Another interesting post from LearnVest this week: What should be in your wallet?  This will, of course, vary by person, but they offer a few pointers for paring down your wallet. You don’t want the exploding wallet a la George Constanza!

However, I had to disagree about some things they suggested for wallets, because I either don’t need them or keep them in my purse instead. If I kept everything in my wallet, it wouldn’t close.

What’s In My Wallet
My wallet has slimmed down significantly since most of my store cards have been cancelled, but it’s still got quite a bit of stuff in it:

License/ID: Obviously my driver’s license needs to be in there because I drive. Even if you don’t drive, you should always have ID with you because it could be needed in an emergency. Behind it I have my organ donor card and a change of address card because California doesn’t issue a new license when you move.

One point of contention with the LearnVest article though. They said, “Stores have the right to ask for an ID when you use a credit card, so you need to have one ready to show them.” Although some state laws do permit the request, it’s a violation of the store’s merchant agreement with Visa and Mastercard to require ID. They can request, but can’t make showing ID contingent on completing the transation. Requesting ID protects the store, not you. The signature is considered your ID for the transaction.

Emergency contacts card: My husband and I printed emergency contact cards that we keep behind our licenses. In case we’re in accidents and are separated from our cell phones, any emergency workers who find our wallets will know how to reach our spouses/relatives in an emergency.

Credit cards: LearnVest recommends only carrying one, but I carry three. One Amex, one Visa, one Mastercard. I mostly use the Amex, but I rotate the other two at stores that don’t take Amex. Their recommendation is to use a Visa or MC branded debit card if a store won’t take your primary Amex, but that really wouldn’t have worked when I had to buy $1400 worth of furniture! I recommend carrying at least two cards, just in case a card is rejected for credit card security reasons, as happened to me at Cost Plus while buying furniture.

Debit cards: Again, I carry two. One for my regular checking account, one for my business account. I could probably stop carrying the biz account card since I only use it to deposit infrequent checks, but I know I’d forget to bring it when I did finally have to deposit a check.

Retailer Cards: I’m down to Goodyear at this point, so that card stays with me. When your car has 150,000 miles on it, a service emergency can happen at any moment!

Membership Cards: I keep my Blockbuster card and my Costco card in my wallet, but other cards have a different home. I also keep my library card in my wallet in a prominent pocket because I use it almost every week.

AAA/Roadside Service Card: Another must carry. If you’re a member and drive a car, you should always have it with you. You can’t use it if you don’t have it! AAA members can also use it if they’re a passenger in a non-member’s car, so there’s no reason to remove it for a road trip where someone else is driving.

Health Cards: One more must carry. Actually, for me, it’s three cards. Medical insurance, dental insurance, and FSA debit card.

Business Cards: One of mine and one of my husband’s.

Cash: I’ll be honest. There are times when I run out of cash. Before my husband had surgery, he went to the bank each week and then I’d take enough money for the farmer’s market out of his wallet. Any leftover went into my wallet. I rarely spend cash, so after a while, the total will get up there. Other times, I’ll spend all the farmer’s market money at the market and not have any leftover. After a while, my wallet starts to empty out. I have to remember not to let myself be cashless! Fortunately, there’s an ATM for my bank in my office park, so I can replenish if I’m going to a team lunch or happy hour.

What’s Not in My Wallet
LearnVest recommends a few other items that aren’t relevant for my life, or that I’ve found a different solution for.

Frequent Flyer Cards: Rather than put them in my wallet, I put them in my address book so I can look them up when I’m booking travel. I also registered at each airline’s website. All you have to do is sign on to the website to get your number. You can always go back and add your number to the flight record later if you forget.

Club Cards and Gift Cards: Rather than keep my CVS card, Ralph’s card, Vons card, and all manner of gift cards in my wallet, I keep them in a zipped pocket in my purse. That way I can easily access them, but can still close my wallet. Actually, I keep my grocery store cards in my coupon folder because I can use my phone number to get the discount if I need to run out for one or two items. The card isn’t really necessary unless you want it to print out the points you’ve earned.

