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Money Security Travel Technology

The 9 Best RFID Wallets to Protect Your Identity

Protect yourself from being electronically pickpocketed with these RFID-blocking wallets that look like normal wallets.

Tumi Alpha Global Wallet

Tumi Alpha Global Wallet.

Made out of a water-resistant tech fabric, Tumi’s Alpha Global Wallet will protect your stuff from both rain and RFID thieves. Inside, everything stays organized with a currency pouch, an ID window, pockets, and card slots.

Travelon RFID-Blocking Wristlet Clutch

Travelon RFID-Blocking Wristlet Clutch.

Use Travelon’s RFID-Blocking Wristlet Clutch as a wristlet, clutch, or wallet—the strap detaches so you have options. Made out of a nylon fabric, this wallet is lightweight and easy to clean. It features four card slots and a zippered pocket, plus a main compartment that’s large enough to hold your phone.

Vera Bradley Iconic RFID Ultimate Card Case

Vera Bradley Iconic RFID Ultimate Card Case.

Made out of Vera Bradley’s iconic quilted microfiber and topped with her fun seasonal prints, this RFID wallet will stylishly protect your information. Snap and zipper closures keep everything secure, and there are seven RFID-protected card slots, one ID window, and two slip pockets inside.

Timberland Genuine Leather RFID-Blocking Trifold Security Wallet

Timberland Genuine Leather RFID-Blocking Trifold Security Wallet.

Made out of 100 percent leather, Timberland’s RFID-Blocking Trifold Security Wallet is just as rugged as its famous boots. Available in black, brown, and cognac, the wallet’s leather ages with use to look even better over time. The trifold design has six card slots, two slip pockets, an ID window, and two cash pockets.

Bellroy Hide & Seek

Bellroy Hide & Seek.

For the perfectly sized RFID-blocking wallet, look no further than Bellroy’s Hide & Seek. Available in two sizes (LO for bills shorter than 74mm and HI for bills taller than 74mm), this wallet holds up to 12 cards. There’s also a hidden coin pouch and designated section for business cards. Made out of an environmentally certified leather, the wallet is covered under a three-year warranty.

The Ridge Metal Aluminum Cash Strap

The Ridge Metal Aluminum Cash Strap.

Minimalists will love this ultra-sleek, RFID-blocking card case that can hold up to 12 cards (plus cash via the external elastic strap). Like to change up your wallet to match your outfit? The case’s color plates can easily be changed out to update your look.

Fossil Logan Leather RFID Bifold Wallet

Fossil Logan Leather RFID Bifold Wallet.

Keep your coins, bills, and cards neatly organized with Fossil’s Logan Leather RFID Bifold Wallet. This compact wallet hides plenty of storage space, including a zipper pouch for coins, one ID window, and five card slots. This wallet comes in lots of fun colors and patterns like hearts, colorful stripes, or rose gold.

Herschel Supply Co. Charlie RFID Wallet

Herschel Supply Co. Charlie RFID Wallet.

Just bringing the essentials with you? Keep everything streamlined with Herschel Supply Co.’s Unisex Charlie RFID Wallet. This slim cardholder has three card slots, plus one in the middle for cash or extra storage. It weighs just one ounce, so you really can bring it everywhere.

Columbia Leather Extra Capacity Slimfold Wallet

Columbia Leather Extra Capacity Slimfold Wallet.

Columbia’s Leather Extra Capacity Slimfold Wallet holds a ton of stuff without bulging out or being too bulky. This large capacity wallet has six credit card slots, one slip pocket, one removable ID window, and a large bill compartment.

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Principal Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for travel advice and inspiration.

Categories
Miles & Points Money

COVID-19 Could Impact Your Points and Frequent-Flyer Terms—for the Better

If you’re avoiding booking flights for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19, you might be wondering what’s going to happen to your frequent flyer status and/or airline points in the meantime.

For many frequent flyers and business travelers, the most important benefits of frequent-flyer membership are through special “elite” status: The prime benefits are no-cost upgrades to available premium seats via various priority lists, as well as preferential treatment on relaxed baggage restrictions, better boarding group, fewer or no seat-assignment fees, and faster ways to earn more miles/points.

Those upgrades are a powerful loyalty attractor. Elite members go to great lengths to retain or upgrade their status level, and the schedule reductions and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have seriously thwarted their ability to retain and improve status. The same goes for hotel chains with loyal members.

Recognizing this problem, and wishing to retain loyalty of their best customers, many airlines and hotels have started to ease status requirements for the duration of the epidemic. They’ve also extended validity of some important elite-status benefits. And some airlines have even eased restrictions on use of miles for ordinary, non-elite flyers.

Airlines Changing Points Terms Due to COVID-19

Several airlines have already announced their changes; others are sure to follow. The changes listed below are effective as of April 20. They’re moving targets: Look for further, rolling, extensions, especially those scheduled to end this month or next. Further down are the hotel chains offering points or elite-status term changes.

Alaska Airlines

Elite flyers can retain their current status on Alaska through at least December 31, 2021.  Companion certificates earned through the line’s credit card slated to expire in 2020 are extended: Apply certificates by December 2020 for travel through November 6, 2021. Status-earning miles acquired between January 1 and Apr 30, 2020, will roll over to 2021. You can find more information here.

Air Canada

Elite flyers on Air Canada retain their current status through December 31, 2021. Frequent flyers will not have to pay a fee to redeposit miles used to book award flights, through at least April 30. Accrued miles will not expire through May 14. You can find more information here.

American

Elite flyers whose status expires on January 1, 2020, will retain their current status through January 2022. Upgrade certificates slated to expire on January 31, 2021, are extended to July 31, 2021. You can find more information here.

Delta

Elite flyers with Delta retain their current status through January 31, 2022. Status-earning miles acquired in 2020 will roll over to 2021. Sky Club memberships set to expire March 31 or later are extended for six months. You can find more information here.

Upgrade certificates and vouchers scheduled to expire March 1 through June 30 are extended until December 31, 2020. Certificates and vouchers expiring after June 30 are extended for six months.

Hawaiian

Hawaiian “will not be expiring any miles from March 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. Members with miles set to expire within this time period will retain their full mileage balance. [Prior] standard expiration policy will resume on January 1, 2021.” You can find more information here.

Southwest

A-List and A-List Preferred flyers with elite status through December 21 will have status extended through December 31, 2021. Companion passes earned through December 31, 2020 will be extended through June 30, 2021. You can find more information here.

United Airlines

Elite flyers on United retain their current status through January 31, 2022. United has lowered mileage and spend requirements for the 2021 status year to earn various status levels by 50 percent.. Frequent flyers will not have to pay a fee to redeposit miles used to book award flights, through at least May 31. You can find more information here.

Expiration dates on several annual-pay programs, such as Wi-Fi, checked, bags, United Club membership, and seating in Economy Plus are extended by six months. Electronic travel certificates are now valid for 23 months.

WestJet

WestJet has upgraded or extended members who were on track to attain status in March through May, and it will “continue to look after” other travelers whose elite status might be affected by coronavirus changes. WestJet is also extending the validity of various vouchers and certificates, by varying periods—check the website for details. You can find more information here.

Other North American Lines

Clearly, the other big airlines with robust elite-status programs—specifically, American and Hawaiian—are likely to announce similar policies, within weeks if not days. On other U.S. and Canadian lines, status is a lot less important, but you can expect some relaxation of various frequent flyer rules from those lines fairly soon, as well.

Foreign Lines

Big foreign lines, too, are easing rules and extending status. Lines that have extended status for a year include LATAM, Qantas, Qatar, and Virgin Australia; Virgin Atlantic has extended status six months. Air France/KLM, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, and Etihad are adding miles to accounts or lowering status requirements. Many of these lines are also extending validity of various upgrades and companion certificates—check their respective websites for more information.

Bonus: Amtrak

Even Amtrak is relaxing some rules. Upgrade, companion, and various other certificates earned through the Guest Rewards program due to expire are extended through September 25, 2020. And earned points expiration dates are also extended to that date.

