Sunday, March 29, 2015

9 Tips to Protect Yourself When Renting A Car

It seems a car rental is no longer just a simple process of booking the car, picking it up, driving and dropping it off. Consumers need to protect themselves so that they aren’t charged for damages months down the road. Here are some tips to remember when renting a car.

- Check pricing on comparison sites, then book directly with the car rental company. Prices are usually the same and you don’t have a middle-man to deal with if there is a problem.

- Make sure that the car rental office is open during the times you will be picking up and dropping off the car. Returning the car to a closed office and leaving the keys in a lock box doesn’t allow you to be present when the car is inspected for damages.

- When picking up the car, take pictures or video of the entire car, including the license plate number. Point out every ding to the employee and ask to have them marked on your paperwork. Do the same when you drop it off. You’ll have picture proof that the car was in the same condition you picked it up in if you receive an email three months later saying your credit card is being charged for damages.

- NEVER book a non-refundable, pre-paid car rate. If your flight is delayed or canceled, you are stuck with that pre-paid car and in most cases won’t get a refund.

- Check the terms of your car rental carefully online before you book. We once needed a car to travel from our home in New York to a conference in Boston. When we arrived to pick up the car, which we booked with unlimited miles, we learned that if the car were taken out of the bordering states, the mileage wasn’t unlimited- we were given 150 free miles a day and would be charged for anything over that. Had we clicked the “See details” line, we would have seen that and booked with a different company without restrictions.

- When you are renting a car in the U.S., check with your own car insurance company to see if it covers rental cars. If it does, bring a copy of your insurance card. It may not be necessary to purchase the expensive insurance the rental companies charge. Some credit cards offer coverage as well, but it may not include liability insurance and the rental office will often try to sell you that at their higher premiums.

- When renting a car abroad you will need to determine insurance requirements in each country. Some travel insurance companies and travel agents have policies available to cover in other countries. Some countries, such as Ireland, require you to buy their insurance when you pick up the car. Do your research so you know what your options are or you may have a large deposit held on your credit card for potential damages that may cause declinations at hotels or when shopping. Some companies will not rent at all without having proof of insurance.

- Never use a debit card when renting. As with hotels, the rental companies may put a hold on your card that may not drop off by the time you return the car. In addition, if you do not opt for insurance, many companies put a very large hold, some up to $5,000 on your card for possible damages.

- If you can pick up a car somewhere other than the airport, you’ll save money. There are many airport taxes that are added on to your rental price that aren't applicable to  off premises rentals.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Do I Need Travel Insurance?

You've just booked your annual vacation and have dreams of hammocks on the beach, or sitting on the balcony of your cruise ship enjoying the warm breezes as you sail from island to island. In our minds, we picture the perfect vacation but never think of "what if" scenarios if something happens to us, or a close relative or travel companion before or if an emergency occurs during the trip.

Travel insurance should be the second consideration once your trip is booked. There are a multitude of events that can happen before you travel as well as while you travel that can put a traveler into a huge financial hole. As an adviser on a consumer website, 50% of the complaints we receive  would be a non-issue if travelers had purchased travel insurance.

The right travel insurance policy can make you whole if you have to cancel your vacation before you leave for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with how young, old or healthy you are. We have clients who think because they are young and healthy they don't need travel insurance. The rule of thumb to go by - if you can't afford to lose everything you have paid for your vacation if you have to cancel you need travel insurance.  If you need to be evacuated from a cruise ship because you become seriously ill and don't happen to have $72,000 available for an evacuation - you need travel insurance.  If you do not have medical insurance that covers you in any country you may be traveling to - you need travel insurance.

Pre-trip, a policy can cover you for serious illness that may occur after you book your trip. What if you fall and break a leg two weeks before you are leaving? What if your boss tells you that due to an emergency at work, it's either your job or your vacation?  What if a hurricane or a fire destroys your home before you leave or you have a car accident on the way to the airport?  What if your flights are canceled and you can't rebook right away and miss some or all of your vacation or if an elderly parent is hospitalized or passes away right before you are ready to leave? What if your airline or cruise ship loses your luggage and you have no clothes for your entire vacation? All of these scenarios can be covered by purchasing the right travel insurance policy.