Are you a keeper of a slim wallet or do you let it fill up with junk before finally emptying it?

I mentioned some of the new rules that were put into place with the CARD act, so you may be wondering, “Will these new rules affect my credit score?”

In a word, no. Of course, it’s not entirely that simple, but the rules were not intended to improve your credit score. They were intended to improve the credit atmosphere and curb lender abuses. Some of those may help your credit score, but that’s mostly incidental to the true purpose.

New Statements May Impact Your Balances
If the new statement designs encourage you to pay off your balances faster and reduce your debt to credit ratio, then your score will improve. So in a way, you could say it’s because of the CARD act, but it‘s also due to you getting your act together.

New Fee Limits Won’t Impact Your Score
Late fees themselves aren’t factored into your credit score. Payments made more than 30 days late are, but that has nothing to do with late fees or overlimit fees. The new rules don’t limit acreditor’s ability to report late payments.

New Interest Rate Rules Won’t Directly Impact Your Score
The new interest rate and payment rules won’t directly impact your credit score, but a lower rate and new rules that payments over the minimum must be applied to the highest rate balances may reduce your debt faster. Lower debt equals a higher credit score.

Tighter Lending Standards Might Impact Your Score
There are two ways that the tighter lending standards imposed because of the new rules could impact your credit score:

Your credit limit is reduced because you’re deemed too high a risk. If your limit is greatly reduced and you still carry a balance or use more than 30% of your available rotating credit, yes, your score will go down.

You make more credit applications and are denied. If you have to keep applying for credit because you don’t qualify under the tighter standards, your score will also suffer. If you’re rejected, you’d be better off fixing your credit and budget issues than you would be applying for credit with another company.

New Ads for Free Credit Scores
Aside from the CARD act, the FTC also imposed new standards on the free credit report companies. They now have to be clear that they’re offering credit monitoring for a monthly fee and the credit reports are included in that. Instead, most sites now offer a free credit score with a free trial of credit monitoring.

The new credit card rules weren’t targeted at credit scores, but if they help you better manage your credit and pay down balances, then your credit score may see a boost. Just don’t expect it overnight!

Yesterday marked the first day that banks had to ask your permission before automatically opting you in to overdraft protection when you open a new account. They have until August 15th to beg existing customers to keep the coverage, at which point everyone who doesn’t actively choose it will be opted out. Some banks, like Bank of America, are abolishing their overdraft protection program altogether. As for the rest, don’t fall for the queries asking you to sign up, because most of their arguments just fall flat.

Overdrafts Don’t Affect Your Credit Score
Overdrafts don’t hurt your credit score. That’s because checking and savings accounts don’t appear on your credit report. They’re not loans or debts, they’re cash, and therefore not reported to credit agencies.

Overdraft Protection Doesn’t Save You Money
The new rules only apply to ATM and debit card transactions, not bounced checks, so overdraft protection won’t save you money on bounced check fees. In fact, NOT having overdraft protection WILL save you money because your purchase or withdrawal will be rejected. So, just make sure you always have $20 in cash in your wallet or access to a credit card in case you’re at a restaurant and didn’t realize your balance is low.

Checks and Automatic Bill Payments Are Exempt
If you write a bad check, you’ll still get hit with fees. The same holds true if an automatic debit hits and you don’t have the cash in your account. So if you opted into OP to protect your mortgage payments, you might as well opt-out. OP doesn’t protect you.

Overdraft Protection Alternatives
So what you can do to avoid overdrafts from any source? It’s actually quite simple.

1. Track your spending and upcoming debits. Don’t rely on your ATM balance to tell you how much money is in your account. You may have other payments that will hit that same day and put you over the limit even if your debit cleared earlier.

2. Sign up for low balance alerts. Many banks offer a program that will send you an email or text alert if your balance drops too low. Then you can either stop spending money or find some cash to deposit into your account before you overdraft.

