7 Reasons to Never Travel without a Credit Card

By Joel Fineman, Staff WriterSept. 13, 2012
By Joel Fineman, Staff WriterSept. 13, 2012, at 1:17 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

7 Reasons to Never Travel without a Credit Card

Accumulating debt at a record pace, Americans rarely see credit card companies as the "good guys." Every month, the banks that partner with credit card companies issue billing statements that threaten customers with exorbitant fees if payment is not delivered on time. It's a harsh, inevitable cycle; therefore, your suspicion of their "good will" is well-justified. However, credit card companies can be your biggest allies when you are traveling domestically and internationally.

Visa, MasterCard, and American Express (the "Big Three") offer a host of benefits that cardholders frequently do not take advantage of. Blame ignorance or insufficient publicity for missed opportunities, but start using them now. After all, you are paying for these services whether or not you utilize them. U.S. News Travel reached out to all three companies and determined the best travel benefits for cardholders. After reading this article, you'll never hit the road without your beloved plastic.

Assistance is only a phone call away for cardholders. The Big Three offer round-the-clock worldwide concierge services that make your travels easier. Should you need to book a hotel, purchase a last-minute ticket, or make restaurant reservations, just dial the credit card company's hotline. You'll usually find this number on the back of your card. The types of services offered vary depending on the company and the specific card. Premium plastic, like Visa's Signature card, MasterCard's World Elite card, and American Express's Platinum Card, boast additional concierge features. For instance, the Amex Platinum Card's concierge service provides exclusive access to ticket presales for marquis events.

AAA members aren't the only people who have access to immediate roadside assistance. If your trusty jalopy gives out on you, you're in luck if you've got a credit card handy. Call the telephone number on the back of your card, and a customer service agent will arrange towing, tire change, jump-starts, or even gas delivery. The fee structure for such assistance depends on several factors, including the type of card you have and location where service is needed.

What's the best type of insurance? The type you don't pay for. Credit card companies automatically insure a whole host of travel incidents if you use their cards to pay for your expenses. For instance, MasterCard reimburses cardholders for property stolen from their hotel room—that is, if they booked their stay with MasterCard. Other mishaps that companies cover include lost baggage, trip cancellation, and even rental-car collisions. Do some digging into your credit card company's policy for specifics. Check out the policies of the Big Three via the links at the bottom of this page.

The Big Three maintain a credo of "zero liability" when it comes to the charges on your card. What exactly does that mean? In short, you're not responsible for items and services (which appear on your billing statement) that you did not purchase. Credit card companies will go to bat for you, removing the amount and confronting the vendor about the fraudulent charges. This policy especially comes in handy if you have the unfortunate (yet common) pickpocketing experience on your travels.

While they prefer you pay for expenses with their cards, credit card companies understand that cash is king in many parts of the world. That's why many companies offer cash-withdrawal programs. Should you run low on dough or have your debit card eaten by a machine, you can call upon this feature to obtain hard cash from ATMs around the world. The funds are pulled directly from your bank or your credit card account. Fees do apply for this capability, but in a crunch, this feature is worth the money.

Buying souvenirs with your credit card can automatically insure these memory-laden keepsakes. Say you find the perfect snow globe of Paris. You rush to the cash register and swipe your plastic. A few days later, while walking along the Seine, the snow globe tumbles out of your backpack and shatters in front of you. All you have to do is report the incident to the credit card company, and they'll reimburse you the cost of your broken memento. MasterCard and American Express offer coverage for most items purchased with their cards for up to 90 days. Visa Signature cardholders also have this benefit.

This money-saving feature is exclusive to MasterCard, but it's certainly worth mentioning. Called "Price Protection," this policy states that if you discover a reduced price for a previously purchased item within 60 days of the initial charge, you can ask MasterCard to reimburse you the cost difference. For example, if you bought a shirt at Macy's two weeks ago and went back to the store today only to find the item on sale, you could submit a claim to MasterCard and retrieve the discounted amount. Just think about how much money you could save on expenses that fluctuate in price. Plus, you can take advantage of this program at home and on the road.

For more detailed information about your credit card company's travel policy, check out their websites:

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