As holiday travel season approaches, we have come to expect long lines, overpriced airline tickets, traffic jams and expensive hotel stays. It doesn’t have to be that way. Your credit cards often can help you cut the expense and reduce the holiday hassle during some of the busiest travel days of the year.
Here are seven ways your cards can help you save and avoid headaches on your next trip:
1. Redeem travel perks to save on flights.
Go through all the credit cards in your wallet and double-check the points you have available on them. You may have enough miles or other rewards to help offset – or even pay – for the bulk of your holiday travel.
While tallying your points, check your card perks. You may have priority boarding, waived luggage fees and access to VIP airport lounges – all of which can make your next trip a bit easier.
If you’re not sure what benefits and perks are included with your card, check your card’s website or call your card issuer.
If you are lacking in the travel points department, it may be a good time to sign up for a new credit card. A CreditCards.com study in October found six credit cards offering sign-up bonuses worth more than $1,000. That might cover your flights, hotel and maybe your rental car – or at least a few meals.
2. Check your card’s travel insurance.
Many credit cards include travel insurance, covering rental cars, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.
But before you think you can cancel a trip because you’ve decided to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert instead, read the fine print on coverage details. Your card likely covers cancellation only in the event of illness or injury.
Speaking of illness or injury, if you’re traveling abroad, you might want to purchase additional insurance, specifically emergency medical coverage. If your card doesn’t offer this, consider buying some to avoid whopping hospital bills overseas.
3. Avoid foreign transaction fees.
Traveling outside the U.S. this holiday season? Don’t get hit with foreign transaction fees, which can add 3 to 5 percent for each purchase.
Several credit cards no longer charge foreign transaction fees. Why should you be penalized in your wallet for taking a trip to see the relatives in your home country?
4. Let your card company know you are traveling.
Picture this: You are staying at a posh resort and just ordered a steak dinner. The bill comes and you whip out your card. It’s denied. Now what?
Chances are your credit card company suspected fraud and put the brakes on your plastic. To avoid having your card denied like this when you’re traveling, give your card company a heads-up before you hit the road or take to the air.
Bonus tip: Bring extra credit cards in your wallet as a backup. In case one card is shut down after suspicious activity – or even lost – you’ll have a spare.
5. Change bill due dates to give yourself breathing room.
If that upcoming trip to Grandma’s is costing major dough, start saving wherever you can and check with your card issuer to see if you can push back that due date on your next bill.
An extra week or two may give you the breathing room needed to stock up for that next big payment.
Sometimes simply managing your credit accounts better can pay off in savings.
Bonus tip: Cut back on any unnecessary expenses now so you can pay off your card balance every month. You don’t want to be paying for that trip home for the holidays – with interest – come springtime.
6. Be on alert for card fraud – especially around the holidays.
When we’re dashing to and fro at airports and malls, be on the lookout for thieves. The giving season is also the greedy season for fraudsters. So, while traveling, be more vigilant of suspicious behavior and charges on your credit cards.
Check your account frequently, and call your card issuer if you spot possible fraud.
After all, you don’t want a crook getting any more than a lump of coal.