Travel tip: Gift cards are the new traveler’s checks

WASHINGTON — As Americans start planning for their summer vacations, credit card companies and financial institutions encourage consumers to think ahead about protecting their finances while traveling.

Here is a fairly new idea: Put a few gift cards in your purse or wallet, the kind that are redeemable for cash.

“Consider them the modern equivalent of traveler’s checks,” Larry Larsen at Fairfax-based Apple Federal Credit Union told WTOP.

“They are pre-loaded. You determine how much you want to put on each card and it is unique to the card itself,” he said. “It is not tied back directly to you, so if the card is lost, you are only out the amount you pre-loaded it with.”

You will need to make sure it is a branded card that is accepted by most merchants, such as MasterCard, Visa or American Express. The amount you can pre-load to the card will limit its use to things such as shopping and restaurants, not the hotel or resort’s bill for your weeklong stay.

Larsen also recommends looking into a free app called Card Valet that is compatible with most banks and credit unions.

“It allows you to set controls on your debit card based on your physical location, spending limits and even limits on what kinds of charges you want to allow,” Larsen said.

Other long-recommended travel tips worth repeating include notifying your bank, credit union or card company that you will be traveling, and to where, getting your financial institution’s app, and avoiding public Wi-Fi if while conducting any kind of financial business on your phone.

Less common, but perhaps a good idea when traveling abroad, is to file your travel itinerary with the State Department. It can be easily done on the State Department’s website, and could make it much easier to get assistance when you’re out of the country.

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Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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