Most issuers like to know your travel plans
Online notification tools now common
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Dear Cashing In,
Should I contact my credit card company to alert them that I will be traveling in Spain for two weeks? -- Chip
With the euro close to its lowest levels against the dollar in more than 10 years, this is a great time for Americans to travel to Europe.
Card issuers generally do recommend you let them know you will be traveling abroad. Right now, you're probably carrying with you all the tools you need to accomplish that task: your credit card and a phone. All you have to do is call the number on the back of your card and tell an agent where you are going and when.
Online notification tools have also become common. All but one of the biggest card issuers now invite consumers to go online and post their travel plans.
Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Discover and Wells Fargo all have online travel notification tools that ask you to post details of your trip. American Express is the exception. It says don't bother telling it your travel plans. "You don't need to contact us before you travel," the AmEx website says. "We recognize when you are traveling." Instead, the company says, the best bet is to make sure it has your current cellphone number and email address, and authorize the company to push notifications to you, so you can be alerted quickly if something goes wrong.
All the card issuers have robust and increasingly sophisticated fraud detection systems, and they want to detect whether it's you or some fraudster who's buying that trinket in Machu Picchu. Banks have made big strides in detecting fraud. Typically, the bank's computers look at your normal spending patterns, and if a charge looks amiss, it will decline the transaction or try to contact you to confirm it.
Remember to send notice of your travel plans for all of the cards you might use, even if they are from the same bank. I went to Mexico last month and planned to use a Chase card during the trip, so I called the number on the back of the card and told Chase of my travel plans. But during the trip, I left that card in the safe in my room and left with a second Chase card. I bought souvenirs on that card, but my attempt 30 minutes later to buy a bottle of rum at a liquor store was foiled when Chase declined the transaction. I had neglected to tell them I might use that second card. (As it turned out, I had enough cash for the rum -- crisis averted!)
Two other points related to this topic. First, remember that even if you alert your card companies you are traveling, it is still possible that your card will be declined for some transactions because of the differences between European and U.S. cards. Even if your card has a new EMV chip, you could still have occasional problems, especially at automated kiosks. The solution is to carry a couple different credit cards as well as a debit card for ATMs and sufficient cash.
Second, make sure that the credit cards you take do not charge transaction fees. Many reward cards have dropped foreign transaction fees, but check to make sure yours is one.
Chip, have a great trip!
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