Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to break free from credit card inertia. Also in the news: How to travel like a minimalist and save big, paring down the price of a move to a new state, and the 401(k) fees you need to know.

How to Break Free of Credit Card Inertia
Evaluating your cards.

Travel Like a Minimalist and Save Big
Avoid the tourist traps.

Pare Down the Price of a Move to a New State
Cutting costs each step of the way.

401(k) Fees You Need to Know
Tracking the fees charged by your mutual fund manager.

Flight delays? Lost luggage? Your credit card may help

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailHundreds of flights have already been cancelled on this busy travel day, with more cancellations and delays likely to come as a winter storm rolls through the East Coast. If you used the right credit card to book your trip, though, you may be entitled to some compensation.

Most cards offer some kind of travel protection, but some of the policies are pretty weak, even for high-end cards. Some only offer compensation for lost baggage, while others offer hundreds of dollars in compensation for trip delays–and thousands for trip cancellations.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, for example, is justifiably famous among savvy travelers for its generous delay and cancellation protection: If your trip is canceled or cut short by illness, severe weather and “other covered situations,” can can be reimbursed up to $10,000 for prepaid, nonrefundable expenses. You can get up to $500 for trip delays and a whopping $3,000 for lost luggage. (Many other cards limit lost luggage reimbursement to $500.) Other high-end Chase cards, along with The United Explorer Visa Platinum Card, offer similar top-drawer benefits.

Citi recently stepped up its game, and now offers card members refunds for trip expenses if unforeseen events like severe weather, jury duty or even previously unannounced strikes cause trip cancellations. The coverage is limited to $1,500 for most cardholders, though some get up to $5,000. Those with ThankYou Premier or Citi Prestige can get up to $500 to buy clothes and toiletries if their bags are delayed. If a trip is delayed, these travel rewards card members also can get up to $500 for unplanned expenses such as hotel rooms, ground transportation and meals.

Travel cards that you think would have pretty good protection–such as American Express or Capital One Venture–unfortunately don’t. Amex offers travel protection for an extra cost and CapOne covers just lost or stolen luggage (although the limit is $3,000).

If you’re affected this weekend by travel hassles, call and ask the credit card company that you used to book the trip what your options might be. If you don’t like what you hear, start looking for a better alternative for your next trip.

 

 

Two months, ten countries–one carry-on

Small tourist collects things in a suitcase for travelWe’re heading off for a European sabbatical soon, and we know from previous trips that dragging along a lot of luggage is a bad idea. If you’ve ever tried to roll a heavy bag down a cobbled street, or had to haul it up five flights of stairs because your quaint rented flat had no elevator, then you understand.

But we’re going to be gone for nine weeks, exploring cities, beaches, caves and countryside. Packing just shorts and flip flops isn’t an option.

Getting everything I think I need into a carry-on has been an interesting challenge. It’s kind of like writing blog posts and 400-word columns for Bankrate and DailyWorth after having written mountains of 1,800-word pieces for MSN. You lay it all out, and then you edit, edit, and edit again. And then maybe you sit on it and squish.

Here’s some of the best advice I’ve found about packing light:

It’s worth it. No checked-bag fees, no long waits at baggage carousels, no lost luggage. The time, money and back strain saved are all well worth the effort of figuring out what to leave behind.

Everything should go with everything. So far, I’ve got the wardrobe down to one pair each of khakis, capris and shorts, in addition to the jeans I’ll wear on the plane. Five tops, two jackets, one sweater and one lightweight dress, plus a scarf or two, will allow me to create about 25 different outfits.

Think double-duty. My lightweight robe works as a swimsuit cover-up. My sandals work at the beach or a nice restaurant. My running shoes are low-key enough to work as casual dress shoes. Speaking of shoes:

Ease up on the footwear. They take up huge amounts of space. I’m trying to limit mine to the sneakers, a pair of black leather walking shoes and the flat-soled sandals.

