One Money Saving Tip for International Travelers

November 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

If you haven’t traveled outside the country before, or if it’s been a few years, you’ll be happy to know it’s possible to avoid ATM fees for cash withdrawals or transaction fees while conducting business abroad.

A May 2016 article on Smarter Travel pointed out that most American credit card issuers have cards specifically for frequent international travelers. But don’t assume that you’ve got the right kind of card just because you have a company credit card.

Make sure your bank card isn't charging you to use their ATMs overseas

Make sure your bank card isn’t charging you to use their ATMs overseas.

American Express, Capital One, Chase, BankAmericard, MasterCard, and Barclay all offer programs that waive international transaction fees on certain types of cards. But if you use your standard issue card, here’s what percentage of fees NerdWallet says you should expect to pay.

  • American Express: 2.7%
  • Bank of America: 3%
  • Barclaycard: 3%
  • Capital One: 0% Read more

Travel Hacks: Book Hard-to-Get Flights With Travel Miles

May 28, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

What do you do when you can’t find a way to use the miles you want at the particular time you want it. Airlines often black out popular travel dates. Or someone else may have nipped in and gotten the only mileage seats associated with a particular flight.

A recent article on Yahoo Travel discusses an issue arising from airlines giving out more and more bonus miles: they aren’t necessarily increasing the number of airline seats sufficient to absorb all these bonus flights.

Business class seat in a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400

Business class seat in a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It can sometimes be difficult to use the very travel miles you’ve worked so hard to get, so here are some solutions Yahoo Travel offers:

  • Rather than booking online, call the airline. An agent may know some insider tricks to get you a seat.
  • Rather than use a free seat, use your miles to upgrade an economy seat to the business section. The article cites the example of buying a $300 ticket from New York to LA and then upgrading to business with your miles. You pay a fee, but end up with a $2,400 ticket. We encourage you to use these upgrades on very long or international flights, however. If you have a lot of miles, you’ll sometimes be automatically bumped up to a business class seat when traveling within the U.S.
  • Use award maps to see where you can spend the miles and be flexible about your destination.
  • Think about using alternate airports. If you can get a mileage ticket to near where you’re going, you can then rent a car or hop on a train to your final destination. Keep the convenience of getting to where you’re going in mind before you decide on doing this.
  • Have a mileage guru help you out. (For a fee, of course.)
  • Book your tickets far in advance or very quickly to avoid someone else getting your seat.

Have you found some travel hacks to using your travel miles? Share them with us or on our Facebook page.

What is Travel Hacking? How Can I Do It?

January 29, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The term “hacking” has evolved from its use as a term that means breaking into a computer, and now means any shortcut or method of improving a function. The term “life hack” has been around for a few years, and there are entire websites devoted to finding life’s little shortcuts.

Needless to say, “travel hacking” is now also a field of pursuit, and there are any number of travel hacks you can do to make trips cheaper, easier, longer, and more comfortable.

In an October 2014 article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune travel section, Colleen Kelly discusses the art of travel hacking, and how she dabbled with it to earn free airfare and hotel nights.

Credit cards Français : Cartes de crédit Itali...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this context, travel hacking is a way of being clever with credit cards in order to shave money off planned trips. Kelly researches trips well ahead of time, decides where to stay and how to travel, and then she and her husband apply for new credit cards that will allow them to travel more cheaply by reaping credit card rewards.

She advises that you apply for cards very purposefully because there are generally spending limits you need to meet in order to receive the benefits you’re seeking (for instance, you may need to spend at least $1,000 on each card to get your points). And you want to make sure those benefits apply to the trip you want to take.

For example, Kelly and her family of four were able to score hotel rooms in New York City for $40 a night with the help of International Hotel Group (IHG) Rewards Club cards.

You should be careful when applying for and canceling credit cards though, as this activity could negatively affect your credit score. You need some good credit to begin with, just to qualify for the credit card offers, but you could see a drop if you get, and cancel, too many cards in a short time.

Also be aware of the amount of work needed to reap the rewards. Be mindful of the time it takes to follow through with the tracking needed to make sure you hit the spending limit. It may just be cheaper and easier to pay the full price.

If you have serious travel goals and a less generous income, this type of hacking can be very much worth your while. But make sure you make an informed decision. Just because something is touted as a “hack” doesn’t mean it’s for everybody.

What are some of your travel hacks? Share them with us on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

  • Travelers may be in need of credit repair (lexingtonlaw.com)
  • Five Reasons Your Credit Card Was Declined (lexingtonlaw.com)

5 Tourist Scams to Avoid: Money Edition

October 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

For the last couple of blog posts, we’ve been discussing different travel scams and petty crimes found on a Lifehack.org infographic on common travel scams. In our last two posts, we’ve discussed pickpockets and con artists. Now let’s look at how people can take your money through general theft or even identity theft.

1. The Drop and Swap

This one happens when someone is returning your change. They will drop it, pick it up, but give you less than what you should be given. They might exchange the dropped money for coins or bills that are worth less. It’s important to know the currency in the places where you’re traveling. Know what each bill and coin is worth, how much you are giving, and how much you should get in return.

