Try to stick
to Visa or Master-Card. Other cards (such as American Expressed and
Diners Club) are recognised, but not nearly so universally.
The exchange rate that you're charged will be the rate in effect when
the transaction reaches your account. And bear
in mind that your credit card company will almost certainly add a
service charge or commission to every dollar transaction. You should
check with your card company before you go to find out what this will
be, or shop around for a card which does not make this charge (there
are very few of them around).
When you register at a hotel or rent a car, an imprint of your card
will be taken and authorisation will be obtained for an amount to
cover your stay. Although no money is taken from your card, this authorisation
will usually "freeze" that amount until you leave (or later).
if you're staying for two weeks in a hotel, the hotel is likely to
seek authorisation for the room rate (if not already paid) plus average
room charges. A car rental company is likely to get authorisation
for a substantial deposit to cover any costs that you might incur
(including speeding or parking fines). In some cases this might eat
up most of your credit, and there are numerous stories of families
arriving in the US, getting their rental car and registering at their
hotel only to find they have little or no credit left on their card!
In general, when you pay your waiter for a meal in a restaurant with
a credit card, the card will be taken away and they will get authorisation
for a little more than the amount you owe (but no charge will be made
against the card at this stage). You will then be presented with the
credit card receipt, which will usually have a place for you to enter
a tip (if you choose to do it this way). You must fill in the
final amount (even if you leave the tip in cash, and the tip on the
card is $0) and sign the receipt, at which point you can leave (don't
forget to pick up your card!)
will then complete the transaction with the actual amount you filled
in. If you didn't fill it in, beware! An unscrupulous waiter or restaurant
could fill in what they like.
gas stations allow you to "pay at the pump" by inserting
you card. This facility is great for Americans, but it is sometimes
not so easy for the visitor.
credit card company may simply refuse the transaction (this has happened
to me on numerous occasions). The pump will then say "please
see attendant", or something similar, and you'll have to take
your card inside and have it processed manually. There's nothing untoward
about this, but it can come as a shock.
gas stations are now insisting that you enter your Zip Code as a security
measure. Since few machines have alpha-numeric keypads, it's unlikely
that your Birtish post-code is going to be of much use, and again
you'll have to have the card processed manually.
Also note that
some gas stations which don't have pay-at-the-pump machines may ask
you to "pay before you pump". This applies whether you're
paying by cash or credit card, and may only apply after dark. It's
their way of preventing you running off without paying. You'll normally
prepay a specific amount, but if you want to fill up and don't know
how much gas you'll need, you'll have to leave your credit card with
the attendant - I do not recommend this!
You may well be asked for identification when using a credit card.
You'll need your passport or UK picture driving licence, very little
else will be accepted (although the paper UK driving licence may be).
You may also be asked to give your zip code or phone number as a security
check, but if you say that you're just visitig then they'll bypass
It's very wise to keep a separate note of your credit card company's
emergency contact number, and your card number, so that you can advise
them if the card is lost or stolen as quickly as possible.
Most credit card transactions these days are done electronically.
But if you find you're signing one of the old-style multiple-copy
slips, always insist that they destroy the carbons in front of you.
When you get
You should always keep your credit card receipts from your trip, and
when you return home, check them against your credit card statement
as soon as you can. Transactions may take a few days to filter through,
but it's important to be vigilant to spurious transactions.
When you buy something, you're charged an exchange rate for the $-to-£
conversion, but the exchange rate for the refund on a $-to-£
conversion will be different.
As an example,
I once bought a gift for someone for $100 - the exchange rate was
$1.65 and my credit card was billed £60.61, plus 91p commission.
However, I had to take it back, and the refund was at an exchange
rate of $1.68, making a refund of £59.52. I lost £2 on
Even worse, many
years ago I was mischarged $780 for a hotel room instead of $78. In
fact I didn't know this until I returned home and discovered that
the hotel had taken $780, then had taken $78, and a while later had
credited the $780. In this case, because the dollar had weakened,
I lost nearly £50 on the deal!
get the merchant to VOID the transaction rather than refund it (this
may only be possible for a short time after the transaction). But
if it does happen, you can always try to get your credit card company
to refund the difference - there's no obligation on them, but in both
the above cases they did it without question.