Please sign in to post.

Best travel credit card (or credit card in general)?

Hi all! Just wondering if anyone has a favorite credit card for traveling (or in general)? We bank with USAA and have no annual fee with our credit card. Looking at adding a second card for back up. I have an AMEX but rarely use it.

Posted by
9794 posts

Amex is not as widely accepted in Europe as Visa or Mastercard.

I look for cards that offer me airline or hotel points. Others like cash back. It depends upon your needs or wants.

Posted by
1938 posts

Suggest reading thru Rick's Travel Tips regarding money matters: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/money. Lots of good advice there.
The bottom line is to go for a card (Mastercard or Visa - not Amex) that has zero foreign transaction fees. Like Claudia we've used one of the Capital One cards for many years.

Posted by
5297 posts

It depends on whether you are talking about use while traveling, or use to gain air miles or other perks to use while traveling.

For use while traveling, obviously you want a well accepted card, no foreign transaction fees, it needs an EMV chip, and preferably PIN for both cash advances and POS transactions. The last one can be a bit difficult, but there are a number of cards offering PIN capability. Ideally, for backup, you need two cards that will work well in Europe.
AN EDIT: Another plus, is to have Contactless Purchase capability. This is where you tap your card on the terminal and the transaction occurs through RFID. Even if you do not have a PIN, this can take the place of entering a PIN, so useful for lots of transactions in Europe. Probably one silver lining of Covid is that nearly all major cards are adding this.

For travel rewards, the Airline card for the airline you typically fly can be a good option. In addition to miles earned for purchases, you often get bonus miles or deals. You can get free checked bags, priority boarding, and if you travel enough, you can look at things like Club access, refund of fees for TSA Precheck/Global Entry, Hotel and rental car deals, the list goes on. Some other non-airline cards offer travel perks as well.

It is nice if all this is in one card, but you need at least two anyway.

Myself, for travel use, I have a card from UNFCU, no FTF's, PIN Priority for transactions, super low cash advance fees if needed, have never encountered a problem using it. I also have an IHG Mastercard as a good back-up.

For travel perks, and travel use, I have a higher level Delta AMEX that I use as my daily card in the US. It gets me miles with purchases plus enough MQM bonus miles to help with maintaining status, plus free checked bags, boarding priority, club access, premium rental car insurance, and more...But those are the ones I use most. AMEX acceptance varies in Europe, but I have never really had any problem if I wanted to use it for Hotels, rental cars, many restaurants, and larger stores.

Posted by
414 posts

If you're looking for a card with travel rewards, the points guy website has good info. and recommendations.

Posted by
1249 posts

To add to this question: other posts have recommended using credit cards from different banks. I don’t understand why.
I have had good luck with BAC travel credit card, no fee, no FTF, contactless. My plan is to get a second card to use for small travel purchases. I talked to BAC and was told that each card is treated separately for fraud alerts, security and charges.
Comments?

Posted by
649 posts

Do you want a credit card that is widely accepted in Europe or a travel-specific card card? There are several sites that analyze all available travel cards for may factors including perks like miles and access to lounges at major airports. Choosing one is personal but selecting the wrong one can be expensive. We ended up with a Schwabb card for various reasons, all easily researched, none of which might apply to your situation. It is more a debit card for a Schwabb brokerage account so it is pre-funded.

Posted by
564 posts

I like Chase's Sapphire Reserve. It offers a bunch of benefits--no FTFs, primary rental car insurance, lost or delayed baggage compensation, annual travel credit, fee reimbursement for Global Entry application, multiple airline partners for points transfer, ...etc. The fee is high, but you get most of it back.

Posted by
414 posts

other posts have recommended using credit cards from different banks.
I don’t understand why.

My guess would be in case an issue with a card not working is an issue with that particular bank. Say for example, if the BAC server is down and not able to process any credit transactions. In that situation, having your backup card from the same bank won't help you.

Posted by
5975 posts

horsewoofie, we always travel with CCs from different banks, even domestically. I'm not an expert in how these things work, but I do know that sometimes a card doesnt work for no apparent reason. Sometimes thats a problem at the merchant's end. Since European merchants aren't too hip to American signature cards, they don't always cooperate in troubleshooting.