Hotels Changing Points Terms Due to COVID-19

The giant hotel chains operate frequent-stay programs that offer substantial elite-level benefits such as room upgrades, free meals, and early check-in/late check-out, along with the room awards available to ordinary members. They, too, are reacting to the fact that members can’t earn credit as quickly as they can during normal periods. In fact, their extensions are generally more generous than those of the airlines.

Accor

Accor has added bonus points to member account that reduce the points required to qualify or requalify for elite levels. You can find more information here.

Best Western

Current member status levels are extended through January 31, 2022. You can find more information here.

Hilton

Current member status levels for 2019 scheduled to end on March 31, 2020, are extended through March 31, 2021. Members with 2020 status is extended to March 31, 2022. Accrued points due to expire in 2020 will remain valid through December 31, 2020. Accrued Weekend Night rewards are extended through August 31, 2021. You can find more information here.

Hyatt

Elite status levels as of March 31 are extended through February 28, 2022. Unused awards with expiration dates between March 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020 are extended to December 31, 2021. Accrued points due to expire in 2020 will remain valid through December 31, 2020. You can find more information here.

IHG

Qualifying points required to reach the several elite levels are reduced by at least 25 percent , through 2021. Points due to expire between April 1 and December 31 will remain valid through December 31, 2020. Award night certificates due to expire between March 1 and December 31 will remain valid until December 31, 2020, and certificates issued in 202 will have an 18-month validity period. You can find more information here.

Marriott

Current elite status is extended through February, 2022. Expiration dates for accrued points are extended to February, 2021. Active award night awards expiring in 2020 are extended to January 31, 2021. You can find more information here.

Radisson

Current elite status is extended through February, 2022. Certificates and scheduled to expire through July 31, 2020, will remain valid through June 30, 2021. Point expiration is extended by six months. You can find more information here.

Wyndham

Wyndham says it is “pausing the expiration of any Wyndham Rewards points until September 30, 2020 and [has] extended current Wyndham Rewards Member Levels (status) for all members globally through the end of 2021.” You can find more information here.

More from SmarterTravel:

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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Money Packing Travel Tips & Advice

14 Ways to Improve Your Future Trips While You’re Stuck at Home

As we wait out the COVID-19 pandemic at home, we’re keeping our spirits up by dreaming about future travels. And the more we’ve thought about it, the more we’ve realized that there’s plenty to do now at home to make the trips we have yet to take better, and to focus our energy on something hopeful and positive. Here’s how we’re planning ahead to better days and better trips. 

Read Inspiring Books About a Destination

When you can’t take a real trip, a journey through a good book can be the second-best thing. Let The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel whisk you away to India, discover everyday life in Botswana with the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, or read In a Sunburned Country to ramble your way through Australia.

For more ideas, see 14 Amazing Travel Memoirs to Read When You’re Stuck at Home and 11 Books We’re Reading to Inspire Ourselves and Our Future Travels.

Pre-Pack Regularly Used Items

There’s nothing like getting ready to pack for a trip and being able to mentally high-five your past self for having the foresight to have already cleaned and restocked your toiletries bag. That way all that’s left for you to do is check it over, add in any additional items, and throw it in your bag. Experience the same joy by reserving a drawer or a box in a closet in which you keep pre-sorted baggies of travel essentials like adapters, travel pillows, passport holders, and travel-size toothpaste

Make Virtual Visits to a Destination

Saint Peter's Square and Basilica tourists taking photos

No, it’s not the same as visiting in person, but hundreds of museums, aquariums, zoos, and other tourist attractions are offering virtual tours, live streams, and other ways for travelers to “visit” online. See 21 Sites Offering Virtual Tours and Live Streams for Travelers Stuck at Home for a comprehensive list, and let them inspire an IRL visit someday in the future.

It’s not just museums getting into the virtual game: You can also take virtual hikes and see natural wonders from home.

Fill in the Holes of Your Travel Wardrobe

In travel as in home repair, having the right tool for the job is everything. Does this sound familiar? It’s time to pack, and you realize you’re missing a cover-up and comfortable sandals for a beach vacation, or snow gear for a winter adventure. Instead of waiting until the last minute to panic-purchase items that will come in handy again and again, go through the types of trips you’re drawn to, assess your supplies, and fill in holes as you find them. Then congratulate yourself on making the most of your non-travel time. 

Clean Your Travel Bags

suitcase storage in closet

Right now, most of us are thinking a lot more than usual about hygiene. And when you’re in that frame of mind, it’s easy to see why it’s weird that we don’t all automatically give our suitcases a deep clean every time we come home from a trip. But suitcases actually are pretty easy to clean, and now can be a great time to get them out and spruce them up. Call it the beginning of a great new travel habit. Check out How to Clean and Disinfect a Suitcase to learn how.

Check That All Your Documents Are Up to Date

Don’t yet have your REAL ID? You can now submit your required documentation online (though you’ll eventually need an in-person appointment to finish the process).

Now is also a good time to check the expiration date on your passport. Though the U.S. State Department is currently only processing emergency passports for new applicants and is facing significant delays for renewals by mail, knowing when you need to take action on your renewal will help you be prepared when the time comes to travel again.

Update Your Inspiration List

woman snorkeling in keys coral reef florida

Bucket list, must-do list, five-year travel plan—whatever you call it, this is a good time to dust off the old inspiration list and find some new destinations to dream about. Here are some of our favorite dreamy round-ups, divided by destination and interest.

North America:

Caribbean:

Remote Escapes:

Fun Ways to Choose Destinations:

Build Your Perfect Travel Health Kit

You’re more likely to get sick after a flight than you are under normal circumstances, and after the COVID-19 pandemic we’ll all be a little more cautious about protecting ourselves from germs in flight and on the road. Consider putting together a grab-and-go health kit that you can keep ready to go before every trip, filled with items such as disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and airplane seat covers, as well as a few common over-the-counter medications in case you fall ill.

To learn more, see How to Properly Disinfect Your Airplane Seat and How to Disinfect Your Hotel Room.

Get Inspired by Our YouTube Channel and Podcasts

One way to combat stir-craziness? Distraction and inspiration, of course. Follow SmarterTravel’s YouTube channel for a bit of both. While you’re there, be sure to like, comment, and subscribe.

And don’t miss SmarterTravel’s new Virtual Vacations series of relaxing audio tours around the world.

Save Money Toward a Future Trip

While you can’t go out, take the money you’d be spending on Ubers and fancy cocktails and put it into a savings fund for a future trip. Also, take some time to set a budget for yourself—sites like Mint.com can help you track your spending and find areas to save. Don’t forget to incorporate these sneaky travel costs into your trip budget.

Learn a New Language for Your Next Trip

You know what takes a lot of time? Learning a language. If you find yourself with free time to spare, put it to good use by downloading a language app and jumping in. Most language apps are based on games and repetition, which makes it fun whether you’re learning the basics or going for more advanced mastery. 

Cook Your Favorite Dishes from Around the World

Craving cheese fondue from your Switzerland trip? What about tapas from Spain? Cooking is not only therapeutic, but it’s also a great way to remember your favorite dish from a recent trip. We’re working on curating a Pinterest board with our favorite recipes from around the world; make sure to follow us for future travel inspiration. And don’t miss these international recipes and cocktails.

Support Small Businesses

In this time of uncertainty, do what you can to support your local community as well as your favorite businesses at your vacation destinations. A few ways to do this include shopping the store’s online site or buying gift cards from your favorite restaurants for future use. Some musicians are running fundraisers with online “concerts” that are streamed on social media with the idea that viewers can donate to “tip” local bartenders. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that people’s creativity will shine through, so be creative!

Download Our Packing Lists

ultimate packing list

Take time to create an inventory of your current travel essentials and prepare your own packing list from our templates. Each one is downloadable and editable, and most are even mobile-friendly, so you don’t have to print. Check them out below:

Get in Shape for Future Adventure Trips

Is climbing Everest or taking a cycling vacation on your bucket list? You’ll need to get in shape. There are plenty of free streaming workouts you can do at home, and our list of hotel room exercises you can do without any workout gear works equally well in your living room. In most locations you can still get outside for a walk, jog, or bike ride (as long as you stay at least six feet apart from other people), giving you a good workout as well as some much-needed fresh air.

