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Credit card declined while traveling? How to avoid it, what to do if it happens

Your dream vacation can take a bad turn if the credit card you packed is turned down – even if you haven’t maxed it out. Don’t panic! We’re here to help

Summary

A credit card can get declined for many reasons beyond lack of available credit – and if you happen to be traveling when it happens, it can throw a wrench into your vacation plans. These tips will help ensure a card rejection-free trip.

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They’re the two words that strike fear in the hearts of any vacationer or road warrior: card declined.

Especially if you’re standing in the lobby of that luxury hotel with your family, four suitcases and a diaper bag. But that rejection doesn’t mean you’ve reached your credit limit, either. A host of factors can go wrong that have nothing to do with your spotless credit or your credit line.

Here are four things you need to know if you want working credit cards for your next trip.

See related: Headed abroad? Which U.S. issuers offer chip-and-PIN cards

1. You can limit false fraud alerts

You always use your card in Iowa City. Suddenly, someone is using it to check in to a hotel room in Miami. There’s a good chance that card could be declined.

The reason: Because the charge differs significantly from your normal card routine, your card issuer is afraid that someone else is using the card.

What to do: Pick up the phone and dial the toll-free number on the back of your card. You’ll be asked to provide some details to prove you’re who you say you are, and the issuer should be able to let the charges proceed.

If it’s late or the hold time is interminable, it can also help to have a second card.

With some issuers, it’s not necessary to alert them of your travel plans. “Many issuers don’t even ask you to let them know when you’re traveling anymore,” says Gary Leff, travel writer and founder of View from the Wing. “Especially if you’re buying airline tickets on your card.”

But with some issuers, that advance warning is crucial – and it can prevent you from getting locked out of your card.

And giving your card issuer advanced warning can be a very good idea if you’re traveling internationally, says Leff.

Chances are there are multiple ways to do it: call, text or use their app before you leave. Let them know where you’ll be and when, so that they can note your account. (Depending on your issuer, it could be as simple as going to their app or sending a text.) And, for most issuers, that’s enough to prevent triggering those pesky fraud alerts.

While you’re at it, look for cards that make travel easier, with features like no foreign transaction fees and perks like lost and delayed baggage coverage “to be sure you have them if you need them,” says Ashley Dodd, spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase & Co. And, especially with international travel, carry cards that are widely accepted in the areas where you’ll be.

See related: Best no foreign transaction fee credit cards

2. You could be over your limit (even if you’re not)

Little known fact: When you use a credit card at some hotels, restaurants and gas stations, you can get charged for more than you buy.

Some merchants will put a temporary hold (like a charge), on your card. This protects them if you raid the mini bar or pump more gas than you said you would or want to be a generous tipper. Holds can disappear instantaneously or they can last for days.

And after a week of traveling – with multiple hotels, restaurants and gas station visits – those holds can really add up. So, even though you know you’ve spent far less than your credit line, those multiple holds can use up all your available credit.

Or you could truly have charged up the card and exceeded your limit. Because sometimes it’s tough to keep track when you’re on the road.

What to do: Again, call the card company. Explain the situation and see if they can extend your credit line.

It can also be a smart move before a trip: A preemptive call to your card issuer asking for a temporary (just for the length of the trip), increase in your credit line. And find out if they’ll have to pull your credit history or do a hard inquiry. If so, that can affect your credit score for up to a year. So it might not be worth it.

Short of a credit line increase, this is yet another argument for carrying a backup card or two when you travel. You just never know.

See related: How far can I go over my credit limit before my card gets declined?

3. Your account could be ‘under review’

This one’s a little more complicated. And, other than time, there’s no real fix.

Sometimes credit card issuers flag an account for review, says Leff. They may fear you’ve had a change in circumstances. They might see you’re charging a lot more on the card. Or notice that you’re spending close to your limit – or over it but making multiple payments each month. Or they may suspect you’re doing something shady.

Basically, “there’s activity that may make you look like a credit risk,” he says.

In any event, they can suspend your card or freeze the credit line at the amount you’ve used. And, until the investigation is complete, there’s not a lot you can do. Until the situation is resolved, that card will be about as useful as a coaster.

Before you leave home, log into your online card accounts. If the card issuer is currently reviewing your account, you’ll have a notification. That way, you know to pack a different card. (And make sure that one is from another issuer.)

Since card issuers don’t give an advance notice with this kind of action, the card you packed two days ago could suddenly be no good to you now, says Leff. “You’re not going to know in advance. It happens when it happens.”

What to do: When you travel, take several cards issued through different banks. That way, if you have a problem with one, you have others you can use.

4. A little travel prep can save your trip

Just like packing a suitcase and booking a ticket, smart card use during a trip can require a little advanced preparation. A few strategic moves:

  • Take your phone – along with the contact information to reach your card issuers. (It’s on the back of the card but stash it somewhere else too – in case the card is lost or stolen.) And if you’re going overseas, make sure the numbers – and your phone – will work there.
  • Call card issuers in a few days in advance of your trip, says Sarah Silbert, senior editor for ThePointsGuy. That gives them time to update your file in their computer.

Even if you still get flagged, they’ll have your itinerary on file. And that should make it easier to untangle.

  • Have what you need to ID yourself with your card company. That could be your Social Security number, password or the memory of a few recent transactions.
  • Make sure your cards are a good fit with the local technology. One example: In Europe, chip-and-pin cards rule the day. (And that’s especially important if you want to use ticket kiosks and avoid long lines.) So, just make sure the cards you’re carrying are compatible with local card technology where you’re going, says Silbert.

Like anything else, it pays to cover your bases, says Silbert. “Preparing for the possibility this could happen is your best bet.”

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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