5 steps to make sure your cards’ credit limits are vacation-ready


Without an adequate credit line, you could be find yourself in trouble

Erica Sandberg
Personal Finance Writer
Consumer finance expert, author and “Opening Credits” columnist.

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5 steps to make sure your cards' credit limits will cover your vacation


No matter where you go on vacation, preparing your credit
cards before departure is an essential task. Unless you have sufficient
charging power, you’ll come up short at the most inopportune time.

Skipping a high-priced activity that you’ve always dreamed
of – from riding in a Venetian gondola to helicoptering over the waterfalls of
Kauai – can ruin an otherwise perfect trip.

Insufficient funds for more serious
matters is worse. You may have to switch to a more expensive hotel at the last
minute because the one you booked is in a rough part of town or you may need to
cover emergency medical treatment in Greece after crashing a rented moped. 

an adequate credit line, you could be in trouble if you don’t have a large
amount of cash available to cover the surprise expense.

To be fully prepared for unexpected expenses while
traveling, make sure you have a high enough credit line on the cards you’re packing.
Here is a five-step process to preparing your account limits for

Tips for making sure your credit limits are enough

1. Determine the total cost of the vacation

It’s impossible to determine the correct credit line for
your vacation without knowing what the entire trip will cost, including any
excursions or activities, says Nancy Shenker,
founder of the travel site bleisureliving.com. “Calibrate it so the total price is within your ability
to pay off fast, not just what your credit card can cover,” says Shenker.

Each vacation is different, so the
outlay can vary tremendously. To obtain an accurate figure, list all your
desired and necessary expenses, then add them up. Comprehensive online forms
can help you determine the many assorted costs, such as this from budgetworksheets.org.
Travel agents can offer more personal guidance, and you might even have one
through your credit card issuer. American Express
cardholders, for instance, give cardholders access to professionals who will
walk them through the entire planning process.

See related: 11 money, credit management tips for an extended vacation

2. Subtract prepaid expenses

Your vacation credit line should be
considered for expenses you incur during your trip and not those you’ve already

“Many of your larger expenses, such as hotel
and airfare, may be prepaid,” says Austin, Texas, resident Erik
Paquet, founder of Abroaders.com, which helps travelers turn
rewards points and frequent flyer miles into flights and lodging. “I always
make a list of what has been paid in full before departure. This makes it
easier to plan for an appropriate credit limit, and also helps me make sure I’m
not charged again for something that was prepaid online.”

Review your trip expenses to determine
what you’ll pay for beforehand, with care to anticipate extras. Accommodations,
entertainment and food are embedded in the pre-paid price of all-inclusive
resorts and cruises, but excursions, alcoholic beverages, gambling and special
dinners are usually add-ons.

Take advantage of pay-in-advance
deals, too. Some hotel chains, such as Marriott, will reduce its rate
by 20 percent for guests who cover the bill before check-in. You can further
optimize the benefit by opening the
Marriott Rewards Premier Plus card several months in advance. Charge $3,000 in the first
three months of ownership, which might be about the cost of the vacation
itself, and you’ll get 75,000 bonus points that can be redeemed for hotel

See related: Using points to stay at all-inclusive resorts

3. Know what you’ll be paying for in

But wait, what about the money from
your wallet or debit card that you may also be using? That will reduce the
amount of necessary charging ability, and you will definitely need some bills with
you. “Cash is still king in many parts of the world,” says Paquet. “Credit
cards are safer and have more protections than carrying lots of cash, but you
can’t depend on them entirely.”

“To get to the magic number of how
much your charging limit ought to be, consider what you’ll be using cash for on
the trip, but don’t stop there,” says Shenker.
“I’m not going to charge small souvenirs or a soda, so I plan ahead for the
daily cash I need for those types of things.”

However, there will usually be a
surprise must-have that’s beyond your fixed cash allotment. “It’s that splurge,”
says Shenker. “For me, recently, it was an amazing pair of boots in Italy. They
were expensive, so I used my credit card, even though they weren’t in my travel
budget.” Her advice is to have at least 25 percent to a credit line available
for unexpected indulgences.

