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One great trend we’ve seen from credit cards over the past few years has been the elimination of foreign transaction fees on many card products. Previously these fees largely negated the value of the points you’d earn from transactions while abroad.
As credit card acceptance continues to grow globally, having the right credit card to maximize your purchases abroad can be very beneficial. What are important characteristics for credit cards which are useful abroad?
- No foreign transaction fees (obviously)
- Bonus points for categories you spend most in internationally; for most people this will be travel purchases (airline tickets, hotels, train tickets, taxis, etc.) and dining
- Chip & PIN technology, ideally, which is still a necessity at certain automated vendors
With that in mind, I figured I’d share what I consider to be the five best credit cards for foreign purchases:
If you’re looking to maximize your return of points on foreign spend, this card is pretty tough to beat. The ThankYou Premier offers triple points on travel and gas purchases, and double points on dining and entertainment purchases.
For the purposes of the card, “travel” is defined as follows:
airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies, gas stations, commuter transportation, taxi/limousines, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages, campgrounds and trailer parks, time shares, bus lines, motor home/RV Rental and boat rentals
Then “entertainment” is defined as follows:
sports promoters, theatrical promoters, movie theaters, amusement parks, tourist attractions, record stores and video rental stores
While everyone’s spend patterns when abroad are different, for my spend patterns that would translate into earning bonus points on a vast majority of my purchases while abroad.
This is the premium version of the ThankYou Premier Card, except it has a slightly different earnings structure. The card offers triple points on airfare and hotel purchases, and double points on dining and entertainment purchases.
The distinction is that the Prestige Card only offers triple points on travel purchases involving airlines and hotels, and not on car rentals, parking, trains, etc.
The added benefit of the Citi Prestige Card is that it offers excellent travel protection in the event you have delays or cancellations, and primary car rental coverage when abroad.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers double points on dining and travel. Purchases categorized as “travel” include the following:
airlines, airports, car rental agencies (including truck, trailer, and RV), cruise ships, hotels and motels, timeshares, local and commuter transportation (including trains, buses, taxis/limos, ferries, bridges, tolls and parking), travel agencies
On top of that, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers good consumer protection in the event of travel disruptions, along with primary car rental coverage, both in the US and abroad.
This card was refreshed around the middle of last year, and one of the new perks is that there are no foreign transaction fees on the card anymore.
I value Starpoints at ~2.2 cents each, so to me the card offers among the best return on everyday, non-bonused spend. So for anyone looking to just maximize their points on spend abroad which doesn’t fit into bonus categories, the Starwood Amex is a great option.
Earn double Starpoints for stays at SPG hotels, like the Westin Palace Madrid
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus is one of the best travel cashback credit cards. You earn two miles per dollar spent, and each mile can be redeemed for one cent towards the cost of an airline ticket. On top of that, you get a 5% refund when you redeem points. In other words, you’re getting a return of ~2.1% on your spend.
The card also has Chip & PIN technology, so can be a great option for kiosks in Europe, some of which don’t accept non-PIN cards.
Use your card for Chip & PIN purchases, like train stations
Using the right credit card can make a huge difference in maximizing points while abroad. All of the above cards have different merits. Personally I’ve been using the Citi Prestige® Card for my international airfare and hotel purchases, while I’ve been using the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card for most other purchases, including transportation, dining, etc.
What’s your go to card for international travel?