2019 has been the year of airline collapses, extreme weather delays, data breaches and other unfortunate events in travel. But did you know that using a debit card can exacerbate the problems that travel may bring, even further? It’s true. You should never use a debit card to book travel, pay for things while travelling or really… ever, unless you’re taking out money from an ATM. Here’s the full story on why it’s not actually all that responsible to pay with a debit card…

When WOW Air collapsed earlier this year, stranding passengers all over Europe and the USA, the list of passengers needing refunds was instantly split into two groups: those who would be getting them, and those who probably would not. If you used a credit card to purchase your airfare with the carrier, you could instantly file a chargeback for the full amount. If, however, you used a debit card for your ticket purchase, you had little to no hope of ever seeing that money again, at least on legal grounds.

It’s that simple. Credit cards carry vastly different consumer rights and protections than debit cards, while also offering travel benefits designed to encourage you to use them. In the USA this is down to the Fair Credit Billing Act, and in the UK it’s “Section 75” of the Consumer Credit Act. In both cases, these rules only apply to credit and not debit card transactions. That’s not to say that you may not be able to get your money back if you pay via debit card, but that’s down to the discretion of your bank, and not a steadfast law.

Plus, if compromised, credit cards aren’t nearly as sensitive as a debit card, which gives someone instant access to empty your checking or current account, and perhaps even savings too. With credit cards, the maximum a person can be held accountable for is $50, whereas if someone compromises a debit card and empties a savings account, the rules are starkly different. With a debit card, you’re on the hook for $50 if reported immediately, but that jumps to $500 if not reported within two days and is uncapped if not reported within 120 days in the USA.

Almost assuredly, you’ve checked into a hotel, or rented a car and were informed about needing a card for incidental charges. These “holds” are usually just in place in case you use the minibar, or scratch up a rental car, but at up to $150 a day, they can be fairly steep. If you use your debit card, that hold takes up to 10 days to clear, which means they are then holding your actual money in the interim, rather than your line of credit.

If there’s a dispute about the amount, you have fewer means of push back, which means a rental car company could sting you for $1000’s, with no choice but to go to court to recoup if you paid via debit, whereas a credit card could be instantly disputed, with no liability until a resolution was reached. Simple solution: present a rewards earning credit card for these situations instead.

As to flight delays, lost baggage and other inevitable travel quandaries, the case for using a credit card is even more compelling. Many premium rewards credit cards offer special perks, such as the ability to purchase up to $500 in clothing, toiletries and other necessities when a flight is delayed as little as three hours and others can replace lost luggage far better than any airline, with up to $3000 in compensation.

Of course, none of this begins to take into account the fact that many of the best credit cards earn rewards in the form of credit card points, hotel points or airline miles, which can fuel and fund future travel in part or full. I, for one, am living and breathing proof that credit card points really can unlock luxury travel over and over again.

Unlike debit cards, which typically don’t offer any reward, credit cards can bring up to 5x points for airfare purchases, up to 7.5x miles for certain hotels and 5x for dining, which is effectively a massive rebate on everything related to the travel experience. Again – debit cards – nada. Most rewards cards in the USA have ditched foreign transaction fees, and for those elsewhere, new fintech solutions like Curve, Revolut and others allow you to use a credit card abroad without the foreign transaction fees.

Basically, if your excuse for not using a credit card abroad was those pesky transaction fees, they are a thing of the past.

A common misconception with travel rewards credit cards is that they are inherently risky or that you lose out by paying an annual fee. Many of the best cards annual fees are more than accounted for in benefits, and turning every purchase from a latte to a luxury holiday into points is crucial to earning a rebate, which unlocks the full potential of your consumer behaviour. It’s not impossible to garner $1000s in annual value back from a card with a $450 annual fee, and there are great cards with no annual fee as well. Some cards even cover your primary rental car coverage, which is fantastic.

Like anything with buying power, credit cards come with important rules, and they should never be used to purchase anything which can’t be paid immediately or would place someone in a leveraged situation. Put simply, you should use your credit card as if it were a debit card tied to your currently available funds, but with that in mind – you should use it for everything. Never miss an opportunity to earn points, and that includes ditching cash, wherever possible.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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    1. 100% CASH and Debt Cards are a thing of the past.

      However, at the same time… people need to not get into debt using credit cards either. My rule is, if you can’t afford it NOW, don’t buy it… and NEVER ever keep a balance… Pay all cards off 100% each month.

  1. Never buy a thing thru credit cards, if u don’t have fund to pay back. Pay 100% each month. People are fooled as when they exhausted with all their limits, they left with option to pay minimum balance and their principled amount never over, half of their amount going in interests.

    Every thing purchased when u carry forward your dues will have interests rate charged. If u have to use cards for current expenses and u have dues, split expenses into two different cards, one u r paying interests and other current expenses which you must clear every month, so you will not have to pay charges on the others.

  2. Revolut, unlike Curve, is based on a prepaid or debit card – not a credit one.

    How do you use Revolut and benefit from what you’re talking about in terms of credit cards – in Europe?

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