But I also think there is a (admittedly small) chance of a problem screwing up your bank's system. Case in point: my card was being rejected when checking out of a hotel in Italy. Of course, the desk clerk, rolling her eyes, suggested I should have notified my bank I was traveling, which I had done. Due to time difference, bank was unavailable for help. Turns out, that the bank's entire system had been hacked and they had cancelled all the CCs in a certain category. I was on my way to the bankomat to make a big cash withdrawal, when wife showed up to pay with her CC from another bank. Now I travel belt-and-suspenders, with three cards between us.

Posted by
6603 posts

CapitalOne offers us double points on all transactions and is quite secure. We pay an annual fee but are very pleased their security. We get alerts frequently asking if we intended to make a purchase, etc.
We have a free Wells Fargo card as an extra one as back up. We have lost cards or had them stolen while traveling so like a different bank for our back up card.

Posted by
1942 posts

I recently applied for the Bank of America Premium Rewards card, in time to let it reimburse me for my Global Entry renewal. I already had their no annual fee / no transaction fee Travel Rewards card but wanted the extra travel benefits.

Posted by
3182 posts

They have annual fees (waived the first year) but the Chase Sapphire or Chase United Airlines Discover are great: substantial sign up bonuses worth over $500, no foreign transaction fee, and car rental insurance for any damage any country (slightly bounded by 28 day length and no high end cars) and primary coverage in the USA. Note that I did not keep either after the first year, but I am on my second round with the United card and have 3 car rentals completed or planned, and I got a $250 credit on a $450 United tickets purchase AND enough points for a domestic RT for a family event this October. It also paid the $100 for my Global Entry fee. As long as I am still working I am going to keep churning cards for the bonuses, and these 2 Chase cards are the best.

For travel and home my base card is Capital One when not on a free Chase card year.

Posted by
657 posts

The best credit card for travel is one that is chip-and-pin (eg. you need to type in your PIN when making a purchase) and that is PIN priority. It's what Europeans have; at a restaurant you'll see the waiter bring a small machine to the table, they insert the card, customer types in their pin, done. The card never disappears into the back of the restaurant.

Second best is one that is that is chip-and-pin with signature priority; at restaurants and the like you'll still sign like a typical US card but if you're at an unattended machine that wants a PIN it will still work. These machines are becoming much less common but still exist.

USAA used to be a true chip-and-pin card back when they had a Mastercard, but then they changed. Here is a list of credit cards that that offer chip-and-pin: https://www.creditcardinsider.com/blog/chip-and-pin-credit-cards-usa/ chip-and-pin with PIN priority are pretty rare.

Posted by
3405 posts

Chase Sapphire Reserve, Last I looked, one of the Chase cards had a 100,000 mile sign up bonus on right now. That equates to $1500.

Posted by
202 posts

For most purchases, whether domestic or international, I use the Costco Visa. There are no FTFs, no annual fee, and you get either 2 or 3% back at the end of the year for hotel and restaurant purchases. I always carry at least one other credit card with me, just in case my Costco Visa doesn't work or gets lost or stolen...thankfully that hasn't happened.

I got a Capitol One debit card for withdrawing cash from an ATM in the fall of 2019 and I was very pleased with it. There are no fees associated with it and since we don't use a debit card except when travelling, we maintain a very low balance in it most of the time.

Posted by
564 posts

Carol--the card now with 100k pt sign-up bonus is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. I have this card and got this bonus. My spouse has the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which has a higher fee, but more benefits such as Priority Pass lounge system membership and Global Entry application fee reimbursement.