2. The Cashier on the Phone

Credit card

Credit card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a sneaky one. The cashier will act busy on their phone, but in reality, they are taking a picture of your credit card to get your card information, which they’ll use later.

3. Slow Counting

A cashier will count your money very slowly. While this may not seem like a big deal, they are doing this to see if you notice they are counting a bill twice. Count the money again yourself, once you’ve been given your change.

4. The Fake Takeout Menu

If a menu is slipped under your hotel door be warned! It may not be a real menu. You’ll call the restaurant to place an order, only to have your credit card number stolen, and no one will show up with your food either. So now you’re hungry, and significantly poorer.

5. The Fake Front Desk Call

If you ever get a call from the front desk saying there were problems with your credit card, always go down to sort out the problem. Scam artists have been known to call hotel rooms asking for credit card information, especially in the evening. Instead, they steal your credit card number and take your money. But if you go downstairs to deal with the problem, you can make sure you solve the right problem.

Have you ever been scammed on your travels? What happened? How did they do it? Leave a comment, or tell us on our Facebook page.

Bring This, Not That: Cash versus Credit Cards

November 26, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Before embarking on an international trip, there are a lot of things to consider, the largest of which is money. When traveling abroad, is it better to bring cash or credit cards? And if you do opt to bring cash, should you bring US dollars to exchange upon arrival, or should you change your currency before you even leave the US?

ATM

ATM (Photo credit: SmNsIMU)

When traveling internationally, I use debit and credit cards as my main form of currency as in most cases, it’s more cost-effective to use a debit or credit card to withdraw local currency upon arrival. This method will allow you to exchange your US dollars into local currency at the wholesale exchange rate, which is typically better than what a local currency exchange would offer. Additionally, most local banks and currency exchanges will add on a transaction fee, which will usually be around 2% of your total transaction. By using an ATM, the only fee you may get hit with is an ATM fee, which will be similar to what you’d pay at an out-of-network ATM in the United States.

However, I also exchange a small amount of money — enough to last a day or so — prior to leaving the United States. I recommend this to all international travelers, as in the event that you run into issues withdrawing money, you won’t find yourself stranded and penniless in a foreign country.

There is a slim chance that your bank may flag your transaction as suspicious, especially if you forgot to call to inform them of your travels prior to leaving! Also, many countries around the world now rely on chip and pin (or EMV) credit cards. While most retailers will still accept magnetic strip cards, this isn’t always the case.

Of course, there are circumstances where cash is the only way to go. Many people are surprised to learn that US debit cards are virtually useless in many countries. In some countries (such as Myanmar), ATMs are not connected to international networks. In other countries (like Japan) debit cards are much smaller, and the standard US card is not sized correctly for ATMs.

Final Verdict

Depending on your destination, your best bet is to use a credit card as your primary source of funds. However, no matter where you’re headed, it pays to do your research before you leave.

Keep Your Frequent Flier Miles from Expiring

July 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

If you travel a lot for work or pleasure, you likely have a frequent flier account with one or more airlines. But did you know that your frequent flier miles can expire, sometimes without warning? Depending on the airline’s policy, any period of inactivity on your frequent flier account can leave your hard-earned frequent flier account empty, usually when you need those miles the most.

However, there are a variety of things you can do to keep your frequent flier miles from expiring. In fact, you likely already do things that could help you earn and protect your frequent flier miles and you may not even know it.

 

The Senator

The Senator (Photo credit: kjd)

If you have an airline credit card, this is the easiest way to keep your frequent flier miles from expiring. Even if you maintain a zero balance on the card, purchasing the occasional tank of gas or bag of groceries will help keep your account active.

If you don’t have an airline credit card and aren’t interested in getting one, making a purchase through an airline’s online shopping portal is another easy option that will keep your frequent flier miles from expiring.

Airline shopping portals are accessed through the airline’s website, and they usually offer a long list of retailers that allow frequent flyer program members to earn miles for purchases. So if you’re signing up for Netflix, making a charitable donation, or about to purchase an album on iTunes, don’t do it without checking your frequent flier program’s shopping partners first, because these retailers may help you earn and protect your miles.

Another way to keep your frequent flier account active is to make other travel-related purchases through the account. For example, if you’re renting a car, staying in a hotel, or going on a cruise, many frequent flier programs offer partnerships with other travel-related companies that help you earn miles and sometimes even offer discounts. That’s a win-win for both your bank account and your frequent flier miles.

Believe it or not, major purchase decisions like refinancing your home, taking out a mortgage, or starting a retirement fund can also help you earn frequent flier miles. Many top lenders partner with airlines to offer lower interest rates and frequent flier miles as a reward for choosing to invest with them. If you have a major purchase or investment coming up, check your frequent flier program to see what opportunities exist with partnering lenders.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways you can keep your frequent flier miles from expiring. It’s a good idea to keep tabs on your account as you would with any other monthly bill. That way, you have a chance to use your miles before you lose them.