Category Archives: Finances

Shout out: Chase Visa Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

I had tried not to use the name of the card too much out of fear that my readers might think that I endorsed the card, but I am really in love with this credit card!

If anyone has ever boarded a plane before, he/she will know that the boarding zones are helpful in preventing everyone from barraging the plane at once. However, one will notice that within your boarding zone, chaos often ensues, as numerous people with seats in the same area are fighting to put their bags into the overheads at once.

Wouldn’t it be cool to be the first one in your boarding zone to board the plane, and be able to put your bags up and get comfortable before anyone else arrives? Well, with VISA Signature cards on US Airways, that’s a benefit you have, or at least I had for my connecting flight between Orlando, FL and Charlotte, NC. I was able to flash the back of my card and was allowed to board the plane as if I had some special VIP wristband. Needless to say, I was happy I had brought this card with my for my travel (tip: you shouldn’t bring them all).

This is the same card that allowed me to book my hostel reservations for Vienna, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin in GBP(£) without charging a foreign currency conversion fee.

This is also the same card that saved me hundreds of dollars on my transatlantic plane ticket with easily earned rewards points.

This is the same card that’s made out of some weird hard plastic or flexible metal that makes the eyes of every dining cashier (double points at fast food, sit-down, and take-out restaurants) sparkle with interest.

This is also the same card that earns double points on travel, and whose points are worth about $0.01. 1 cent doesn’t sound like a lot, but after paying for tuition, groceries, and utility bills for a month, there’s no way you won’t rack up enough points to at least exceed the $95.00 annual membership fee. Besides, even if YOU don’t spend that much, you can always add trusted friends or family members to the account, with them each receiving their own personalized cards.

One downside of the card is that with its almost blank outer side (numbers are printed on back), it’s easy to see scratches on it. After the first few weeks of using it stopped telling cashiers not to scratch my card out of fear of sounding pretentious, and because I realized it was futile.

p.s., I am not offering financial advice. Please bear in mind that high credit scores are necessary for the card, which offers higher balances (it is for travel after all). Applying for and obtaining or not obtaining the card will all possibly affect your credit score. My personal advice is, however, to use credit wisely and NEVER charge/borrow more than you can pay back.

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Using Your Money Abroad

One of the most important parts of your travel must-have list is your access to money while abroad. As a first line of defense, I withdrew some cash the night before I left, that way if they were any problems with the ATM, I would have been able to find another as opposed to if I had tried to get to one on my way to the airport this morning.

Cash

It is extremely important that you balance your need to for cash with the security risks involved with having it on you. You therefore do not want to withdraw less than the amount you know you will need when you exit the airport on the other side. Nor, do you want to get too much, as this would create additional risk of theft or robbery. If your destination country or countries do not use the same currency as your home, you should plan to make your withdrawal days before so that you can purchase the foreign currency. If you are keen on getting the most for you money like I am, you will want to monitor the varying value of your purchase currency relative to your purchasing currency. A website that I used a lot to track the EURO was http://www.xe.com/ucc/convert/?Amount=1&From=EUR&To=USD.

Electronic Funds

Credit Cards

As discussed in an earlier post, I researched credit cards that offered no foreign transaction fee and made sure to get one, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to be exact. The foreign transaction fee is an ugly and inconvenient one that is tacked onto every foreign currency purchase you make and on any purchase you make outside of the home country. For some cards it’s a flat rate per transaction, and for others it’s a percent of the transaction. When this fee is absent, your credit card company via the VISA, MasterCard, etc network is able to convert your foreign currency transaction to the value of your home country’s using the best rate for that day. This should obviously save you money that you may have lost doing the conversion yourself (purchasing fees, seller using highest rate for the day or an average, etc.)
I realized afterwards, that I also had another card that offers this benefit, as most Capital One cards do. I was happy to still have gotten the second one though, as it is obviously geared towards travelers with its rewards points and double bonus points on travel charges (airlines, car rentals, train tickets) and dining (fast food restaurants, fancy restaurants, etc). In addition to these benefits, I now also have a back-up source of credit in the event my first card gets lost, destroyed, or compromised.