Posted by
21200 posts

....Now I travel belt-and-suspenders, with three cards between us. .... We kind of with Stan on this one but we go a couple of cards further down the road. As an old engineer I like redundancy and back up. We travel with five credit cards -- three in my name and two in Marcia's name. Primary is the Chase Sapphire Reserve backed by the United Explorer (we fly United almost exclusive). Marcia carries a United card and another Chase card. All are in a money belt or secured pockets at all times. A fifth CITI card is buried in the lining of one of our carry-on bags. All cards have pin numbers on the card encoded so that they can be used as cash advance if absolutely necessary. We carry four debit cards linked to three separate accounts. Primary is from a credit union. Again the same pattern with one buried in the other carry-on bag. My assumption is that I have all possibilities covered. All the debit cards are tested within the first few days to make sure everything is working. A back up card that doesn't work is not useful. In all of our years of traveling we have never had a problem with a credit card. Have had a debit card not work -- for unknown reasons -- but the back-up always has or the debit card works at the next ATM.

I know this is probably a little over the top but it works for us. And over the years we have bailed out a couple of tourists who had no money and one debit card not working.

PS --- Forgot to add. If renting a car, will carry the Delta Am Express card because of the supplement insurance provided. And, obviously, use that card for the rental.

Posted by
1603 posts

Do you gave an ATM card? I take 2 ATM cards on different banks as well as at least 2 credit cards. The places I stay at usually only take cash so the ATM cards are what I use most.

For credit cards I get travel ones with good sign up bonuses. A couple of years ago I was looking at flights on the United site and a great offer popped up which I took advantage of. I recently got a Norwegian Cruise Lines card that has a $200 on board credit sign up and 3x points on NCL purchases. No annual fee. Since I have 3 NCL cruises to pay for in the next 2 years, it will give me some credit to use on the cruises.

Posted by
618 posts

I like Frank's idea on credit cards. I also go overboard with carrying CC but I would rather be safe than sorry. I have two VISA cards and one Mastercard and my Delta AMEX as well as two debit cards. Yes, I have had issues with debit cards not working. Even with a travel alert, some banks decide to stop the transaction. I usually pick CC that have great introductory offers on points and then go between them. I really play the Airline points game hard and I am pretty good at it. Currently working on my Alaskan Airline introductory to get points and a companion ticket for Hawaii. If you have great credit and you can handle several cards you can make them work for you. My favorite card is my AMEX because I think Delta is the best airline in regard to using points. I also like the AMEX platinum travel perks. It cost $250 dollars a year but you also get a companion fare each year and it pays for global entry so that offsets the cost.

Margaret

Posted by
3182 posts

Chase Sapphire Reserve, Last I looked, one of the Chase cards had a 100,000 [points] sign up bonus

Wow, too bad I received a bonus within the last 48 months 😩 or I’d jump on that.

Posted by
197 posts

Chase Sapphire or Sapphire Reserve. Neither have any foreign transaction fees. The Sapphire card currently offers 100,000 miles bonus if you spend a certain amount ($3000?) in the first 3 months

The Sapphire Reserve card credits you back the first $300 you spend on travel each year and your fee for signing up for TSA pre check and renewals. Triple points on travel and restaurants. Points are really easy to use

Posted by
5666 posts

Chase Sapphire Reserve also includes some medical evacuation insurance.

Posted by
2157 posts

I have Capital One Quicksilver--no fee, cashback, and no foreign transaction fees-- and also just got a Chase Sapphire--it has a $95 fee but it was time for a travel-focused points card.

Posted by
13 posts

I am fascinated by the "bonus miles game." Haven't been paying attention and didn't realize there were so many deals to be had. My biggest question, however, is how it stacks up against just taking cash rewards on your usual spending amounts? It's hard for me to tell if putting all that effort into finding and using different cards for different purchases, or trying to get the biggest mile bonus for the least money, is really worth the effort when just normal spending can get me cash back that I don't have to dink around with. Thoughts?

Posted by
3405 posts

Well, a 100,000 point bonus equates to $1500 in travel or $1000 cash back before you start getting your cash back for purchases. You would still earn the cash back in addition to the bonus.

Posted by
3182 posts

I am fascinated by the "bonus miles game."

Read “The Points Guy” and other websites for the extreme view of this game.

I usually churn a card every September when my homeowners insurance is due and a single payment can put me over the spend limit for the bonus. I have a spreadsheet with all the main travel cards: the 4 big airlines, major hotels like Marriott or Hyatt, so about 10 potential cards. Then the time interval between bonuses, 2 years, 4 years, or “lifetime” like Delta or American, although lifetime usually means about 7 years. Then I annually pick the next one, although some years I’m not eligible for a good one.