3. Budget. Budget. Budget. It’s that simple, people.

4. Use a credit card. If you have a credit card, then charging the purchase may be cheaper than a $20-$35 overdraft fee, even if you have to pay interest for a month or two. Of course, this assumes you can actually afford the thing you’re buying. If you can’t afford it, then no amount of overdraft protection will make it affordable.

So, have I convinced you that you don’t need overdraft protection? If you still feel you need it, then you also need to ask yourself some hard questions about why you can’t balance your checkbook and spend within your means. Is spending hundreds of dollars a year on overdraft protection really helping your budget?

A recent story about the spate for credit card fraud involving small charges reminded me of something that happened to me recently.

My Potential Credit Card Fraud Scam
I don’t actually know that this was fraud, but I know that American Express settled the dispute within four days and neither my husband nor I made the charge.

I don’t check my credit card statement frequently, because my husband does. However, I happened to log in one day and notice a strange charge for $14.59 from a web company. I looked into the charge, and it said it was for an “internet download.” I visited the company website, and it said that charges for a variety of websites they service could appear under their name. That alone seemed suspicious to me – how would they track who the money was owed to if all the charges appeared under their own name? The address was near me, and appeared to be a mailbox center. (Yay, Google for image maps!)

I asked my husband if he’d downloaded anything in the last week, and he hadn’t. I filed a dispute and AmEx found in my favor within a week. I now see that the company’s website is gone.

Beware of Unfamiliar Charges
If we didn’t check our credit cards regularly, this charge probably would have slipped by. That’s why it’s very important to view your bill every month. You only have 60 days from the statement date to dispute a charge. Disputing a charge doesn’t cost you anything and it doesn’t take more than a minute to sign on, find the charge, and dispute it.

The scammers referenced in the article above usually charged less than $10 because that will usually go undetected.

What Happens When You Dispute a Charge
The dispute process is simple:

  • First, you dispute the charge phone or online.
  • The charge is removed from your account pending investigation.
  • The credit card company contacts the merchant.
  • The merchant verifies the charge.
  • If the merchant can prove the charge was valid, it will reappear on your card. If they can’t, the charge is invalidated.
  • You’ll receive a letter notifying you of the findings.

If you don’t recognize a charge, first see if your spouse or another authorized user made the charge. If no one recognizes it, file a dispute immediately. There’s no reason not to, and it may help you avoid having your card used in future scams.

Last week I got a letter from Chase informing me that they were canceling my former Washington Mutual card. The result? A free credit report!

The Initial Shock of Having a Card Canceled
I’ve had several credit cards canceled due to inactivity over the last year or two. I didn’t find out about the gas card or several of the store cards until I tried to update my address when I moved, so that was a lost opportunity.

However, this time Chase sent me a letter to let me know I could shred its cards. It indicated that the cancelation was due to a late payment in my credit history and numerous recent credit applications. The latter was definitely true – mortgage shopping will do that. The former I knew was untrue.

However, then there was this little nugget: the cancelation was based on information in my Experian credit report.

That one sentence meant I was entitled to a free credit report!

Getting a Free Report for Denial of Credit
If you receive a letter that informs you a credit report is the reason for a denial of credit, or credit cancelation, it should tell you which one. I visited the Experian website, but didn’t see an option for the cancelation report – the home page is all about selling reports.

So, I called the 800 number in the letter. While I waited on hold, the recording named the specific URL where I could get my free report. I logged onto the site and downloaded my report. Sure enough, it was totally clean.

Chase’s true motive for canceling my card was revealed: non-use. I have no idea why they threw in a late payment accusation, but maybe the letter template requires two data points, and they only had one so they chose another randomly.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t used the card in 16 months, so the cancelation came as no surprise. It does surprise me that they kept the account open after buying Washington Mutual, and sent me new Chase-branded cards twice. Why waste the money on an inactive account?

I didn’t call and ask them to reinstate the card. The card’s primary benefit (1% foreign transaction rate) has been eliminated, and I already have other cards. This one sat in a drawer never being used. Instead, I took advantage of the opportunity to get an extra free credit report. I doubt the cancelation will even have an effect on my credit score, so why not see this as a positive?

