View from the Narikala Fortress after a ride on the cable car! I love seeing snow blanketing the city…
Posts Tagged With: vacation
Traveling Tip Tuesday – Tip #4:
Worried about your money situation while abroad? You’re not alone. Being stranded without cash is one of my biggest fears! Luckily for me (and my flummoxed family members), getting funds fast is becoming quite convenient.
Stores in many popular destinations (and some not-so-popular ones) are becoming more and more accepting of credit cards. Thus, taking a deep look into your current financial institution’s policies is a boring yet helpful place to start your travel prep. Call your credit card company to verify what type of foreign transaction fees are in place. The most common fee is 3% of the transaction amount (…purchasing in another currency? the 3% fee is after conversion to U.S. dollars). For example, if you have your eye on a 100€ purse in Rome, the current conversion to USD is $1.28 for every 1€. Your purse would therefore cost you $128 plus 3% of this total ($128 + $3.84 = $131.84). As you can see, the fee is not so extreme for a few gifts. It is also safer than carrying around the same amount in cash for only shopping.
Speaking of cash, gathering some foreign currency while you’re still in the States sometimes works.. but sometimes doesn’t. The ATM is becoming an über common occurrence in many countries. First thing’s first: contact your bank and check out the fees for foreign ATM usage… and not just the fee for using another bank’s ATM! Make sure there are no sneaky fees for using ATMs internationally. Of course, there are those horror stories about travelers using rogue ATMs in airports and touristy areas and then getting an extra fee charged by that exact ATM. So far, I have never experienced this type of fee because 1) I’m lucky?… 2) I first scan the machine for any posting of an ATM-imposed fee, and 3) I try to ask a native which ATM is operated by the most well-known bank. Personally, I always hit the row of ATMs in the airport as soon as I land. Having cash to pay for a bottle of water and a taxi is surely worth the $1 ATM fee my bank charges and the risk of a trivial fee by the ATM.
An invaluable tip is this: tell you bank and credit card companies WHERE and WHEN you are traveling. It is necessary to put notes on accounts so debit and credit cards are not blocked based on “unusual or suspicious activity” (thanks, mom, for explaining to the bank that I actually was in Kazakhstan! No stolen card numbers here!). On a few occasions I have reached my final destination all sweaty and jetlagged to then frustratingly find out that my debit card is not working in the ATM (Welcome to Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport!). Thank goodness I told my bank where and when I was traveling beforehand. I fortunately was able to send an email to my dad and he contacted the bank from home. He told me later that if I had not told the bank about my travels then I would have needed to personally call and verify such transactions. What a mess that could have been!
A seriously wise international shopper would know her options when it comes to choosing credit cards and checking accounts. There are several credit card companies and smaller banks that offer credit cards with 0% foreign transactions fees (complementary plug for Somerset Trust Company of Somerset, PA! Thanks for hiring me as a bank teller! I learned a lot! Keep up the awesomely cheap products for travelers and great customer service!). Also, many banks and credit unions offer fee-free ATM usage or will reimburse any fees that may occur. Shop around online for accounts that work for you!
The best tip I’ve learned for making purchases in shops and grocery stores abroad is to use my debit card as a credit card (make sure your card is embossed with either the Visa or Mastercard logo and that you check the daily limits on in-store purchases [usually around $2,000]). My bank does not charge a fee when the debit card is used in stores so I bypass both the ATM fees for unnecessary cash withdrawals AND any 3% credit card transaction fee nonsense. No fees! Ta-da!
Traveling Tip Tuesday – Tip #1:
First thing’s first – sign up for an airline’s frequent-flyer program (FFP) before any traveling. PERIOD. You may be thinking, “I will never use this airline again,” or “I don’t want to waste my time,” but registering for the FFP does have its perks… and I have yet to find a drawback in signing up for one!
Most customer-savvy airlines recognize and reward loyalty and FFP membership shows just that. By having a basic program number, you may log on to the airline’s website and choose your seat preferences (aisle seat, anyone?), review and change your itineraries, and be greeted by name at check-in in addition to accruing miles from your travel. Also, lost luggage tagged in the name of an FFP member may also find its way home faster because the member’s contact info is on file.
Now that you took the two minutes to register for a FFP, you now can start racking up your miles. Even if you have no travel plans on the horizon, you could easily earn enough for an award ticket to a great destination by doing things you would be doing anyways. My favorite way to earn miles (besides the actual “travel” part) is through the shopping websites linked to the airline. Here is a list of the most popular sites:
- Delta Skymiles Program: www.skymilesshopping.com
- American Airlines AAdvantage Program: www.aadvantageeshopping.com
- United MileagePlus Program: www.mileageplusshopping.com
Merchants like The Apple Store, Sephora, and Walmart strike up a deal with the airlines so that when you make purchases through the airline’s special website, the merchant rewards the airline for attracting that customer with real money and then the customer is rewarded with a mileage credit (free for the airlines to dish out). You simply visit the shopping website, log on with your FFP number, click on the merchant you want to use, and then their website opens up in a new window. Make a purchase from that website, and for every dollar you spend (excluding tax, shipping/handling), you get miles!
Each merchant has a different offer, for example: J.Crew offers 2 miles per dollar, whereas Sephora offers 3 miles per dollar. The merchants may offer specials too (“8 miles per dollar for a limited time!”). Shop around for merchants that give you the most bang for your buck.
The crucial part in making this work in your favor: REMEMBER TO GO TO THE AIRLINE’S SHOPPING SITE FIRST. You cannot retroactively earn miles for purchases you did not make originally through the airline’s website. In-store purchases also do not count towards your mileage.
So maybe I am interested in buying the Rosetta Stone software to brush up on my high school Spanish skills. I choose Delta Airlines (a SkyTeam partner) as the airline for which I want the miles to accrue. I go to www.skymilesshopping.com, log on with my FFP number, and click “Rosetta Stone”. A new window opens to the Rosetta Stone website and I make my purchase of $499.00. The deal is 6 miles per dollar, so I will receive 2994 miles credited to my Skymiles account within 45 days. Done!
I just checked the Delta website, and an award ticket from Pittsburgh to Paris for the “Low Price” of the Award Travel Calendar costs 60,000 miles with $91.00 in taxes. You can see how simple purchases for birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas can turn into VERY CHEAP travel! Happy shopping!