I’m not advertising for Chase, but they do have great cards. For example this time on the United card for a $2000 spend (1.5% cash back = $30)
3 car rentals w/no purchased insurance (saved $240 just in Iceland)
$250 statement credit
$350 RT ticket to Virginia
$100 global entry fee
free checked bags 3 flights
2 lounge access passes so 2 lunches between flights

So definitely worth it compared to $30 in cash back for a normal card. It is however a little like a part time job. Used to be Sapphire points could be transferred to Avios 1 to 1 and can buy American flights that way in addition to BA.

Note that churning cards doesn’t affect one’s credit score.

Posted by
1780 posts

it's not just a hobby, it's a job. You have to be pretty motivated to make it work for you, and also keep in mind they can move the goalposts at any time (and often do). There are dozens of websites for people who make this their calling.

However I made the leap to Amex Platinum a few years ago and was able to pile up enough points that I booked a business class flight through Amex Travel with points and dollars. I am reconsidering all my travel cards and will be changing over to cashback.

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks, Tom_MN. That was quite a rundown. And the added point about the credit score would have been my next question. Appreciate the time you took to fill me in. I will have to give this serious thought.

Posted by
3182 posts

Susan:

Phred has a point about devaluation. People who set a 5 year goal to accumulate the miles for first class tickets to Maui and points for a week at a Hilton or Marriott will easily be a third short of what they need when the 5 years is up and the required miles and points have gone up.

In my United example I will have consumed everything within months. I’m constantly trying to use up my points.

Posted by
927 posts

We just got back from Italy and booked all of our hotels on points from our Chase Sapphire. As others have said, the benefits are pretty great, but I just wanted to mention this because I know that some airline mileage is being devalued. We actually experienced the opposite booking hotels with points- our points are worth more than dollars through Chase. We stayed at Podere Brizio in Montalcino, Dievole in Chianti and Hotel Danieli in Venice to name a few. All on points.

Posted by
39 posts

Here’s a question that looking on line hasn’t resolved. I have a $ 800 credit at United and 175,000+ points on Chase Rewards. I know I will need to use the credit for a United flight, but it appears I can transfer points to United or the United credit to Chase Rewards and book a United flight.
Both my husband and I will be flying to Europe in 2022 so we could potentially also book separate tickets,though that would be my last resort. Any thoughts which way is better?

Posted by
916 posts

ncangelose - Not sure exactly what your question is, but I've made separate reservations for my husband (using points) and myself (using cash) quite a few times. I contact the airline and ask them to link the reservations so if anything changes, we'll still get seats together. Pretty easy except when I get upgraded and he does not so I've had to decline my upgrades! :(

I use Delta AMEX as my primary card, and found it to be (surprisingly) widely accepted in Europe and the UK.

Posted by
39 posts

Thanks Celeste, I wasn’t aware that you could ask the airline to link two reservations. I will keep that in mind. Thanks for the info

Posted by
5975 posts

@ncangelose, we did this once. We could not get the same itinerary with one flight paid by miles. I called the airline on the special number for FF members, and talked to a human, who was able to book us together on the same itinerary. Hopefully they still have human assistance.

Posted by
911 posts

I don't have advice on which cards as I am currently looking into this myself as we travel a lot and I feel like I'm missing out. However, I don't have time for it to be my part-time job either so looking for something that provides a pretty good deal without a lot of extra time.

I will say that I always take extra cards. One debit if I have to use it but I prefer using the credit card to pay and for taking cash out of ATM's when needed. Higher amount less often. My husband and I always have 3 CC between the 2 of us with pins and boy were we glad we did in Greece. The first one we tried absolutely refused to work the whole trip even with travel alerts put on it. We were able to use the other 2 and when we got back I contacted the 1st card. Turns out the new person who had taken my travel alert and put it on for some reason put it on as a test and not as an actual travel notification.

Posted by
1780 posts

belts and suspenders, always good travel advice. and not just for clothing.