There have been a few occasions in my life where I’ve had a credit card issuer call me a few hours after making a purchase to confirm that I was the one who’d used my card. This weekend, American Express went one better. I was a little put out, but also pretty impressed with the fast action.

Credit Card Purchase Confirmation
It happened at Cost Plus, when I was buying furniture. I suspect two reasons that my account was flagged. 1. Our card activity has dropped dramatically over the last two months, so this was a sudden increase. 2. I was spending a huge amount of money at Cost Plus World Market. Yes, they do sell furniture, but most people buy small things there. I probably wouldn’t have been flagged if I was at a more traditional furniture store.

I ran my card through the reader, and the charge was denied. The clerk looked up the reason code – limit exceeded. I was dumbfounded. It was just not possible for me to be over limit. So, then I started to worry – had my card been stolen? I told the clerk I couldn’t be over limit, so she suggested I call American Express. At that moment, my cell phone rang. It was American Express. I couldn’t hear well enough to clear the charge with the computer, so I spoke to a person. Once I confirmed that I was, in fact, standing in the store with my card, they approved the charge.

My best friend and I left the store with my stuff. Then I started to wonder how American Express had gotten my cell phone number. When we got home, my husband said they hadn’t called there first. I logged into my account and discovered that I’d supplied them with my cell phone number when I changed my address.

When I went to a different Cost Plus a few hours later to buy the remaining pieces of furniture the first store was out of, the charge went through without issue.

Give Your Credit Card Issuer Your Cell Phone Number
Now I’m going to add my cell phone to all my accounts. If they don’t have a cell phone option, I’ll enter it as my work number. I won’t enter it as my home number, because then they’ll call me there with offers. Issuers don’t generally call work numbers or cell phones except in an emergency.

If I hadn’t given Amex my cell phone, they would have called my home phone, where my husband would have told them I was at Cost Plus. But what if he hadn’t been home? I would have had two options:

1. Use a different card (no miles on that one.)
2. Call Amex and try to navigate my way to a person with the power to approve my charge.

I much prefer what actually happened – they called me immediately and then approved the charge.

With all the news that credit card companies are closing accounts and cutting credit limits left and right, my first reaction was to get incensed. How dare they reduce my credit? How dare they deny me what I’ve “earned”? Then I realized that my first reaction upon receiving my credit limit increase letters was laughter. There was no way I needed as much credit as they wanted to give me. If they chose to cut my limit or close my card for non-use, it’s not really that much skin off my nose. I already have a mortgage and my credit scores wouldn’t take that big of a hit. So then I started thinking: how many credit cards do I really need?

The Cards In My Wallet
So, let’s start by counting the number of cards in my wallet. I have four traditional credit cards. One of them gets used for nearly all purchases. Two others get used once a month at most. One probably hasn’t been used since I went to Belize in 2008. I also have one store card in my wallet. There used to be eight, but I discovered that they had all been closed for inactivity when I called to change my address last year. The one remaining is the Goodyear card that I love so very much. This one has a low limit, because it’s only for auto repair purchases. The others still have relatively high limits. There’s also a debit card, which I could use as a credit card in a pinch.

How Many Could I Live Without?
If I were going to really cut back, I think I would keep two traditional cards and the Goodyear card. Not only does the Goodyear card allow awesome payment terms, it also gets me discounts on oil changes and a couple other perks.

As I’ve mentioned before, we put nearly everything on our Amex, even recurring charges like the cable and phone bills. This is part of our mileage-accruement strategy and I’ve been very successful at using those miles for the trips we want to take. So, I’d definitely keep that card.

I’d also keep one other card, either a Visa or Mastercard. If your primary card is an Amex or a Discover, then you should have a Visa or a Mastercard as a back-up. Not all merchants accept Amex. It’s also important to take two cards with you when you travel, just in case one of them gets blocked because of unusual transactions in another city.

