The Best Credit Cards for International Travel

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Traveling abroad can be a stressful time, from planning a trip to flying and making purchases in different currencies. An international travel rewards credit card can ease the burden of dealing with exchanging bills or a credit card that charges additional fees for purchases made outside of the U.S. The cards we list in this guide all have no foreign transaction fees, so no need to worry about paying an additional fee on your purchases abroad.

Whether you want an international travel rewards card so you can earn miles to redeem for flights and hotel stays, or simply to have assurance that your card will be accepted at a foreign merchant, there are plenty of options available. We have organized our recommendations based upon how you are going to use the credit card. Here are our top picks in 2017:

Best overall: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

For a card to be the best overall international travel card, we decided the card had to meet at least three criteria: no foreign transaction fee, chip + PIN technology and a rewards program. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card hits all those marks and then some. It does have an annual fee, but sometimes an annual fee is worth it if the rewards outweigh the cost of the fee. For example, if a card has an annual fee of $95 and a rewards rate of 2 points per dollar, if you spend $9,750 a year, you will come out ahead — covering the annual fee and earning $100 in rewards. In addition, you will enjoy the premium benefits the card provides.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has an annual fee of $0 Intro for the First Year, then $95. The rewards rate for this card will benefit frequent travelers with 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. What makes this card great is the 25 percent more value your points are worth when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel. This is a fantastic bonus that can get you closer to earning enough points to cover a flight or hotel stay. Chase also provides chip + PIN technology that allows you to use your card at more merchants when traveling abroad. Cardholders must activate the PIN technology by calling Chase’s automated phone system at 800-297-4970.

This card offers a bonus offer that will jumpstart your rewards earning. Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. In addition, points are transferable to participating frequent flyer programs on a 1:1 value, allowing you flexibility when booking travel. Partners include: British Airways Executive Club, Flying Blue AIR FRANCE KLM, Korean Air SKYPASS, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards®, United MileagePlus®, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, IHG® Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards®, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® and World of Hyatt.

With no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card

The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card is a good option for travelers who want a flat-rate travel rewards card. This card offers a consistent rewards program — Unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all purchases. The real rewards come to those who are Bank of America account holders. If you have a checking or savings account with BofA you can get a 10 percent customer points bonus, and if you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you could increase that bonus to 25 to 75 percent. This added bonus is a great way to earn bonus rewards on all purchases. The best way to redeem points is for a statement credit to pay for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars or baggage fees. If you redeem for cash or gift cards, it will be of lesser value.

Bank of America has “an outstanding customer service experience” for the live phone channel, according to the May 2017 certification by J.D. Power. This is great for people who prefer to speak to a representative when applying for a card, or simply if you have a question about your account. When traveling abroad you will have peace of mind with built-in chip + PIN technology, allowing you to charge purchases at more merchants.

Best with chip + PIN: Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

When you travel outside the U.S. it is essential to have a credit card with chip + PIN technology. This technology has become popular for transactions in countries throughout Europe and elsewhere in the world and also provides an added level of safety on transactions. Since many merchants won’t accept a chip + signature card, a card with PIN capabilities will allow you to use your card at a wider selection of merchants. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® has chip + PIN technology and offers a great rewards program. Earn 2X miles on all purchases — this is an excellent flat-rate amount that is higher than the one mile you typically earn from other cards.

When redeeming your miles, you will earn 5 percent of your miles back as a redemption bonus, to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem. For example, if you redeem 40,000 miles, you will receive 2,000 miles as a bonus to use toward your next redemption. Miles can be redeemed for a variety of options from travel and cash back statement credits, to gift cards and merchandise. Barclaycard provides complimentary 24/7 travel card concierge service that acts like a dedicated personal assistant and additional World Elite MasterCard benefits.

Best for airline miles: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

As a frequent flyer you may decide that an airline-specific credit card is a good option. Airline credit cards allow you to accrue more miles on purchases made via the airline and are a great way for you to earn extra miles and get closer to covering the full cost of a flight using miles. The best airline credit card we found for international travel is the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®. This card has the overall best benefits for frequent international travelers of all the airline credit cards on the market.

American Airlines offers worldwide flights to nearly 1,000 destinations, giving you the freedom to fly around the globe. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® offers a rewards rate of 2 AAdvantage® miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases*. This allows you to earn extra miles on American Airlines purchases. You can redeem miles for travel on American Airlines, American Eagle®, any oneworld® airline or any partner airline to nearly 1,000 destinations worldwide, as well as for gift cards and more. It’s easy to get an estimate of miles needed to cover a flight by using this interactive map.

The annual fee of $95, waived for first 12 Months* is typical of airline credit cards and is worth the rewards you receive. You will receive a 25 percent savings on inflight food and beverage purchases when you fly with American Airlines. Other perks include preferred boarding, first checked bag free for you and four companions, and more. This card is great for American Airlines frequent flyers and for anyone who wants the most flexibility when flying internationally.