Insurance during your trip is just as important. Some of the scenarios we've actually seen - a passenger who has a stroke in the middle of dinner on a cruise ship. A helicopter landed on the ship to transport the client to the hospital. Average cost of a medical evacuation is $72,000.  How would you pay that without insurance?  In Bermuda, a client on a motor scooter was sideswiped on the road and had to go to the hospital for treatment. This client refused travel insurance and had to pay a $3,000 hospital bill before he was permitted to leave the hospital.  Another client had a massive heart attack, spent three weeks in a hospital in Costa Rica to be stabilized and then needed a med jet flight home. His insurance reimbursed him for over $100,000 in medical and flight bills. Another client received a phone call that her mother had passed away. She had to forgo the remainder of her vacation and get last minute flights to return home. Her insurance helped to reimburse her for the added expenses.

 What should you look for in a policy?  First, consider all the expenses you are pre-paying. If you are booking air and hotel and prepaying everything, insure the entire trip.  Cancellation policies vary for hotels, some charge cancellation penalties regardless of when you travel once booked, some only have cancellation fees if you cancel 30 days before, some a day before. If you are booking air and a hotel that is not pre-paid - that is only guaranteed by a credit card but has a generous cancellation policy, where you can cancel up until two days before arrival, you may only want to insure your airfare.

Another thing to ask is if it is primary or secondary coverage. Secondary coverage, which is what most travel insurance coverage is, picks up whatever your primary medical (or even homeowners) insurance doesn't cover. Primary insurance is usually more expensive and pays immediately.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you usually must purchase at the time of making your deposit or within two - three weeks of the day you make your deposit. One thing to note is that you must be medically able to travel the day you book insurance. Some less expensive policies do not offer a waiver for pre-existing conditions so check the policy carefully before purchasing.  Pre-existing coverage is also needed if you have an elderly parent or immediate relative who may be in a precarious medical state that could cause cancellation of your trip as the date gets closer.

An additional thing to consider when you book your insurance is weather.  A few years ago, a volcano in Iceland exploded and the ash closed air space over much of Western Europe. Thousands of people were unable to fly to or from their vacations. Those passengers who had purchased travel insurance with coverage for weather provisions were able to get refunds on their trips based on the coverage they had.  Many of those who didn't have insurance weren't able to be fully reimbursed.  Those that suddenly decided to try to book insurance once the volcano blew were unable to buy coverage because the weather scenario already existed.  It is too late to book for weather coverage once the storms have already developed. If you are traveling during hurricane or winter, buy that coverage right away.

The amount of coverage is important. Some lower priced policies offer minimal coverage, with perhaps $10,000 in medical insurance or $25,000 emergency evacuation. If you are a U.S. citizen traveling within the United States, your medical insurance might cover a medical emergency or hospitalization and you might not need a policy with coverage. If you are traveling outside the U.S.  check with your medical insurance company to see if you would be covered in the country you are traveling to.  If you aren't, get the best coverage you can afford.  $10,000 is not a lot of coverage if you have to be hospitalized for an extended period.

For frequent travelers, there are annual policies that can be purchased but most offer minimal insurance that you might need to purchase another policy to cover what the annual doesn't.

Where can you buy insurance?  Your travel agent has policies they sell and are usually well versed on what each policy covers. Check with your credit card company but read the details carefully to see what is actually covered and how much. We've seen folks put in claims that their credit card company rejected. Call your credit card to ask if they cover all the above scenarios. Call the insurance company you are considering to ensure you understand what you are purchasing.

There are many travel insurance websites that will have comparisons of various policies - and are two. 

A consumer that is prepared to ask the right questions when looking for travel insurance can easily find an affordable policy that will take the worry out of their vacation. Don't leave home without it.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Safety Before, During and After Your Vacation

When planning a vacation many of us are focused singularly on what we need to pack and not on worrying about what would happen if we lost credit cards, passports, or had our identities stolen while traveling.

Before I leave on vacation, I make sure to put sensitive documents away in a remote place in the rare event my home might be broken into while I am away.  I also have copies of the front and back  of my credit cards that I have filed in the event that my card is lost or stolen. I have the account numbers and phone number to call to report it. I carry  a set of the information for the cards I am taking with me on vacation as well so that I have that information if my card is lost or stolen while on the trip.

I also call my credit card companies to report I will be traveling. Some of the banks ask for a list of the places you'll be traveling to, some allow you to file a notice online.  When banks see charges from outside the country, they might flag your account and not allow charges to go through, necessitating a long drawn out call from where you are traveling so they can verify your identity and authorize the purchase.  Doing this before you leave will reduce the chance of having a purchase declined for possible fraud.