ATM Cards

You may need cash after you’ve run out of the amount you’ve taken with you. You should not want to be charged other bank ATM fees while outside of the country. These are another annoying fee that financial institutions use to raise revenue, that some banks have actually decided to waive or reimburse for certain reasons. My Charles Schwab account, for instance, does not have commercial branches like other banks as their commercial arm operates primarily online. What results is a savings on administrative costs that is passed on to the consumer as higher saving interest rates on checking accounts, whereas many banks do not even offer interest on checking accounts. Another result of this is that there are no Schwab ATMs for customers to use to withdraw the funds they’ve deposited their via mail or other-bank transfer. To account for this, Schwab reimburses charges you incur as other bank ATM fees.
Another bank account that will come in handy on my traveling is Bank of America’s. This bank participates in an international banking agreement, Global ATM Alliance, that allows customers of any of the participating banks to use the ATMs of most of the others without being assessed the other bank ATM fees.

A list of the Global Alliance members and their service countries, care of Wikipedia, is found below:

  • Bank of America (United States)
  • Barclays (United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, Pakistan, Gibraltar, Ghana, Kenya, and other countries in Africa)
  • BNP Paribas (France)
  • BNP Paribas Fortis (Belgium)
  • Deutsche Bank (Germany, Poland, Belgium, India, Spain, Portugal and Italy)
  • Scotiabank (Canada, Caribbean, Peru, Chile and Mexico)
  • Westpac (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New
  • Guinea and Solomon Islands)
  • Westpac Banking Corporation (Australia, Fiji, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu)
  • Westpac New Zealand Limited (New Zealand)
  • Westpac Bank – PNG – Limited (Papua New Guinea)
  • Westpac Bank Samoa Limited (Samoa)
  • Westpac Bank of Tonga (Tonga)
  • ABSA (South Africa)
  • UkrSibbank (Ukraine)

Traveling: When to pay for stuff (transportation)

One of the recurring issues I am having with planning my trip is the dilemma of when to purchase things like train tickets/passes and the order in which to purchase them.

Step 1: Decide on where all you will be needing to go.

I know that I will be traveling in over 6 countries I have never been before. I decided that it would be best to purchase a pass instead of a group of point-to-point tickets simply because of the possibility of missing a scheduled train due to a miscalculation of walking distance or the other. For the region that I am traveling in, it would be best to purchase the Eurail pass. Because I am visiting more than 5 countries, I will have to get the Eurail Global Pass instead of the Select Pass (where you select up to 5 countries to visit), because a “visit” in a country counts as either getting off the train at a stop there, OR simply passing along its train tracks. So even though I wasn’t planning on stopping in France or Belgium on the way to Holland, the Select Pass would have deducted on country from my limited visiting total. The Global Pass, instead allows unlimited travel for the time period selected in any of the 23 participating countries.

* It is helpful to know that Eurail passes are not applicable in Great Britain. Just like Pound Sterling (instead of Euro) and three-prong electrical sockets (instead of two), the Brits really just like to have their own special “something”  I’m beginning to realize. I will provide follow-up in a future post about British rail tips.*

Step 2: Decide on the route you will be taking and the amount and location of stops you will want to make.

After leaving the UK, I will need to end up in Spain for my study abroad program, so I was able to calculate a maximum of 16 days  in which I would be able to traverse the Continent. Because that coincided most closely with the 15-day consecutive pass, I decided that that option would be best. Flexible passes are the other type of pass, and they allow non-contiguous calendar day use. Remember to sit back and look at who you are as a statistic whenever you have to pay for ANYTHING; it helps you to spot discounts everywhere! Because I am under 25, a student, and a non-European resident, I was able to figure out a savings of over $200 for this pass.

Step 3: Decide on when to pay for the pass/tickets.