Best for hotel points: IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card*

A great international hotel credit card needs the flexibility to book stays at a large network of hotels worldwide, and the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card has 5,000 hotels in nearly 100 territories and countries for you to book stays. This wide selection of hotels is due to IHG’s 12 brands. This card offers 5 points when you stay at IHG® hotels, 2 points on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants and 1 point on everything else. The 5 point rate is a fantastic amount and comes with no caps. The higher rewards rate earned on purchases at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants also allows you to earn rewards when you aren’t traveling.

You will enjoy flexible redemption options with rewards redeemable for hotel stays, shopping, gift cards and more. Additionally, as a cardmember, you can upgrade to IHG® Rewards Club Platinum Elite status and enjoy a 10 percent rebate on IHG® Rewards Club point redemptions and a free hotel night each account anniversary year. This card comes with chip + signature and various travel and purchase coverages.

Most flexible rewards: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

The card with the most flexible rewards is the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. You earn 2 Starpoints® for each dollar of eligible purchases spent on the Card at participating SPG® & Marriott Rewards® hotels. 1 Starpoint for all other purchases., then, you have the ability to transfer points to over 30 popular airline frequent flyer programs — mostly on a 1:1 basis. This allows you to more easily book travel because you aren’t limited to one airline. For example, if a flight is full on Delta, you can grab an available seat on American Airlines, depending on their availability. In addition to transferring points, you can redeem for hotel stays at over 1,300 hotels, VIP events, gift cards and more.

SPG offers an added bonus for transferring points to frequent flyer programs. When you transfer 20,000 points to a participating frequent flyer program, you'll get a bonus of 5,000 points, raising the effective rate of your point redemptions from 1 point to 1.25 points. This will allow you to accrue more rewards at a faster rate. In addition to great rewards, there is a 24/7 global assist hotline for your use when traveling more than 100 miles from home — great for international travelers.

FAQ

What makes a good travel credit card?

Travel rewards cards should offer several features that allow you to earn rewards, enjoy extra perks when traveling, and minimize fees. As you search for a travel credit card, consider the following features that the card should offer:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 24/7 concierge
  • Extra miles for travel purchases
  • Higher redemption value for miles when redeemed via the card’s website
  • Travel accident insurance
  • Global Entry/TSA Precheck and baggage credits
  • Auto collision damage waiver
  • Roadside assistance
  • Lost luggage reimbursement

What makes an international travel credit card different?

International travel credit cards are different from other credit cards in several key ways. Here’s a breakdown of why an international travel card is better than a regular credit card when traveling abroad:

  • Chip + PIN technology. This allows you to have a wider use of your credit card when traveling outside the U.S. Many merchants in countries throughout Europe and elsewhere in the world require chip + PIN technology and won’t accept a card with chip + signature. International travel credit cards are more likely to have the chip + PIN capability.
  • No foreign transaction fees. Nothing is worse than charging purchases abroad and incurring a fee just for using your card. Many traditional credit cards charge foreign transaction fees of 3 to 5 percent. The international travel cards we’ve mentioned in this post do not charge foreign transaction fees, allowing you to save money from unwanted fees.
  • Rewards for travel purchases. Compared to regular rewards credit cards, travel credit cards offer higher rewards rates for purchases on flights and hotel stays. This allows you to earn more rewards on these purchases, and rewards can be redeemed for travel. And, when rewards are redeemed for travel, you often receive a discount or bonus.

What credit level is required for an international travel card?

International travel cards require a good to excellent credit score, with the higher value cards requiring excellent credit scores. The better your credit score, the more likely you are to be approved for the best credit card.

Should you have more than one travel card?

It’s best to have one travel card because miles from one card cannot be combined with the miles from another card. For example, if you have the Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®, you cannot combine your miles. If you want to earn the most rewards, it is best to use one travel card so you will have a high rewards balance and can cover the cost of a flight or hotel. With multiple travel cards you could have a harder time covering the cost.

Should you pick an airline-specific card?

You can pick a specific airline card if you are already an existing member of the airline’s frequent flyer program. This is a great way to “top up” your mileage and earn the extra miles to cover a full flight. If you often find yourself just shy of the amount of miles needed to cover the cost of a flight, airline-specific cards are a great way to earn more miles. The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express (*Offer is no longer available through our site), Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®, and JetBlue Card are great cards for frequent flyers of Delta, American Airlines, and JetBlue.

What is international customer service like?

International customer service varies by card issuer. When you call customer service from abroad you will have to call collect, calling a different number than if you were calling from the U.S. Some issuers offer 24/7 customer service, while others stick to traditional business hours. See below for a chart with international customer service contact numbers for each credit card issuer and whether they offer 24/7 service or not.

  AMEX Bank of America Barclaycard Capital One Chase
24/7 International Customer service via phone Yes No Yes No Yes
International Phone Contact 1.715.343.7977 1.315.724.4022 1.302.255.8888 1.804.934.2001 1.302.594.8200
Live Chat Yes Yes No No No
Email No Yes Yes No Yes
Twitter** @AskAmex @BofA_Help @AskBCUS @AskCapitalOne @ChaseSupport

 

*The information related to the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card has been collected by CompareCards.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card. 

**Do not share any sensitive account information

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