Summer travel always brings with it a shifting list of do’s and don’ts, in terms of what to pack, where to go, what to expect if you’re queueing up for a TSA line, etc. It’s also been a good way to mark how people are feeling about the economy around them: Do they see themselves as having the extra income and time for a trip?
And are some destinations, both domestic and foreign, more likely to thrive with visitors than others?
For example, when gas prices are low in the U.S., domestic auto travel thrives. As the Christian Science Monitor said: “with summertime gas prices predicted to be (low) the travel industry is looking forward to a blockbuster July and August.
And yet, since that article came out, other factors aside from pump prices affect travel decisions. A local paper in Kingman, Arizona, reported its hotels along Route 66 were suffering from cancelled bookings, and that in the midst of the controversies around the Federal attempts at a travel ban, “SurveyMonkey conducted a survey with a handful of tour companies and found that nearly 67 percent reported a decrease in bookings, 26.7 percent saw an increase and 6.7 percent had no change. A lopsided 93.7 percent of cancellations were from inbound groups of international origin, while 6.7 percent were domestic.
“Asked about the reason for the change, an equal number (38.5 percent) of respondents marked (the) travel ban and the exchange rate for the U.S. dollar. Difficulty obtaining visas was marked by 23.1 percent.”
though \wherever anyone goes, and whoever they are, most folks now are paying the same way: With plastic or payment apps on their phones. The days of tough actors like Karl Malden reminding you to never leave home without Travelers’ Checks are passed.
And yet some practicalities of travel never seem to change, like packing. Yahoo Finance has 5 Summer Travel Hacks You Need to Know, which includes some old chestnuts like rolling up your socks and packing them in your shoes. “As for belts, I pack them last and snake them around my clothes. They take up the forgotten space, making room for more important stuff.”
Would keeping tabs on your credit cards count as more important stuff? And yet, according to a survey at CreditCards.com, only 15 percent of Americans said they were going to put their upcoming vacations on credit cards. A surprising 13 percent said they were planning to pay for their vacations with “rewards,” meaning they’ve already been using their cards in advance.
But for the rest, paying cash, does that mean they’ll be traveling with bulging wallets or reverting to Travelers’ Checks, after all?
In many cases, it simply means they’ll be using debit cards, instead. Which means all of them will have to be that much more careful that their direct-to-account information doesn’t get hacked, via skimmers, non-EMV upgraded POS terminals, and more, when on the road.
Nerdwallet has some handy tips for both travel plastic as well, whether of the credit or debit variety:
- Take only the credit cards you need. Two to four cards is usually enough, though consider one or two of them backup to the “main” one (and try to use the more protected “credit” card when you can, and save debit for actual banks, safe ATMs, etc.) As Nerdwallet notes, “If a thief strikes, it’s much easier to report one lost card than a wallet full of them.”
- Use credit when you can. The zero-liability protection that most credit cards offer means you won’t owe anything. And you certainly don’t want to have to deal with your bank back home, to restore missing funds to your checking account in the case of a debit card hack, while you’re traveling.
- Check your credit card activity every day. Or, if not every day per Nerdwallet, at least “often.” That way you can spot any unusual activity right away
- Know where your card is. If you know your socks are rolled up in your shoes when you travel, pay at least as much attention to where your cards are. And, “whenever you use it, be sure it goes back in your wallet. If you don’t need your card that day, lock it in the safe in your hotel room with your other valuables.”
And the Travel Market Report supplements those safety tips with a few of their own:
- Make sure no one is watching Debit Card Use: when you type in your PIN code, and use bank ATMs only.
- Don’t follow someone who wants to direct you to a “better ATM.”
- Insist on paying bills at the table, don’t allowing waiters to take your credit card away. Travel market suggests accompanying them, if remote payment is not an option.
The flipside of all this, of course, is that if you’re a merchant, and will have an uptick of “summer customers,” make your business as “payment friendly” as possible, whether you’re selling to customers on the road, or helping get them ready for the trip.
Make sure you take all kinds of payments, whether mobile, UnionPay credit cards from Asia, or EMV-protected debit cards.
After all, both you and your customers may have other good reasons to use those credit cards a lot this summer — the rewards could lead to perqs, or even free travel, down the road.
Forbes has a profile of Grace Cheng, who is taking her family of four around the world, in business class, all thanks to earned credit card rewards:
“Most of our million miles were earned from the ground,” she says “meaning we earned them as credit card rewards points or miles from credit card signing bonuses and when we used our cards to pay for purchases. In order to reach this goal, we had to research and plan meticulously so that we were able to maximize the earning of credit card points or miles per dollar of spending.
“We managed to accomplish our goal by the end of last year. We had already decided on transferring all our credit card points or miles to Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program, so as soon as we reached a million miles, we converted those miles to their frequent flyer program. It was truly a surreal moment when we finally exchanged our miles for something that was worth $54,000.”
Among Cheng’s own “travel hacks?” “Pay for everything using a credit card. This is our No. 1 travel hack. Paying with cash instead of a credit card means you are missing out on getting credit card rewards points, miles or cash back. We use our credit cards to pay for everything, if possible, be it a banana or an air ticket.”
Though Cheng has an even bigger “life hack” than that: As a cancer survivor, she adheres to a philosophy of “You only live once,” which she says informs her actions every day.
Meaning, you should definitely take that trip. Just be smart about those rolled up socks, and the plastic you use along the way.