So, I started with five cards, and have worked myself down to three that I think are “necessary” for the way I choose to conduct my financial life. Overspending is not a problem for me, so I don’t need to cut my credit to save money. I’d only do it to simplify.

How to Choose Which Cards to Keep
If you want to slim down your wallet, how do you decide which cards to keep? Here are a few simple guidelines:

Other Accounts with the Bank: If you have a checking account or mortgage with a financial institution, consider choosing them as either your primary or back-up card. It’s my suspicion, that banks treat customers with additional accounts better than those with no other ties to the institution. If you like the security of overdraft protection, then this is another point in favor of the bank where you have your checking account.

Rewards: If you have a rewards card and have accrued a hefty point or miles balance, make sure you can keep it or cash it out before cancelling the card. If you can’t, then keep the card until you can use up the rewards. Or, the rewards may be the thing that make the card a keeper, especially if you use them well.

Interest Rates and Fees: Neither interest rates or fees are a huge factor for me (except foreign transaction fees). However, if you carry a balance or sometimes forget to make a payment, then scrutinize the rates and fees carefully. These can change quickly, but it’s at least a place to start.

Foreign Transaction Fees: It doesn’t really matter which extra cards I keep, so I would call to ask about each card’s current foreign transaction fees. These fees can and do change, but they don’t usually come down once they’ve gone up, so I’d keep the card with the lowest foreign transaction fee. The card we took to Belize had a 1% fee, vs. 2-3% for the other cards. Don’t worry as much about the fees for Amex or Discover cards because they aren’t accepted in some parts of the world. Visa and Mastercard are.

Oldest Card: I would be hesitant to close my oldest card because it would reduce the average age of my credit history. However, if you acquired your two oldest cards around the same time, it may be safe to cancel one of them.

Ultimately, I don’t need any credit cards, but they make my life simpler and I like to have them. I don’t need as many as I have, though. If you want to slim things down, consider not fighting the bank if they cut your limit or close an inactive account. As long as you’ve still got a low utilization ratio overall and a long credit history, one closure isn’t going to hurt that much. If you do want to keep a card, then keep it active.

Yesterday, I started this discussion about the dichotomy between credit lovers and credit card haters. Some people believe credit cards are evil, while others consider them simply to be tools.  Yesterday I covered the evil side of things, today the tools side of things.

The “Credit Cards Are Tools” Camp
I fall firmly into this camp. Before anyone attacks me, I have had credit card debt, twice. I entered into it knowingly because I wanted to buy groceries and put gas in my car. I did not spend lavishly or eat out frequently. My debt was the result of unemployment and underemployment the first time, and grad school the second time. I paid it off, and I didn’t blame the credit card companies for charging me interest. In fact, both times I took advantage of 0% balance transfers to manage my debt and pay it off faster.

So, the “Credit Cards Are Tools” camp argues that credit cards are financial vehicles that make life easier. They allow us to earn rewards, reduce the number of bills we have to pay, and carry less cash. The people in this camp are able to pay the balance in full every month, on time, without struggle. Let’s look at these arguments:

Credit cards make life easier. Yes, that’s true in most cases. It’s easier to rent a car or hotel room or buy an expensive item with a credit card. Certainly you can’t shop online with cash – although you can with a debit card. However, cash is easier to spend at other places and it’s preferable for small purchases. And if you find the cards to be too much of a temptation to spend, then they make life very difficult. They also make life difficult if your wallet is lost or stolen and you have to call all the issuers to notify them.

Credit cards allow us to earn rewards. This is true, they do. However, some rewards cards carry annual fees. They also charge higher interest if you fail to make a full payment, which pretty much cancels out whatever rewards you receive. Before you choose a rewards card, make absolutely sure you can pay it off.

We can carry less cash. There have been numerous occasions where I’ve managed to go a week with about a dollar in my wallet. But I don’t recommend it. I try to always have at least $20 in my wallet, because you never know when the power will go out. Businesses always take cash. (Actually, this isn’t true. I tried to pay cash for my co-pay at the doctor, but they didn’t have change, so I had to charge it.)

