How to Choose the Right Travel Credit Card?

How to choose a good travel credit card? Does it differ from other credit cards? What qualifications are needed to apply for travel card?
Expert answer by Mira Nurdin,
6+ years in marketing and finance, online shopping guru

Three main considerations when choosing a travel card:

  1.  foreign transaction fee/ ATM fee
  2.  worldwide acceptance/EMV chip
  3.  travel rewards

Foreign transaction fee

A foreign transaction fee is a 2.7-3% fee you pay your bank for every overseas card transaction. When choosing a travel card – get yourself a card that doesn’t charge this fee. All Capital One cards and several specific travel cards from other banks are your best choice. See our full list of no international transaction cards here.   

ATM fee

ATM fee applies mostly to debit cards (everybody should know that withdrawing cash from a credit card is a no-no), so if you need cash when traveling abroad – take one of the debit cards with no ATM fees. Charles Schwab debit card and CapitalOne360 card are your friends here – they waive ATM fees for you.

Worldwide acceptance

Despite an overwhelming number of supported countries and points of sales that AmEx and Discover claim in their reports, you will have more peace of mind with VISA or MasterCard – these cards are truly accepted everywhere.

Another thing to keep in mind – in many places overseas you will not be able to pay with your American credit card if it doesn’t have an EMV chip on it. Particularly in Europe, you will definitely have problems when buying tickets and paying a toll in an automated booth and vending machines. Good news that most travel cards today are issued with an EMV chip – just pick one.

Travel rewards

A travel card is not only the card that you take with you on a plane but also the one that earns you the ticket. You have a great choice of travel rewards cards – with rewards air miles, cash back, flexible rewards points. Some of the greatest cards are listed in our editors’ picks.

In general, chose the type of rewards that you prefer – cash back, frequent flyer miles, or flexible points. Decide whether you need a card with maximum rewards and the biggest bonus, or a card with no annual fee. It is an easy calculation – all rewards and bonuses in the first year of the card should outweigh the annual fee. If you are not sure that you will spend enough to unlock a sign-up bonus, then maybe it is safer to go with a no annual fee basic card.

Consider your credit situation – some of the best offers are available for excellent credit only.  

Does having/applying for a travel credit card have a
different effect on a person's credit than a traditional credit
card?

No, I cannot imagine a situation when this will be true. It is just like with any other credit card – when the bank makes a hard pull from your credit history, it takes a small temporarily hit. After you get a card, your total credit limit will increase, and you can get a boost in your score if you maintain a low credit utilization ratio.

What are the features to consider with travel credit card?

All major travel card concerns I outlined above. Look deeper into sign-up bonus details – most cards require you to spend a particular sum to unlock the bonus. Check if the card has an annual or monthly cap on rewards.

What qualifications are needed to get a travel credit card?

Most of the good travel rewards card require a good to excellent credit. With a fair credit, you can sign for a co-branded card like the one that is offered by cruise companies or a Priceline Rewards card.

If you have no credit or a bad credit – you can start with a secured card from by US Bank and AeroMexico – that’s a good card with a low $25 annual fee and air miles rewards.

intro purchase APR no intro offerregular APR13.49 - 23.49% (V)
intro BT APR 13.49-23.49% 3% BT fee $5 min
rewards 1x-2x miles per dollar +5,000 bonus
  • 2x miles on gas and groceries
  • 1x miles on all other purchases
  • get 5,000 bonus on first card use

 

bad credit required

$25 annual fee

$0 first-year fee

reports to credit agencies

24 days grace period

unsecured card offer after 12 months

read review

Students with limited credit can apply for a student travel card – there are plenty of them

What are some of the best travel credit cards? 

My favorites are:

Capital One Venture (2x miles on every purchase, 40, 000 miles bonus), Barclaycard Arrival Plus (2.2% rewards rate, 40,000 miles sign up bonus), Chase Sapphire Preferred (40,000 miles sign up bonus, effective 1.25 miles on every purchase, 2.5 miles on travel and dining).

intro purchase APR no intro offerregular APR16.49 - 23.49% (V)
intro BT APR no intro offer 16.49 - 23.49%
rewards 1x-2x points on $1 +50,000 bonus
  • earn 2x points on travel and dining out 
  • get 50,000 bonus after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • get 5,000 bonus miles after adding authorized user in 3 months after account opening
  • 25% more in travel redemption

 

good credit required

$95 annual fee, waived for the first year

or no annual fee for basic Sapphire card

2x points on travel and dining

1 point per dollar on all other purchases as usual

the card is made of metal

read review
intro purchase APR no intro offerregular APR16.49%, 20.49% or 23.49%* Variable
intro BT APR 0% for 12 months (on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening) 3%, Minimum $5
rewards 2x miles on all purchases + 50,000 miles on sign up
excellent / good credit required

$89 - waived for first year

Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit

Earn 2X miles on all purchases

Redeem for travel or cash back statement credits, gift cards and merchandise. Redemption values vary

Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem

Miles don't expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing

No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country

0% introductory APR for 12 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 16.49%, 20.49% or 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness. Please note, there is a fee for balance transfers

read review
intro purchase APR no intro offerregular APR13.49 - 23.49% (V)
intro BT APR 13.49-23.49% no BT fee
rewards 2% per dollar +40,000 miles bonus
  • earn 2x miles on all purchases
  • get 40,000 miles bonus after spending $3,000 on a card in the first 3 months
  • redeem easily as a statement credit towards any travel expenses
good credit required

no first-year annual fee, $59 after

40,000 miles welcome bonus

2x miles on everything

Visa Signature status

read review

17 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.

Vertical Tabs

SIGN UP TO GET FREE
CREDIT SCORE UPDATES
and
exclusive members-only deals
Follow us
Facebook Twitter Google+