Your Guide to Finding the Best Credit Card for International Travel
Whether you’re already a seasoned traveler or just got a brand new passport, it’s important to know how to find the best credit card for international travel. You may have already found a great one for your everyday purchases at home, but finding a credit card for traveling outside of the country is a different story.
Doing your credit card research will help to make sure that your money is working for you. Depending on what you want to get out of your card, you can exchange the points you earn for anything from airline miles to hotel stays. Plus, you’ll know that your card will keep working no matter where you are — no worrying that your bank will penalize you or temporarily lock your account.
We want to help you figure out what’s best for you. Read on for our guide for how to find the best credit cards for all your international travel needs.
How To Find The Best Credit Card For International Travel
Before you start researching which card is right for you, there are a few factors in particular that you should know about. Educating yourself about these common features (and drawbacks) of credit cards could help save you some money down the line.
Foreign Transaction Fees
If you’ve already traveled abroad before and used a credit card not specifically meant for international travel, you might have noticed some extra charges on your account when you got home.
Some banks and credit card companies will charge you a foreign transaction fee, which usually ends up being a percentage of whatever your transaction was. That means every purchase you make ends up being more expensive than you’d bargained for.
Those fees can add up quickly. The best credit card for international travel won’t charge you any foreign transaction fees.
There are some credit cards that are good for international travel, but limit the way that you’re able to redeem your points. This usually applies to things like credit cards specifically with one airline or hotel chain — the points that you earn can only be redeemed with them.
If you’re particularly loyal to one company, this could work for you. If you want more flexibility with your rewards, though, it’s a good idea to read the fine print about rewards before you sign on the dotted line.
Cards that let you redeem across multiple airlines, hotels, and other vendors will usually be the best value for your money.
While we’re on the topic of points, not all point redemption systems are created equal. You probably already know that one point doesn’t equal one dollar, so it’s a good idea to find out where you’ll get the most out of your rewards points.
Can you redeem points as a gift card, or are you only able to apply them to your credit card statement? How much is one point worth? Are your points more valuable if you redeem with the credit card company?
These are all important questions to ask. There’s not necessarily a bad option to choose — it just depends on what you want to get out of your credit card.
Most credit cards will also have an offer on hand if you spend a certain amount of money within the first few months of opening the card. In some cases, the sign-up bonus that you receive is enough to buy a plane ticket!
Read through what they’re offering to make sure that you’re able to afford the money you’ll have to spend to get the sign-up bonus. You don’t want to go into debt just to get those reward points.
Chip and PIN
For the most part, card reader machines abroad are the same as they are in the United States. However, you might come across some that have more security than you’re used to at home. In addition to the chip reader, it’ll also ask you for a PIN.
Most American credit cards don’t have a PIN — we usually associate that with debit cards. The best credit card for international travel will have both chip and PIN technology. Not only will your card be more secure, but you’ll know that you can use it without issue.
Best International Travel Credit Cards
Now that we’ve gone over some of the features to look for when choosing the best credit card for international travel, let’s take a look at our list of the top travel credit cards. We’ll break down the pros and cons of each one so that you can decide which credit card best suits your needs.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Reserve only came out in 2016, but it’s quickly shot to the top of many travelers’ “must-have” lists. And for good reason — this is definitely the best credit card for international travel.
There’s no foreign transaction fee, and you earn triple the points when you spend on travel expenses like airfare or car rentals. You can also get triple points on dining, and one point per dollar on everything else.
Since Chase knows people will be using this for travel, the card comes with a Priority Pass select membership, $100 towards registering for the Global Entry program, and a $300 travel credit.
The drawback here? There’s a hefty annual fee of $450.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
If you’re a fan of Chase credit cards but not of the Reserve’s annual fee, you might want to try the Sapphire Preferred. This also has an annual fee, but it’s far more affordable at $95 a year — which is waived the first year.
With this card, you’ll earn two points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining. The rewards are flexible, and there are eleven different airlines and hotel partners that will accept your Sapphire Preferred points on a 1:1 exchange.
So if you’ve already built up a lot of loyalty points with one airline, you can add your credit card points to your existing balance for additional rewards.
American Express Platinum Card
In past years, taking an American Express card abroad was a hit-or-miss decisions. A Visa card was usually a better bet. More European vendors are starting to accept American Express, though, and the Platinum Card is your best option.
There are no foreign transaction fees and the card comes with extra bonuses if you’re looking to book a flight. When it comes to flying, this is the best credit card for international travel.
With the Platinum Card, you can get 5x membership points when you book flights and international hotels. You’ll also get lounge access, credit towards the Global Entry fee, and a $200 airline credit each year.
Similar to the Chase Sapphire Reserve, though, this card is expensive to own. Expect to pay a $550 annual fee. Used right, though, the rewards do let this card pay for itself.
Capital One Venture Rewards
Low annual fee? Check. Flexible rewards redemption? Check. This card from Capital One is a fantastic choice for anyone who plans to travel but doesn’t need something like the Sapphire Reserve or AmEx Platinum.
The biggest perk of this card is the sign-up bonus that it offers. If you spend $1000 within the first three months of opening the card, they’ll reward you with a bonus of 20,000 miles. That’s about $200 in travel credit right away.
You earn double miles on all of your purchases, and your miles can be redeemed on your statement. The reasonable annual fee of $95 is waived the first year.
Bank of America Premium Rewards
If you already bank with Bank of America, this definitely the best credit card for international travel. Even if you don’t the rewards are still pretty impressive.
If you spend $3000 in the first three months of opening your account, you’ll be rewarded with 50,000 bonus points. That’s worth about $500 in travel.
Like the other cards, you’ll get 2x points on travel and dining, but this offers points at 1.5 points per dollar on all other purchases. You can redeem your points on your statement or as gift cards.
If you’re a Preferred Rewards Client already, it’s your lucky day — you’ll get extra bonus points on each purchase. There’s a $95 annual fee, but it’s well worth it for all of the rewards the card offers.
All of the cards on this list offer points for both airline and hotel purchases, but most of the rewards are related to airline travel. If hotel rewards are more important to you, the Citi Prestige is the best credit card for international travel.
If you use this card to book your international hotel, you will save a ton of money — every fourth night is free. Since hotels can quickly get expensive, this is a huge perk!
It also offers airline lounge benefits and $250 in airline travel benefits each year, on top of the hotel benefits. You’ll earn three points per dollar on travel and dining, similar to other cards, and two points per dollar on entertainment.
These benefits don’t come cheap, though — the annual fee is $450.
Find the Right Credit Card For You
With this guide, you can get started finding the best credit card for international travel. Whether you want to plan a trip to London or Johannesburg, these cards will help you get around the world.
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