4. Estimate for emergencies

The fact is, not every vacation plays
out perfectly. Emergencies arise, so prepare your credit limit for the things
that could go wrong.

“In Spain, I woke up so sick I couldn’t
move,” says Roni Faida, a
travel expert from Charlotte, North Carolina. “I went to the emergency room. It
was horrible, but I had no choice; I had to get better. I swiped my card at the
hospital to pay. It was just a few hundred dollars, but even if it had been a
few thousand I would have done it. That’s what your credit card is for. You
need a big line for emergencies. I’ve been on trips with people who got sick
and I tell them, ‘go to the doctor!’ and they say ‘I can’t; I don’t have any
money or credit cards.’ It’s foolish.” 

See related: Saved by plastic: 5 true credit card rescue tales

Aside from requiring vital medical
treatment, you may also need to project for extreme weather conditions that can
affect your travel experience and budget. “I was in Mexico when a hurricane hit
New York, where I was living at the time,” says Shenker.
“I could not get back home because planes weren’t landing, I needed a
contingency plan and that meant saying longer at the hotel, and a much bigger

Other “what ifs” include replacing
lost and stolen items. Credit cards will be the preferred payment tools for
them, since you don’t want to deplete your spending money. If you want to
replace the $300 camera a crook grabbed while you were snapping pics on the
Spanish Steps, charge it.  Many credit
cards offer purchase protection benefits, which might replace or reimburse the cost of lost or
stolen items, should it happen again. Among them are Citi Double Cash Card and United MileagePlus Club Card.

Run through the gamut of
possibilities, and think about how much they could cost. Would you feel safe if
you knew you had an additional $1,000 or more to charge so you could deal with
a problem without too much stress? That number will be part of your credit

5. Diversify your cards

With the above information you’ll have
what you need to calculate the right credit limit for you and your vacation:
The total trip price minus prepaid expenses minus cash purchases and extra spending plus the
cost of projected emergencies equals the bare minimum charging limit you’ll need on
each card.

Bear in mind that it’s best that the
limit should be per account, not spread out over a couple cards. “You should
have at least two credit cards with you, but three is better,” says Faida. “I’m
the queen of ‘what will happen?,’ so if it’s $5,000 you need while you’re
there, you better have that line on each card. What if the other cards don’t
work? Trust me, it happens!”

Diversify the cards among card
networks, too. “Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted payment
networks internationally,” says Paquet. “American Express may not be accepted
by all merchants.” Your best bet is to bring one of each, all loaded with the
same credit line capability.

Credit limit too short? Try getting
them increased

Don’t panic if you discover your pre-trip charging ability is too short
for comfort. A credit limit increase request, which you can make over the phone
or online, can often result in approval, provided you’ve had the card for a
while, don’t have a high balance and have been making payments on time.
According to a 2018 poll conducted by CreditCards.com,
85 percent of 
cardholders who
asked for a higher credit limit received one

If your request is accepted, you’re on your
way. If it’s denied, understand the root reason. It could be because your
credit scores aren’t high enough or your credit card has only been open for a
few months, you’ve had late payments within 12 months, a history of maxed out credit
lines or that you’ve already recently received a credit limit increase.

“Depending on the reason why your credit limit
request was denied, you may simply need to wait a few months until your account
is old enough to qualify or you space out your requests,” says Laura Adams,
host of the Money Girl podcast. “However, if your credit score is too low, you
may need to focus on building your credit health by paying bills on time and
reducing debt balances.”

Another option, says
Adams, is to apply for a new card with a different issuer instead. The limit on it might do the vacation prep trick. Check your credit
scores to see which you’re eligible for, then review the available offers using
CreditCards.com’s CardMatch tool. Focus on rewards and travel cards. With a decent
credit rating and income, you should be able to score a card with strong
borrowing power, and possibly even one with a large sign-on bonus that you can
use for a future vacation.

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