Learning to Fly by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is one of my all-time favourites. I don’t have to learn to fly – at least not hands-on in the cockpit – but I’m wondering if I have to re-learn how to travel. I’ve been in the nest for close on two years now, shackled by travel restrictions. I’m rusty, and letters to Traveller suggest there are sharks looking to take a bite of my cash when I’m out in the wider world. Here are some traps to avoid.
Don’t lose your accommodation payment to a no-refunds policy
Plenty of travellers were burned when lockdowns prevented them from travelling to accommodation they’d paid for in full, yet the hotel or host refused to give a refund or a credit. Airbnb decided that bookings made after mid-March 2020 were no longer covered by its extenuating circumstances policy, which allowed guests to cancel with a full refund, since delays and disruptions after that date due to COVID-19 were no longer unforeseen or unexpected. Airbnb lets hosts set their own cancellation policy, and some choose not to give refunds, whatever the reason for cancellation. When you search on Airbnb click on the “Free Cancellation” filter and you’re protected. Same applies to any other form of accommodation – those that allow cancellations with a full refund up to a few days before your stay are worth an extra star.
Travel money cards
If you’re tempted, know what you’re in for. Essentially they all work the same way. You use Aussie dollars to buy foreign currency which is loaded onto a card. You can then use that card overseas to buy goods, settle bills or withdraw from ATMs. But there are loads of downsides, starting with the lousy rate of exchange when you deposit your Aussie dollars. You’ll probably pay a fee every time you make an ATM withdrawal overseas. That’s on top of whatever the ATM operator charges you. You might also pay an initial loading fee when you first deposit funds to your account, and a reload fee for every top-up.
If you’re hopping around between countries you can select to have your Aussie dollars converted into several currencies. This is sold as a convenience, but it ain’t necessarily so. Say you have your travel money split 50-50 between euros and UK pounds. If you don’t have enough pounds to cover a UK transaction the card will borrow from your euros – and charge you a hefty fee for doing so.
The only way you win is if the Aussie dollar suffers a catastrophic crash. Since you’ve bought foreign currency at a better rate than before the crash you should be ahead – but it would take a drop of at least five per cent to put you in the winner’s seat, and that’s not likely.
I use a Latitude 28o Global Platinum card and an ANZ Travel Rewards Visa card to pay bills and a Citibank Plus debit card for ATM withdrawals. None of these cards have foreign transaction fees.
If you need to send cash overseas for a hotel or car hire deposit, several money transfer services have sprung up and they offer a better deal than banks. I use Wise. It’s fast, there’s never been a problem over the four years I’ve been using them and they save me. On November 15 I transferred €2000 as a deposit to a hotel. Doing it via Wise was $107 cheaper than making the transfer via my bank.
When you check into your hotel you might be asked to hand over a credit card and the receptionist will then block an amount as a deposit in case you skip having gargled the minibar – or worse. That’s a pre-authorisation, it’s usually an amount for each day you’re in-house and it can be substantial. It reduces your access to whatever funds you have available on your card’s spending limit and when you check out it can take up to 10 working days for the unused credit to be returned to your account. It’s less of a problem if you use a credit card rather than a debit card. Some travellers swear it’s worth making a small charge to your room, that way the card provider has to process the transaction and the credit appears in your account quicker.
Take only what you need for the day
Amazing that some travellers feel the need to wander about in a strange city with their passport, all their credit cards and enough cash to feed a middle-class family for a week. Thieves can smell a mark. Take only what you need for the day and stash the rest in your room safe or locked inside your suitcase. Unless you’re in a police-state dictatorship, there is no reason to carry your passport when you’re out and about.
Don’t rely on connectivity
Most of us are using our smartphones to prove our vaccination status when we eat out, but don’t count on digital technology to leap to your aid when you’re far from home. Even with global roaming, you might not have a data feed from a local connection, and you won’t have access to those apps that prove you’re vaccine compliant. That’s not something you want when you’re standing at the immigration desk in another country. Print out hard copies of all the documentation you might need, especially the International COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate.
Dynamic currency conversion
“And would you prefer to pay for that in Australian dollars?” You’re paying a restaurant bill using your credit card and wow, what a nice guy you think – but he’s not being nice to you.
Your bill is converted to Australian dollars using a rate of exchange that is probably 5-to-8 per cent worse than the rate you would get using your credit card. The name of this particular rip-off is dynamic currency conversion (DCC). Rather than a straightforward transaction between the merchant and the card issuer, DCC inserts a third party into the transaction, who helps himself to a slice of your financial pie, and gives a cut to the merchant. If you’re offered to have your bill converted to Australian dollars, politely decline.
See also: Flight attendant reveals top tips for surviving the return of long-haul
See also: Can you come home? What happens if you catch COVID on holiday