No one wants to start their vacation dealing with their credit card company. However, if you aren’t savvy, you may be greeted at your destination by the word “declined.” If you put your credit card company on notice about your travels, you can fix problems before they begin.
But, it’s not always necessary to alert your credit card company about upcoming travel. Let’s discuss what travel alerts are and when you might need one.
What Is a Travel Alert?
Simply put, a travel alert is a message sent to your credit card company alerting them of your future travels. In the past, it was a good idea to let your bank know about your travels every single time you left your home turf.
Fortunately, banks are now more sophisticated, but there will still be times where setting a travel alert makes sense. Travel alerts are easy to set up, but you don’t always need one.
When Do You Need To Set a Travel Alert?
The watch words are pattern of behavior. If you are using your card in a manner consistent with how you usually use it, you probably don’t need to set an alert. However, if something looks new or different to you, it will also look new or different to your bank. Here are some examples of situations when you might want to set a travel alert on your cards:
- When you are using a new card: If your first use of a credit card is for a road trip, the bank is going to immediately register that the card isn’t where it should be. In this case, setting a travel alert would be a good idea.
- When you are dusting a card off the shelf: Some cards have specific benefits, such as lounge access or lack of foreign transaction fees, that make them occasional use cards. If you haven’t used a card in six months and all of the sudden make a purchase in another country or even another state, you’re going to raise some flags. It would be best to set a travel alert to prevent any questions.
- When you are doing something inconsistent to what you normally do. If you are a frequent traveler, credit card companies are used to seeing you charge purchases all over the world. However if you have never left the U.S., set a travel alert because an ATM withdrawal or credit card purchase in Rome could set off some alarm bells on your account.
- When you are making a large purchase: If you know you want to browse rugs in Morocco, you might want to let your credit card company know. You’ll especially want to let them know if you’ve been using another card for your travels and are pulling out this one specifically for a large purchase away from home.
When Don’t You Need a Travel Alert?
If you have charged your airline ticket, hotel or tours to a card, the bank already sees where you are going. In that case, using the same card on that trip without an alert should be fine. Chase even goes a step further. About two weeks before departure for an upcoming trip, you might see the following email:
Obviously, Chase is on the ball, which is nice because it takes an item off of your to-do list. Since the bank spotted your ticket purchases you can rest assured that any of your Chase credit card purchases in Italy will pass without needing to set a travel alert.
Even if you don’t get an email, it’s a safe bet that the card you used to charge large expenses, such as a plane ticket, will already be set up for travels to whatever countries you visit during the time of your ticket. Even using your card for taxes on an award ticket should be enough to flag your upcoming travels for your credit card company.
It’s also a safe bet that if you’re a frequent traveler, your card showing up at a far flung airport is unlikely to cause much notice unless you start making purchases that don’t match your profile. So if you are a person whose new girlfriend gave you a fashion shopping list in Milan, you might want to go ahead and set that travel alert.
How Do You Set a Travel Alert?
If you think you need to contact your bank to set a travel alert, it shouldn’t take much time.
Travel alerts can be sent to your bank via three methods: secure message, chat or phone. Whatever method you use, you shouldn’t need more than a couple of minutes. You only need to set one alert per bank, so if you have two cards with American Express, for instance, you only need to set one alert.
Some companies, notably American Express, have a chat function on their website. To use it, log in and click the “chat” button on the lower right corner of your screen. Let the agent know that you want to set a travel alert. Note where you are going and your dates of travel.
Other banks have a secure message function. To use it, login and click the “messages” button. Title the message “travel alert” and let them know your dates and travel locations. If you are within 24 hours of travel or don’t have access to the website, you can also call the number on the back of your card and inform the agent about your travels.
While you are setting travel alerts, it’s a good idea to set one for your debit card as well. The last place you want to be put out is at an ATM machine.
When you inform a bank about your travels, be sure to consider transit countries in addition to your destinations. For instance, if an upcoming trip to Rome has you flying through Amsterdam on the way there and Paris on the way home, your alert should list the Netherlands and France in addition to Italy. This keeps you covered if you have an extended layover and want to pull out your card.
Doing this is especially important because delays and cancellations mean that you may be stranded without your luggage while en route. Because you’ve listed transit countries, your credit card company won’t be surprised to see charges for replacement skivvies.
What Can You Do To Stay Secure?
The best tool you have to prevent credit card fraud could be your cell phone. Make sure your bank has your mobile number and that you can send and receive texts while you travel. Many cell phone companies allow free texting overseas. If you have access to texting, your bank can text you when their algorithms spot an anomaly. It might look like this:
If you had registered your mobile number you would be able to immediately let Chase know that you made (or didn’t make) that charge. Once you do this, the bank would know to expect further charges from your destination.
Do you need to put travel alerts on your credit cards? The short answer is sometimes. If you are using a card that’s been idle or are spending differently than normal, setting a travel alert is a good idea. If you are a frequent traveler who charges your travel plans on the same card you’re taking on the trip, you can probably skip setting an alert.
Even so, take the minute or two it takes to set the alert. It takes so little time on the front end to address what could take you hours to fix at the exact wrong time—when you need to use that card to make a purchase. Getting caught out just one time will teach you the value of setting a travel alert, whether you’re at a casbah in Tangier or a Walmart in Tallahassee.