Credit cards help us manage our bills. My husband are definitely in this group. We put all of our recurring bills (except loans) onto one credit card, which greatly reduces the number of bills we have to track every month. This was especially handy for me in the early days of online banking when my cable and phone companies couldn’t seem to process online payments without sending me a late bill. However, it’s a bad plan for people who carry revolving debt, because now you’re paying interest on your phone bill!

What I found most interesting was how entrenched these two camps were. There seems to be no changing anyone’s mind. It’s very similar to listening to Congress debate actually. So where do you fall? Are credit cards evil or are they tools? Do you fear credit or do you love it?

Hopefully you rebalanced your investment portfolio at the end of 2009 to capture tax losses, but you can do it now if you haven’t already and have those losses for 2010. However, you should look at more than just your portfolio. It’s time to look at all the places you keep money to make you’re not being hit with new fees.

Review Your Checking Account
If you have direct deposit, then you may not worry whether your checking account carries fees. However, some employers don’t offer direct deposit. If your employer is one of them, it’s time to check your account for fees. You should be able to find a fee list online. If not, call customer service and ask. If they charge fees for calls, teller services, monthly account maintenance, low balance, etc., it’s time to move your money. Your first try should be a local credit union, which is probably fee-free. If you can’t find one of those, some major banks offer fee-free accounts. You could even ask your bank if they have one and inform that you’re prepared to find a new bank if they can’t switch you into it.

Review Your Savings Account
I’m not saying you should move your savings account each time a different bank shows a slightly improved rate. You should, however, check this account for fees, too. For example, last year I had to remove my money from Everbank after they more than tripled the minimum balance and doubled the associated low-balance fee. We weren’t in danger of triggering the fee, but we wanted the flexibility and they didn’t offer it.

Review Your Brokerage Account
This is a tricky one, because your investments may be tied up for a short while if you have to move them to a new brokerage. However, you should still check your brokerage account for new “account maintenance fees.” Those fees were one of the reasons I left E-Trade several years ago. They didn’t tell me they’d introduced the fee until they sent me a statement four months after they levied it and then said they couldn’t reverse it because it had been more than 90 days. Even when I said I wanted to close the account if they didn’t reverse the fee, they didn’t budge. So I closed the account and I’m never going back.

Review Your Credit Cards
Credit card companies are cutting limits and hiking fees and interest rates all over the place. If you don’t carry a balance, interest rate hikes are moot, but you need to know if they’ve cut your limit. They should send you a letter when they change your account, but check your account online monthly just to make sure.

Review Your CD Due Dates
If you have any CDs expiring this year, mark the due date on a calendar so you can notify the bank immediately about your intentions. If you wait more than 10 days, the CD will automatically renew and lock your money in for another term unless you pay a high surrender fee.

Check Your Credit Report
While you’re doing all this, why not check your credit report, too? I use to check one free report every four months: January, May, and September.

A once-a-year checkup is a good way to start the year, but always be vigilant about changes to your account because they can happen at any time. The sooner you take action, the less risk of getting hit by a fee.

Today’s guest post comes from Mr. Credit Card. If you like this, subscribe to his feed for more great stuff.

Hi, I’m Mr Credit Card and I write and review credit cards at my site I started this site because while I was looking for a credit card a few years ago, I could not find any site that really reviews credit cards in depth. If you are looking for a new card, please check out my best credit cards recommended list.

Like Aryn, I have been an avid user of credit cards and taking advantage of rewards. I have not taken advantage of any 0% APR offers or even any sign up bonuses for points. What I have done is just to make use of a couple of cards and racked up lots of points which I used for airline tickets and cash rebates. Aryn wrote a guest post on my blog telling us how she is looking to earn miles for her next trip to Australia. Today, I am going to share some tips on saving money on your airline travel and perhaps highlight some tips for her as well.