Stay Healthy and Mindful

Beyond fitness, this is also a time to keep yourself healthy in other ways. Of course, you’ll want to practice behaviors to protect yourself from COVID-19, including social distancing, frequent hand washing, and not touching your face, but you’ll also want to protect your mental health during this stressful time. Walking, meditating, taking a leisurely bath, reading a good book, watching a funny TV show, video chatting with family and friends, completing a puzzle, and researching future trips are all good ways to reduce stress and keep yourself sane.

Give Your Home a Travel Vibe

You may not be able to stay in a hotel right now, but you can use essential oils to make your home smell like a hotel spa and trick out your bedroom to make it just as welcoming as a hotel room—including an ultra-comfy mattress. Add a touch of travel-themed decor, and your past trips—and future ones—won’t feel quite so far away. For more ideas, see 6 Ways to Feel Like You’re on Vacation at Home.

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Airport At Home Health & Wellness Miles & Points Money Passenger Rights Peer-to-Peer Travel Travel Trends

How Hotels and Airlines Are Helping During the Pandemic

I sometimes get so used to bashing travel suppliers—especially airlines—for the many ways they abuse travelers’ rights, that I often overlook the good they do. Especially during this global pandemic, travel suppliers are doing a lot of good.

From providing free hotel stays for health workers to donating huge sums of money, here are some of the ones we’re seeing step up.

Hotels Stepping Up During the Pandemic

Hotels are offering free or low-charge rooms to communities for housing both caregivers and non-COVID patients. Standout individual hotel offers in hard-hit New York City include those from the Four Seasons Hotel, which was the first hotel in New York City to begin providing free stays to healthcare workers responding to the pandemic.

The Plaza Hotel, Room Mate Grace Hotel, Palace Hotel, St. Regis Hotel, and Yotel are now counted among the hotels hosting health care workers and non-critical patients free of charge. More broadly, the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), a major hotel trade association, notes that more than 6,500 hotel properties that are adjacent to medical facilities across the country are offering temporary housing for health care workers, noncritical patients, and/or the homeless:

“To help match and streamline the process, the [AHLA] is working to create a Hotels for Hope database at the federal level with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as at the local level with industry partner state associations. Local, state and federal government officials will be able to search willing properties based on geographic location.”

Very few are doing it for free, but many are doing it at very-discounted rates. Some are providing food or other support to medical communities. Examples include:

  • The Sophy Hyde Park Hotel in Chicago has opened its rooms at no charge to medical staff respondiong to the pandemic at nearby University of Chicago Medical Center.
  • Caesars Entertainment has donated more than 250,000 pounds of food to a variety of food banks and charities, along with gloves, masks, and hand sanitizers.
  • The Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air have provided hundreds of meals to first responders and medical personnel.
  • The Jupiter Hotel in Portland, Oregon has arranged with Multnomah County to serve as a homeless shelter.

Airlines Doing Good During the Pandemic

Airlines are also doing their part in fighting the pandemic. As befits their status as the generally top-rated U.S. airlines, Delta has offered free transportation to Georgia, Louisiana, and Michigan for medical professionals, and JetBlue has offered free transport for medical personnel and some stranded college students. JetBlue has also donated a million frequent-flyer points to the Red Cross for travel to support its vital work. United is offering free travel to health workers heading to New York. Airlines around the world have removed seats from regular passenger planes, providing added cargo capacity to ship medical supplies where they are needed.

Airlines around the world have also notably intensified their cleaning and disinfecting procedures to keep their fewer operating planes free of the virus. They’re also rightfully ensuring travelers maintain safe physical distances from each other: A few lines, including American, have stopped assigning middle or every-other seat to maintain social distancing.

And keep in mind that the travel industry is taking a big financial hit from the pandemic. Much of what individual suppliers are doing to minimize effect is as much public relations as it is a public benefit. But, in a difficult time, travel companies are clearly stepping up to help the effort. Kudos to them.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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Air Travel Credit Cards Money Passenger Rights Popular Travel Tips & Advice

7 Questions You Should Ask Before Accepting an Airline Voucher

Unless you’re really lucky, sometime during your travels you will find yourself in a situation where an airline owes you something. Maybe it’s because of a delay, lost baggage, a rescheduled flight, whatever. When that day comes, the airline will almost surely try to settle by issuing you airline vouchers for future travel rather than cutting you a check. At worst, the airline loses the cost of the seat rather than the posted fare; at best, you’ll somehow not get around to using the airline voucher, and the carrier will face no cost at all.

What to Know Before Giving up Your Seat for an Airline Voucher

To decrease their risk, airlines incorporate gotchas into vouchers to increase the chances that you won’t be able to use them. So before you accept any airline vouchers, you need to ask seven questions.

How Long Are Airline Vouchers Valid?

A tight validity limit is one of the oldest voucher gotchas in the book. An airline offers a generous voucher, but you have to use it within six months. Clearly, many travelers are uninterested in or unable to schedule another flight within that short a time. This ploy is more prevalent with cruise lines than with airlines, but you still have to be careful.

Who Can Use an Airline Voucher?

Is the value of the travel voucher limited to you, or can you use it to buy a ticket for someone else? Many airline vouchers may be used only by the person who initially received it for his or her own travel. Depending on your flexibility, that might or might not be a deal-breaker.


Related: What Are My Rights if My Flight is Cancelled?


Will an Airline Voucher Cover the Whole Cost of a Ticket?

Airline vouchers seldom include the full cost of a future trip; often, you must pay the government taxes and fees separately. But I’ve heard reports of a much worse limitation: an airline voucher covering only the “base” fare and not the very stiff “carrier-imposed fee,” essentially a renamed fuel surcharge, which on some airlines can be more than the base fare.

Can You Use an Airline Voucher for Multiple Flights?

Some vouchers are valid for only a single transaction, even when the value of that transaction is less than the face value of the voucher. For example, if you use a $500 airline voucher to buy a $400 ticket, you might not be able to use the remaining $100 for second ticket. Instead, you lose that value outright.

Are There Any Fare Limitations for Airline Vouchers?

I haven’t seen much of this one, but an airline could place some fare buckets off-limits to voucher-based tickets—not applicable to “flash sale” prices, for example, or for business class.


Related: Why is using airline vouchers so hard?


How Much Are Airline Vouchers Worth to You?

Given the limitations on how you can use it, a voucher is effectively worth a lot less to you than its face cash value. Many experts estimate that a voucher is worth somewhere between a third and a half of its face value. If you ask for cash but an airline offers a voucher, take the voucher only if the face value is at least double the cash offer. When cash isn’t an option, if the voucher value seems to be inadequate, bargain for more or consider your alternatives.

Can You Get Cash Instead on an Airline Voucher?

When a flight is oversold, an airline almost always resorts to offering travel vouchers to passengers who agree to get off and take a later flight. Usually, that works, and someone takes the offer. But if nobody bites, and the airline has to select someone to get off, government regulations specify cash payments, not vouchers, for “involuntary” bumping. You can get up to $1,350 in the U.S., depending on the circumstance, but only in the case of overbooking. European rules call for higher payments as well as payments for delays. Take the voucher only if it’s worth to you is a lot more than the cash.

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Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer Money

8 Secret Perks Your Credit Card Might Already Have

Most credit card users are in it for the travel points—which is smart. If you frequently spend money on travel (which includes ride shares like Uber) and dine out, getting double or triple points without even traveling mean free money toward flights, hotels, and more. But point-happy travelers who don’t read the fine print of their card agreement (who does?) might not realize just how many free credit card travel benefits their card comes with—and they’re missing out.

Nowadays, issuers provide an array of travel perks that you might not even know you have. From food-delivery credits to luxe lounges, here’s what to look for in your credit card travel benefits.

Free Meals via Take-Out/Delivery

One of the newest perks appearing on credit cards with an annual fee is food-delivery credits. When Chase’s Sapphire Reserve upped its annual fee recently, cardholders gained dining perks including a $60 annual DoorDash credit along with a complimentary DashPass, which is usually $10 per month and nixes fees on all orders. All users have to do to get the free $60 credit is link their card to a DoorDash account and use it to order; DoorDash charges will be reimbursed by Chase within a few days once you’ve confirmed you’re enrolled.