I also make copies of my passport. I take one with me and keep it in a locked bag away from where I am carrying  my passport in case my passport is lost or stolen while traveling. Having this information will speed up the process of getting emergency passports from the U.S. Embassy where you  might be traveling. We ask our clients to send us a copy of their passports as well so we can assist them while traveling if this should happen.

We also recommend putting your mail on hold or having a neighbor take it in while you are away so your house doesn't scream "no one is home". Putting a lamp on a timer also might help to sway any potential thief who may be watching your home.

We are all excited about upcoming trips but it is a bad idea to post on social media you are going on vacation or are away.  Avoid posting information while traevling - post when you come home about your great trip. Times have changed and it is too easy for a thief to obtain your address online and make a visit while you are away.

While traveling, take precautions to take to prevent being a victim. Men should carry their wallets in their front pockets. Women, cross body bags are your friend.  If taking pictures, don't put your bags on the ground.  Check your surroundings when walking around to keep an eye out for pickpockets.  At the ATM, pull on the card reader before putting in your card to ensure there is not a skimming device on it. Cover the pin pad when entering your PIN so no one can steal your password (this goes for when you are home as well).

Never use public computers to check banking or credit card information while traveling and clear the browsing history when you log off.  If possible, use an ATM in a bank rather than one on the street. In Europe I've seen ATM's in sketchy places that I would have been uncomfortable using.   Save all receipts for your credit card purchases.

When you get home, check your receipts to your credit card statement to ensure they match. If you notice any charges you didn't make, contact your credit card company immediately.

Using these suggestions can help make identity theft one less thing to worry about when you travel.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Please Don't Ask To Pick My Brain

There are no worse words that a professional wants to hear than "Can I pick your brain?" Every time I hear that, I know it is going to be someone who wants my expertise and hard earned knowledge to book their own vacation.  My answer will be no and here is why.

Would you sit in your lawyers office and expect to pick his brain so you could take his advice and file your own lawsuit? Would pick your surgeons brain so you could do surgery on yourself? Of course you wouldn't.  You know they have had schooling and hands on experience that you don't have to enable you to do it yourself.  So why would you think that a travel professional doesn't go through training just as valuable  to make sure they book your trip properly without any problems and are there for you in the event something  happens, such as canceled flights or a bad room?

Do you know that travel professionals go school to becomes CLIA certified to sell cruises? Did you know that every cruise line has a course agents need to take to be certified and every year we have to take refresher courses to learn what has changed since last year for clients?

When you see we are "certified" to sell a destination, it means we have taken classes to learn about that destination so we aren't blindly booking hotels in a remote area where you may never see a soul that speaks English.  We then usually travel to these countries to enhance what we have learned on paper and experience it. It isn't free for us to go to these places either, we pay full price air and hotels for this too.

When you think we are off having wonderful travel adventures,  we have actually paid hard earned money to fly to many destinations and spend hours on our feet looking at hotels and hotel rooms so we know what hotels we should recommend to you. Lucky for you we've seen 5 star hotels as well as  dives that we would't put our worst enemy in. When you call to tell us you found a great price at XYZ hotel, we can tell you to stay away from it.   We aren't sitting poolside sunning ourselves, we are on our feet taking pictures, writing notes and making contacts at these resorts that we can call or email to make sure that your vacation is perfect.

Want to plan your own Destination Wedding?  Good luck with that.  We have done many of these types of bookings and we know the questions to ask the resort you are considering, we know how to get you amenities you might not get on your own, we can tell you the pro's and con's of signing a contract or not. Wouldn't you rather deal with simply planning your wedding and having a professional deal with your guests that think they can do better booking on their own,  that have unreasonable demands, or want to complain about how much it will cost them to get to the wedding ?  We do it all the time and can anticipate exactly what guests will do because we've never had a group of people without one or two  attending a destination wedding that doesn't complain from beginning to end about having to spend $3,000 to go to a wedding.

Are you all over the place about where to book your honeymoon? We've had clients who want Italy, then Bora Bora, then Spain, before they settle on Mexico. Tell us what you like to do, what you anticipate you will be doing on your honeymoon and your budget and we often can recommend a resort right off the top of our heads instead of you wasting hours looking online.

When we travel on vacation, we never just sit around working on our tan. We are constantly thinking of which client would like that particular resort or cruise ship, we are taking notes on things to do in the area, if the staff is friendly or not, if the food is good, how long and deep the beach is and if the rooms are childproof or if kids can easily open the doorknobs.

