Buckle Up Your Credit Card: Don’t Get Declined While Traveling!

Most people agree that it’s safer to travel with a credit card. If you lose it, all you have to do is call the credit card issuer and cancel the card, but if you lose cash, it’s gone for good. However, for all the benefits a credit card brings while traveling, it can also create problems if you don’t plan ahead. Aside from the benefits of using a credit card instead of cash, users also have the bank or company that issued their credit card watching out for them. While this is certainly a good thing, it can cause problems if you accidentally trigger a fraud alert. Most companies place a fraud alert on any credit card account with unusual activity. So what constitutes “unusual activity” and how can you avoid problems while traveling? Read on.

Unusual Activity

One of the red flags to a credit card company that your card (or even just your account number and information) may have been stolen is if it is used in an area far away from your hometown. Credit card companies track your spending habits, and it’s natural that most of your charges will be near the place you live. If a charge suddenly appears in a location on the other side of the country (or in another country altogether), they will place a fraud alert on your card. That alert will cause your card to be declined whenever you attempt to use it until you call in and have the alert lifted.

Credit card companies also consider other charges to be unusual activity. For example, if you buy something small and then something large a few minutes later, you could trigger a fraud alert because it’s not uncommon for thieves to try out a card by making a small purchase first before they go on to a large purchase. Making several purchases (of any size) quickly could also shut down your card. If you have any questions about what your credit card company considers to be “unusual activity,” call them to find out before you leave town.

4 Steps to Avoid Credit Card Trouble When Traveling

It is usually fairly easy to call in and get the fraud alert removed by proving your identity, but it’s much simpler if you take steps to avoid having your card declined in the first place. Here are a few steps you should take to avoid problems with your credit card while you travel.

1. Before you leave on your trip, contact your credit card company and tell them where you are going

This will prevent your card from being flagged for purchases made away from your hometown. If you are traveling out of the country, this first step is especially important. Of course telling your credit card company about your travel plans does not always prevent problems, but it is still an important thing to do.

2. Take more than one credit card with you on your travels

Because informing your credit card companies does not always prevent card problems while you travel, it is essential that you bring at least one or two backup credit cards.

3. Make sure your card is accepted by international merchants

If you’re traveling out of the country, and especially if you’re going to Europe, you might run into issues with some merchants that can’t process standard U.S. credit cards. This is because in some countries, the standard for credit cards is now a Chip and PIN system, which uses EMV (Europay, Mastercard, and Visa) technology. These microchips are different than the chips used in some American credit cards, which allow users to simply wave their credit card at a scanner rather than swiping it. Cards that are EMV-equipped are more secure than older credit cards that have a magnetic strip. Consumers who are traveling out of the country may benefit from looking into GlobeTrek Visa® Rewards Card, a credit card from Andrews Federal Credit Union that’s Chip and Pin enabled. Travelex also just recently started offering the Cash Passport (*note: as of the writing of the post, they are not accepting new accounts at the moment). You can load it up and use it like a credit card so that you don’t have to carry cash. Currently there are few banks in the U.S. that offer Chip and PIN cards, and those that do only offer them to premium customers. The Travelex Cash Passport makes it easy for Americans to have access to credit cards which use Chip and PIN technology.

4. Take advantage of any travel perks that come with your credit card

Some offer concierge service or bag replacement in the event that your luggage is lost. Others offer customer service to assist you with medical assistance or airline and hotel reservations. Call before you leave to learn more about the perks offered by your travel rewards card.

Just Do It

Credit cards are certainly the easiest way to keep your money safe while traveling, but it’s important to take steps to ensure that you’ll be able to use your card without triggering a fraud alert accidentally. No one likes to have their credit card declined when they’re trying to pay for something. Aside from being embarrassing, it also creates a major headache for you. Just skip the headaches and prepare your credit cards ahead of time so that your trip will go more smoothly.


Darryl Van Dyke has over 20 years experience in the finance industry. He is currently the senior editor & contributor at CardSight.com.