Note: Like many premium cards, Chase Sapphire Reserve has a high ($550) annual fee, but much of that charge ($300) is redeemed automatically on travel expenses as you spend—making it a low-fee card for frequent travelers.

Lounge Access and Meal Credits

One of the best credit card travel benefits available today is one that typically must be opted into: free airport lounge access. One of the most popular credit cards for this perk is Chase’s Sapphire Reserve, which comes with Priority Pass membership only once you log into the card’s benefits portal and activate the membership. Why? Probably because it’s a super in-demand freebie, as evidenced by recent lounge overcrowding that’s caused some credit cards to offer airport meal credits in lieu of lounge access at busier hubs. Still, if you know it’s there, it’s smart to opt in for the free membership and airport restaurant credits. I’ve personally used both perks while traveling and saved lots of money on airport meals as a result.

[st_related]Priority Pass vs. Lounge Pass: Which Is Better for Affordable Airport Lounge Access?[/st_related]

Travel Health Insurance

Considering buying travel accident or health insurance in case you need to see a doctor on a trip abroad? Stop price comparing and check what you might already have for free as a credit card perk. One of the most underrated credit card travel benefits is health insurance coverage that can save you a lot of money if you unexpectedly need medical assistance in another country. Many credit cards also provide up to $500,000 in “accidental death and dismemberment” (ADD) insurance for travel on any common carrier. Cards with travel emergency assistance perks include Chase’s Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve, Citi’s Prestige Card, and an array of American Express cards.

Free Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

Don’t let annual fees, which most premium cards have, scare you away from travel cards. They often make up for the fee in credit card travel benefits. If you’re enrolling in or renewing Global Entry, for example, you can often be reimbursed the $100 enrollment fee as part of annual fee credits. Not interested in Global Entry? TSA PreCheck enrollment or renewal fees also qualify for the reimbursement.

[st_related]How to Get Global Entry or TSA Precheck for Free[/st_related]

Rental Car Coverage/Roadside Assistance

Roadside assistance and/or rental car insurance is included with many credit cards these days—not just travel cards. According to SmarterTravel insurance expert Ed Perkins: “Rental car coverage is by far the most important travel benefit your credit card provides: If you rent with a card offering this benefit and the car is damaged during the time you rent, the card picks up whatever costs you can’t first recover from your regular insurance.”

All that’s required to take advantage of a card’s free rental car coverage is to use the card for the rental agreement and decline the rental company’s (usually outrageously expensive) collision damage waiver (CDW), which can be as high as $30 per day—sometimes much more than the base rental rate.

As for roadside assistance: Visa premium cards, most American Express cards, and many others offer some type of roadside assistance, similar to what you can get from AAA if a car you’re driving runs out of gas, suffers a flat, or experiences a dead battery. But if you’re in a rental car, call the rental company first.

Lost Bag Protection

If you buy an airline, bus, rail, or other ticket with your card and your baggage on that trip is stolen, damaged, or permanently lost, Visa premium cards, most AmEx cards, and quite a few others cover you. Bag protection can also cover costs incurred if your bags are lost and therefore delayed—i.e., if you need to buy some necessities in the interim.

This type of card coverage is typically secondary, meaning that you must first claim dues from the carrier. The card may cap collection at a typical figure of $3,000 or only provide coverage of claim expenses that exceed the carrier’s maximum limit. And payments on most such claims cover only the depreciated value of the items lost or damaged, not the replacement value: Most people would have a tough time coming up with $3,000 worth of value for what’s in their baggage.

[st_related]This Is the Worst Airline for Lost Luggage[/st_related]

Delay and/or TCI Insurance

If your trip is delayed, a few premium cards offer a modest amount of coverage toward the cost of meals, accommodations, and various “essential items.” Coverage kicks in only after a specified time, sometimes as long as 18 hours of delay, and reimbursement may not be available until you can prove you’ve asked for it from your carrier. But if the airline won’t pay out, it’s a good back-up option—and can make a big difference in a nightmarish flight delay.

Some credit cards also provide trip-cancellation/interruption (TCI) benefits, but the pay-out limit tends to be low. Only a few premium cards provide this benefit, including Capital One World MasterCard and several Citi cards.

Entertainment Concierge

A few premium cards provide arrangements with local agencies that fill the function of a ritzy hotel concierge in major cities: They can arrange tickets for sightseeing, local entertainment, tables at famous restaurants, and more—some of which could be sold out or unavailable to other average customers. Note that while the service is “free,” you of course will have to pay for whatever the concierge arranges for you.

Not convinced your card has enough benefits? See The Best Travel Credit Cards.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel and just upgraded her own credit card for better credit card travel benefits. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ed Perkins contributed to this story.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. It is now $550, not $450.

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Health & Wellness Money

Where to Donate Some of Your Travel Budget to Help Others During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The novel coronavirus pandemic may very well be the biggest shock of the decade. Frequent travelers are finding themselves at home due to mandatory lockdowns. Instead of booking your next world trip, you may try donating part of your travel budget to help others in need.

If you’re able to, there are several ways you can help at the local, national, and international levels. This pandemic is leaving a health and financial impact in most parts of the world. 

Donate Your Travel Miles

Many of us exclusively redeem airline miles for award flights. Until we “flatten the curve,” few people will be able to fly on a regular basis. 

Most airline and hotel loyalty programs partner with charities you can donate points to. Some of these charities provide aid for the novel coronavirus including:

While each loyalty program has different charity partners, some programs have a disaster relief fund that can provide aid. If there are other charity partners you prefer, they will appreciate your donations too. Total charitable giving may be lower in the near future because of economic uncertainty.

A personal benefit of donating miles can be renewing their expiration date. However, you should read the donation terms and conditions to verify this is a qualifying renewal option.

Donate to a Local Food Bank

One of the best places to donate on the local level can be your city’s food bank. As temporary layoffs increase, hunger will become more common to more people. Food pantries are distributing more food than usual.

While most non-essential businesses temporarily close, food pantries remain open to help the needy. They need to provide food and meals each day of the week. The quickest and safest option can be making an online cash donation. The pantry can buy the items they need most and you can maintain social distancing.

As grocery store supply chains are struggling to keep up with demand, some local pantries may accept food donations. Try calling the food pantry to see where you can drop off extra items they can’t locally acquire.

Feeding America is a national organization that is collecting funds to help local food banks with the greatest needs. This is another option in addition to helping your local pantry.

Buy Gift Cards and Takeout from Local Restaurants

A few local restaurants may still be open for takeout service only. Ordering takeout for you or a friend can help the restaurant continue earning revenue and paying staff. Plus, some credit card benefits include free delivery and/or waived fees.

Buying gift cards is another way to support restaurants. You can provide immediate help now and use the gift card when dine-in meals are available again. These cards can also be a quick gift to people you meet who need a meal. Plus, you may be able to use your credit card 

Donate to Credible Charities

Several charities are responding directly to the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. Cash donations can provide aid for several necessities, including:

  • Medical services and supplies
  • Paying medical co-pays
  • Relief supplies
  • Support for local organizations
  • Education and prevention awareness

While there are many legitimate charities helping out, you should look out for fake organizations. Charity Navigator is a good starting point to find credible organizations. As the novel coronavirus is an international pandemic, you may choose to support organizations with a global reach.

Direct Relief donates supplies including gowns, gloves and masks to hospitals across the world. Supplies have been sent to at least 32 countries as the novel coronavirus spreads.

Many countries are less-equipped to handle an influx of patients than the United States.

Some of these international charities may help locals in your favorite tourist destination. While you can’t help them with your travel budget at the moment, these donations can provide aid to those in need.

Help the Elderly

While visitors cannot visit nursing homes and similar facilities, you can volunteer your time. Your time can be more valuable than providing financial aid. 

For example, you can call, send text messages, or video chat with those who are confined to their spaces to boost their morale. You may also be able to send a care package or donate supplies. However, you should call the caretaking facility to learn about the donation policies. 