Don’t bring what you’ll find there. I’m skipping most toiletries and hair appliances (which need adapters and converters to work over there, anyway). The hotels will have what we need and if they don’t, there will be shops.

Embrace digital. Not too long ago, every trip with the kiddo would mean packing a DVD player and DVDs along with books and games. I’d have a stack of novels and guidebooks. Hubby would bring much of the New York Times bestseller list. Now it’s all in our iPads.

If you’ve traveled long and light, I’d love to hear your trips for what to bring—and what not to bring.

UPDATE: We left for Europe with three carryons–and came back with two of them, plus two larger pieces of luggage. (One of the carryons, stuffed full of purchases, went home early with our niece.) My hubby’s penchant for buying big heavy art books, my daughter’s love of souvenirs and my flea-shopping habit quickly doomed the idea of traveling that light.

We should have consulted Will’s aunt, a retired travel writer, who roams the world with a medium-sized spinner. It’s big enough to bring what she needs but small enough for her to handle it without help.

Hacking Hawaii

DSC06577“It’s beautiful, but so expensive!”

More than one friend has told me they were blown away by how much their Hawaiian idyll cost them. They were prepared for hefty airfares, but the daily costs of living are what got them.

Here’s what we did to keep the bills down during a recent trip to Maui:

Used points and miles. Home exchanges, AirBnB and even camping are options to minimize lodging expenses, but we like nice resort hotels with fancy pools. Fortunately, hotel rewards programs typically give you a much better bang for your buck than most airline frequent flyer plans. You typically have to pay a $25 to $30 daily resort fee and you may have to pay for parking, but that’s way less than the usual $350-and-up rack rate. Both resort hotel rooms had refrigerators, which made it easier to:

Eat like a local. There are some wonderful restaurants on Maui…and many that charge a lot for a mediocre meal. We stocked up on breakfast foods, healthy snacks and lunch fixings at a local Safeway, then pestered locals for recommendations to holes-in-the-wall with good food and low prices. The people who work at resorts or who guide adventures are often a wealth of information, since they’re trying to live on not-great salaries in an area with a high cost of living. (Just avoid the concierge desk, since those folks may have incentives to steer you to pricier places.) We booked a few dinners at some Frommers-recommended restaurants that we thoroughly enjoyed, knowing these pricier places were offset by our thriftiness elsewhere.

Eschew resort prices. One of our hotels charged $20 a day to rent a snorkel set. Steps away an independently-run kiosk charged $25 for a week. In Lahaina, a shop charged $9 a week. Activities offered through the resort (parasailing, kayaking, snorkel trips and so on) also had big markups. The convenience simply isn’t worth the cost, in most cases. Booking adventures and excursions directly with the provider online can save you a bunch of cash. A good guidebook can steer you to the best outlets.

Put everybody on an allowance. Our daughter was allowed to bring $100 of her savings to buy souvenirs. I set a daily allowance for our spending as a family, and we stuck pretty close to it (excluding what we spent for Christmas and other gifts). Knowing how much you’ve got to spend makes it easier to say “That’s it for today” when you’ve reached your daily limit, knowing you can schedule pricier excursions, meals or purchases for tomorrow.

Check out farmers markets. We didn’t get a chance to do it this visit, but on previous trips we’ve enjoyed fresh fruits and vegetables at good prices as well as crafts and artwork produced by locals. Maui has farmers markets in several locations.

Enjoy the free stuff. I had a great time watching an evening hula show at an outdoor shopping mall. The performers may not have been as dazzling as the fire dancers at the hotel luau, but they were more authentic (fire dancing is a Samoan, not a Hawaiian, specialty) and lovely to see. In previous trips, we’ve enjoyed free open-air concerts and demonstrations of various crafts. Splashing in the pool, swimming in the ocean and talking long walks through beautiful scenery are always highlights of our trips. You can check the local newspaper and search for “free stuff to do in Hawaii” online for more ideas.