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Many modern rental cars offer sophisticated “infotainment” systems that can link up to your smartphone via Bluetooth, allowing you to make hands-free calls, stream your music through the vehicle’s speakers and use your favorite map app for navigation. But these systems can pose a security risk by storing your personal data, including contacts, call logs, text messages and the places you visit during your rental.

smartphone in car


“Unless you delete that data before you return the car, other people may view it, including future renters and rental car employees or even hackers,” cautions the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

So how can you enjoy the convenience of your car’s infotainment system without compromising your security? Collin Ikim of Magrenta, a Romanian car rental company, says he always shows clients how to wipe their data from the system before returning their vehicles. “Most people return [their] rental car at the last moment, when they’re already in a hurry,” he says. “You should give yourself time to remove the personal data stored in the car. It’s a matter of minutes.”

Ikim recommends going into the settings menu of the infotainment system. “There you’ll find a list of devices that have been paired: locate yours and follow the prompts to delete it. If you used the car’s navigation system, clear your location history.”

If all you need is to charge your phone, both Ikim and the FTC recommend using an adapter to power the device via the car’s cigarette lighter rather than connecting via USB to the infotainment system, which might capture your data automatically.

If you do decide to use the system, you can usually choose which data you want to share. Keep your permissions as limited as possible to avoid putting information unnecessarily at risk.

For those renting a car in their own local area, Ikim offers one final suggestion: “Consider setting your home address to a nearby intersection. If strangers get … access to your car, they won’t know the precise directions to your specific home address.”

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling
Avoiding Identity Theft: A Cautionary Tale at 35,000 Feet

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the most interesting travel stories you may have missed this week.

american airlines planes


American Airlines Just Made a Big Change Most Passengers Will Hate
American Airlines has fallen in line with the other major carriers in the U.S. with the latest update to its frequent flier program, reports Yahoo! Finance. Travelers will now accumulate miles based not on the distance flown but on how much they paid for their ticket.

Why I Quit My Job to Travel the World
Have a laugh at this satirical essay from the New Yorker, which pokes fun at trust fund kids who drop everything to travel around the world. “Of course, this ‘no reservations’ life style isn’t for everyone,” writes the fictional narrator. “Sometimes it’s difficult to get even one bar of cell service, which makes Instagramming more gelato a real struggle.”

The Latest Travel Luxury: Not Going
Quartz reports that there’s been an increase in the purchase of “cancel anytime” travel insurance this year, probably in response to concerns about terrorism and the Zika virus. This type of coverage costs a little more but gives travelers peace of mind by allowing them to back out of their trip for any reason without losing money.

The Moroccan Scam That Wasn’t
BBC Travel details an encounter with Moroccan locals that could have turned dangerous — would you hop in a car with two strangers to drive into the desert after dark? — but instead turned into a memorable evening at an Arab-Berber wedding.

Had a Rental Car Accident? Here’s What You Need to Know
Conde Nast Traveler digs into the thorny issue of rental car coverage. Just how much does your credit card protect you in case of an accident? Turns out it might be less than you think.

Common Taxi Scams, and How to Avoid Them
USA Today identifies seven ways you could get ripped off on a cab ride, from broken meters to drivers claiming they don’t have enough change.

Get a glimpse of Bali’s healing energy in this week’s featured video.


10 Best Indonesia Experiences
Money Safety Tips for Travelers

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two potential travel upgrades.

Would you rather…

… upgrade your hotel room to one with an ocean view, or …

ocean view hotel



… trade in your economy rental car for a convertible?

convertible


Some travelers would rather wake up to a sweet view, while others would rather feel the wind in their hair as they explore the local sights. Which one describes you?

5 Affordable Ways to Upgrade Your Vacation

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

car credit cardSo long as you use it to pay for your car rental, your credit card probably offers you more insurance on your car rental than you assumed — and, if nothing else, at least supplements your own car insurance very well. Below is a roundup of coverage (and applicable exclusions) offered by the major credit cards as of January 2014.