Help Your Neighbor

The people who live next door to you may also need help. See if you can buy them food, provide supplies, or pick up their prescription medication. You can leave the items at the front door to maintain social distancing. Don’t forget to follow proper sanitizing procedures in your car to avoid potential spread.  

If your neighbor is single or living alone, make an effort to call or text them regularly. The extended isolation can impact their mental health. Plus, you may develop a new lifelong friendship.

Some communities are organizing volunteer boards to easily find ways to help. You can search for opportunities on your community homepage.  

Volunteer Online

One of the most exciting aspects of travel is being able to interact with new people. Perhaps you’ve even participated in a ‘voluntourism travel’ or had a volunteer trip that you had to cancel. Volunteering online allows you to still help others while you practice social distancing from your home. 

Translators Without Borders needs volunteers who are fluent in a language besides their native tongue. You can use your services to assist in these novel coronavirus efforts:

  • Translation
  • Language data and mapping
  • Social media mapping
  • Terminology 

If you are comfortable counseling others, you can volunteer at the Crisis Text Line. You will need to volunteer four hours per week until you reach 200 total hours. There are also 30 hours of training to complete before you can start counseling. Even if you don’t have the time to volunteer, you can make a donation to help train volunteers.

Donate Blood

While most of the current focus for novel coronavirus is on other medical topics, the American Red Cross has a severe blood shortage. There are more rigorous safety protocols to donate blood, platelets or AB elite plasma. For example, you must wait at least 28 days if you recently traveled to an affected nation like China, Iran, Italy, or South Korea. You must also wait 28 days if you have come into contact, or suspect contact, with a person diagnosed with COVID-19.

Even if you’re sheltering in place for the near future, there are many ways to help others. Whether you start in your own community or choose to give to an international organization, your charity can help save lives around the world.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Money Travel Technology

The 12 Best Budgeting Apps for Travelers

While you’re stuck daydreaming about your next bucket-list vacation, why don’t you get a hold of your finances and make it a reality by first budgeting out your travel expenses? Whether it’s a road trip or international vacation that you’re planning, easily forgettable items like parking fees can add up. That’s why you should use a travel-specific budgeting app to help streamline your costs on your next trip. Here are 12 budget apps to help you plan your expenses.

PocketGuard

PocketGuard App

Link all of your financial accounts and cards to this app, and it will automatically update and categorize your spending in real time. It then tells you what spending money you have with the “in my pocket” feature. It also automatically builds you a spending budget based on income, bills, and the goals you set. It even finds ways to lower some of your monthly bills for you … sign us up.

Download: iOS | Google Play

Tripcoin

Tripcoin

Tripcoin lets you enter in your expenses per day and even works offline. It then processes your spending to give you a spending summary of your trip, which you can export for other uses. This lets you see how much you’re spending on each category of your trip, broken down by day, so you can monitor your vacation expenses in real time.

Download: iOS

Trip Expense Manager

Trip Expense Manager

The Trip Expense Manager app is ideal for large traveling groups that need help planning and monitoring travel expenses. For each trip you take, you can add Google users, a list of places to go, and expenses, and even mark who paid which bill.

Download: Google Play

TravelSpend

TravelSpend

I love TravelSpend for its easy-to-use features and simple design. How it works: You add expenses as they happen (the app works offline and even converts foreign currencies) and the app tracks your spending by total and by day. You can even follow your spending on a map throughout your vacation.

Download: iOS | Google Play

Wally

wally app screenshot

Wally connects to your current financial accounts and tracks your spending so you can get a handle on your cash flow and spending by category. Wally is useful because unlike some of the other budgeting apps, it lets you use private groups for managing trip spending or other budgets. You can even add reminders, notes, lists, documents, and comments.

Download: iOS | Google Play

TripMate

TripMate

Users love TripMate for its simplicity and easy-to-use features, plus it’s all free. This travel expense tracker app lets you create a trip and then add and remove users as needed. You can add expenses, receive a personalized summary, and even get hotel, and other booking-related information.

Download: Google Play

Trail Wallet

trail wallet travel budget app

If you’re looking for a travel-specific budget tool and expense tracker, this is your best bet. Input your expenses into Trail Wallet and the app will split them up based on category so you can get a closer look at your spending. Note that only the first 25 items you enter are free.

Download: iOS

Tricount

Tricount

This travel expense app makes splitting costs a breeze. Simply invite your travel partners to the trip you’ve created on the app, and each person can enter in his or her expenses. Once the trip is over (and all expenses have been entered) you can see who owes whom what amount.

Download: iOS | Google Play

Splitwise

Splitwise

Splitwise is another useful cost-tracking platform that easily lets you split group expenses while traveling. You can split by percentage or shares, and it’s even available in offline mode. It’s great for international trips, too, as the app is available in seven languages and over 100 currencies. Plus, it’s integrated with Venmo and PayPal for easy payback.

Download: iOS | Google Play

Mint

Mint is so much more than just a travel expense app—it connects with all of your bank accounts to give you an overall summary of your cash flow. You can then easily create a budget for different categories, like saving for a vacation.

Download: iOS | Google Play

The BACH

The Bach

For those who have been involved in the planning of a bachelor or bachelorette party, you know the trials and tribulations that come with splitting large group expenses. This app was created specifically for those organizing large group trips and includes building an itinerary, polls, and chat features as well as ways to track payments and bar tabs within your group.

Download: iOS | Google Play

YNAB

YNAB (You Need a Budget)

YNAB (You Need a Budget) is a popular software used for budgeting. While it’s slightly pricey ($84 annually), the positive reviews are endless. On the app version, you can set savings goals and itemize your vaca expenses. There is a free 34-day trial to get you started.

Download: iOS | Google Play

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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Health & Wellness Money

Cancel for Any Reason Insurance, Explained

You’ve probably seen lots of stories lately suggesting that you buy “cancel for any reason” (CFAR) travel insurance. This suggestion is based on the fact that conventional trip-cancellation insurance is “named peril” insurance. Meaning: Reimbursement is contingent on a specific exigency named in the policy: If it isn’t named, you aren’t covered.

Focus on “any reason” insurance has assumed prominence recently because many conventional policies do not include an epidemic or fear of an epidemic as a “covered reason.” Often, however, recommendations to buy “any reason” insurance don’t provide details about how it actually works. Here’s what you need to know:

What Is Cancel For Any Reason Insurance?

Typically, the “any reason” coverage is in addition to the traditional coverage that is limited to “covered reasons” for cancellation enumerated in the policy.

Does CFAR Cost More?

Some insurers bundle it into some policies; others treat it as an add-on option. Either way, you pay more than you would for conventional coverage. On a sample trip that a middle-age couple might buy, with a total of $4500 in prepayments, for example, the base cost of the least expensive bundled policy was $220; with 75 percent cancel for any reason, the price increases to $370.

What Does CFAR Cover?

The most common form cover 50 to 75 percent nonrefundable prepayments. Coverage kicks in when the typical 100 percent recovery for cancellation due to a “covered reason” does not apply. It does not replace the traditional coverages: You still recover 100 percent for covered reasons.

To qualify for “any reason,” you must:

  • Insure the full value of all nonrefundable or at-risk payments
  • Buy the insurance within a set period, typically 15 to 21 days, of your original trip payment
  • Cancel no less than 48 hours before scheduled departure

Many policies include trip-interruption coverage along with cancellation. That means it covers unanticipated costs of rejoining a departure you missed or unexpectedly returning home early. Interruption coverage is subject to the same 48-hour time limit and 75 percent recovery.

Originally, insurance regulators in New York State ruled that the “any reason” option did not meet their definition of “insurance,” so insurers could not sell it to New York residents. Recently, however, under some prodding, the regulator decided to allow it, and several large insurers are now selling it in New York.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Health & Wellness Money

Unable to Fly Due to Medical Reasons: Avoid Cancellation Fees with a Doctor’s Note

I consider myself a nonrefundable ticket sort of person. There are very few circumstances in which I’m willing to shell out significantly more to book a more flexible ticket, and until recently I had never been unable to fly due to medical reasons. The cost is simply too high. I’d rather cross my fingers and hope no complicating factors arise. And usually, that works.

