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So many credit cards, which one to choose?

I am headed to Italy next month and it will be my first time traveling to Europe. I want to get a credit card to take as backup to my ATM/debit card. I am looking for a card that will help me earn rewards so I can travel more. I have seen mixed reviews on Discover, Capital One, and Chase. Some are glaringly negative others are glowingly positive and the former has brought a pause to my search. I have been reading the forums here for weeks and it is clear that the vast majority of you all are well traveled. So I turn to your experienced minds and wallets for guidance. Which credit card would you recommend for a novice traveler who doesn't have high paying job?

Posted by
6176 posts

Credit cards are a bit like shoes - you want to find one that fits "just right" - and, in this case it means, based on your own spending profile and habits. This is especially important when it comes to rewards. Different people value rewards very differently, so there's no one-size-fits-all that works for everyone (I personally like the most straightforward cash-back card that is not connected to any categories like travel, so I can use the savings on whatever I want or need at the time). I would highly recommend using either Bankrate.com and Nerdwallet.com, as both do a very good job of filtering different products based on your needs (and credit score) and explaining the pros and cons of each.

It's not about having a high paying job, it's about how well you manage credit. Credit cards tailor their best products (and most lucrative rewards) to people who have either very good or excellent credit. So know where you fall and apply for the best card you can get approved for, while hopefully minimizing annual fees (sometimes they can be worth it, but it depends). I would rule out Discover simply because it's not used anywhere as much as VISA or Mastercard overseas. Same with AMEX, which is otherwise a very good domestic card.

Posted by
2044 posts

Get a major bank MasterCard or visa that has a high cash-back program, plus no foreign transaction fees. For example, CapitalOne has a MasterCard with 1.5%cash back and no foreign transaction fee. There is a Chase card through Amazon that is 1% cash back on all, 2% on gas, restaurants, and drug stores, and 3% on Amazon purchases, and again, no foreign transaction fee.

If you get a card with cash-back, then you always know exactly what you have earned. You do. Or know this with any points program, and I do not believe the real cash value of your points will equal what you can get from judicious cash-back cards. I do know that I have inserted that concept in threads such s this over the years here, and so far no one has given any explanation to show the actual value of your points as they are used.

Posted by
860 posts

@Larry, The Points Guy updates an article every year about what a "point" is worth in every loyalty program if you're interested.

I prefer the opposite to a cash back card - I prefer specific hotel or airline loyalty cards. I used to have a card where you could do cash back, or you could pay down your balance with the "cash back," or you could redeem points with any airline/hotel. At first I was excited because I thought it would really open up my booking opportunities, but what happened was, my practical side took over and I always did the "pay down your balance" option with the "cash back," so I didn't end up using it for travel. With a card like the Marriott Visa or the Delta SkyMiles AMEX, however, I can only use my points for travel, so it "forces" me to travel so as not to waste points. I also am a big hotel and airline loyalist so this works for me. Being in Atlanta I fly Delta 95% of the time and appreciate the perks I get as a Medallion member. Also note that if you get a specific branded credit card, you usually get a welcome bonus of 50K-100K miles or points, which can go a long way for free hotel rooms or flights. This generally works better more with more advance planning than you have, however, as I suspect you've already bought your flight and possibly already have hotel reservations. (Also at this point many of the free flights or free hotel rooms may be gone anyway. But good to plan for future trips.)

Like a PP said, it really boils down to what you want, what works for you, how you think, and what motivates you.

Posted by
4689 posts

I have found AA, Alaska, and Southwest credit cards extremely helpful for accruing points and miles I actually USE. It's best to find one with a good intro bonus - that's where most of the benefit of these cards is in my opinion, in the introductory bonus. I don't think it pays to keep them after the first year if there is an annual fee.

I'm not sure who if anyone has a great deal right now on a new credit card bonus. They come and go. AA sometimes offers 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months (right now only 50,000). Getting a new card like that right before a trip is an easy way to meet the minimum spending requirement for the bonus.

I too would get a card with no foreign transaction fees as a minimum.

Posted by
442 posts

I ended up with a Charles Schwab debit card. It is not specifically designed for track but highly regarded among card researchers. Not for everyone, requires funding an investment account but offer significant transaction and foreign exchange benefits but not many perks like mileage points.

Posted by
1093 posts

Discover card is not (corrected) used in Europe.

Posted by
20628 posts

I think Bob meant to say that the Discover card is not used in Europe. You are best to stick with either a VISA or Mastercard branded cards. And the AmEx card is not widely accepted either by the general merchant.

