Published in: Credit Cards | Jan. 24, 2019

The 1 Thing You Must Do if You’re Traveling With a Credit Card

By:  Eric Volkman

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Don’t leave home without (doing) it! 

Young male traveler on a trolley in London wearing sunglasses with British flag design on them.

Image source: Getty Images

Lucky you! You have a plane ticket in hand, luggage stuffed with essentials, and you’re ready to travel. You’re a careful person who has made sure all major eventualities are covered during the trip.

Or have you?

For credit card holders, there’s one crucial thing to do if you’re traveling. If you don’t get it done, your journey could get off to a very unhappy start.

Travel precautions for credit cards

That one thing is to set travel notifications for each of your credit card issuers. The reason why is simple -- if you’re venturing somewhere, particularly abroad, an attempt to buy something with the card can look like fraud.

These days, thankfully, card issuers tend to be quite vigilant about illegal activity. Many won’t hesitate to freeze an account if they suspect malfeasance with their plastic (I know this from personal experience -- it’s happened to me while traveling both domestically and abroad).

This “let’s always be on the safe side” approach does a good job shielding us credit card holders from the activities of bad guys.

The downside is that an account freeze can really wreak havoc on a vacation. You want to spend your first few hours in Paris admiring the Eiffel Tower and roaming the streets of Montmartre. You don’t want to waste it on a desperate phone call convincing your card issuer that it’s really you who swiped the plastic to buy a croque monsieur.

How to set a credit card travel notification

We live in the 21st century; as with many other aspects of our lives the easiest way to set a credit card travel notification is to do so via mobile app or online. In the case of the former, most issuers should have a fairly obvious and easily reachable link for you to do so.

As for online, log on to your account management portal; the travel notification link should be conveniently located within that page.

Alternatively, if you like to talk on the phone and don’t mind long stretches of hold music, you can call the toll-free number on the back of your card to arrange this verbally.

Once you’re in the right place, online or off, provide as much information as possible. The essentials are:

  1. Dates of travel
  2. Country or countries visited, in the case of foreign travel.
  3. Regions/municipalities visited, if voyaging domestically.
  4. Your contact details while on the road (phone and/or email address, mainly). If you have a number you use only in the country you’re visiting, submit it as the primary phone contact.

Every issuer has its own system, so you won’t necessarily be able to enter all of this data.

Regardless, the more information you can provide, the better. This will make it a snap for your issuer to ascertain whether a purchase occurring suddenly in a new locale is likely to be genuine. Also, should your issuer be one that solicits contact information, you’ll be easy to reach in case communication drops for any reason.

Is travel notification necessary for every issuer?

It is not. Some issuers -- like American Express, a longtime veteran in the travel services field, and purveyor of travel rewards-heavy plastic like the American Express Platinum Card® -- say that they’ve got your back wherever you may roam. This also applies to a number of the top travel rewards credit cards on the market.

It’s also likely the situation if you’ve used an issuer’s card to buy your means of travel; those fraud detection systems can be quite slick and effectively networked with other operations of the card issuer.

No one should count on this 100%, though, because even the most sophisticated systems can come up short. So when you’re on the road, adapt a “better to be safe than sorry” attitude, setting travel notifications for all of your issuers before you get on that plane.

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