One important rule is that none of the major cards include liability insurance as a part of their coverage, with coverage primarily limited to the loss and damage waiver. This typically also excludes personal injury, as well as loss or theft of personal belongings. For liability and other coverage, you will want to make sure you are covered by your auto insurance policy.

Note that coverage may vary based on the type of card you have; we recommend contacting your credit card issuer to double-check its policies before renting.

Mastercard
– All Gold, Platinum, World and World elite cards have coverage; standard cards vary by issuer. The coverage amount is the lesser of the actual repair amount, current market value (less salvage) or $50,000 per incident.

– Vehicle exclusions: Trucks, pickups, full-size vans mounted on truck chassis, cargo vans, campers, off-road vehicles, motorcycles, motorbikes, antique vehicles, limousines, sport utility trucks and vehicles with retail prices exceeding $50,000.

– Country exclusions: Ireland, Israel and Jamaica, and where prohibited by law (World and World Elite have no exclusions).

– Limit on rental length: 31 days for World and World Elite cardholders, 15 days for other types.

– Covered fees: Reasonable towing or storage charges, loss of use and administrative fees when the rental company provides appropriate documentation.

– Secondary coverage: They’ll pick up what your auto insurance doesn’t.

Visa
– All cards have coverage, limited to collision and theft coverage. Coverage is up to the replacement cash value of the rental vehicle as it was originally manufactured, taking into account current condition and mileage.

– Vehicle exclusions: Expensive, exotic and antique automobiles; certain vans; vehicles with an open cargo bed; trucks; motorcycles, mopeds and motorbikes; limousines; and recreational vehicles.

– Country exclusions: Israel, Jamaica, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland.

– Limit on rental length: 15 days in your country of residence, 31 days outside it.

– Covered fees: Reasonable towing charges and valid administrative and loss of use charges imposed by the auto rental company.

– Secondary coverage: They’ll pick up what your auto insurance doesn’t.

10 Things Not to Do When Renting a Car

American Express
– All cards offer coverage (specific coverage varies by card), except the Delta Options card (which is no longer being marketed).

– Vehicle exclusions: Exotic cars, trucks, pickups, cargo vans, full-size vans, customized vehicles, vehicles used for hire or commercial purposes, antique cars, limousines, full-size sport utility vehicles, sport/utility vehicles when driven “off-road,” off-road vehicles, motorcycles, mopeds, recreational vehicles, golf or motorized carts, campers, trailers and any other vehicle which is not a Rental Auto.

– Limit on rental length: 30 days.

– Country exclusions: Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and New Zealand (for small business cards, coverage is for the U.S., its territories and possessions only).

– Covered fees: Reasonable towing or storage charges, loss of use and administrative fees when the rental company provides appropriate documentation.

– Secondary coverage: They’ll pick up what your auto insurance doesn’t. You can pay $24.95 for Premium Car Rental Protection, which offers primary coverage plus additional benefits for up to 42 consecutive days of coverage. Coverage varies by card.

Discover
– All cards have coverage, varying from $25,000 to $50,000, depending on the card.

– Vehicle exclusions: Off-road, antique, limited edition, high-value (more than $50,000) and high-performance motor vehicles; trucks; recreational vehicles; campers; pickups; and mini-buses.

– Country exclusions: None.

– Limit on rental length: 31 days (45 days if you are an employee of the company that provided the card for use).

– Covered fees: None except on the Escape card, which covers reasonable towing fees to the nearest collision repair facility.

– Secondary coverage: They’ll pick up what your auto insurance doesn’t.

Diners Club
– All cards offer Primary Collision Damage Waiver Insurance when the entire cost of a car rental is charged to a Diners Club Card. There’s usually no need to file a claim with your own insurance company, so your personal insurance premium won’t be affected. The insurance covers physical damage and theft of the vehicle, reasonable loss of use charges and reasonable towing charges, and includes Secondary Personal Effects insurance.

– Protection applies to rental cars with manufacturer’s suggested retail price up to $100,000 for covered damages.