Posted by
3303 posts

Your primary benefit from any card you take with you for use in Europe should be it charges zero foreign use fees. The fees add up to a lot for a vacation. Second should be the loyalty benefits, or cash back, if that is what you are searching for. No annual fees is also a good benefit. Only you can decide which card offering those options fits your needs best. Check with the various banks like Chase, Bank of America, Wells, and others in your area to see which ones offer the best combination to fit your wants.

I have the Capital One cash back card. Have had it for 20 years or more because of its no foreign fee offering. No issues with customer service or with the card working in Europe. And it truly is no fees of any kind. I also have a Capital One 360 account for the main debit card I take with me. Also no fees of any kind on any transaction. Could't be happier with either one. These are applied for online and you never have to set foot in a branch.

Unfortunately, unless you are leaving late next month it is almost too late to be getting a new credit card. It takes time to get approved and then have the card shipped to you. If you do get a new card, make sure you use it a couple times in the US before leaving for Europe. Many cards require this to fully activate. And of course make sure to inform your debit and credit card banks of when and where you are traveling so they do not shut off your cards thinking your transactions are fraud.

One thing to note is that your credit card should be your primary payment option after cash in Europe, NOT your Debit card. Debit cards should be used only for getting cash from bank operated ATMs (that is ATMs that have a bank name on them and are either in the bank lobby or attached to the wall of the bank building and have the same name on them as the bank). Why? Cards get compromised. Debit cards can take a long time before your cash is replaced if it gets fraudulently taken leaving you technically broke with no access to more cash when you need it. Credit cards can also have fraud, but in that case it is the bank's money that is lost not yours and they seem more interested in fixing the issue.

Posted by
2959 posts

Quick clarification in the Charles Schwab Bank Debit card. It involves opening an investment account but there is absolutely no obligation to fund it. Mine has had a $0 balance all along.

Posted by
8618 posts

I have a slew of travel reward cards and have some advice.

1) The card must offer "no foreign transaction fees".

2) Figure out what you want a card for and do research. Don't just rely on travel sites that rate cards. Many of the top suggestions are there because they offer the best commission to the owners of the website. If you want to collect points, ask yourself where you want to stay, what airlines will you most likely use, etc.

3) Don't pass up cards that have annual fees. As an example, most hotel brand cards have annual fees. But, you also get a free night. The cost of the room for that free night is usually more than the card's annual fee so you wind up saving money.

4) Can the points you receive be converted to other type of points. Some hotel cards allow you to convert hotel points into airline miles. And vice versa.

5) Sign up bonuses are the key to these cards. When I got my British Airways Visa they were offering a sign up bonus of 100,000 miles if I spent something like $2-3000 dollars in the first three months. That many miles was more than I needed for a free round trip between the USA and the UK.

6) Stick with Visa or Mastercard at first. They are the most widely accepted in Europe. If the card issuer offers a "contactless" card that seems to make life easier
and is the way to go in Europe.

7) Only get these type of cards if your plan to pay off your balance every month. If you plan to accrue credit card debt--something I don't suggest you do---then find the card with the cheapest interest rates.

Posted by
398 posts

I never use my IHG (Holiday Inn Express, Crowne Plaza...) stateside but it is my backup card abroad. Mainly because it always seems to work when my other cards fail. Maybe because IHG is a British based company.

Posted by
342 posts

have the Capital One cash back card. Have had it for 20 years or more because of its no foreign fee offering. No issues with customer service or with the card working in Europe. And it truly is no fees of any kind

I have the Capital One cash back card also, and love it. However, last year when we got robbed in Spain, Capital One would not send replacement cards to Europe for us, only to our address on record.

Now in advance of another trip I called Capital One and said we were thinking of canceling our card because all the other credit card companies will send a replacement card to Europe. The rep went to talk to her supervisor and said "if you are truly stranded, we will send you a replacement card wherever you are, and we've made a note on your account to that effect."

I wish I knew before hand that "stranded" was the key word to use!

But anyway, if you apply for the Capital One card, let them know ahead of time you'll need them to send you another card to Italy if you get "stranded."

Posted by
860 posts

What Frank II said about annual fees...Some of them are worth the money. For example the Marriott card gives you a free room every year. We are using it for New York in a couple of weeks; the cash rate would’ve been $400 and the annual fee for that card is $95. Or the Delta sky Miles AMEX that I have gives you a free companion certificate every year. We used it to fly out to Maine this year which was about a $450 ticket for $195 per year annual fee. Plus if you check bags that perk (no baggage fees) adds up quickly. I don’t check bags a lot but when we go skiing it is well worth the money.