But sometimes, it doesn’t. Like the time I got very ill a few days before a trip, and as the illness progressed, it became clear that I would be unable to fly due to illness. I could barely stand, let alone traipse halfway across the globe. I needed to cancel, but I wanted to avoid a stiff penalty if at all possible.

Unable to Fly Due to Medical Reasons? Get a Letter from a Doctor

Enter the doctor’s note. The cost to cancel my ticket would be $200, but the airline was among those that would waive the fee if I could provide a doctor’s note.

I had the fortune/misfortune of a trip to the emergency room and multiple consultations with two different doctors, so I had a paper trail to back up my claim that I was unable to fly due to illness. The airline asked for a doctor’s note, on the doctor’s letterhead, which included some kind of statement regarding my inability to fly for medical reasons plus my name and confirmation number.

Because of some tight timing (and the fact that I wasn’t up to making all those phone calls in one day), I first had to cancel the flight and incur the $200 fee, then ask the doctor to fax a note to the airline confirming I was unable to fly due to medical reasons, at which point the $200 was credited back to my account. In my case, the money now sits as credits to be used on a future flight, but since I plan on traveling with the airline in the next year, that’s just fine with me.

How to Ask for a Cancellation Fee Waiver with a Doctor’s Note

If you need to cancel a flight due to a medical reason and are hoping to avoid cancellation fees:

  • Read the fine print or contact your airline to assess whether or not a documented medical emergency is enough reason to waive a cancellation fee.
  • Be in touch with your doctor so that he or she can vouch for you.
  • Cancel more than 24 hours in advance.
  • Ask your doctor (or a nurse or someone at the front desk) politely, and make it as easy for them as possible to provide a doctor’s note.
  • Provide the airline with as much information as possible about your medical condition, ask nicely, and follow up to check on the process of your cancellation fee waiver claim.

It’s also worth mentioning that Southwest is the only U.S. airline that doesn’t charge cancellation fees.

How to Know If You’re Too Sick to Fly

If you’re wondering if you’re too ill to fly, you’re probably too ill to fly. Need more concrete advice? The CDC has answers: Its Before You Travel Tips page is packed with specific advice about symptoms and special considerations. For instance, if you have a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a sinus infection, or any disease (including flu) that can spread easily, you should cancel your travel plans. At that point, you can reach out to the airline and reach out to your doctor to see what you can do about trying to get that cancellation fee waived.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Healthcare Abroad: How to Find an English-Speaking Doctor or Clinic

Sweaty, squinting, and red-eyed, I exited the cool waiting room’s automatic sliding glass doors. I got in the DiDi rideshare car outside the international clinic, preemptively thanked the driver, and opened my heavy paper bag of new medications: antibiotic eye drops to use every five hours, saline solution to use every six, antibiotic tablets and painkillers to take every 12, and cough medicine for whenever I felt like I couldn’t breathe. A receipt listed the out-of-pocket prices of my bloodwork appointment plus the medicines: $3,000—which I luckily didn’t have to pay thanks to the travel insurance that covered my unexpected need for healthcare abroad.

Pulling away from the small storefront of the Nanjing international clinic, we idled in traffic about a block away. I stared up at a behemoth building, a black glass skyscraper marked by red neon Chinese symbols that flashed and changed on its glass every several seconds. The parking lot was jam-packed with both cars and people.

“What’s this building?” I asked my local guide, who was accompanying me in the back seat. “A movie theater?”

She looked at me and smiled slightly: “That’s the hospital.” I felt my swollen eyes widen, and redirected them to my bag of medicinal loot.

I don’t recommend getting sick in China (as I did in mid-2019). But if you’re going to come down with bronchitis and a bacterial infection on vacation, somewhere with ample tea and warm hospitality is not a bad place for you to be. I unequivocally do recommend, however, having travel medical insurance—preferably from a company with a user-friendly app you can pre-download on your phone. It’ll afford you the luxury of entering and exiting a clinic to see an English-speaking doctor abroad in a fraction of the time that a 3,000-bed hospital would ever be able to see you.

How to Find the Right Healthcare Abroad

Because I have a medication allergy, I felt it was crucial I saw an English-speaking doctor so I could be confident in the prescription I received. While navigating the many international clinics in the college city of Nanjing, I learned a lot about how to responsibly find covered healthcare abroad. Here’s how to purchase and navigate medical travel insurance, find a good doctor or clinic, and ensure you won’t be stuck with the bill.

[st_related]17 Things Your Travel Insurance Policy Won’t Cover[/st_related]

Plan Ahead

Researching your insurance options and purchasing medical travel insurance coverage for your specific needs is the first step to being able to find healthcare abroad, and there are a number of things to consider. If you’re going to be participating in adventure activities like kayaking, scuba diving, or hiking, make sure you purchase a policy that doesn’t exclude “dangerous activities.” Travel insurance policies with good medical coverage will also include worst-case scenario expenses up to and including emergency medical flights home and repatriation of a body, which would otherwise cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

You’ll also want to know the general state of medical services in your destination so you can make an informed decision in an emergency. For example, I knew public hospitals in China often have hours-long wait times, so instead I pounced on an available appointment at a private international clinic that my insurance covered.

If you aren’t familiar with the country you’re visiting, the U.S. State Department’s Consular Information Sheets are a good place to start to see what type of medical services will be available to you once you’re there. Select your country and look for the “Health” section. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has destination-specific health information, and the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) provides free destination-specific health information as well.

Know Your Medications

Knowing the generic/medical names of common medications can be helpful when you’re talking to a doctor about your prescriptions or hunting for over-the-counter remedies in a foreign country. Many doctors abroad speak English, but they might not know what the brand-name medication you take contains since it’s not available to their patients. Keep in mind the following generic medication names in case you need to purchase them from a pharmacy:

  • Advil/Motrin= ibuprofen
  • Aleve= naproxen
  • Tylenol/Excedrin= acetaminophen
  • Bayer, others= aspirin
  • Benadryl= diphenhydramine
  • Dramamine= dimenhydrinate
  • Bonine= meclizine
  • Pepto-Bismol= bismuth subsalicylate
  • Robitussin= dextromethorphan
  • Antacids= calcium carbonate, aluminum hydroxide, or magnesium hydroxide
  • Imodium= loperamide

Choose a High-Tech (and 24-Hour) Medical Insurance Provider

Keep your standards high when it comes to purchasing travel medical insurance—you are paying for it, after all. Straightforward insurance that gets you healthcare abroad doesn’t need to be pricey to come with a high-tech app and 24/7 support: It’s easy to weigh options and seek out one that has both thanks to search-and-compare options like SquareMouth and InsureMyTrip.com. (Also note that, like most private insurance companies in the U.S., Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover healthcare abroad.)

The specific insurance provider you choose will probably depend on your preferences and possibly your home location, but there should be options available that have high-tech features like an app no matter where you are. My coverage for healthcare abroad was with GeoBlue, which offers an app with covered doctor listings by country and fast 24/7 phone support. If you have a credit card that offers travel insurance, read the fine print to make sure it offers the medical support you could need; if it doesn’t, buy your own separately.

[st_related]How to Buy International Medical Insurance, the Other Travel Insurance[/st_related]

Locating the Right Doctor Abroad

The CDC lists some resources that can help you locate a doctor abroad, and states that the nearest embassy or consulate in your destination should also have doctor recommendations. But the only way to see a list of providers in your destination that are covered by your insurance is typically via the medical insurance company’s app or customer service line—which should offer 24/7 contact, in case you’re visiting somewhere with a tricky time difference. International travel clinics are usually named as such, and when in doubt you can call the office to confirm; those with bilingual doctors typically have an automated recording that will prompt you to select a language.

