration from our favorite personal finance blogs of the week:

Three Thrifty Guys list off nine common ways people waste their tax refunds.

Grayson from Debt Roundup shares the best money lesson his parents ever taught him.

Frugal Rules has some tips for handling your money while traveling abroad.

Cash Cow Couple breaks down the cost of their inexpensive but fun honeymoon.

Money Soldiers offers some advice about what to do if your partner is in debt.

Money Crush suggests 11 ways to save on transportation costs.

 

Traveling with Credit Cards can be Worry-Free

When traveling, many people can agree that credit cards can make it easier to travel both throughout the United States as well as internationally. While most of us do a great job protecting our cash and personal documents while on vacation one thing that is often overlooked is our plastic whether it is debit or credit cards. By neglecting these critical items, many cardholders find the time that was set aside for enjoyment and relaxation turn into one full of headache and worries.

 

So what are some ways to help keep your plastic safe? While many may seem effortless, in many cases it is just simply taking the time to do the little things that are often overlooked when one is in a hurry or is excited. Some tips include:
 

  • Notify issuer or bank before leaving
  • Give ways for issuer or bank to contact you
  • Use cash when able and diversify on your ways  to pay for purchases
  • Keep any and all receipts of products and services
  • Keep your bank and credit card contact information handy
     

As with most things, the proper precautions can help keep your travel plans as intended and can even make them better by being worry free. Of the tips listed above, one of the most important things that any cardholders can do is reach out to their financial institution. While many of us only contact our issuers when unwelcome changes have occurred to our credit card terms or when a charge needs to be disputed, those traveling should contact them before they leave out the door. Letting your issuer know when and where you will be on vacation could help prevent your issuer from freezing your account due to what could be taken as "suspicious activity". This will also help in any event of your card being lost or stolen while you are on vacation.

 

Discover Cardholders Have Fun for Less at Six Flags

Discover Credit Card PromotionAs millions of families hit the road this summer to take a little break from their everyday life, many are looking for ways to save money when they travel. While for some it may be by taking a shorter vacation or by taking one a little bit closer to home, for others it could be by simply using their credit card to make their purchase. To be exact it would need to be a Discover branded card as it was recently announced that they were chosen as the “official credit card” of the Six Flags Theme Parks.

 

As for what Discover cardholders will receive when they use their plastic to make purchases to and within the park, it could be well worth it. Benefits include the following and much more:
 

  • Four tickets for $99 (date restrictions apply)
  • Priority at entrance to any of the parks via a Discover-branded gate
  • Discounted meal packages within the parks
  • Ability to access to park after closing to general public (on select dates)
  • Ability to access parks before they open for the year (starting in 2011)
     

When it comes to getting cardholders attention as well as getting them to use their credit cards more, this year issuers have made major moves with many national companies. Already we have seem many partner with merchants (both brick and mortar and online) as well as travel companies among others. While some may be more beneficial to you than others, one thing that has been worthwhile about these partnerships is the fact that consumer have the ability to save more money on things that they were going to make purchases on originally.

 

Tips for Traveling with a Credit Card

Travel Credit CardsWith the summer quickly approaching and millions of people are gearing up to travel, there are literally hundreds of things that could be on a traveler’s mind. While it may not be the first thing packed, credit cards and other ways of making payments is obviously one of the most important. Even though many may believe that you don’t have to think ahead about carry a card, that is not the case and spending a little extra time coming up with a plan on when and where to use your plastic could payoff.

 

According to an article entitled "Tips for the Road: 5 Credit Card Must-Do for Travelers" there are a couple of things that cardholders must do to prepare for their time away from home. These tips make it easier than ever for travels who have trips close to home and even overseas to be prepare just in case any thing happens. They include the following:
 

  • Carrying cash in addition to your credit card
  • Limiting the amount of plastic you take
  • Staying alert at all times
  • Leaving your debit card behind
  • Always having an emergency plan
     

When it comes to traveling with your plastic, it is best to find out what benefits and features your card has just in case something unexpected happens. In many occasions you will find that the credit card you are carrying offer things from emergency assistance for travelers to hotel check in assistance. Some may even help cardholders pay for a hotel room even in the unfortunate case of their plastic being lost or stolen. If you can’t remember what all your card offers or are have trouble finding out, the easiest way is to contact your issuer before you leave.

 

Get Away with the Travelocity and American Express Sweepstakes

Travelocity American Express ContestWhat if you could win a trip to a dream location? Well for five lucky winners that will be a reality courtesy of Travelocity to celebrate the launch of the new Travelocity Rewards American Express(R) Card. All one must do is enter into a sweepstakes to have a chance of becoming one of those five.

 

When it comes to how easy it is to enter and where you could travel if you win, for many it is something that would be worth a try. To gain entries all one must do is completing a brief, online enrollment form found at www.travelocity.com/take5. As for the locations that 5 lucky winners will be selected around September 24, 2010; they can win a trip as well as a couple of extra benefits to the following:
 

  • Santiago, Chile
  • Auckland, New Zealand
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • Zurich, Switzerland
  • Orlando, Florida
     

Unlike many other sweepstakes or contest offered by other credit card issuers this one is very different in a major way. With this Travelocity sweepstakes those entering do not have to be a Travelocity or Barclays cardholder in order to win the trips. There are no purchases necessary, and making purchases with your plastic are not supposed to increase your odds for winning.

 
 
     


 
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