When we travel in foreign countries, we are writing down good restaurants to recommend, taking note of the best way to get from the airport to the hotel and how much a cab costs, From traveling ourselves, we know where the tourist neighborhoods are versus the better priced one you found that might be an hour away.

It has gotten so bad with "brain pickers" that many agents have instituted a "retainer" to start planning travel for a guest. You might be asked for a non- refundable deposit that the agent will apply towards the final payment of your trip. Why? Because they spend too much time planning itineraries to have people take that information we gave them and book on their own - often for the exact same price. With the deposit, if we have taken the time to prepare an itinerary for you and you decide to book it yourself - then we've been compensated for our time and expertise. If you book with the agent - you get it all back at final payment.

Why wouldn't you want an agent behind you to help if your flights are canceled, if you arrive at the hotel and are told it is oversold and there is no room for you or if the room category you booked is not the category you are given? We can often fix those types of things while you are standing at the check in desk.

If you think enough of us to want to "pick our brain" then you should be booking your trip with us so we are compensated for our knowledge and expertise.  It doesn't cost you any more for me to book your trip than it does you and you have my expertise and knowledge that I am more than willing to share as long as I am being compensated,  (And you don't pay me, the resort or cruise ship you choose does).

We are as schooled and experienced about travel as your lawyer is about law and your doctor is about medicine. Please treat us that way.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Is A Destination Wedding Right For Us? Things You Need To Know

What is a destination wedding?
A destination wedding is a wedding and honeymoon all rolled in to one that will celebrate your marriage in a place away from where you live. These can be held worldwide, but the Caribbean  and Hawaii are the most popular places. Europe, particularly Italy and Greece, are also becoming more popular for Destination Weddings. Your wedding can be just the two of you or it can be several hundred guests, depending on the place and budget.

Destinations weddings are generally less expensive and less formal and more intimate than a traditional wedding. Another benefit is that your wedding will be one that your guests fondly remember because it is so different than a traditional wedding.  

What are the minuses of a destination wedding?
There are no if’s, and’s or but’s – you are will have resistance from friends and relatives that will not be able to afford to travel for various reasons.  Couples may receive smaller or no gifts from those who attend due to the cost of travel. And you won’t have as many people as you might like attend. 

Is a destination wedding right for us and our guests?
For most people that plan a destination wedding having their family and closest friends there are important piece of the wedding.  Before you definitely decide to do this, you should run the idea to those who are closest to you that you really want to attend.  It is not unusual for people to balk, because it is an expensive undertaking for guests.  On our experience with destination weddings, only 25 – 30% of guests who say they will attend actually book once pricing is announced. Make sure to consider your closest family and friends when selecting a wedding destination.  Finding an affordable place to have the wedding will help to alleviate some of the objections that your family and closest friends may have about attending.

You may have a particular luxury 5 star resort that your heart is set on for your destination wedding, but that resort may be well out of the price range for your guests to attend.  Talking beforehand to get an idea of what they can afford to attend your wedding is important if you want to have as many as possible guests as possible be able to share your special day.

Many couples we have dealt with have had their wedding at a lower priced resort and then moved to their five star hotel after the wedding for their honeymoon in order to be able to have as many guests as possible be able to afford to attend. Remember, passports are necessary for travel outside the U.S. and it’s territories which will add about $130  per person to the cost of traveling. So unless it is just the two of you, consider the budgets of your family and friends to find the right location.

How far in advance should I plan my destination wedding?
9 – 12 months is an ideal time to start planning and securing rooms at the resort you are looking at. (Some hotels and airlines don’t have pricing for more than 11 months in advance).  

What are the legal requirements when getting married out of the country?
The requirements are different in every country but Promal Vacations will guide you with the correct information for the destination of your choice. Most require some form of ID (like your passports and birth certificates, divorce or death certificates if you were previously married) a marriage license application and some require the documents to be translated to the native language of the company you will be married in.  You will have the choice of a legal wedding or a symbolic wedding.  For a symbolic wedding, you take care of the legal requirements before you travel and you have a symbolic ceremony at the destination. That often saves money because you will not need the paperwork required for legal weddings.

Traditionally, the best way to help ensure that your guests can afford to attend your destination wedding is to plan in advance so they have plenty of  time to plan and budget accordingly. Consider the destination and time of year – peak travel times in the Caribbean, February – April and the summer when kids are out of school are the most expensive. Traveling September – early December will offer the best value.  We have an Installment Payment Plan that we offer that can help your guests save money in time to make their final payments on their vacation.