Payment Approval and Proof of Insurance

Approval of funds from your insurance company can be referred to as “direct payment approval” or “direct deposit approval,” and you might need this authorization sent before you even set foot in a doctor’s office. It guarantees that the insurance company will pay the provider directly so you don’t have to. Whether or not you’ll need one varies depending on the destination and type of doctor/clinic you’re visiting, but it was necessary for me in China—so I was happy to have an insurance provider that was readily available to confirm coverage to the clinic I was visiting, especially because it was 2:00 a.m. at home at the time of my appointment.

You’ll probably also need proof of insurance. Keep your insurance card, or at least a digital copy of it, handy in case you need to provide a policy number or contact info to the office you’re visiting. Many clinics require both proof of insurance and an accompanying payment approval before letting you see a doctor. And if direct payment isn’t required or doesn’t occur via your insurance provider for the healthcare you received abroad, you’ll likely need to file a claim with your insurance company as soon as you can—don’t wait too long to file one and risk finding out you’ll be billed.

Know It’s Worth It

Travel insurance can feel like a waste of money if you don’t end up using it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need it in the future. The slight chance that you might need emergency or even routine healthcare abroad makes travel medical insurance a necessity for every international trip. No one can anticipate if and when they’ll have a medical emergency, and not having coverage when you need it can be the difference between going on vacation and letting a doctor’s visit put you into debt.

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Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in July 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Booking Strategy Money

8 Travel Companies Offering Flexible Hotel and Air Bookings Due to COVID-19

Airlines and hotels are hurting for business during this pandemic—and it’s likely not just for the next few weeks. But to encourage travelers to keep planning future trips for as early as this spring and summer, many are offering to waive cancellation and/or change penalties. And they’re typically waiving them even on what are usually “nonrefundable” tickets and rooms, in case the COVID-19 crisis lasts until your trip.

Here are the major players offering flexible booking due to COVID-19.

3 Major Airlines Offering Flexible Bookings

The basic Big Three airlines’ (Delta, American, United) option for new tickets bought now is currently as follows: If you buy a ticket (of any fare type) before March 31 that’s for travel dates through the next nine months, the airline will waive change fees for rescheduled trips. Those rescheduled trips are to be completed within a year of the original issue date.

Most other domestic lines and big international lines follow a similar policy. Southwest, of course, does not assess any change fees in the first place. In all cases, travelers who reschedule will pay whatever the going fare is at the time they book the new trip.

You can find a detailed airline-by-airline, regularly updated summary of cancellation policies via Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site) for all major U.S. lines, plus dozens of others (Canadian, Asian, European, and Latin American lines).

5 Hotels Offering Flexible Bookings

Five major hotel chains—Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Wyndham—announced similar policies: Prepaid, nonrefundable reservations for stays through April 30 can be canceled up to 48 hours before the original arrival date. (So far, Best Western and Choice have not posted anything about cancellations, nor have I seen comparable policies published by smaller chains and chains based outside the U.S.)

Why They’re Not Exactly ‘Risk-Free’ Bookings

Although these policies appear generous, they’re not exactly “risk free” as some travel companies have been calling them. In all cases, if the airline or hotel has your money from the get-go, you won’t usually get your money back as money; you get the ability to apply the money toward a future ticket or stay. And even though a year seems a long time, many of you will find that re-using the value of your prepayment toward a future trip within one year is often not practical.

One COVID-19 Airline Policy to Be Wary Of

United Airlines’ policy poses a special risk. According to the current published policy, you can use the value of a canceled prepayment toward a future trip, but if the future trip fare is less than the amount of your credit you forfeit the residual value.

United is also not playing nice on schedule changes. After a few iterations, United’s current policy on schedule changes is that if it can’t get you to your original destination within six hours of the original schedule, it will refund your fare—but with a catch: The refund is limited to a credit voucher good for a year rather than cash, and you can get cash only if you don’t use that voucher within a full year. The blogosphere is speculating that refusing a cash refund for a full year is illegal, but nobody has any great suggestions about how to avoid the problem.

All in all, my take is that now is a good time to sit on your credit cards and watch what happens. I would be very surprised if the various travel barriers and prohibitions will end as soon as March 30, so airlines and hotels are likely going to expand offers, week-by-week or month-by-month, until the pandemic is truly contained and travel is truly safe.

For the foreseeable future, only buy nonrefundable air tickets or hotel accommodation if (1) the price is incredible low and (2) you’re at least 95 percent sure of being able to re-use it within a year.

And even then, think about purchasing “cancel for any reason” insurance.

More from SmarterTravel:

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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9 Sneaky Travel Costs You Might Forget to Budget For

When you’re planning out the cost of a trip, you probably budget for the big stuff: airfare, accommodations, car rental, tours, cruise fares. But while that back-of-the-envelope estimate will get you into the ballpark of what your trip will cost, there are plenty of other smaller travel expenses that could make a big impact on your budget. If you’re sick of coming home to unexpectedly high credit card bills after every vacation, check out this list of hidden travel expenses to anticipate and budget for.

Souvenirs and Gifts

Some travelers pick up a couple of fridge magnets or other tchotchkes on every trip, while others splurge on expensive wines and local handicrafts to bring home for themselves, friends, and family members. Know your shopping style and budget accordingly.

Pet Care

Leaving your furry friends behind? Don’t forget to budget for their care. The average cost of boarding a dog ranges from $40 to $60 per day, while cats are a little cheaper at $20 to $30 on average. On longer trips, these travel costs can be significant—so you’ll want to plan for them.

Drinks

Bottled water at the airport. A mid-morning coffee break at a museum. A couple of beers at the pub. These beverages might only cost a few dollars here and there, but it all adds up, especially if you’re traveling with a companion who’s also running up a tab. Consider adding a small daily cushion into your budget for these types of incidental drink purchases (and throw in a few extra bucks for snacks as well).

Transportation Around Your Destination

Most of us budget for major transportation costs such as a rental car or lengthy train trips, but where we often fall short is in smaller expenses such as gas, public transportation, rideshares, or taxis. And have you accounted for how you’re going to get to and from the airport? Build these travel costs into your budget, too.

Airline Fees

Not much comes free with your airline ticket these days—some carriers are even charging for carry-ons. Consult SmarterTravel’s ultimate guide to airline fees to get an idea of which extras you might end up paying for, from snacks and meals to seat selection.

Tips

The scope of this expense depends on where you’re traveling, the local tipping culture, and the type of trip you’re taking. For example, it’s customary to tip both your guide and your bus driver on multi-day group tours in many parts of the world, and most cruise lines charge a per-day gratuity that is split among the staff. You may also want to leave a few dollars a day for your hotel housekeeper or give something to the bellhop who carries your bags.

See The Ultimate Guide to Tipping for Travelers to learn more about how much you should budget.

Hotel Extras

Aside from tips to various members of the staff, you may also need to shell out for other hidden travel expenses at hotels. Wi-Fi, parking, minibar purchases, laundry, and resort fees are just a few of the unexpected things you might find yourself paying for during your stay. To see more possibilities, read about the most common hidden hotel fees.

ATM and Currency Conversion Fees

When traveling abroad, you can expect to pay a few fees here and there to get access to the local currency, either when withdrawing cash from an ATM or using your credit card to pay a larger bill. Even if your own bank doesn’t charge a flat fee or a percentage for foreign ATM withdrawals (and many do), the local bank that operates the machine often will.

Fortunately, currency conversion fees for credit card purchases are usually easier to avoid. See Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site, for a list of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees.

The Unexpected

Into this category falls everything else—like the time I caught a cold in Australia and had to buy medicine, and the time I didn’t pack warm enough clothes and had to buy a thick, cozy sweatshirt in Canada. You can draw up the world’s most detailed budget, but there will inevitably be a few items that crop up without warning.

I like to budget an extra $25 a day for “miscellaneous” expenses on every trip. While I rarely end up spending that much, it gives me some wiggle room—and some peace of mind.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

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Booking Strategy Money Passenger Rights

The 6 Best Sites for Buying Travel Insurance Online

Travel insurance sales are up these days, and you likely already know the reason is the global pandemic. But you might not know the best way buy travel insurance is through one of a handful of independent agencies.