– Vehicle exclusions: Trucks, pickups, full-size vans mounted on truck chassis, campers, off-road vehicles, recreational vehicles, antique vehicles, trailers, motorbikes, vehicles with fewer than four wheels and some SUVs.

– Limit on rental length: 45 days

– Country exclusions: Australia, Italy and New Zealand

– Covered fees: Reasonable towing costs and loss of use charges. Administrative fees are not covered.

Car Rental Secrets We Bet You Don’t Know

— written by Ed Hewitt

airport securityFollowing an outpouring of opposition from flight attendants and government officials, the Transportation Security Administration recently decided to scrap its plan to allow passengers to carry small knives (of 2.36 inches or less) once again on planes — a practice that’s been prohibited since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

It got us thinking: while some travel-related policies are meant to keep us safe — like the in-cabin knife ban that has been upheld — there are others that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever for consumers. Below, we examine four of them.

Currency Conversion Charges
If you’ve ever used your credit card abroad and been hit with fees for currency conversion, you’re not alone. In some cases, the fees are a percentage of the amount charged — which can add up to a heck of a lot if you’re paying for something expensive like a hotel room. Does it really cost anything for card companies to convert the charges, or is it just one more way for them to make money?

The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas

Airport Security Shoe Removal
If I’m wearing tall, cavernous boots that could hide a bomb or stilettos so high they might double as weaponry, I understand this rule; if I’m wearing flip-flops, I don’t. But wait! The TSA is making exceptions of late. If you’re really young or really old, you can leave your shoes on. As we all know, terrorists are only between the ages of 13 and 74.

Nontransferable Tickets
It’s a concept that’s so rigid it serves only to sell more seats on planes. Life happens, and, sure, airlines can accommodate changes … for the right price, of course. Spelled your name wrong during the booking process? Perhaps you’ll get a sympathetic ear on the phone, and you’ll be allowed to change it without too much of a hassle. Or maybe you’ll be forced to pay a change fee or, worse yet, rebook completely. But forget about simply switching the name on your companion ticket if your flaky friend decides she can’t accompany you on that expensive vacation after all.

What Not to Do at the Airport

Mandatory Extra Fees
Raise your hand if you’ve booked a hotel or a rental car for one price and been slapped with “mandatory extras” after the fact. I recently took a trip to the Dominican Republic, where the driving conditions are so perilous that I was forced to pay for insurance on my rental car, even though my insurance provider back in the U.S. had me covered. And let’s not forget about the time I went to Las Vegas with friends, only to be pummeled with a “resort fee” because — gasp! — our hotel had a pool (which, to be honest, is a standard amenity at any hotel worth its salt). Let’s get it straight: if something is “mandatory,” it’s not an “extra” — it’s part of the price.

Which travel policies do you think are silly, unfair or outdated? Post them in the comments.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

santo domingo dominican republicBefore my recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I was warned by a number of colleagues, relatives and friends (including one who’s Dominican) that I should be careful. Not just “don’t drink the water” careful, but “wear no jewelry, don’t make eye contact and don’t even think about going outside at night” careful. The good news: I survived my trip safe and sound. But with so many dire warnings, I didn’t stop to consider some of the more practical (and less dangerous) issues I might encounter.

Rental Car Runaround
Scenario: Even though I’d reserved a rental car ahead of time for pickup at the airport, it still took an hour for the paperwork to go through — and I was the only customer.

Lesson: Because of differences in languages and processing methods, you should always leave extra time for things like this, especially in places with a slower pace of life.

Scenario: After the first time I stopped to refuel, the car wouldn’t start. I called the rental agency, who told me that the vehicle’s keyless entry safety feature was prohibiting the engine from turning over. I clicked a few buttons, and the car started right up.

Lesson: Ask if there’s anything specific you should know about the car before you leave the rental agency. Ask also for a phone number where you can reach someone if you have problems (and keep a phrasebook handy in case the person on the other end doesn’t speak your language).