One of the keys to saving money on airline tickets, like Aryn mentioned, is obviously to get chalk up reward points or frequent flier points. Aryn mentioned that she has the Delta Skymiles Credit Card. But there are obviously other cards which you can use. The average number of points required for a domestic round trip economy restricted flight is about 25,000 to 30,000 points. Hence, spending that amount of your credit card in a year (not an unreasonable assumption) is already one free ticket.

Earn more miles with a business credit card – When I started my first job in sales, my company gave me a business credit card. It was a gold Amex charge card. The company I worked for allowed me to accumulated membership reward points. So whenever I took clients out for dinners and entertainment or flew an airline, I used the my business card and racked up points really fast. And since the points do not expire, I could wait for the right moment to get the right airline tickets. After I was issued the card by my company, I immediately got out and got an Amex Gold Card for personal use. Since I can link my account, I can earn points even faster (though it would not have as fast if I did not have the business card).

But even entrepreneurs can take advantage and get a business credit card that matches their lifestyle and reward goals and rack up points quickly. Since most business expenses are larger than household expenses, you can earn points really quickly.

Ask for everything under the sun when you book your hotels – My wife Mrs Credit Card used to work in hotel sales. So whenever we go on vacation, she does the booking because she knows what to ask for. Regardless of what hotel or where you book, here are somethings you simply want to ask for.

  • complimentary late checkout – even if you do not intend to (but it is an option). Ask early
  • complimentary breakfast – some hotels would not give you if you do not ask!
  • good room views – always ask for a good room view and chances are that you will get the best one available
  • ask for corner rooms – as they tend to be bigger and quieter because they are away from the elevators
  • ask for a room on a higher floor
  • ask for special room upgrade

How to ask for room upgrade – I want to devote a little time on this topic because there is an art in going about doing this. Firstly, ask when you are booking over the phone if they have complimentary upgrades. Mention that you have this credit card or that you are a member of AAA and ask if there are any special deals.

Also, ask if there is any promotions for room upgrades. Hotels have programs where they up sell rooms. Sometimes, an extra $20 or $50 fro example can get you a suite upgrade.

If it does not work over the phone, ask when you check in. Be polite. Say something like you are not feeling well or that your kids are cranky and not feeling well and ask if they could upgrade your room. Smile too!

With a little luck, you can get a much nicer room than you paid for.

Book hotels directly with the hotel – I have the Amex Platinum Card and one of the perks is that you earn double points for booking through their travel site (which by the way is powered by Travelocity). I did that once and when I wanted to cut short my stay when I was already at the hotel, I was told I could get no refund from the hotel and instead had to go back to Travelocity. Even Amex could not really help me.

When you book directly with the hotel, you can request for all the stuff that I just mentioned and if you need to change your schedule, they can do it. Once you book through a travel agent, your booking falls under a separate system. By the way, Aryn also recommends booking your flights directly with the airline.

Join the frequent guest program of the hotel you are staying in – Once you have booked the hotel, immediately join the frequent guest program and make sure your points are credited into your account when you check in. But more importantly, frequent guest program offer meal vouchers and discounts. Hence, you should always be on the lookout for promotional codes and vouchers. During my last stay at the Hyatt, I got a $150 mean voucher simple from getting the code from Hyatt’s Passport website.

Transfer Miles and Earn More Miles – Right now, Aryn is trying to save miles for a trip to Australia. One tactic she can consider is to transfer miles. Delta Skymiles is now having a promotion where you can transfer miles to someone else and get 50% more miles. This offer is valid until 31st December 2009. Aryn can transfer miles to her hubby and vice-versa

She can also consider getting a Starwood credit card since she is a member of Starwood Preferred Guest program. Starwood allows you to transfer points 1:1 to most airlines and you will get a bonus 5,000 miles when you transfer 20,000 points into miles!

Ending Thoughts – There are numerous other ways to save and earn miles for your next vacation. I have just touched the tip of the iceberg. I hope you have found these tips helpful. Just a reminder, Aryn has written some great travel tips in the past:

  • How to Pay Bills While On Vacation
  • Cheapest source of Foreign Currency On Vacation
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