Advice: Do Not Give Your Kids a Visa or Mastercard for Travel, Give Them An Amex

I am a flaming hypocrite on this topic, because my company does not accept Amex, but for travel, particularly if it is a shared family card you are giving your kids, don't use Visa or Mastercard.  Most banks have systems now that are simply hair-trigger in freezing an account if they see a charge they don't expect, which generally means a charge in a new city, ie when you are travelling.  It is merely irritating on my own card, as I have to call and get it turned back on (which can be a pain in certain foreign lands) but it creates a real problem for my kids.  Twice my son has been travelling and twice they have immediately shut down his card.  When he called, they would not talk to him so he had to find me somewhere and I had to call them to verify a charge.  But since I did not make the charge I have to call my son back and then call the credit card company back.  All the while my kids are without any way to charge because this likely is their only card.

There are things you can try to do to avoid this, such as remember to contact the card issuer to warn them when you will be out of town, but this only has mixed success and trying to have my kids remember to do this is a tough proposition.  In my experience, perhaps due to their background as a travel company, Amex is far, far less likely to have travel to new lands trigger these sort of pre-emptive account shutdowns.

Postscript:  I don't get a commission, but I have the Starwood Hotels Amex.  One Starwood point per dollar spend on the card is a great deal.  Starwood points are very valuable, as loyalty points go.  Now that they are merged with Marriott, they can be traded 1 starwood point for 3 amex points.  Also, they can be exchanged for most airline points for 1 starwood point to 1.25 airline points.


  1. Peabody:

    We went to Spain for a couple months and brought two different debit cards and one credit cards, first calling each to inform them of our plans. The first time we used one of the debit cards it was shut down. Thankfully the other debit card company was more competent and we had no issues with that one. So yeah, informing the issuer is not a guarantee.

  2. kidmugsy:

    "this likely is their only card": we banned that.

  3. kidmugsy:

    We use a tip we got from one of our card companies. Before you leave the country, at the airport put your card in an ATM and get the balance. That way the company automatically expects your next use to be abroad.

  4. paul:

    A conversation I had once (admittedly several years ago).

    Me (in a Tokyo hotel lobby just after my card was refused): why are you refusing my card?
    Visa (I think, I forget to be honest): an attempt was made to use your card fraudulently in Tokyo.
    Me I am calling you from Tokyo
    Visa: But you charged something in San Francisco earlier today
    Me: yes, I had breakfast at the airport before flying to Tokyo. Have you heard of planes?
    Visa: we had no way to know that
    Me: I charged the airline tickets to come to Tokyo using your card a month or so ago

  5. irandom419:

    One of the triggers, is buying gas. My brother bought gas for a friend who was driving them and they disabled his card until he called.

  6. Jon:

    YMMV, but... my bank has an easy option to indicate that:
    A) I'm travellng
    B) to where
    C) for what time period.
    I indicate which card I'm taking for the trip, and it's copacetic. Hasn't failed me yet.

  7. Suburbanbanshee:

    I know it's annoying and a violation of privacy, but... credit card companies do desire you to call them before the trip, and let you know where you're going and how long you'll be gone. Customer service (if they know what they're doing) can basically tell the card system that all the travel stuff everywhere is okay, for X amount of time. (And obviously, if your card is stolen during the trip, you can still call them and get the card frozen.) When I did Customer Service for a credit card, we gave people a couple of days on either end of the trip, in case something happened. If you end up staying late for more than a couple of days, just call back again.

    The other thing is that a lot of credit cards have free travel help stuff, especially if you are going overseas. Also, you can get the number for the overseas customer service line, which makes getting ahold of your credit card company easier. So calling Customer Service ahead of time is really to your benefit.

    But yes, it's a freaking pain.

    The other thing is that when you travel, there are a lot of companies you will buy stuff from, that will still show up as being somewhere different than where you are. And in foreign countries, that's twice as annoyingly true.

    Finally, AMEX is awesome, but there are plenty of normal places that don't accept it. Good in airports and hotels and fancy restaurants, though.

  8. Suburbanbanshee:

    That's an interesting one. A lot of gas stations will authorize the card for $50 or $100, not for the actual amount bought. So you end up with, say, a charge for $15.99, and an authorization for $50.00. The authorization will go away in 24-48 hours, but meanwhile your card could appear to be "over the limit."

  9. kidmugsy:

    It would be rude to suggest that the British arms of the card companies are more intelligent. Maybe times have moved on.
    And, to be fair, I guess that proportionately more British flights do go abroad.

  10. ErikTheRed:

    I'll second the recommendation for AmEx when traveling internationally (especially the Platinum card if you can swing it or the Centurion card if you have more money then you know how to spend). There are several reasons for this, but some big ones are:

    1) The way AmEx communicates with my iPhone / Apple Watch when the cards are enrolled in Apple Pay. I get immediate notifications for all charges on my card, whether in-person or online. By "immediate," I mean I see a notification before the receipt starts printing. This is awesome for controlling fraud.

    2) Pretty good car rental protection program you can enroll in. It's about $18 or so per rental (not per day), and the coverage in conjunction with a halfway-decent personal or business auto policy is well above-average.

    3) I don't get many false positives or false negatives from their fraud prevention system. My bank Visas and Mastercards make me insane here.

    4) Platinum / Centurion customer service is very good, which is what you want when you're in a jam in a foreign country.

    5) The Platinum annual fee is very high (and the Centurion fee is several times that), but we recover most if not all of our annual fee with various programs and deals they have. Up to $200 of airline fee (bag fees, etc.) reimbursement is a big one - there are strings attached, as are ten free GoGo in-flight WiFi passes per card per year.

    6) Decent exchange rates on currency conversion.

  11. ErikTheRed:

    Another note: I personally think it's scary to use debit cards in the US, and flat-out crazy to use them abroad. If there is a serious dispute with a debit card, the bank *may* cover the amount while the dispute is resolved but they are by no means compelled to. I've had two friends get their accounts cleaned out with debit card fraud and were unable to pay bills, mortgage/rent, etc. - absolute nightmare. Banks push debit cards very hard because they are profitable; I shred them on receipt and just use credit cards (and then pay them off each month).

  12. ErikTheRed:

    If I had a nickel for every time I had a conversation like that with my bank's credit card fraud department, I'd be dead of metal poisoning from handling that many nickels.

  13. craftman:

    "Have you heard of planes?"

    That gave me a good laugh

  14. craftman:

    My own experience is that the card companies have been getting better at this. Both Discover and Visa will send me an email or text when there is a suspicious charge and give me a chance to reply "Yes this was me" before shutting my card down. My Visa is the Chase Sapphire Reserve so maybe this is a higher end feature on that specific card. But I travel in the US and Canada every other week for work and have not had any trouble with fraud alerts yet. The one time last year I went to South Korea I didn't have a problem either. And I didn't have to notify anyone.

    And to someone else's point - gas, jewelry, or clothing seems to be a big trigger. My work credit card was used to buy $150 or perfume and maybe $50 of gas in Texas (where I travel) and they were somehow able to pinpoint that those charges were not correct and send me a text whereas when I buy gas for myself there is no issue. Likely because I have a rental car charge from 2 days earlier on my statement.