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Smart Credit Card Use While On Vacation

June 25, 2013
3 mins
A young couple laugh as they read a map and find their directions

Like many other Canadians, you're likely pulling out your maps (or Google Maps) and planning where to hit the road this summer - but have you considered how you'll pay for your travels? If a cash diet is out of the question on your vacation and you'll be relying on credit, it's important to know which credit cards will lead to savings and rewards, rather than racked-up debt.

Offset Expenses With Rewards

First, identify your largest travel expense: will it be gas, lodging, food or entertainment? Consider using an applicable rewards credit card to get maximum savings from those purchases. For example, if you’re planning to drive far, try a gas rewards card such as the Shell CashBack World MasterCard, which offers 3% cash back on gas purchases (but look ahead to be sure the gas retailer to sign up with has outlets where you’re headed!).

Other options include hotel-related cards such as The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card (Note: This card is no longer available. See Marriott Bonvoy). Or, if next year’s trip is by plane, just put all your purchases on an airline points card such as the ScotiaGold Passport VISA, which gives new signups 5,000 bonus points, offers 5% cash back on travel purchases, and also includes comprehensive travel insurance coverage.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with a good old cash back card such as the MBNA Smart Cash MasterCard, which offers 5% cash back on gas and groceries for the first six months, and no annual fee.

Keep Track of Treats

The main problem with doing all your holiday spending on a credit card is you don’t tend to track how much you’re shelling out. Between meals, gas, entrance fees, hotel and little purchases like sunscreen and souvenirs, it can add up. But you don’t realize it until you open that bill later on!

It's a good idea to keep an envelope in the car and toss in all receipts as you go. (As a bonus, if you find that souvenir T-shirt has a tear in it, you can take it back.) At the end of each day, do a quick tally of what you’ve spent and make a note. Have a general sense of your overall spending budget on your trip and you’ll be able to see how you’re doing.

If your budget is truly tight, it's best to use credit cards only for larger purchases and spend cash on incidentals so once it’s gone, there’s no more buying.

Stay On Top Of Credit Card Security

When you’re on the road, it’s easy to misplace your card or put yourself at risk for theft. Try to operate out of one wallet or bag for the entire trip and know where it is at all times. Make sure you always take your cards with you, even when stepping out of the car for a pit stop. Particularly when you travel with kids, someone inevitably leaves a window open, putting your stuff at risk.

If you have multiple cards, consider leaving a few at home and keeping on hand only those you plan to use on the trip. (Same goes for all the other ID items in your wallet: if it’s stolen, nice to only have to replace the bare essentials and have things like your library card, work ID card, social security card and other items still safe at home.)

If your card does go missing, be prepared. Enter the 1-800 number for your card company into your smartphone so you can cancel your card quickly.

Safe travels on your 2013 road trip! Just be sure your credit cards are working hard while you’re enjoying your time off.    

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