PLAY IT SAFE ON YOUR VACATION
Lori Z. Bahnmueller
Michigan Credit Union League -Your Money Matters
School's out and vacations are in! Families throughout Michigan will be packing up and heading out. Whether it's a weekend trip to a neighboring resort city here in the state or a family vacation across state lines, wise travelers know it's best to take a little care before you take off, especially when it comes to money. Before you make that first hotel reservation consider the following ideas for keeping your vacation safe and sound financially.
If you are going out of town for an extended time and plan to stay at a hotel, remember coupons aren't just for groceries. Many entertainment coupon books offer discounts to national hotel chains. When making the reservation, call the hotel directly. The on-site reservation staff can probably offer more details on special packages that might be available during your stay. Often, the packages will include tickets to the attractions you plan on visiting. The hotel's toll-free 800 number may not be able to offer the same savings.
To save money on meals while you are away, ask whether the hotel offers a free continental breakfast or allows children to eat free with an adult purchase. These savings can add up quickly. Also, having a small refrigerator in your room is perfect for sandwiches, fruit and beverages that can be eaten throughout the rest of the day.
Summer travelers using their own vehicle for transportation might consider adding rental car and towing coverage to their existing auto insurance policy. These are items that can usually be added to your current automobile insurance policy for pennies a day. If you experience mechanical difficulties on your vacation, they could save you hundreds of dollars.
If you are traveling by plane, again making reservations in advance you will save a bundle and reduce hassles. Watch for price wars between airlines and buy tickets at least a month in advance. Also, travel at off-peak times and stay through Sunday for additional savings.
Car rental is a popular and comfortable way to get to your destination, while saving your car from excessive mileage. Be aware, however, that when you pick up your rental many agencies will require you to sign a collision damage waiver. The waiver is a form of insurance and can be costly - even more so than the cost of your rental car. Check with your car insurance agency and see if your current policy covers rental cars. If not, consider expanding your policy, as with rental car emergency coverage, the cost is usually lower than the alternatives.
We all know that we shouldn't carry large sums of money in our wallet or suitcases, but what are the alternatives? For longer vacations, traveler's checks are an option. While American Express is probably the most widely-known source of traveler's checks, other financial institutions (such as banks and credit unions) offer them as well. The most obvious benefit of using traveler's checks is that, if they are lost or stolen, the issuing agent can replace them within a day or two. In addition, they are nearly as good as cash and are widely accepted. Keep the agent's phone number with you while you are on vacation, just in case.
Credit cards are probably the most popular option for travelers. Nevertheless, how many credit cards should you bring on vacation? Depending on your credit limit, one major credit card should be enough to cover most needs. It can make sense to bring two, but don't carry them in the same place at the same time. If traveling with another person, have each person carry one. This comes in handy if you are apart and both decide to buy something. If traveling alone, keep the spare in a safe place. If your wallet is stolen, you'll need that spare card.
Before you leave, it's a good idea to take a quick credit card inventory. Write down a list of the cards you have with their account numbers and emergency phone numbers to contact the company that issued the card. Should a disaster strike and the cards are lost or stolen, you'll have everything you need to stop someone from using your card on that piece of paper. A quick way to make your list of card numbers is to take them to a copier, lay all the cards on the glass and copy the front. Then repeat the process with the back.
If you're vacationing outside the country, be aware of currency exchange rates. Credit cards are very helpful in this regard. Major cards will be good in most locations overseas and your purchase will be translated from the local currency to U.S. dollars on your monthly statement.
The time you devote to your vacation, before it begins, is well worth it. The results will be evident when you leave your house feeling relieved and anticipating the safe and relaxing days ahead!