How credit cards saved my vacation

7 travelers' true tales of how their cards came to their rescue


 How credit cards saved my vacation
 How credit cards saved my vacation

As intrepid travelers know well, few trips go perfectly as planned. Expensive emergencies often erupt, and when they do, having the correct credit card or using it creatively can  halt hazards.

For the following seven people who were on the road near and far, funds available on their cards came to their rescue. Some were able to create or continue a hard-earned vacation, while others escaped life-threatening situations. Inspiring? Definitely. But, as the experts also say, you must understand how your account can cover you in a crisis -- which is best done before departure.

Financed a French connection. San Francisco real estate agent Jed Lane and his wife were eager to launch a month long trip to Paris. However, the beginning of their voyage was anything but bon. Lane booked a ride to the airport using an upstart shuttle service, which added one extra pick up. "The driver didn't know the city, it was raining cats and dogs and traffic was bad. Suffice to say I almost threw her out and took the wheel." By the time they arrived, the domino effect of missed connections had taken place. They missed both the flight to New York and to Paris.

What Lane did have: his American Express account. "I whipped it out and purchased new tickets." The couple made it to the City of Lights on schedule and -- eventually and with much effort -- persuaded the shuttle company to reimburse the full price of the extra flights. 

Prevailed with plastic post-Peruvian ATM problem. "It was my first night ever in Peru, and it was my first vacation in years," recalls Jeffrey Lehmann, adventure professional and host of Weekend Explorer TV series. "I had arrived at 11 p.m. on a Friday, and I found an ATM in Miraflores, a popular tourist area of Lima. I got $100 out, but the ATM kept my card. I had a tight schedule and had to leave the next morning. The bank didn't open again until Monday." This trip could have taken a wrong turn, but Lehmann says that he turned to his credit card, which allowed him to both charge expenses and extract necessary cash.

"Ever since my Peru trip, I've always brought my bank card and two different credit cards when I travel and keep them in separate places in case one is stolen," says Lehmann. "I did end up getting my bank card back right before I flew back home. The bank was very apologetic, but my credit card saved the day."

Ever since my Peru trip, I've always brought my bank card and two different credit cards when I travel and keep them in separate places in case one is stolen.

-- Jeffrey Lehmann
"Weekend Explorer" host

Afforded a lifetime of lakeside memories. When Shannon McGurk, co-founder of networking website Authentic Masculinity, was raising 10 of his now 11 kids, he was broke but his clan needed a break. They turned to credit cards, splurging on a bucolic vacation by a lake complete with pontoon and speed boat rentals. "We may have overpaid, but that decision was one of the best family decisions I ever made," says McGurk.

They've long since deleted the balance, and, he says, "My wife and children talk about that vacation to this very day. We really needed to laugh and feel normal, and the credit card made that possible. I was terrified of debt, but I demonstrated by that action that I loved my wife and children more than I feared the debt."

Spirited to safety from dicey Bogota airport. Peter Shankman, New York-based author of "Zombie Loyalists" and public relations guru, is always on the move. As such, he requires a particularly expansive credit line to match his global lifestyle. After all, last-minute trips to Tokyo aren't cheap.

But averting peril is even more important, and "There has been more than one time I've been in a foreign city and was saved by my card," says Shankman. "Once I flew into Bogota, Colombia. I arrived very late and a car was supposed to meet me. No one was there. I couldn't hail a cab; that's far too dangerous in that part of the world." Instead, Shankman turned to his credit card company for help. "I called American Express and they immediately sent me a private driver." The SOS worked. Shankman arrived at his hotel unharmed. 

Charged creatively in Asia. "On my first trip to China, I had some problems with my debit card, and was unable to pull out money for my entire stay," says Caroline Lupini, aka the Point Princess, a world traveler living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "Usually it works flawlessly, so I don't carry much in terms of US dollars." This time, though, there was a three-day business hold on her accounts due to the Memorial Day weekend. She had a grand total of $27 for the long weekend. Later that night, Lupini met a few people traveling from Israel and hatched a savvy plan. They went to a sporting goods store and a Starbucks, where she charged their items and they gave her the cash.

After leaving Beijing, she headed to Cambodia. "I realized once I got there that I didn't have the $20 necessary to get my visa, but a nice person lent it to me. I was finally able to get a cash advance on my credit card the following day and return the $20 loan."

Stayed in Spain by swapping cards. When California resident and health researcher Yvette Cuca and her fiance were vacationing in Spain, he left behind his wallet -- and the credit card they intended to use throughout the trip -- in a taxi. They immediately called the cab company, which reported great news. The driver found the wallet and would stop by later to drop it off! "We waited around for a long time, but no cabdriver," says Cuca. When he failed to show the following day, they realized he had no intention of ever returning it. "He was likely just stalling so that we wouldn't cancel the card and that would give him time to use it," said Cuca. Thankfully, her card covered the rest of the trip's cost.

Today, she's credit wise. "Partly as a result of this, and partly because we have a friend who was briefly kidnapped in Argentina and beaten up and taken to the ATM to get lots of money, for our trip to Colombia we got brand-new credit cards and ATM cards that both have fairly low limits," says Cuca. "If something happens to us or someone gets their hands on our cards, we won't lose nearly as much as we would with our regular cards, which have much higher limits."

Thwarted Eastern European credit card thugs. "I was traveling in France and my debit card was randomly declined," says James Feess, who started The SavvyBackpacker, a guide to budget traveling. "I called the bank and learned that someone gained access to my card number and was trying to buy things from somewhere in Eastern Europe." Without his credit cards, he'd have been out of luck. "You can't just stroll into a bank to get money in most of Europe," says Feess. "It would have taken a week or two to get a new debit card mailed to me, so having access to my credit cards allowed me to buy food and pay for my lodging. Furthermore, I was traveling from city to city on a whim, so I would have had to put my entire trip on hold until I could find a way to buy a train ticket."

"I learned an important lesson that day," says Feess. "Use your credit card to pay for everyday things because if it gets stolen or skimmed you can cancel it." Fraudulent charges are usually refunded swiftly on a credit card, but there can be a longer delay and a potentially wiped out checking account when a debit card is stolen.

None of these tales of gratitude surprise Jane Di Leo. As spokeswoman for American Express, she hears them frequently. "When you're traveling, having the right card with the right benefits is essential because you never know what will happen," she says. "Have an understanding about what your card provides. What are its travel protections? They can vary by card. For example, know if it covers lost luggage and delayed flights; what the services are in case of emergency. Your credit card should have your back," says Di Leo.

Before hitting the road, download your credit card company's mobile app, too, advises Di Leo: "You can check your balance and payment due dates so you always have the most current information." Most have them, and they're the ideal tool for when you're away from home base -- and take up no space in your luggage.  

See related: How to sign up for bank alerts on your cellphone, True tales of identity theft, Preparing your cards for overseas travel

Published: July 23, 2015

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