What Else Do I Need to Know?
One thing you will have to make a decision on is whether you want to sign a contract with a resort or not for guest rooms.  Signing a contract for the rooms ensures that there will be enough rooms held for your group and will offer your guests all the same price per night for their rooms. When you sign a group contract it usually requires that you have to make a deposit on each room to hold those rooms, which will be applied to your final payment on your reservation. You will also need to have a really good idea of how many guests will attend because you might be responsible for paying for unsold rooms if you hold too many and can’t sell them all.  This particularly can be a problem because guests price shop on the internet and the fixed price you contract for may not be the lowest price that guests can get and they book on their own – leaving you with many unsold rooms. Some hotels allow you to turn in unsold rooms at a certain time frame at no charge, some require you to sell, say 80% of the rooms you contract for and if you don’t sell them all, you might face a cancellation penalty.

Another way is to have guest book their rooms without a contract. The plus of doing this is that you don’t have to make a deposit for rooms, you don’t have to sign a contract for the rooms, and you aren’t responsible for unsold rooms. In addition, we can usually price match any prices guests find on the internet, thus giving your wedding group credit for the rooms towards any extra that the resort may offer you, such as a free room for so many nights booked, etc.

The drawback to not having a contract is that there may not be enough rooms for all your guests if they don’t book early and the resort sells out, they may not all have the the same price (prices usually increase as the date gets closer to the wedding date for those who procrastinate) for the rooms.

Unless your or your guests purchase their trip 60 days or less before the wedding date, the answer is usually no. At time of holding a room, a room deposit is due. Final payment is generally due 60 days before the travel date and we have a payment plan that can help guests pay off the wedding in pieces after they first book the room. When it is time to book air, the air must be paid in full to guarantee the price
Yes. The resort or hotel will usually have an on-site co-ordinator that you will deal with directly to plan your wedding and reception at no extra charge.  These planners also have a list of local vendors that can help organize your perfect wedding as well. We set you up with the wedding co-ordinator and that is usually all you have to worry about – we take care of the rooms, air and transfers for you and your guests.
Who are we?
We have been in business for 13 years and are certified Destination Wedding and Honeymoon Planners.  We are members of the Destination Wedding and Honeymoon Association and our travel agency was won the Best Travel Agency Service Award by the Long Island Press for 2015. 

 Are there fees?
We work closely with our brides and grooms for hours to plan the perfect wedding and or honeymoon. We ask for a non-refundable  $250 deposit to begin the planning process that will be applied to the final payment of your trip – making our services free when you book your wedding and honeymoon with us.

As Certified Romance Travel Specialists, we have successfully planned many destination weddings and honeymoons and have visited many of the resorts we have special relationships with. You will have our cell phone numbers so you can contact us at any time, even if you get to the resort and have questions. We also provide a wedding website to keep your guests updated on the latest details of your wedding. All at no fee to you. So why not have us take care of your dream day? 

Call us at 516-608-0568

Monday, December 29, 2014

My Oceanview Room Has Only A Sliver of a View and other Misleading Room Categories

If you book a resort room that states it has an oceanview, what do you expect to see? Full ocean view? Partial oceanview? Sliver of a view?

In reality, your view could be any of the above.  When hotels advertise ocean view, your view might very well be a small sliver of ocean you have to stand on the bathtub to see.  Want a swim up room? That could mean you have to walk over grass to get to a pool in front of your building or it could mean you step out of your sliding glass door and right into the pool steps.

Unfortunately, there are no rules as to what the view must be and some resorts take advantage of that.  We once had a client call us from a resort in tears because her Rooftop Terrace Oceanfront Room wasn't directly on the beach and had trees blocking her view. The particular resort she chose for her honeymoon was built after the government of Mexico stopped permitting hotels to be built right on the beach and required them to be built further back to protect against hurricanes. Her room was in the building closest to the beach but was not true oceanfront. However, the resort considered it oceanfront because it did directly face the ocean and was the closest to the sea.