Edited to add: not trying to sell you on any specific cards, just agreeing with the perspective that you should not reject a card only because it has an annual fee. Some of the annual fees are really stupid and don’t give you any benefit but some of them are actually a good deal.

Posted by
4822 posts

Usually when I look at a topic like this and there are already a dozen responses or so, I do not respond, but there has been two glaring omissions in advice so here goes.

Advise one: Do not confuse a card for use while travelling with a card used for gaining travel benefits or rewards. Those with the best rewards for travel may be crap for International travel, and the best card for international travel may have no rewards.

Rank features by importance:
1. Get a Visa or Mastercard branded card (Yes, this has been said, but is still the most important advice)
2. This is the second piece of advice missed...look for a card that is Chip and Pin, not a Chip and Signature with a PIN for Cash Advance, but a PIN that can be used at ticket machines, kiosks, toll booths, gas pumps, basically unmanned POS.
3. No Foriegn Transaction Fees
4. No Annual Fees (Unless it is justified in something like getting a PIN, the type of reward you will use, even free checked bags on the airline you fly)
5. The rewards program, but make sure it is something you will use.

My primary travel card I found by searching for "Best US Chip and PIN Credit Cards", you will see lists by the Points Guy and a slew of other blogs, read them, see what banks keep coming up. I did the work and narrowed it down to a few cards, oddly nearly all were offered by credit unions. I went with UNFCU, I had to set up a line of credit, so a bit more paperwork (like a loan application) than filling in a few lines about income from other cards. I had to join a "group" that supports the United Nations to be eligible for the credit Union, and I pay $45 in annual fees, and get no real perks or points.

However, I did get a great card for travel, No FTF, the card is Chip and PIN with PIN priority, so in just about every transaction in Europe, and most in the US, I enter my PIN to use. It has also worked in every machine or kiosk and unmanned POS in the 6-8 European countries I have been in, really, this has been one of the best efforts I have been through for a card specifically for travel.

My day to day credit card use is mainly on a Delta AMEX, for which I do pay a fee, but since I travel Delta for work, the benefits far outweigh any fees, and I also have a Citi MC branded by IHG, since I stay at IHG Hotels and it accelerates my points. Both of those have travel benefits, but I do not use when travelling internationally. (Well, I do take them as back up)

Posted by
3303 posts

other credit card companies will send a replacement card to Europe.

If this is truly important to you, please verify this with the credit card you intend to use, especially if you don't have backup cards to replace it if lost. Many credit card issuing banks will no longer send a replacement anywhere except to your address on file. It is part of the increasing security to prevent attempted fraud. And yes, it is very frustrating when you need a replacement card no matter where you might be and they will not send it to you because sending it to your home address when you will not be there seems to me to be a good way to actually have the replacement stolen before you can get home to get it.

Posted by
2333 posts

I want to get a credit card to take as backup to my ATM/debit card.

Yes you should have a credit card but, no, not as a “backup” for your debit card. Your debit card should never be used for purchases, only to obtain money from an ATM. If your debit card is hacked you could lose all the money in the account it is tied to and you don’t have the protections that you wold wiyha credit card. Likewise a credit card should never be used to obtain cash (except in a dire emergency) as the fees are exorbitant.

Posted by
875 posts

What Frank II and Paul said, absolutely. I would add: If you are going to be using your card especially to earn points for future travel, be sure and take a look at which major airlines fly out of your primary airport to your preferred destinations, and get the VISA or Mastercard card branded for your preferred airline. I fly out of New Orleans usually to Italy, and United has more options and more options for points-travel on those routes, and the points that I earn on my Chase United Visa help get me there every year. Be SURE to sign up using a "bonus miles" offer. Usually, if you can find the bonus sign-up offer, you can get up to 50,000 miles or so just for signing up for the card. That is more than good for one-way to Europe from most US destinations, if you book your rewards travel many months in advance. Also, having an airline-branded card (like my Chase United Visa) gets me extras that matter, every time I travel that airline and book by signing in to the airline's website with my "frequent flyer" account and use that card to pay for the ticket. With United, it means free checked baggage and earlier boarding privileges. Finally, if you are going to really "play the game" of amassing points for travel, go all in and you'll find lots of ways to earn those extra points on your preferred airline, with that card. For example: I do all my on-line shopping (except Amazon and Rick Steves, which don't participate) through the United web on-line shopping portal, using that card, thereby earning more points every time I shop.

Posted by
4822 posts

I want to get a credit card to take as backup to my ATM/debit card.
Yes you should have a credit card but, no, not as a “backup” for your debit card.

