Ways to save money as you get ready to take off
For some, summer travel means going no farther than the backyard with a blanket and a book.
For others, it’s a whole lot more complicated, involving planes, trains and automobiles – and a lot more gear.
Whether you’re heading on a road trip or flying to your desired destination this summer, here are some trusty travel tips to save you time and money:
PROTECT YOUR STUFF
Before you travel, find out what your insurance covers. Under most homeowner/renter policies, your possessions – luggage, clothes etc. – will be covered if lost or stolen, whether you’re in California or Calcutta. Minus your deductible, of course. Some credit card companies also provide theft coverage.
When packing, take a picture of your suitcase and its contents. “Spread everything out on the bed, so if you have to make a claim, you’ll know what you have,” said Michele Adams, a State Farm Insurance agent in Sacramento.
If you have expensive extras – cameras, jewelry, sports equipment or tech gear – you might want a “personal articles” policy. Typically, there’s no deductible and policies can cost as little as $40 a year, depending on what’s covered.
However, some “personal articles” policies don’t cover tablets and smartphones.
PREPARE FOR LOSS, THEFT
• Make a copy of all your travel documents – passports, itinerary, plane tickets, hotel reservations. Leave one set behind with a friend or family member; keep an extra set in your luggage. Include toll-free numbers for your credit cards, so you can immediately cancel the card if lost or stolen.
• If staying in a hotel, take a cellphone photo of the exterior, in case you get lost or can’t communicate with a cabdriver. Or carry the hotel’s postcard, stationery sheet or business card.
• Always use a hotel safe to lock up valuables when leaving your room, says veteran travel columnist Ed Perkins of SmarterTravel.com
• If something happens, file a police report, if possible, which can help with insurance claims.
AVOID IDENTITY THEFT
• Weed out the wallet, said Ken Lin, CEO of consumer website CreditKarma.com
in San Francisco. You don’t need your Macy’s card while hiking in the Sierra Nevada. Same for your Social Security card, library card, gym membership or anything with personal information that can “encourage identity theft or access to your life.”
• Don’t use an ATM on a random corner or in out-of-the-way locations. “Use a bank ATM in a well-lit public place,” said Credit Karma’s Lin, noting that thieves can install PIN “sniffers” that read your card.
• When using a public Wi-Fi connection for your laptop, find a trusted source, such as your hotel. “Anyone can make it say ‘Free Public’ connection, said Lin, “but it could be just a random stranger” trying to steal personal data. It’s OK to send emails or look up maps and restaurants at an Internet cafe, but don’t access bank accounts or financial information on a public computer, he said. Always remember to log off.
CREDIT CARD CAVEATS
• Call your credit card issuers to let them know your travel dates. Otherwise, if they spot a purchase in Ireland or Orlando, Fla., they may try contacting you to confirm it’s legitimate. If you can’t be reached, banks may flag an out-of-country purchase as identity theft and freeze your card.
• If traveling overseas, beware of “foreign transaction” fees that can add 2 to 3 percent to every purchase. The good news: In recent months, a number of banks have issued no-foreign-transaction-fee cards. To see a list of traveler-friendly credit cards, go to comparison sites like CardHub.com
• Bring two credit cards: a main card and one kept separate as a backup, in case the primary one is lost or stolen. If traveling as a couple, “each of you can carry a different card,” said SmarterTravel’s Perkins.
BOOKING HOTEL ROOMS
When booking a room, call the hotel directly – instead of the 800 number – for a better chance at negotiating price, said Jeanette Pavini, a San Francisco Bay Area-based consumer savings writer with Coupons.com
. And, she notes, a hotel’s “special” rate is not necessarily its lowest rate. Don’t ask for specials; ask specifically for the lowest price.
Pavini’s other tips: Look for recently opened hotels, which often offer “rock-bottom rates and perks to get people in the door.” Request a corner room to get more space for the same price.
To save money on souvenirs such as “autograph books and mouse ears,” buy them online ahead of time, Pavini said. “Wrap them up and surprise your child the morning of your theme park adventure, so it still feels like a special treat.”
She also recommends buying admission tickets online, which can be cheaper than at the gate. Look for ticket savings at warehouse club stores, coupon sites and by going weekdays, instead of crowded weekends. And consider annual passes, which can pay off in as little as two visits.
If you’re going overseas with a cellphone, be wary: Travelers can unwittingly rack up hundreds of dollars in roaming fees.
Call your cellphone carrier and ask about international calling plans. It can make the difference between paying $3.50 a minute in China for outgoing calls, for instance, vs. 49 cents.
Perkins, who recently returned from a nine-country visit to Asia and Western Europe, bought an inexpensive throwaway phone and switched out his U.S. SIM card.
If you’re taking your own phone, “make sure you turn off anything in your phone that (connects) to any Wi-Fi network. Shut down all of the automatic programs that keep updating and connecting your phone. If you’re outside the country, it can kill you (in fees),” said Perkins. And, he said, arrange to have family or business callers dial you: Incoming calls are often cheap, or free, compared with outgoing calls.
Claudia Buck is a financial reporter with The Sacramento Bee.