There are no standards, but this is what you may get:

Oceanview - any room that has any type of view of the ocean. Large or sliver.
Oceanfront - should be directly on the beach or the rooms closest to the beach
Oceanfront walkout - this room should be on the first floor and directly on the beach or in the building closest to the beach..
Swim Up room - has a pool that can directly be accessed from your room or a short walk from your door. Some of these are private pools, some are a large pool with lazy river type arms that go around the building your room is located in.  Most of these will be ground floor rooms, but more and more resorts are adding small plunge pools on different floors of new builds.
Garden view - view of the gardens or grounds
Pool view -  view of the pool, not necessarily a room right at the pool
Standard view - you may be looking at the parking lot

So how do you know what you are getting?  This is when a travel agent may prove to be your best friend to book with. First, try to find a travel agent who has either been to the resort you are considering or knows another agent who has been. They can tell you right off the top of their heads what your view could be.

Second, look at There are plenty of pictures taken by guests or employees that show what the views and rooms really look like. (You don't have to book your room there!). There are many resorts and there are plenty of pictures of both the rooms and views.

Don't rely on the brochure views of resorts you are considering. You'll never see a picture of 100 lounge chairs with towels on every one of them by the people who get up at the crack of dawn to reserve a chair nor will you see a picture of a beach or pool that is overflowing with guests.  You will see pictures of a beach with no one on it, or an empty pool, that you might only be able to experience at 6 AM.

Credit Card Holds at Hotels and for Car Rentals - What You Need To Know Before You Travel

As  travel agents, we are fully aware that when arriving at a hotel, cruise ship or picking up a rental car a hold is placed on our credit card to ensure there is available credit.  Recently at a stay at a Sheraton, a few days after checking in we had an expensive breakfast at the one of the hotels restaurants.I was still surprised  as I was walking away after dining to see an American Express alert pop up on my cell phone saying a transaction of $100 had been made without my card.  When I looked at it, the hold was from the Sheraton.

I took my phone to the front desk to inquire about this additional hold and was told that anytime something is purchased from the hotel dining room, bar or room service they place an additional hold on the card over and above the amount of the hold they initially placed.

Think this is unusual? It isn't.  This happens at virtually every hotel, car rental and when you check in to a cruise ship, even if you have prepaid for your reservation in full.

When you check into a hotel or onto a cruise ship, they will swipe your card to authorize a certain amount for possible incidental charges. The amounts vary but it is usually the amount of the room (for a hotel) including tax plus a set charge of between $50 and $200 per day or just a daily amount on a cruise ship. (To be fair, sometimes a hotel only posts a $1 hold just to ensure that the card is not over limit). Car rentals are different and can place holds up to $1,000 or more. (More if you don't opt to take out their travel insurance package).

There can be an issue for travelers with this. When the hotel does this "authorization hold" with your bank, behind the scenes your bank waits for a charge of the same amount to come through, which it then deducts from your available credit and it drops the initial authorization hold. (As a former banker, I know all about this piece).

90% of the time, that initial authorization hold is not going to be the exact same amount as what your final charge ends up being.  So your bank gets the final charge, deducts it from your available credit, but that unmatched authorization hold is still sitting out there waiting for the matching amount to come through - resulting in a double hold.  Holds can remain up to a week to ten days on your card before dropping off because there is no matching transaction. Ideally, when the hotel processes your charge at check out, this initial hold should drop off also. But it doesn't always happen.

For this reason, you should NEVER use a debit card when traveling!  Having double holds can block all of the funds on your card and not only will you have no credit to charge anything else, but any checks you might have written than hadn't cleared before you left on vacation could possible be returned for insufficient funds because the funds are still being held. And if you are near your credit limit on your credit card, this can use up all available credit and you might not be able to charge anything else on your trip.

These holds are a pet peeve of travel agents, especially when we advise clients not to use a debit card for this exact reason.  I have complained to a hotel that the holds they are putting on are excessive and they will usually tell me "But we aren't charging it, we are only placing a hold". It doesn't matter, they are still using up your credit.

Are there ways to avoid the holds? You should ask your hotel or car rental company how much the authorization hold is going to be. If it is going to be more than the room cost, ask them to only hold the amount of the room plus tax or try to negotiate a lower amount.

Keep an eye on the amount of holds as you travel. If you can, sign up for automatic notifications from your bank or credit card company so you will get a message when a hold is placed. Use two credit cards - give the hotel one when you check in and use another when you check out (this defeats automatic check out though - you will have to go to the front desk to check out and give them the other card). This way you will have one card with the holds and one with the actual charge so neither card will have two holds on them.

If a hold remains for several days, call the hotel and ask them to remove the hold. They can do it, although it might take a day or two. But the best defense is an offense so keep this in mind when you travel because it could happen to you!