Tried and Tested: The Best Travel Credit Cards

Avoid pesky fees and earn valuable rewards with these tried and tested, best of the best travel credit cards.

Whether you just have a serious case of wanderlust or are headed overseas, having the right travel credit cards can help you save money and travel more. I've never paid a single foreign transaction fee and I've used credit card points to cover roundtrip airfare for two international trips and transportation and hotel costs for a recent jaunt to Stockholm. Here are the two credit cards that are always in my wallet and a few tips on using credit cards while you're abroad. 

the best travel credit cards

Chase Sapphire Preferred

This credit card gets serious love from travel aficionados and personal finance gurus alike, and it's easy to see why. It boasts one of the largest signup bonuses (40,000 points when you spend $4,000 in 3 months) and offers 20 percent off travel when you book through their super-easy-to-use website. The points aren't constrained to any one airline or hotel chain, making it one of the more flexible cards available. You can also transfer points 1:1 to a select group of partner airlines and hotels, or use points to pay for just part of a ticket. It has no foreign transaction fee and is chip-and-signature enabled. Bonus: the card is as stylish as a credit card can be, so you always feel fancy when you use it.  

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

This card has quickly become my go-to card while living abroad. You earn 2 points per dollar in every category and can use the points to wipe travel-related expenses off your statement. Redeeming points for a travel credit is hassle-free and easy, and you get 5 percent back toward your next statement credit. It's a great card when you can't or don't want to book through a rewards portal or you have expenses that wouldn't be covered by another card (such as European trains, ferries, or smaller airlines). It has a signup bonus that rivals the Chase Sapphire Preferred (40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in 3 months), no foreign transaction fee, and is chip-and-pin enabled.  

Tips for using credit cards abroad

- Your credit card MUST have chip (EMV) technology! Credit cards without a chip won't work with most credit card machines abroad and are not widely accepted. Chip-and-signature technology (Chase Sapphire Preferred) will usually do just fine, but chip-and-pin technology (Barclaycard) is even better. 

- Remember that some cards with no foreign transaction fees are still pretty much useless abroad. I was thrilled when my Delta AMEX got rid of their foreign transaction fee until I realized that few places would take American Express and it didn't have a chip. 

- Before leaving, let your credit card company know where you're headed so they don't put a temporary hold on your card. 

- Set up automatic payments so you don't accidentally miss a payment and get hit with a late fee! You may think you'll remember, but it's easy to lose track of what day it is when you're traveling and you don't want to be worrying about paying bills while you're on vacation!  

- Create some type of budget and keep track of how you're spending your money with Mint. The app makes it easy to see where your money is going and ensures you don't end up with post-vacation regret (or debt). 

- I like to use credit cards for the majority of purchases (no matter how small) so I can keep track of spending. However, I always carry some cash in case cards are not accepted. Avoid large fees and other scams by withdrawing cash directly from an ATM instead of touristy money exchanges (like the kind found in airports). 

- As always, only use credit cards when you are able to pay them off in full every month. The points are not worth racking up debt. 


What are your best travel credit cards? Have you used rewards to travel for free?