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How to avoid travel rip-offs

Tips for steering clear of crooks while saving time and money on the road

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By Claudia Buck
McClatchy Newspapers
Published:
For some, summer travel means going no farther than the back yard with a blanket and a book.
For others it involves planes, trains and automobiles, and a lot more gear.
Whether you're heading on a road trip or flying to your destination, here are some 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 will be covered if lost or stolen, whether you're in California or Calcutta. 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.
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.
Make a copy of all your travel documents, passports, itinerary, plane tickets, hotel reservations. Leave one set with a friend; 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.
Always use a hotel safe to lock up valuables when leaving your room, said 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. 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.
Don't use an ATM in out-of-the-way locations. "Use a bank ATM in a well-lit public place," Lin said. Thieves can install PIN "sniffers" that read your card.
When using a public Wi-Fi connection, find a trusted source, such as your hotel. "Anyone can make it say 'free public' connection, Lin said, "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.
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.
Booking hotel rooms
Call the hotel directly, instead of the 800 number, for a better chance at negotiating price, said Jeanette Pavini, a consumer savings writer with Coupons.com. Don't ask for specials; ask specifically for the lowest price.
Look for recently opened hotels, which often offer "rock-bottom rates and perks to get people in the door," Pavini said. Request a corner room to get more space for the same price.
Amusement savings
To save money on souvenirs like "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."
She also recommends buying admission tickets online, which can be cheaper than at the gate. Look for savings at warehouse club stores, coupon sites, and by going weekdays. And consider annual passes, which can pay off in as little as two visits.
Cellphone savvy
If you're going overseas, be wary of racking up hundreds of dollars in roaming fees.
Ask about international calling plans.
Perkins said he buys inexpensive throwaway phones and switches out his U.S. SIM card.
Disable data access over cellular networks. Shut down any automatic programs that keep updating and connecting your phone.
And, Perkins said, arrange to have family or business callers dial you: Incoming calls are often cheaper, or free.
Story tags » VacationsTravelPersonal Finance

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