I agree, use a Credit card when you can, especially if you have no FTF.

Your debit card should never be used for purchases, only to obtain money from an ATM. If your debit card is hacked you could lose all the money in the account it is tied to and you don’t have the protections that you would with a credit card.
For US issued cards, your Visa or MC branded ATM/Debit cards is actually protected against fraud, just like a credit card. Check with your Bank for details.

Likewise a credit card should never be used to obtain cash (except in a dire emergency) as the fees are exorbitant

I am not so dire about that option, I have plenty of options before I get to a Cash advance, but when you look at the fees and interest, it is actually a better deal than getting Foreign currency here in some cases, better than exchanging US Dollars there, and for people who bank with the big banks and pay a $5 transaction fee for out of network use and a 3% FTF, on a $200 withdrawal, is about the same in cost. Only Credit card use and a No Fee Debit card is better. If both my debit cards failed to work, and I needed cash, I would not hesitate to use cash advance, but I guess that may qualify as an emergency.

Posted by
5503 posts

Re Capital One only sending replacement cards to home address.

I use my Capital One Visa for travel, especially foreign travel because of the no FX mark-up combined with the Quicksilver "rewards" rebate. I am the primary account holder but my spouse is an authorized user. Our cards have different numbers. Capital One advised me that if one card is compromised and locked, the other card would still be functional. On a different note, Capital One no longer requires foreign travel notifications.

Re the "doesn't have high paying job". Some credit cards versions of Capital One are limited to persons with high/above average FICO scores and others are available to people with "rebuilding" credit ratings. https://www.capitalone.com/credit-cards/compare/

Capital One's credit categories include:

Excellent Credit I've never declared bankruptcy or defaulted on a
loan; I haven't been more than 60 days late on any credit card,
medical bill, or loan in the last year; I've had a loan or credit card
for 3 years or more with a credit limit above $5,000.

Average Credit I've defaulted on a loan in the past 5 years OR I
have limited credit history. I've had my own credit card or other
credit for less than 3 years (including students, people new to the
U.S., or authorized users on someone else's credit card).

Rebuilding Credit I've defaulted on a loan more than once. OR I've
been declined for a credit card in the last 3 months.

Posted by
4822 posts

Fraud protection for debi cards is not the same as a credit card. See this site:

That is why I prefaced by saying a MC/Visa logo ATM/debit card, which most cards are now. It essentially has the same fraud protection as a credit card. There are ATM/Debit cards that are issued by some banks that do not have the Visa/MC logo, in that case your protection may be less, depending on your bank...discuss with them.

In my experience, even Credit cards that have had unauthorized charges, I have not been liable for the $50, same with the one or two times I have had issues with my Visa/MC logo ATM/Debit card...all zero liability. (But then I have a pretty good Credit Union and decent CC)

Posted by
3303 posts

Banks are required to offer the minimum protection on debit and credit cards as mandated by the government. They are free to go above and beyond that if they want as many of the bigger ones do. So if you have a Visa/MC debit card that offers zero liability, great. But just having a Visa or MasterCard logo on the debit card does not automatically make it zero liability. The card agreement provided to you when you got your card covers exactly what your bank offers.

Posted by
2959 posts

I have had fraud take place on a debit card. I did get the money back, but there was a 7-10 day lag where the money was simply gone from my account before it was replaced. You will get your money back, but it is not instant. This could certainly have an impact while traveling.

I support using credit cards for purchases and debit cards for cash machines. (ps. It was a Canadian ATM machine that skimmed my debit card)

Posted by
315 posts

Recently messed with "What CC to have?" My priorities were Global entry fee covered, travel insurance and rental car insurance. Sign up bonus is a plus. Smith's groceries will not take VISA credit, they started my look. Ease of accounting. Fees waived for first year. Capital One Savor MC and Venture VISA. Downgraded to Chase freedom and exchange VentureOne for Venture. Chase upgrade comes with a $450 fee. Those airport lounges came with all kinds of restrictions.

Posted by
160 posts

I would suggest an additional credit card with whatever benefits are best for you. I always carry at least 2 credit cards except in a recent trip to Denmark and Sweden where I had 3 credit cards and for the first time ever no debit cards at all! Cash is not needed in those countries and they prefer an almost cash free situation.
However when I am in Italy, Spain, Portugal etc. I have 2 credit cards...one with a pin # mostly for buying train tickets from a machine. I also have 2 debit cards because I have 2 checking accounts with separate cards.
Since I travel alone I have more backup plans than some people may need but solo travel IMO needs more backup plans.