When things are offered to tourists that are not offered to residents of a destination, they usually only retain their lower cost outside of the destination country. This applies to the Eurail, as its passes need to be ordered online and shipped for the special pricing. Purchasing them directly from the website or from a student travel site like statravel.com is best. This means that you can’t wait until the week before you travel to purchase the those passes. And because I plan to leave home before I actually fly to Europe, I have to plan a little more in advance.

So, to recap: some things you will need not only to plan, but to purchase, before you arrive at your destination. With shipping time included, this is definitely one of the highest on the list of purchase-ASAP-items.

Money Tip: When to buy?

When to buy tickets?

Most people who know anything about buying airplane tickets know that Tuesday afternoon (at about 3pm) is the best time to purchase them. This is because the airline companies lower their prices at the beginning of the week to entice buyers. When airline A lowers its prices for a ticket, other airlines will follow suit in order to compete effectively. If there are only 10 people going to Cancun a certain week and Airline A has $20 tickets while the competitors have $300 tickets, guess who gets all the customers AND all the money that there is to get? (hint:Airline A). However, the airlines can’t keep prices too low for too long or else buyers will take all of them AND have paid less than they may have been actually willing to pay. So, eventually the prices start climbing again, that towards the end of the week, they are usually considerable higher than they were at the beginning.

The stealthy game owes its existence to the computer operated ticket-sellers that command the prices during weekends (when workers are at home spending time with families and such). The computers use algorithms that leave prices high to maximize profit until Mondays, when human workers adjust prices for competitiveness.

Of course this game gets trickier depending on demand. Waiting until the last minute can be a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or it could spell disaster for your travel plans and your bankbook!

When to fly?

No one likes waking up early in the morning to catch a flight, making it the perfect time of day in which to fly. Chances are, you may be the only one of 20 people on a 40-seat plane, translating into a more favorably priced ticket than full flights.
Similarly, there are actually good days on which to fly. Tuesdays (#1), Wednesdays, and Sundays are the cheapest to fly on. This is because most business travelers want to get home from their work related travel. So they tend to be more willing to fork over a couple extra twenties in order to fly out on a Friday. Also, the reverse is true for Sundays, when business travelers need to get back to work or college kids or other vacationers need to get back to school from weekend getaways. This makes Friday and Sunday the worst days to buy tickets!
 

Airlines again :)

Domestic (Foreign) Multi-City Stops

Okay. So, if you are planning on buying multi-city tickets like me for your study abroad trip (

Image

It’s not every day you get to fly 4,000 miles across the horizon, might as well stop by a few places on the way to your final destination), you should consider the type of airline you using. Think about it: major US airlines are probably transporting U.S. tourists or other international travelers, so it wouldn’t make sense for them to be making stops all over the place right? Right. the major U.S. airlines that I looked are charging more for the inter-European legs of my trip. Domestic airlines such as RyanAir.com found me a ticket for about US$ 60 less than what companies like American or United were charging me for the same route. So, I plan to enter the first European city-stop via my trusty U.S. airliner, and for any inter-european flights afterwards, I will use domestic liners.

Miles & Alliances

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Another thing to look is for is Airline Alliances. U.S. airlines have partnered up with each other domestically and with foreign liners in the international market. When looking at cashing in your miles for study abroad (like I’m doing), its good to check what companies miles are actually worth more per mile (when flying internationally as opposed to domestically). This is because when some U.S. miles are used with international partner carriers, they count for less than they would at home. Also, some alliances (although having the same amount of partners) are more region-oriented than others. For instance, Oneworld alliance doesn’t have a Chinese partner, and Star Alliance only recently initiated partnership proceedings with two Mexico-related coverage liners (TACA and COPA). For my study abroad in Spain, I had names like Iberia, Air France, British Airways, and American Airlines resulting in the lowest prices. Oneworld alliance, though deficient in some regions, was my cheapest bet to Spain (Iberia, British Airways, and American Airlines are all in the Oneworld Alliance).