Most Frequent travelers know all about credit card blocking, many from painful first hand experience. Hotels post notices of their policy regarding blocking, usually in the form of an obscure plaque some clerks will point to when an inquisitive visitor checks in. Car rental companies rapidly recite their policy to callers wanting to reserve an SUV for the family vacation. Still hundreds of unsuspecting consumers will feel the pain of credit card blocks every day. So what exactly are these blocks?
Credit card issuers, as a way to reduce their risk, can set aside or "block" an anticipated future charge. This block is not immediately charged to the account but it reduces the amount of credit available. Plus the amount of the block may be more than expected as the bank may add in additional estimated charges such as gasoline for a car rental or food for a hotel stay. Even a pay-at-the-pump transaction can cause a $100 block to be placed on a card. These blocks or "holds" can cause for some rather difficult imes if you unknowingly end up in the wrong situation.
Suppose you are flying to Las Vegas for the weekend. Assuming you have not yet acquired high-roller status, you will need to reserve a flight, car rental and hotel room. Each of these reservations will cause a block to be placed on your ever-faithful rewards credit card. Then in an effort to smooth-over the news of your impending excursion, you take your significant other to the finest restaurant in town. Imagine your surprise when waiter lets you and the patrons in a two-table radius know your charge has been declined.
Another, and even more heinous scenario, would have the person securing these future charges with a debit card. Each reservation would have placed a block on the checking account underlying the credit card. Then the flowers, dinner, cab fare and concert tickets would have all generate separate overdraft charges. Not to mention any checks clearing during the time the blocks are in effect. Ouch.
The most logical way to avoid any blocking problems is to maintain a balance well below the usable limit of your credit card. Although this is prudent advice it may not always be practical considering the somewhat undefined amounts and timing of the blocks. One tidbit that is unwavering is that reservations should not be placed on a debit card. Ever.
Another potentially better technique to avoid this trap is to have a spare credit card. A method employed by many, a spare credit card can be used to place all the reservations thereby protecting the available credit of your preferred card. Then when the actual charges are made the favorite card can be used and any rewards can be accumulated. An additional benefit is the block transactions provide activity on the spare card furthering its value as a tool to enhance your credit score.
Like many credit related issues, knowledge and a little foresight can go a long way in preventing unexpected problems and expenses. Now that you have the knowledge, this would be a good time for a little pro-active action to ensure you do not fall into the credit blocking trap.