Although their websites aren’t identical, but they’re all similar in that they provide two major functionalities you definitely want when you buy travel insurance: (1) The ability to select exactly what kinds of coverage you want and the amount of each coverage, and (2) the ability compare policies from all the major insurers side-by-side to select the best policy option for your particular needs at the best price.

Over the years, SmarterTravel has listed several such agencies (check out our Ultimate Guide to Travel Insurance), and no single site stands out as superior to the others—it will depend what type of coverage you’re looking for.

Where to Buy Travel Insurance Online

Here are the best websites for comparing and buying travel insurance, in alphabetical order:

Buying from an independent agency has several advantages. A policy you can tailor, using some easy online tools, beats a one-size-fits-all policy that your airline or OTA is likely to offer you. And although a minor risk these days, a policy you buy from a hotel, tour company, or cruise line will not cover bankruptcy or default of that company.

You also don’t want a cancellation “waiver” that many tour companies and other suppliers offer. It’s not really insurance; it usually covers a lot fewer contingencies than real travel insurance, and it generally offers no medical coverage at all. In addition, waivers typically don’t pay cash refunds, they pay in future travel credit with the same supplier, often with a short time limit for re-use.

Airline, cruiseline, and OTA policies are generally not age-rated, but third-party policy rates are, and they start to go up rapidly at the 75-80 year range. Travelers in or above that range might find that an airline or OTA policy or a cancellation waiver, even though with inferior coverage, is the only affordable option.

Beyond those questions, be sure to check out SmarterTravel’s Ultimate Guide to Travel Insurance before you start shopping for any travel insurance. Pay particular attention to how to avoid problems with pre-existing medical conditions and the contingencies that most insurance does not cover. Given that most policies do not specify “fear of an epidemic” as a covered reason, take a good look at “cancel for any reason” options.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Money Road Trip

9 Nasty Truths About Car Rental Insurance

No matter how often I cover the problems that come with collision damage under car rental insurance, consumers continue to share their frustrations. A reader recently emailed me:

“I’m interested in finding a complete bumper-to-bumper, ‘drop off the keys at the counter’ car rental coverage when I travel. I recently thought I had complete coverage though a credit card, but when my car suffered a small dent, the car rental company flat-out refused to document that it actually lost income from having the car rental in the shop (which took three weeks to repair a small dent). I was left with responsibility.”

Car Rental Insurance: 9 Nasty Truths

This experience is uncommon, but not unique. Car rental companies desperately want you to buy their collision damage waiver, or CDW (sometimes also known as loss damage waiver, or LDW), and will go to great lengths to make you pay for even the smallest damages if you don’t. Here’s what you need to know before you shell out for car rental insurance on your next vacation.

The One Way to ‘Drop the Keys and Forget It’

When you buy a CDW, the rental company surrenders its rights to charge you for damage to a car rental—with a few exceptions, such as tire damage or gross negligence. (CDW terms and conditions vary by car rental company, so you’ll want to read them carefully before committing.) But otherwise, no matter how banged up the car could be, you’re off the hook: Just turn it in and be on your way. No other approach—your own insurance, your credit card, or a third-party policy—is as comprehensive or convenient. If you want that full flexibility and peace of mind, pay for CDW.

CDW Insurance Is Ridiculously Overpriced

Typically, a CDW starts at around $30 per day and can go higher. It sometimes costs even more than the base car rental rate. The actuarial cost to the rental company—the amount it would allocate toward a damage pool based on risk experience—is probably just a few dollars a day; the rest is theirs to keep. No wonder the agents push it so hard: It’s clearly a lot more profitable than the car rental alone.

You’ll Pay Up Front for All Damage

You can cover your major damage responsibility by relying on your own insurance, a credit card with insurance, or a third-party policy. But in all of those cases you have to pay a damage claim up front, then recover as much as you can (all of it, you hope) by filing a claim afterward. That means signing a credit card bill for hundreds or even thousands of dollars when you return the damaged car, and not knowing if you’ll get that money back.

That’s why many rental companies won’t accept rentals via debit card, or a credit card with a small limit. If you can pay the initial rental fee with a debit card, you’ll still need to provide a credit card to cover a possible damage claim, which would be filed before you can leave the return counter.

‘Damage’ Is More than Fixing a Dent

If you don’t buy CDW, rental companies can charge for more than just fixing the damage. They also charge for:

  • “Loss of use,” meaning the potential revenue lost while the car is out of service being fixed, even if the company had lots of other cars available. And they generally figure that daily loss at the full retail rate.
  • Towing charges, if you are unable to drive the car back to the return station.
  • “Diminished value,” or the potential loss of the car’s resale value (because of your damage) when the rental company disposes of it, usually within two years.
  • Administrative fees associated with the claims process.

Most non-CDW car rental insurance will cover those extras. But, in some cases, coverage depends on cooperation from the rental company—and it may not be forthcoming, as our reader’s above wasn’t.

Alternative #1: Pay with Your Existing Car Insurance

In many cases, if your regular auto insurance covers collision damage to your insured car, it also covers damage to a short-term rental. But this coverage is generally limited to driving in the U.S. and maybe Canada, and won’t cover car rentals in Mexico, Europe, or anywhere else. So, before you plan on using your own insurance, check its coverage. If it does cover rentals, you can place a claim on it. Still, you must typically pay your policy’s deductible, and any claims may cause your rates to go up.

Alternative #2: Use Credit Card Benefits

These days, most credit cards provide “free” collision coverage for car rentals, provided you use the card to secure the rental. A sample credit card benefits statement describes coverage as:

“Physical damage and/or theft of the covered rental vehicle. Valid loss-of-use charges assessed by the rental company while the damaged vehicle is being repaired and is not available for use, as substantiated in the company’s fleet utilization log. Reasonable and customary towing charges related to a covered loss to take the vehicle to the nearest qualified repair facility.”

Note that this typical Visa card’s benefits do not cover diminished value or administrative costs. A few premium credit cards offer primary collision coverage, meaning the card takes full responsibility for the payment. But coverage on most cards is secondary, meaning the card picks up only what you can’t first recover from your own insurance. And you still have to pay the rental company up front, then file for reimbursement from your card issuer.

Another gotcha in the above fine print: This card (and many others) pays for loss of use only if verified by the rental company’s log. Unfortunately, some rental companies don’t cooperate with credit card issuers in providing this type of documentation in a timely manner.

Alternative #3: Third-Party Car Rental Insurance

If you rent a car through one of the big online travel agencies (OTA) such as Expedia or Priceline, the agency normally offers you the option to buy collision coverage for around $10 a day. That coverage is provided by a third-party insurance company such as Allianz. The cost is a lot less than the rental company’s CDW, but, as with credit card coverage, if you damage the car, you have to pay up front and claim later.

Typical third-party collision coverage includes about the same contingencies as credit card coverage, but because it’s grouped with the booking you won’t have to make any other claims. You can also buy collision coverage independently: Bonzah, for example, sells coverage at around $9 per day.

You Need General Liability Protection

You should never get behind the wheel of a car—or lawnmower, for that matter—without liability protection. But you don’t buy that from a car rental company: It usually comes with household, homeowner, or tenant insurance, and it covers far more than a car rental. And if your net worth is in six figures, you probably need an “umbrella” liability policy that covers a million dollars or more.

Car rental companies in most countries are required by law to include liability insurance. In the U.S., required coverage can be ludicrously small (usually only the minimum required by the state)—it’s usually much better in Europe. If you don’t have substantial liability insurance, you might consider buying the rental company’s offering. Still, your best bet is to make sure you’re covered 24/7 with your own insurance so you can forget about the rental company’s overpriced insurance.

The Uncertainty Principle

The takeaway from all this: No alternative source of collision damage coverage—your auto insurance, your credit card, or a third party—completely isolates you from risk. Lots of travelers successfully rely on lower-cost alternatives to CDW without encountering any problems, sure. Occasionally, however, your own insurance, credit card, or third-party policy may not cover an unusual charge a rental company might impose.

If you’re unwilling to accept any risk at all, you might want to buy that overpriced CDW. For most travelers and circumstances, credit card or third-party coverage is sufficient, and primary coverage is a lot better than secondary.

What to Pack on Your Next Road Trip

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.