Best Travel Credit Cards For International Travelers
Are you an international traveler looking for the best travel credit card? Whether you’re a frequent flyer or an occasional jet–setter, having a good credit card can make all the difference when it comes to booking flights and hotels, accessing cash, and getting the most out of your travels.
The right card can save you money on foreign transactions, provide rewards like free flights, and even offer exclusive access to exclusive experiences. In this blog post, we’ll look at some of the best travel credit cards for international travelers and explain how they can help you save money and maximize your travels.
Types of International Travel Credit Cards
International travel credit cards come in a few different varieties:
Airline credit cards
Airline credit cards are usually co-branded between a specific airline and a credit card issuer. These credit cards usually earn the miles for that particular airline, and can come with airline-specific benefits like priority boarding, free checked bags or help qualifying for airline elite status.
Hotel credit cards
Hotel credit cards are usually co-branded between a credit card issuer and a particular hotel chain. These cards usually earn hotel points that can be used for stays and also often offer hotel-specific benefits like complimentary night certificates, elite status or increased earning rates.
Transferable travel credit cards
Transferable travel credit cards are usually issued directly by a bank or credit card issuer, and earn flexible points that can be used in a variety of different ways. With most transferable travel cards, you can usually redeem your points for statement credits, to book travel directly or transfer to hotel or airline travel partners.
Business travel credit cards
Business travel cards are marketed towards small business owners, and you’ll need to enter in your business information when you apply for the card. This travel credit cards can be airline, hotel or transferable travel cards, so you’re sure to find one that meets your needs.
Why Get a Travel Credit Card
Travel cards often include numerous membership benefits such as elite status when traveling with partner programs, free checked bags, lounge access or discounts on ancillary travel fees. These benefits can make your trips easier, more comfortable and more affordable. Additionally, travel credit cards offer the opportunity to earn valuable rewards and in some cases may provide higher yields than cash back or other types of rewards.
Pros and Cons of Travel Credit Cards
Pros of Travel Credit Cards
Fast-track to free or discounted travel. You’ll earn rewards on your spending that can be used to reduce the cost of future travel.
Elite perks and benefits. Many cards offer money-saving extras like free luggage or complimentary breakfast.
Lack of foreign transaction fees. Some of the best travel credit cards won’t charge you extra for using your card abroad.
Cons of Travel Credit Cards
Limited-use rewards. The best value in owning and using a travel rewards card comes from redeeming the rewards for more travel.
Annual fees can be high. Cards with the most premium perks tend to also have the most premium price.
Redemptions can be complicated. For some reward programs, squeezing the most outsized value out of your points or miles can require some work.
How To Compare Travel Credit Cards
When comparing travel credit cards, items to consider include:
The annual fee on credit cards ranges from $0 to several hundred dollars. In general, the more expensive the card, the richer the perks and rewards. It can be well worth it to pay an annual fee if you’ll use the associated benefits.
Foreign Transaction Fee
If you’re traveling out of the country, be sure your travel card doesn’t carry any foreign transaction fees. This can be an additional 2% to 3% surcharge on top of the price of your purchase and makes everything you buy with a card in a foreign country more expensive than a card without this fee. Foreign transaction charges also apply to purchases made with foreign companies, even if you haven’t left the United States.
If you’re trying to decide between two similar cards, it can help to consider the welcome offer on a given card. These welcome offers ebb and flow and if a card you’re thinking about offers a particularly generous offer, it can help offset the annual fee and/or the cost of future travel.
When choosing a card, think about your spending patterns. If you rarely fly, it may not make sense to own a card that offers the most rewards on airline purchases.
In some countries, all credit cards may be accepted, but that isn’t always the case. When traveling outside of the United States, Visa and Mastercard tend to be more widely accepted than American Express or other cards. Because of this, if you travel often, you may want to choose a Visa or Mastercard either in addition to or in lieu of other types of cards.
Many travel credit cards include various forms of travel protections, such as trip interruption coverage or collision damage waivers for rental cars. These included protections could save you money compared to separately purchased policies but won’t necessarily be as comprehensive. Check with your card benefits guide to get information on your coverage terms.
Read: How to Login Credit Karma Tax
How To Make the Most of Your Travel Credit Card
The best way to make the most of your credit card is to use a card that aligns with your spending patterns. In other words, if a large part of your budget goes towards travel and dining, using a card that offers high rewards in those areas will make the most sense. Another option is to pair credit cards and use different cards in different areas of spending.
Airline and Hotel Rewards Loyalty Programs
Understanding how to get the most out of the points and miles you earn from your travel credit card goes hand-in-hand with using the loyalty programs offered by most airlines and hotel brands. It’s free to join and you can belong to as many loyalty programs as you like. Typically, when you sign up for a co-branded credit card affiliated with a particular brand, you’ll automatically become a member of the loyalty program if you aren’t already.
Track Your Credit Card Points and Miles Earnings
Tracking your spending allows you to make sure that every time you make a purchase, you’re using the card that will earn you the most rewards. This means knowing which card to use in which scenario based on how a particular merchant codes the purchase.
For example, if you own two credit cards, one that earns high rewards on dining and one co-branded airline card, it might not make sense to use the airline card to pay your restaurant tab since the dining card likely earns more rewards. You can do this by various methods as complicated as creating a spreadsheet or as simple as putting stickers on each card to remind you when to use it.
How to Use Credit Card Points for Travel
Beyond earning rewards, there are strategies to get the most value when it comes time to redeem your rewards, too. When it comes time to cash in your travel rewards, there’s generally two ways to do it. You can plan the itinerary you want and use your rewards to fully or partially off-set the cost. Or, you can research to see where the rewards you have can be used to get the most bang for your buck. It comes down to how much work you’re comfortable doing.
How To Travel For Free With Credit Cards
Credit cards can save you a lot of money on travel compared to paying full price. Often, the most substantial way to travel for free with credit cards is by redeeming rewards for travel. A combination of welcome bonus offers and the rewards you earn from everyday spending can add up to hundreds of dollars in value toward free travel. However, you’ll need to learn to redeem points and miles from your specific program to do so.
Included statement credits or card benefits can also help you travel for free. Premium credit cards may offer annual credits toward the purchase of select travel, effectively serving as a rebate. Alternatively, you might have airline companion certificates or hotel free night certificates, which work more like a coupon.
Are Travel Credit Cards Worth It?
Travel rewards credit cards can be a strategic addition to your finances if you travel with any regularity. You’ll be able to earn rewards on every purchase and later redeem those rewards toward future trips, often at a higher yield than if you had chosen cash back or other types of rewards. Many travel credit cards also include benefits to enhance your travel experience along the way to add even more value.
Best Reward Credit Cards for Travel
It can certainly be tough to select a travel reward credit card for you. But there are some high-quality options on the market. Each of the ones listed below is considered top quality, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are right for you. Our list is based on the cards that give the most back, but ‘the most’ is a vague term as what you can earn depends on how you spend. So we’ve covered all the bases — there will be a high-value rewards card here for you below, whether you travel domestically or internationally.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
Sapphire Preferred Card gives you $500 in cash or $625 worth of points as a new cardholder. It comes with a $95 annual fee, but this part is free in your first year. All you need to do is spend at least $4,000 with the card in your first three months. This is similar to the AMEX card we mentioned earlier, which has a $400 bonus for new cardholders, but it also has a $450 annual fee.
This card offers 1% cashback on all purchases. This reward is doubled for any travel. You also get 2% cashback for travel and restaurant transactions.
Furthermore, Chase Ultimate Rewards Program Gives You 20% Off! You can get 20% off a lot of your travel purchases via Chase Ultimate Rewards. You can even do 1:1 point transfers to maximize your travel rewards!
1:1 point transfers are possible between your Chase card rewards points and various other travel rewards accounts.
The list of companies partnered into this program include:
- Air France
- British Airways
- IHG Hotels
- Ritz Carlton
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
You can transfer your reward points to many other places through each of the affiliated companies above. For example, you can save 20% on Air Canada transactions as they are owned by United Airlines. You can get the same discount as American Airlines too since British Airways own them.
Some extra benefits include up to $100,000 in coverage towards rental car liabilities, up to $40,000 annual coverage for trip delays and cancellations, and $3,000 towards loss.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card doesn’t come with a huge set of sign-up bonuses. But what it does offer is more than enough to make it worth getting this card.
To start, you will get 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in three months. This is an incredible $625 value as long as you redeem it through their travel rewards program.
Sapphire cardholders also get to enjoy no annual fee in the first year. This saves you $95, but you’ll have to cover this cost in the following years.
There’s a 5,000-point bonus for the first user you add to your card as long as you do it in the first three months. This is worth $62.50 if you claim it towards a travel-based purchase. If you plan to add an authorized user, you’ll earn even more.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Chase Freedom Unlimited card is good to have in combination with Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It gives you better rewards on typical purchases and even 5% cashback rewards for certain purchases.
With this card, you will enjoy 5% cashback on certain purchases, which gives you up to $75 every three months if you spend enough. To get the maximum back, you would need to spend at least $1,500 every three months in a qualifying category.
The categories are always changing, and there’s a new one every three months. Usually, it will apply towards something like gas purchases, eating out, or buying stuff at wholesale stores.
Another great thing is that this card has no annual fee.
The card also has a mobile app that lets you turn your reward points into virtual retail gift cards. You can then order products online using the card you purchased through the app.
As a new cardholder, you can get $150 after buying $500 in stuff with your Chase Freedom Unlimited Card. You get 0% interest for the first 15 months. This applies to both balance transfer fees and outstanding debts. It then shifts to between 14.24% and 23.24% APR depending on your creditworthiness.
Citi Double Cash
This isn’t a specialty travel rewards credit card by any means. But, it might be one of the best value reward cards for frequent travelers to get. You receive an incredible 2% cashback on all purchases with 1% right away and the other 1% after paying the balance in full.
Remember, this is just an everyday cashback rewards credit card. It is not a miles rewards card by any means, but that shouldn’t matter. You want to earn miles or reward points to spend on travels. Well, you can use cash just as easily. People focus on reward points cards because they usually give you more towards your travel purchases than a basic cash back card does.
But with 2% back on everything, you can’t go wrong! Even for those looking to get a high-rate cashback card, the Citi Double Cash card offers more than any other flat-rate card on the market.
You can get upwards of $1,200 annually (up to $300 per item) when there’s a lower retail price for something you bought. The card issuer actually scans for better prices, and if one is found in 60 days or less, you’ll get the price difference credited to you. Simply awesome!
You do not get any real sign-up perks with a Citi Double Cash card. It is all about that flat 2% rate, which was introduced as an industry-first to beat out all the competing cashback reward cards.
Thankfully, you aren’t held back by any extreme costs. It has no annual fee so that you can use it freely. You can even combine it with a travel rewards card like many do with Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Preferred Sapphire. When doing this, you can enjoy 2% on all purchases that likely would’ve gotten you only 1%, and you can still take advantage of the higher cashback on certain transactions.
Also, this is a card that works for both people with moderate and excellent credit status. DEPENDING ON YOUR CREDITWORTHINESS, the APR you get could be 12.99%, 17.99%, or 22.99%.
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier VISA
This card is perfect for those who do most of their traveling and spending in the US. You get 2% cashback on transactions with participating airlines, car rental services, and hotels. Everything else nets you a 1% cashback reward.
Once you get reward points, you can redeem them towards a flight to get the best value possible. If you do this, it has to be through one of their airlines. Depending on when and how far ahead it gets booked, you will pay more or less in points for the same flight.
To give you an idea, a last-minute flight could cost $540 and require 31,000 points, even though for just 17,000 points, you could get a $400-value flight if booked ahead. This is one of those cards where you have to be careful because the amount of value you get from it depends on how you use it.
On average, you can say each reward point is worth about 1.5 cents. Comes with a $99 annual fee.
As a new cardholder, you will get 50,000 reward points after spending $2,000 in under three months. This is worth approximately $750 if redeemed for one of their flights.
Every year you will get 6,000 points added as an ‘anniversary bonus,’ which is a $90 value that nearly makes up for the unavoidable $99 annual fee.
Starwood Preferred Guest and Business Card
If you are more of a hotel person than a frequent flyer, the Starwood Preferred Guest card is a great alternative for you. It is considered the best hotel reward card around, which makes it perfect for the avid traveler. Even more, they have a business version of this card that’s perfect for anyone who flies or stays domestically regularly for work purposes.
They have a complex rewards program. Instead of basic reward points or miles, you actually get Starpoints. They have a lot of ways you can redeem these points too!
Starpoints are worth roughly 2.4 cents each. They can be transferred at a 1:1 rate to a lot of different airlines. If you’re in a different country, you won’t have any foreign transaction fees to cover. Even better, if you do the points transfer, you’ll score 5,000 points on top of every 20,000 Starpoints that get transferred. So you can do this amount in each transfer and get a 25% multiplier on all your rewards!
If you choose to redeem your Starpoints at a qualifying hotel, here are your current options:
- Four Points by Sheraton
- Le Meridien
- Starwood Hotels
- Luxury Collection
- W Hotels
Other benefits include: any Wi-Fi surcharges during hotel stays get covered for you, access to over a million Wi-Fi hotspots you can use across the world, and with their Nights & Flights program, you can get every fifth night at a qualifying hotel for free.
You will receive 25,000 Starpoints once you spend at least $3,000 within three months. This is approximately a $600 value. But if you play your cards right, you can boost the value of your points dramatically. The 25% booster when you transfer the points out would make the sign-up bonus $750 instead.
Yet, if you are lucky, you can get upwards of five cents per point. This would mean the sign-up bonus would be worth $1,250 instead, which is huge, of course.
You also get to enjoy a 0% APR period that lasts for 12 months on anything you transfer onto the card in the first 45 days. This means you can use the Starwood Preferred Guest Card to consolidate your other credit card debts while reaping the reward of a no-interest period. It’s a win-win situation!
While this card has a $95 annual fee, your first year is free.
What credit score is needed for a travel reward card?
The credit score that is required vary by credit card issuers. Some will accept those who have average credit, but the majority are looking for excellent creditworthiness. Typically, you will see a fair amount of application approvals if you have a credit rating that’s 650 or higher. Those with a FICO score of 690 or more tend to get approved for all of the cards listed here.
However, you have to keep in mind that many travel reward cards require you to have a certain amount of annual income. You might not qualify for a card because of this, even if your credit rating is ‘through the roof.’
What is the best travel card signup offer?
The best signup bonus comes from Chase Sapphire. You can get $625 put towards your purchase with this card. If you want to get your sign-up bonus in cash, this will mean your bonus is worth $500 instead. To qualify for the bonus, all you have to do is transact at least $4,000 in stores over your first three months.
Once you redeem the $625 worth of points, you can purchase the Chase Ultimate Rewards program. From here, you can make reservations at various airlines and hotels, and your points will stretch further. If you have reward points elsewhere, you can also do a 1:1 points transfer to many airline and hotel reward programs.
Do travel credit cards have annual fees?
Most credit cards with travel reward programs charge a little under $100 a year for annual fees. There are even some that charge closer to $500 yearly. But these are for people who spend tens or hundreds of thousands a year while traveling around. There are still a handful of travel credit cards with no annual fees; even some of the better who charge this fee will have it set to $0 for the first year. The cards from our list that have no annual fee are Chase Freedom Unlimited and Citi Double Cash.
Which travel rewards card has the best APR?
Whenever you look at an offer with a cashback-style rewards program, usually, you don’t get a favorable APR. Citi Double Cash Card gives a 12.99% APR for those with excellent creditworthiness. This is a bit ahead of most of the competition; typically, even if you’re an amazing borrower, you’ll have no better than a 14.24% APR.
Do they offer no-interest periods?
With a travel reward credit card, it is possible to have a no-interest period. Some offer it for both your balance owing and your balance transfers. Chase Freedom Unlimited is one of those hidden gems, as it gives you an incredible 15-month no-interest period. That’s pretty good for a card with 5% cashback and no annual fees.
How can you make more?
It would help if you were very careful when signing up for an incentive for your travel-related spending. You might get more or less cash back, whether in cash or points. Some will not cover certain transactions. Even worse, quite a few have high foreign transaction fees, eliminating the card’s value if you’re an international traveler. So you really have to make sure it is right for you before applying for it; read all the fine print and learn how their point system works, what their points are worth, and where you can use them!
What is the best card for international travel?
The best credit card for international travel will vary depending on the user. For high spenders and luxury travelers, owning a premium credit card will serve your travels well to score perks like hotel elite status and concierge services. We recommend the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Citi Premier® Card in these cases. For the average traveler, cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card should suffice — offering no foreign transaction fees and the potential to earn travel rewards.
Which travel rewards credit cards are the best?
You want a travel rewards card that guarantees you a profit on your investment. If there’s a $200 annual fee, the reward incentive must be large enough to pay that back. Then you want to make a little extra to get something out of the card. Many cashback reward cards with no annual fees offer around $400 or $500 in value each year. So you could need to earn upwards of $700 in travel rewards to break even.
Surprisingly, you will find quite a few offers that reward you with $1,000 or more in a year without making you jump through tons of hoops.
For example, you can get the Platinum Card from American Express, which has a $450 annual fee. This seems like it would have no value, but by spending $3,000 in three months, you’ll get $400 in reward points. This alone covers most of your first year’s fee. Then you also have $200 in credits towards airline baggage fees every year. But we don’t recommend this particular card because you mostly earn rewards based on your flight and hotel reservations.
Which are the best of them for average/bad credit?
If you have poor or mediocre credit, getting any cashback rewards credit card will prove to be a challenge. Your only workaround is a secured cashback rewards card. Discover it secured card is one of very few that offer this; they’ll give you 1% cashback on everything and 2% on groceries and gas.
How To Choose a Travel Credit Card
With so many types of travel credit cards to choose from—before even considering the specific products within each category—selecting a travel credit card can feel like a complicated process. However, it should be relatively easy for you to prioritize which benefits you’ll actually use and determine what type of rewards best fit your lifestyle.
General Travel Credit Cards
General travel cards can be great options for travelers who aren’t loyal to a single brand of airline or hotel. Despite not being branded, these cards can still come with a wide assortment of perks that travelers appreciate, including statement credits toward travel bookings, select trip insurance, airline lounge access, valuable rewards and generous welcome bonuses.
When evaluating general travel credit cards, consider:
1. Annual Fees: Some travel cards may be available without an annual fee while others cost $500 or more per year.
2. Redemption Options: Some cards have the ability to transfer to partner airlines or hotels while others may only be redeemable for travel through in-house portal bookings. Some may also offer the option to redeem for non-travel rewards, such as cash back.
3. Luxe Benefits: Premium cards may come with statement credits, lounge access or trusted traveler application reimbursements. Determine if you’ll actually use these perks.
4. Trip Protections: Travel insurance might not be glamorous, but cards that offer protection against trip cancellation, flight delays or lost baggage could save you money.
Airline Credit Cards
Airline credit cards typically earn frequent flyer miles on every purchase which may lead to outsized value when booking award tickets. These credit cards also frequently come with perks while traveling, like free checked bags, enhanced award space or lounge access. They may also help you achieve elite status more easily.
When evaluating airline credit cards, think about:
1. Earning Rates: Many airline credit cards don’t offer elevated earnings on categories other than airline spending, so you’ll need to choose carefully if that’s important to you.
2. Perks While Flying: Typically, only cards with an annual fee include benefits while flying such as priority boarding or complimentary checked bags.
3. Elite-Qualifying Bonuses: Some cards include bonus elite-qualifying miles when hitting spending thresholds, which can further enhance your flying experience.
4. Companion Fares: Some airline cards offer the opportunity to earn a companion certificate, which allows you to bring a second traveler on your trip for a reduced price.
Hotel Credit Cards
Hotel credit cards will earn points toward future free stays, but this is one case where the benefits can often outshine rewards. More often than not, hotel cards come with automatic elite status as well as a fast track to even higher levels of status. Plus, annual free night certificates or statement credits add to their value proposition.
When evaluating hotel credit cards, consider:
1. Elite Status Offers: Generally speaking, cards with higher annual fees may automatically bump you to higher elite status levels which can be invaluable on frequent stays.
2. Free Night Certificates: Many, but not all, hotel cards offer free night certificates either upon renewal of your card or when hitting spending thresholds. Each certificate may come with restrictions on when or where you can redeem it, so compare fine print.
3. Earning Rates: Hotel cards may offer huge multipliers on bonus categories, allowing you to earn 5x or 10x on certain purchases. However, keep expectations in check: hotel points may not be worth a full penny per point.
4. Statement Credits: Some cards may include statement credits toward eligible purchases made at hotels and resorts or even on airline fees or restaurant purchases, which can be valuable, but you’ll need to actually use them.
How to use a credit card internationally
Making the most of your international credit card is best done by following all of these international credit card tips. Pick a card with no foreign transaction fees and good travel perks and use it for all of your regular expenses. When traveling internationally, generally you should choose to pay for purchases in the local currency rather than using dynamic currency conversion.
Which credit cards offer travel insurance?
There are a variety of different credit cards that offer travel insurance. While most of these cards come with annual fees, the cost can be worth it if you need trip cancellation, lost baggage or trip delay insurance. Not all travel insurance credit cards are equal however, so make sure to check the details to know what is covered, what deductible you might have and exactly how your card’s travel insurance works.
Is Visa or Mastercard better for international travel?
It’s commonly thought that Visa and Mastercard are more generally accepted than any other card network available. This has changed dramatically in recent years, as networks such as American Express and Discover have worked hard to increase their international acceptance. In fact, our recent study found that Discover is the most accepted network internationally — with 48 million merchants. However, Discover isn’t accepted in some countries. Therefore, Visa will most likely be your best bet, since it’s accepted at 46 million merchants worldwide.
Do I need to let my credit card company know I’m traveling?
Most banks and credit card companies no longer require you to let them know if you are traveling outside your local area or home country. In some cases, this is due to the added security that comes from most credit cards now having an EMV chip. While many credit card companies do allow you to let them know if you’re traveling if it gives you peace of mind, others (like Capital One) specifically say that you don’t need to tell them about your travel plans.
Is it better to use a credit card when traveling internationally?
Traveling abroad can be an amazing experience, but it can also be expensive. That’s why it’s important to use the right credit card to maximize your savings. With the right card, you can get rewards and benefits that can help you save money on your travels.
The best travel credit cards for international travelers offer generous rewards, low foreign transaction fees, and benefits such as travel insurance and airport lounge access. Whether you’re a frequent traveler or just looking for a great card for your next vacation, these cards can help you save money and have a great time abroad.