7 benefits of using a credit card when traveling

Globetrotting with plastic lets you tap into more perks than you may realize.

Next time you hit the road—whether for a weekend getaway or the trip of a lifetime—stash the cash and pull out the plastic. Credit cards offer an array of benefits that can supercharge your purchasing power and help protect your money during your precious time away.

The first thing you should do if you’re planning to use your credit card for a vacation is read the fine print about rewards, benefits, security features and fees. You can’t start taking advantage of your card's perks if you don’t know exactly what they are. Then consider the following strategies.

Check your insurance benefits

Acclimate yourself to using plastic before you even depart. Booking flights, hotels and car rentals with a credit card that offers travel-related benefits could give you access to perks like lost luggage reimbursement, rental car insurance or travel delay reimbursement, says David Smitherman, retail products and payments product manager at Regions Bank. And once you’re out and about, putting souvenirs on the card may offer purchase protection—a recourse if your purchases are lost, damaged or stolen.

Protect yourself from fraud

Credit cards typically cover unauthorized charges you didn’t make, offering peace of mind while you’re off having fun. But dealing with that is a hassle, especially during a trip. Fortunately, cards with secure chip technology make fraud more difficult.

Before you set off, let your bank and credit card provider know where you’re headed, so your card is less likely to be flagged for “suspicious” activity.

Tracking expenses

Whether you’re trying to stick to a budget or want a record of what you spent on your trip, credit cards make it easy to track your spending as it happens. If you use one credit card for the entire trip, you’ll be able to see all your expenses—and the grand total—for the trip in one place.

Get favorable exchange rates

Traveling internationally? Credit cards generally offer more favorable exchange rates than you’ll get by changing money locally, and ATMs may tack on additional fees to your withdrawals. Just be sure you’re using a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, which can add up quickly.

If a merchant gives you the choice of paying in U.S. dollars or local currency, opt for the latter: You typically get a better exchange rate when your bank does the conversion.

Check the entertainment perks

Some credit cards include concierge services that can help you secure a table at a restaurant or purchase in-demand tickets to concerts or sporting events. Some even help make your travel reservations. “They have all of the research at their fingertips to help guide you toward what you are looking for,” Smitherman says.

Upgrade your travel experience

Snaking security lines, boarding gate free-for-alls, masses of people: A hectic airport experience can be a sour start to your journey. But some credit cards offer benefits that smooth the process.

They might include lost luggage locator services or emergency translation services. Some cards will help you through your airline’s lost ticket reimbursement process if you need help. Check the fine print on your card to see what services are available for your cards.

Earn rewards (and use them!)

Travel credit cards create a virtuous circle: Paying with plastic for anything and everything on a trip lets you accrue reward points that can help fund the next adventure.

“If you use the card on one trip, you’re going to lay down the foundation for your next trip,” Smitherman says. And when it comes to redemption, flexibility is key: A card that lets you transfer hard-earned points to a range of airline and hotel partners means you’ll have more options when booking that trip of a lifetime.

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