The First 10 Minutes of Your Car Rental

Scenario: On the day I flew home, I tried to return the rental car an hour earlier than scheduled — but nobody was at the desk. I waited 20 minutes before calling the customer service number again. I was told that because I was an hour early, nobody would be there to take the key. I was instructed to hide it behind the computer at the rental counter.

Lesson: In other countries, not all businesses are open during what we would consider “normal” operating hours. This is especially true in locations that don’t see many tourists. Treat rental car reservations like doctor’s appointments: show up only at the times you specify for rental and return.

GPS Guffaw
Scenario: While driving from the airport to my hotel, the GPS in my rental car kept screaming at me to “turn right” when no right turns were present, leaving me lost in Santo Domingo for two hours. I called my hotel’s front desk, and they were able to get me on the right path.

Lesson: Don’t rely entirely on technology when traveling. If possible, find and print directions to take with you in case your cell phone or GPS gets lost, breaks or dies along the way. And carry the phone number of someone at your destination in case you find yourself in a pinch.

3 C’s: Credit Cards, Currency and Cell Phones
Scenario: My credit card was denied when I tried to purchase snacks. I paid with cash and promptly called the company to discuss the problem. (I always call to alert my bank and my credit card company before traveling to avoid having my cards blocked when I need them most.) I was told that some card companies won’t allow transactions in certain locations if they’re considered “high-risk.”

Lesson: Sure, you know to tell your card company that you’ll be globetrotting, but it’s also a good idea to bone up on its policies regarding the specific places you’re visiting. Keep the company’s phone number handy and carry cash as a backup.

The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas

Scenario: On my last day, I made a wrong turn on the way to the airport. (Thanks again, GPS.) I found myself at a pesos-only tollbooth (having purposefully gotten rid of my remaining pesos immediately prior) and conjured up my high-school Spanish to ask if they’d accept U.S. dollars. When two heavily armed police came out of the booth, I took that as a firm “no.” But one officer did offer me 500 pesos — enough for the toll — in exchange for a $20 bill. He made a $10 profit on the deal, but you don’t refuse a man with a machine gun when he stands in the way of your flight back to civilization.

Lesson: Always carry enough local currency to get you through end of your trip. Airports usually offer exchange services, so don’t worry about having too much leftover cash.

Scenario: Although I added international texting and data coverage to my cell phone plan before embarking on this adventure, I turned down the international calling plan since I didn’t think I’d use it. But with all my hapless calls to the hotel, car rental agency and credit card company, I used quite a few minutes. At $2.95 a pop, I’m now facing a pretty nasty bill.

Lesson: Always, always say yes to a calling plan. If you run into trouble, phone calls are almost always your best means of finding help. Keep in mind, too, that if you’re traveling abroad, your phone will be roaming the second it connects to a network, even if you don’t make any calls. Because service can be spotty in some locations, ask your carrier about availability and consider purchasing a prepaid phone when you arrive at your destination.

International Cell Phone Guide

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

car keysTraveling is a pricey proposition, and flying adds even more nickel-and-dime expenses to your tab. Checked baggage fees. Extra leg room fees. In-flight movie fees. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get someone else to pay for your airport parking while you globetrot?

FlightCar, a new company based in California, may soon match up travelers looking for rental cars with travelers who have cars sitting, unused, in long-term airport parking lots.

According to the company’s Web site, the idea hasn’t yet come to fruition, but the service is slated to launch later this year in Oakland and San Jose.

10 Things to Do Before You Travel

What’s in it for renters? Cars rented through FlightCar will supposedly be up to 50 percent cheaper than cars rented through standard rental companies like Hertz, Avis or Enterprise.

What’s in it for rentees? Your car will be earning you money — instead of costing you — while you travel. Plus, FlightCar will even clean your vehicle for you, pre- and post-rental. When you register online, you can set the daily rate and the mileage limit, and each car is insured up to $1 million, according to the company’s Web site.

For more info, check out the video:



What’s your take? Would you let a stranger drive your car while you’re out of town? Share your comments below.

An Airline Fee We Might Actually Want to Pay

–written by Ashley Kosciolek