"We Don't Accept Debit Cards" — Reader Mistake Story
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Heather, whose prepaid hotel reservation was unexpectedly canceled after she arrived:
In 2017, I scored tickets with a group of friends to San Diego Comic Con. Since it was going to be my first trip to the West Coast and I hadn’t had a vacation in ages, I decided to go out a few days early on my own. I paid for a hotel room in advance, and though I wasn't scheduled to arrive until after 9:00 pm, I wasn’t concerned since I had a confirmed room ... or so I thought.
I had read all the fine print and knew a deposit would be required at check-in; what I didn’t know is that they wouldn’t take my debit card for the deposit. I didn't have any other credit cards with me, and the reception staff wouldn't work with me even though my room had been paid for months prior to my arrival. They canceled my reservation right there over a $50 deposit, so I ended up sitting outside with my luggage in a strange city, frantically trying to find another room. It was Pride weekend and availability was low, but I eventually found one for that night.
The next morning, I went to get breakfast and my card was declined. I called my bank and found out the nonsense with the first hotel had put a freeze on my card. After that was sorted, I paid for breakfast and went back to check out of my room and move to another hotel. Due to Pride weekend, I couldn’t check in early at my new location, and they wouldn’t hold my luggage in the meantime. Feeling a bit frustrated, I decided to go to the beach (with my luggage in tow), find a spot to sit and at least enjoy the ocean view while I waited.
As I sat there, I got a bank alert on my phone telling me my card had been used. Of course, I knew it hadn’t been used, because there I was sitting on the beach. It turned out my card had been hacked, so I rushed to find an ATM, pulled my money out and called to report it. I found myself stuck on a beach with just cash and no access to my bank account, all because I hadn’t brought a back-up card.
Fortunately, a co-worker with a friend in San Diego saw the meltdown I had on social media. Without knowing me at all, her friend showed up, rescued me from the beach, and took me into his home so I could get things sorted. He gave me a room to stay in until my friends arrived, and an address where my daughter could overnight me a new bank card. I eventually got to do a bit of sight-seeing, and by the time my friends arrived, all was well.
Lessons learned: always carry a major credit card for unforeseen issues and emergencies (even if it has a low spending limit), and never forget there still exists kindness from strangers in this world.
There's some debate about whether you can have too many credit cards, but the more pressing concern may be having too few. While you might feel more comfortable carrying a debit card for everyday transactions, there are good reasons not to use them, especially when you travel. As Heather learned, many hotels and rental car companies don't accept debit cards for deposits, and your reservation could be canceled without a credit card on hand. Debit cards also leave you more liable for fraud and carry greater potential for damages if your card is compromised. And of course, they generally don't come with the rewards and benefits offered by credit cards.
I recommend bringing at least two credit cards along when you travel, preferably ones that come from different card issuers, use different payment networks and have no foreign transaction fees (if you're traveling internationally). Carrying multiple cards gives you a backup in case one is lost or a merchant won't accept it and provides flexibility to maximize each purchase. You might prefer to bring more — most of the TPG team said they carry 3-5 cards when traveling — but two should be the minimum. I'm not advocating you leave your debit card behind entirely, but apart from withdrawing or depositing cash, it should stay in your wallet.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Heather a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to email@example.com, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!