Throughout my full-time travel career since 2007, credit cards have been my No. 1 travel tool. But the reasons for this aren’t what you might think.
When considering travel and credit cards in the same sentence, most people think of accumulating frequent flyer miles, which help you travel more and in style. I’m totally on that bandwagon. Most of my long-haul flights are in business class for less than the cost of economy.
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But, I also discovered so many other advantages to traveling with credit cards that now, I don’t leave home without a few in my wallet. Let’s look at these valuable credit card perks.
0% Foreign Transaction Fees
This is really important. There is no other way to avoid currency exchange fees when traveling. You pay them at the ATM, with your debit card, exchanging cash, with pre-paid travel cards and even getting foreign currency from the bank before you go. No matter how you travel with money, you’re getting slapped with hidden currency exchange fees (officially called foreign transaction fees) — usually 2 to 4 percent over and above the basic exchange rate. To put that in perspective, if I paid foreign transaction fees, after a year of traveling, I would have lost out on enough money to pay for a long-haul flight.
But, if you have a credit card featuring no foreign transaction fees, you’re saving money. For every $1,000 you spend abroad, that’s $30 kept in your pocket.
Did you know you might already have travel insurance by charging your trip to your credit card? These forms of insurance often include trip cancellation, flight delay, and baggage delay, loss or theft insurance.
Even more valuable is the car rental insurance, which might allow you to decline the pricey insurance offered at the rental counter, which can double your rental cost.
While I still recommend travel insurance (for medical emergencies, which are rarely covered through credit cards), you can save money on premiums for these extra services. I highly recommend learning about the travel insurance you already have with your credit card.
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Has your credit card ever been declined at the counter because it was flagged for potentially fraudulent activity? Even if you advise the credit card company of your travel plans before you go, this can happen. Though it might be annoying at the time, I’m grateful for it.
Twice, my credit card has been compromised, and the credit card company knew about it before I did. I wasn’t liable for the fraudulent charges, and they sent me a new credit card right away, wherever I was in the world.
If your cash is stolen, or if your debit card is compromised, there is no recourse. Traveling with credit cards protects my money and my identity. It’s important to know how to protect your finances, data and identity while traveling.
Record of Expenses
The former financial planner in me lives on, in my rapt attention to tracking expenses. Not only is it integral to publishing my annual full-time travel expense and income reports, but tracking expenses is essential for creating and maintaining a budget.
When I charge everything to my credit card while traveling, I have full records of my spending.
Lounge Access (and Other Perks)
Depending on the credit card, you might have access to some nifty perks, like airport lounge access, travel concierge services, free travel credits and more. These credit cards often have high annual fees, but if you travel frequently and do the math, the card might pay for itself.
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Bonus: Cash-Free Life
While not always possible, I avoid using cash completely when I travel; not only for all the above reasons but also because if I have leftover foreign currency when I leave (especially small denominations and coins), I usually can’t exchange it. This forces me to spend money that I wouldn’t normally spend, just so I don’t have currency left over. What a waste!
Credit cards have transformed the way I travel. After 12 years abroad, I’ve saved thousands on currency fees, insurance and fraud protection, and gained so many other benefits, like free business class flights and lounge access. So, what are you waiting for?
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