Use credit cards with care while traveling

By Claudia Buck

The Sacramento Bee (MCT)

Published: Monday, May 12 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

This Sept. 5, 2007, file photo shows credit card decals on a store window in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.

Nick Ut, File, Associated Press

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It’s May: The school year is winding down; summer travel plans are revving up. Whether it’s a road trip on the nation’s freeways or a jet flight across the world, chances are you’ll be using a credit card on those travels.

Before you depart, here’s a roundup of some good-to-know credit card travel tips.

CALL BEFORE YOU GO: Especially if you’re traveling overseas, it’s always wise to alert your credit card company. Otherwise, if you leave Lodi and start charging purchases in Canada, your credit card company will likely flag those transactions as suspicious. They might try contacting you by phone to verify the transactions. Or they could simply freeze your card, playing havoc with travel plans.

To avoid those scenarios, pick up the phone and call your issuer, using the number on the back of your card. Many card issuers let you do the same thing online. Log onto your account and look for “travel notification” or a similar tab, where you can fill in the dates and countries where you’ll be traveling.

“We strongly encourage our customers to contact us when traveling, whether they’re in the middle of a trip or about to leave,” JPMorgan Chase spokesman Rob Tacey said in an email.

In some cases, he said, the company notifies its frequent travelers that it’s not necessary to notify the company in advance, because it’s already aware their card is often used far from home. But generally, it can’t hurt to call your credit card issuer and alert it of impending trips.

KNOW THE NUMBERS: Keep a copy of your card’s toll-free customer service numbers with you, separate from your wallet, in case you need to report a loss or theft. Bury one in your luggage; send a copy to a friend or family member, just in case it’s needed.

Also, many travel experts recommend carrying two credit cards, keeping one as your backup in case your main card is lost or stolen.

GET YOUR FREEBIES: Many consumers aren’t aware of little-known benefits that come free with their credit cards, said Ed Perkins, a longtime SmarterTravel.com writer, based in Ashland, Ore. Depending on the card and the issuing bank, the perks can range from free referrals if you need a lawyer or doctor in a foreign country (the referral is free, not the professional services) to hotel room upgrades.

Among the best freebies: Coverage for lost or damaged checked baggage, up to $500 beyond what you might receive from the airline. Most U.S. airlines will cover up to $3,400 in cases of lost baggage, said Perkins, but certain items are excluded, including cash, family heirlooms or expensive technology, such as computers.

“If you packed an expensive camera in your checked baggage, some cards will cover up to $250 per lost item. … It’s not a lot, but it can make a difference,” Perkins said.

The biggest benefit, said Perkins: Coverage for damage to a rental car. If the damage occurs in the U.S., the credit-card reimbursement is generally secondary coverage that kicks in after you first file a claim with your insurer. If it’s an overseas rental car, which usually isn’t covered by U.S. insurance, the credit card coverage may be your only option to recoup the cost of damages.

“It’s one really big-dollar benefit. It can amount to hundreds of dollars,” he noted.

Some card issuers also offer small amounts of compensation for delayed flights.

In all cases, to find out what your card covers, read the fine print in your service agreement or look it up online.