Dear, have you packed the credit card?

A lovely beach
The 9:34 from Bristol to Alicante, yesterday
"The golden rule of using your plastic on holiday is to always repay your balance by direct debit," Matt Sanders,
  • | by Emily Bater

Over five million people will book their summer holiday before the end of February, according to research by And who can blame them?

With the end of January being the busiest period for those combating the winter blues, lots of people will already have this year's sun-drenched jaunt all sewn up.

Whether that be a lazy two weeks on a Spanish beach, a busy city break or an adventurous trip to a far-flung location, there are a few things you shouldn't forget before leaving on a jet plane - flight tickets, passport, annoyingly large camera and, not least, your credit cards.

Your credit card could be the most useful thing you take on holiday, even before you get on the plane. Providing you use it correctly, that is.

It could be so nice

Holidays require a fair wad of money up front. This is where the benefits of a 0% credit card could come in handy. Such a card allows you to spread the cost of your holiday without paying any interest over a set period - up to 20 months in some cases.

This doesn't mean you should book a luxurious holiday which you can't afford to repay. The key to getting the most out of your card is making the regular monthly repayments, otherwise you could lose any benefits, such as 0% interest. You should also think about calculating those monthly payments to ensure that you've cleared the balance by the end of the interest-free period - otherwise, it will end up costing more, with the charges.

Stick to a budget and you'll be by the side of the pool in no time, like a less-glamorous Pepsi and Shirlie.

Come fly with me

The rise in DIY holidays means more and more people are losing out on Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Atol) protection, which should cover you when you book through a travel agent.

But thanks to the protection offered by the Consumer Credit Act (which we love), paying for flights and hotels with a credit card could mean you have an added level of security - in most circumstances your credit card company will be obligated to help you secure an alternative way home or accommodation if your flight is cancelled.

Travel insurance can come in handy here, too. Check your policy for how much you're covered for in case of a cancellation, and bear in mind, for example, that a policy bought the night before you're due to travel might not pay out in the event of a delay for bad weather.

Tat's the spirit

Fancy that bottle of perfume or a leather jacket? You can indulge your love of holiday tat without worry of it disintegrating when you get home with a credit card. The Consumer Credit Act guarantees any purchases which are faulty between £100 and £30,000. But beware of charges, and the exchange rate.

Many providers have charges when you use their cards abroad. So check well in advance of your holiday if your card has associated costs for foreign use. If it does, consider taking out a travel-friendly credit card. Even if you've done this, beware of the costs and interest charges associated with withdrawing cash on your plastic.

Significant charges can often apply if you take out cash on your debit card, too, and paying for things abroad on such a card may well incur a burdensome cost. Consider organising your travel cash before you leave home and for purchases think about using your credit card - but ensure you can pay it all off once your holiday's over.

Earn while you swim

Using your credit card to pay for your holiday could mean that you end up getting a few added extras, providing that what you spend is paid off at the end of the month.

Rewards and cashback credit cards won't necessarily give you a life-changing amount of money or freebies. But a little bit of extra cash, supermarket vouchers or even Avios points (what used to be known as Air Miles) that can go towards your next holiday certainly shouldn't be sniffed at.

These types of cards usually have higher rates than standard ones, so you should consider paying off your balance in full every month for them for to be worth your while.'s credit card expert Matt Sanders said: "If you're planning on using a credit card abroad, it's important to know what you'll be charged for and where. Withdrawing cash is usually the most expensive way to pay when you're abroad and it won't give you the additional protection that paying by plastic does. Try to avoid ATMs and use cards for purchases in restaurants, with tour operators and at attractions."
Sanders reckons that direct debit might be the best way to keep on top of your spending. "The golden rule of using your plastic on holiday is to always repay your balance by direct debit to help reduce any potential interest accrued by your holiday purchases," he said.
"If you do need cash, exchange it in the UK before you travel, and look for a provider that offers a competitive exchange rate and doesn't charge you commission. Give yourself time to shop around for the best exchange rate possible, as feeling short-changed is an easy way to turn a holiday of a lifetime into one you'd rather forget."