Back in the day, you had to let a credit card company know if you were planning to travel outside your normal patterns. If you were traveling across the country or around the globe, if the bank thought a charge was out of the ordinary, you’d be risking having your charge denied at the worst possible time.
Over time, banks developed algorithms and used AI technology to determine if a charge was fraudulent. The more you traveled, the less likely a charge from a faraway location was likely to be questioned.
I realized that these systems might have to recalibrate after almost everyone has been staying home or not traveling far away from home for over a year. For instance, our first charge to pay for part of our trip to Iceland was denied by my Sapphire Reserve. I promptly received an email and text asking if I was the one who made the charge (which I was) and I needed to submit the payment again.
If you’re home, having your credit card charge denied is a minor inconvenience, even it can be slightly embarrassing. If it’s not something you’re aware of, such as being over your limit or not paying your bill, you can usually resolve the problem by a quick call to the bank or checking your account on their website or mobile app.
What happens if this occurs when you’re away from home? Making a few purchases, especially large ones, in a new location can lead to your card being denied or even worse, shut down.
So how can you try to prevent this from happening and what can you do if it does?
Alert your bank in advance
You can let your bank know you’re going to be traveling. That way, when their computer sees a bunch of charges from a different location or locations, there’s less chance they’ll flag your account for fraud.
Here’s a link to our article with how to let each bank know about your trip.
If you’ve made travel-related purchases with your card, like airfare or hotel charges, they might let you know they’re aware of your trip like this email we received from our Citi Prestige account.
Make sure your account information is up to date
If your bank suspects fraudulent activity on your card, the first thing they’re going to do after denying the charge is to try and contact you. Does the bank have your current phone number and email address? If you’ve changed either of them since signing up for the card, it’s a smart idea to log into your account and make sure your contact information is current.
Download the mobile apps from your banks
I keep reading how more and more people are doing most of their online transactions on their mobile devices. While I’m still one who prefers working on a desktop computer, I make sure to have the apps for my banks on my phone. In case of problems, this is often the fastest way to resolve them. For example, simply logging into your account and clicking on the link to tell the bank that the charge from the 7-Eleven in Tokyo was in fact made by you can unlock your card for future use.
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
If a bank thinks your account is compromised, there’s a chance they’ll lock all of your cards as a precaution. They might even lock the cards of your spouse as well. We found out this the hard way when Chase locked us out of our accounts when trying to make a rather large purchase at Buc-ee’s in Texas.
What saved us from having to give up on that purchase? We used our Discover card instead. I make sure to have cards from a variety of banks when we travel. I also have our ATM card from a bank not associated with any of our credit cards. I take care of all these arrangements when doing the pre-trip wallet shuffle.
If your charge is denied, don’t panic
If you have access to the internet, try to open the bank app or check your text messages to see if you have a message from your bank. It might be as simple as clicking a box to unlock your account and have the charge go through.
If that doesn’t work, you can try a card from a different bank.
If none of those work, you can try to pay using your debit card. Not the optimal solution but all you really want to do is pay and sort out everything else later.
Carry some cash with you
I’ll admit that I often have less than $40 in my wallet at any time. I once went for two weeks with no cash to see how easy or difficult it would be to operate in a cashless environment. It turns out, for most transactions, it’s pretty easy.
That’s not the case when I travel. I try to remember and bring cash with me. Even if traveling internationally, I’ll feel comfortable just having U.S. dollars. If I need to convert them to other currencies, I can. Heck, if I can convert them in Cuba (and we did), then there are very few places I’m worried about currency exchange.
Call your bank
You might have to call your bank to straighten things out. It may help, maybe not. I’ve heard of American Express overnighting a new card to a hotel for a card member. This is definitely easier if you’re in a large city like Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, London or San Paulo. If you’re trekking across Africa, it might be harder to call your bank or for them to get a replacement card for you.
In case of emergency, get someone to send you money
If you’re somewhere and your wallet was stolen and you need cash now, check to see if there’s a cash center, such as Western Union, in the area. You can call someone back home and ask if they can transfer cash to you until you’re able to get everything straightened out.
If you need additional tips, there are several real-life situations in this article from Conde Nast Traveler showing worst-case scenarios and what you can do if you’re in a similar position.
Having your card denied or compromised while traveling can turn your trip upside down. You can try to do what you can ahead of time to avoid problems, but occasionally there’s nothing more you could do.
Having the proper tools at your disposal and a bit of preparation can go a long way to help you get back on track and let you enjoy the rest of your trip.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary