Best Credit Cards for International Travel

Best Credit Cards for International Travel
Passengers at the London International Airport try to rebook flights with Air Canada after cancellations during a large winter storm in London, Ontario, Canada, Dec. 23, 2022. - Schools and some highways in the region were closed, and air travel was disrupted as the system made its way across the province. (Geoff Robins/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
Tribune News Service
8/9/2023
Updated:
10/25/2023
0:00

By Holly D. Johnson From Bankrate

Credit cards can be valuable tools when you use them close to home, but they should also be an essential part of your packing list any time you travel overseas. Not only do you normally need a credit card to put down a security deposit to rent a hotel room, but you’ll likely need a credit card to rent a car, too. And if you run out of cash while on a trip, a credit card lets you charge whatever you need and pay the balance when you return home.

The best credit cards for international trips also let you avoid added fees on international transactions and earn rewards for each dollar you spend. Some even offer robust travel protections that can shield you financially if your flight is delayed or your bags are lost or stolen.

If you’re planning a trip overseas this year, here are some of the best cards to consider.

The Platinum Card From American Express: Best for International Travel Overall

Why we picked it: The Platinum Card® from American Express makes it easy to earn American Express Membership Rewards points, which can be used for statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, travel purchased through the American Express Travel portal or transfers to Amex airline and hotel partners. A $695 annual fee applies, but the first-year and ongoing benefits can more than make up for it.

As a welcome offer, you can earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 within six months of account opening. You’ll also earn 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 per calendar year); 5X points on prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel; 2X points on prepaid car rentals through American Express Travel; and 1X points on all other purchases.

You won’t pay foreign transaction fees on purchases made abroad, and this card comes with the broadest airport lounge access of all travel cards. It also includes up to a $100 credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry and up to a $189 credit for CLEAR membership each year. Other credits that add more value to this card include a $200 airline incidental credit each year, $200 in Uber cash (doled out in monthly increments), a $200 hotel credit on eligible Fine Hotels + Resorts bookings made through Amex and more. You’ll also get access to a Global Assist hotline, which can help with emergency planning if you run into legal or medical issues when you travel.

Pros:

— Can transfer points to Amex airline and hotel partners

— Access to the Global lounge collection (which includes Priority Pass and Centurion lounges)

— Automatic Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status (enrollment required)

— Excellent travel insurance, including trip delay insurance and trip cancellation/interruption insurance

— Over $1,500 in credits

Cons:

— $695 annual fee

— Some of the card’s credits can be difficult to use

Who should apply: If you travel frequently and are able to use enough card benefits to make up for the cost of the annual fee, the Amex Platinum is a must-have.

Who should skip: If you don’t want to pay such a high annual fee, or if you think you won’t use the Amex Platinum’s many travel perks and benefits, it would be better to go with a different card.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for Flexible Rewards

Why we picked it: The Chase Sapphire Reserve® lets you earn 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. You’ll also earn 10X points on hotel stays and car rentals through Chase Ultimate Rewards; 10X points on Chase Dining purchases through Ultimate Rewards; 10X points on Lyft purchases (through March 31, 2025); 5X points on air travel through Ultimate Rewards (after the $300 annual travel credit); 3X points on general travel and restaurant purchases following your travel credit redemption; and 1X points on all other purchases. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed in many ways, including cash back, gift cards, merchandise, travel through the Chase portal or 1:1 points transfers to travel partners.

This card comes with some of the best travel protections of any travel credit card. Some of these benefits include primary auto rental coverage, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay coverage, lost luggage reimbursement and emergency evacuation and transportation coverage. You’ll also get airport lounge access, up to a $100 credit for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS and a 50 percent points boost on travel redemptions through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Note that the Chase Sapphire Reserve does come with a hefty $550 annual fee.

Pros:

— $300 annual travel credit

— Can transfer points to Chase airline and hotel partners

— Up to a $100 credit for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or NEXUS

— Airport lounge access

— Excellent travel insurance

Cons:

— $550 annual fee

— Fewer travel partners than Amex

Who should apply: If you travel frequently and you’re able to make up for the cost of the annual fee through the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s many benefits, this card could be a good fit for you.

Who should skip: If you don’t travel frequently, don’t want to pay an annual fee or can’t use enough card benefits to justify the cost of card membership, you may want to look into a travel card with a lower (or no) annual fee.

Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best for Domestic and International Travel

Why we picked it: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers the same type of rewards as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, including the same exceptional transfer partners for both domestic and international travel. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are the only credit card points that transfer directly to the Southwest Rapid Rewards program. You can also transfer your points to partners like United MilagePlus, Air France / Flying Blue, Marriott Bonvoy and the highly valuable World of Hyatt program, among other options.

You’ll pay a much lower fee of $95 with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, so you’ll give up some travel perks as a result. However, this card comes with a range of important travel benefits that can be useful for international trips, including trip cancellation and interruption insurance, primary auto rental coverage, baggage delay coverage, trip delay protection and more.

At the moment, you can even earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. Since you get a 25 percent rewards boost when you redeem for travel through the Chase portal, the bonus alone is worth $750 in airfare, hotels and more. Also note that this card lets users earn 3X points on dining (including eligible delivery services), select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Walmart, Target and wholesale clubs); 5X points on travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards and Lyft Rides (Lyft offer through March 31st, 2025); 2X points on other travel; and 1X points on other purchases.

Pros:

— Lucrative welcome offer

— $50 annual hotel credit benefit

— 10% anniversary points boost

— Exceptional travel protections included

— Lower annual fee of $95

Cons:

— No airport lounge access

— No other premium travel benefits

Who should apply: Consider this card if you want to earn flexible rewards for travel but don’t want to pay the high annual fee of some premium travel credit cards.

Who should skip: Skip this card if you want luxury perks like airport lounge access.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: Best for Flat-Rate Travel Rewards

Why we picked it: If you want to earn flexible rewards and enjoy travel perks without an overly expensive annual fee, you can also consider the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which comes with a $95 annual fee. This card lets you earn 75,000 bonus miles — worth $750 in travel — after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. You’ll also earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 2X miles on all other purchases.

We like the flat-rate rewards structure for this card because it keeps things simple. Other than earning more rewards on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One, having the chance to rack up a flat 2X miles on all your spending can help you boost your rewards haul quickly.

Rewards can be redeemed for statement credits to cover eligible travel purchases, travel through the Capital One portal or miles transfers to a handful of airline and hotel partners, among many other redemptions. This card also comes with benefits like no foreign transaction fees, and up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, travel accident insurance and extended warranty coverage. Cardholders also get two free complimentary visits to Capital One airport lounges; these lounge visits can also be used in Capital One partner lounges, including 100+ Plaza Premium lounges.

Pros:

— Up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

— Can transfer miles to Capital One travel partners

— Two complimentary airport lounge visits per year

Cons:

— Fewer travel protections than the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which also comes with a $95 annual fee

— Capital One transfer partners are typically considered less useful than Chase or Amex partners

Who should apply: If you’re interested in earning flexible rewards for any aspect of your international trip (including hotels, airfare, rental cars and trains) and want travel perks, no foreign transaction fees and a low annual fee, this card is hard to beat.

Who should skip: If you’re looking for more travel protections included, you may want to consider another low-annual-fee travel card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card: Best for No Annual Fee

Why we picked it: If you don’t want to pay an annual fee, consider the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card. This card comes with no foreign transaction fees, making it a great card for international travel. As a welcome offer, you can earn 25,000 points — worth $250 toward travel purchases — when you spend $1,000 within 90 days of account opening. You’ll also get a zero-interest offer on both purchases and balance transfers (note that balance transfers must be made within the first 60 days to qualify).

In terms of rewards, you’ll earn 1.5X points on all purchases, as well as 3X points on Bank of America Travel Center purchases. Plus, if you’re a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25 percent to 75 percent more rewards on every purchase you make. Just be aware that, instead of using these rewards to book your travel, Bank of America travel rewards are issued as statement credits on travel or dining purchases.

Pros:

— No annual fee

— Zero-interest offer on purchases and balance transfers

— Visa Signature benefits like travel and emergency assistance, Visa Signature Concierge access and a lost luggage reimbursement

— Potential for boosted rewards with Preferred Rewards membership

Cons:

— Limited redemption options

— No option to transfer points to travel partners

— No specific travel benefits

Who should apply: If you’re looking for a no-annual-fee card that earns flat cash back and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, this card could be a good fit for you. Plus, if you’re a Preferred Rewards member with at least Platinum or Platinum Honors status, you could earn an additional points multiplier on all purchases.

Who should skip: If you’re not a Preferred Rewards member, you may want to look into flat-rate cash back cards that offer at least 2 percent cash back on all purchases. And if you’re looking for more travel perks — but don’t want to pay a several-hundred-dollar annual fee — you may want to consider one of the top travel credit cards with a lower annual fee, like the Capital One Venture.

Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students: Best for Students

Why we picked it: If you’re a student who wants to build your credit over time, you should check out the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students. This card lets you earn valuable rewards without paying an annual fee or foreign transaction fees, and you’ll get access to your FICO credit score each month for free.

When it comes to rewards, you’ll earn an unlimited 1.5X points on all purchases. You’ll also earn 25,000 points when you spend $1,000 on your card within 90 days of account opening. When you’re ready to cash in your points, you can redeem them for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, baggage fees and more at a rate of 1 cent per point. Other redemption methods include checks, direct deposits and gift cards, but these may not net as much value.

Pros:

— No annual fee

— Free FICO score

— Zero-interest offer on purchases and balance transfers

— A high, flat rewards rate on all purchases

— Can earn 25 to 75 percent more rewards as a Preferred Rewards member

Cons:

— Very few travel or student benefits

Who should apply: Students who are looking to build positive credit habits and earn rewards without paying an annual fee, or students who are planning to study or travel abroad, would do well with this card.

Who should skip: If you’re looking for a card with a different rewards structure or benefits, you should take a look at some of the other top student credit cards on the market today. Many of them offer boosted rewards for bonus category purchases or student-focused benefits, plus no foreign transaction fees.

How to Choose a Card for International Travel

Choosing a card for international travel shouldn’t be too difficult since there are so many options available. However, these tips can help you wind up with the best card for your needs.

— Earn the rewards you want the most. First off, it’s important to pick a travel credit card that offers the type of rewards you want to earn. If you can’t decide which type of travel rewards you want, consider flexible rewards credit cards that let you earn points you can use for gift cards, statement credits, travel and more.

— Choose a card with no foreign transaction fees. You should definitely pick a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. If you don’t pick up a card that waives foreign transaction fees, you’ll wind up paying an extra 3 percent on average for each purchase you make abroad.

— Check for airport lounge access. This perk can be immensely helpful if you hate waiting for your flight at a crowded airport gate, or if you often have a long layover. Cards that offer airport lounge access typically charge higher fees, but the free food and drinks you’ll receive can more than make up for them.

— Get a card that offers a credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Finally, consider cards that let you get expedited security access with one of these programs. Both let you skip lines at airport security, which can easily save you hours of wait time over the course of a year.

The Bottom Line

Signing up for one of the top travel credit cards can make travel more convenient and affordable — both domestically and abroad — but it’s important to understand any travel card you’re interested in inside and out before you sign up. Make sure you know which cardholder perks you’ll receive, including perks that will benefit you when you travel internationally like no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, credits for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, airport lounge access and more.

Copyright 2023 Bankrate online. Visit Bankrate online at bankrate.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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