One of my favorite benefits of earning credit card points, airline miles, and hotel points is being able to book trips that I otherwise couldn't afford. Using travel rewards, I’ve been able to travel to Europe multiple times.
But when traveling internationally, you need to think about which credit cards will make the journey with you. Check out these picks for the best travel credit cards to use when traveling in Europe.
What should you look for in an international credit card?
Not all credit cards are created equal, and your favorite credit cards to use within the U.S. may not have the same allure when traveling to a foreign country. Here are the features to consider when selecting the best credit card to use when traveling in Europe.
1. No foreign transaction fees
Most popular credit cards today don’t charge foreign transaction fees, but you may have some in your wallet that do. Foreign transaction fees are a tax on your purchases when traveling internationally. Usually, these fees add a 3% surcharge to your purchase amount.
Pro tip: When making a purchase, choose to pay in the local currency. This avoids the “convenience fee” that many hotels, restaurants, and other vendors charge for converting the foreign currency price into U.S. dollars.
2. PIN technology
In the U.S., we’re used to chip-and-signature technology on our credit cards. We insert the card and then sign our receipt. Europe has taken the technology a step further to reduce fraudulent transactions. Instead of signing the receipt, you’re asked to enter your PIN instead to verify that it’s you.
3. Global Entry reimbursement
If you typically travel within the U.S., you’re likely familiar with the TSA PreCheck program, which allows you to skip the lines at airport security. Global Entry is a sister program that allows you to expedite your wait at U.S. Customs when returning from an international flight.
Many travel credit cards offer reimbursement for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, so before your trip, consider using one of them to apply for the security program that works best for you.
4. Bonus rewards on international transactions
We love earning bonus miles and points when paying for travel, dining, gas, and other categories. However, if you look at the fine print, many credit cards limit these bonus points and miles to U.S.-based transactions.
If you’re looking to maximize your rewards to get closer to your next free vacation, make sure you have a credit card that offers benefits worldwide.
The 5 best credit cards to use when traveling to Europe
|Card||Annual fee||Why it's great|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||$695 (See rates and fees) (Terms apply)||5X points on eligible hotel and airline purchases, and access to over 1,200 airport lounges (select benefits require enrollment)|
|Uber Visa Card||$0||No-annual-fee card with chip-and-PIN technology; earn 5% on Uber, Uber Eats, and JUMP (except purchases of Uber Cash and Uber gift cards)|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||$550||$300 annual travel credit, access to airport lounges, and 3X on dining and travel worldwide|
|Citi Premier Card||$95||Points are worth 1.25 cents towards travel; earn 3X points on travel and 2X on dining and entertainment|
|U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card||$400||Up to $325 in annual travel credits, 12 Gogo inflight Wi-Fi passes each year, and earn 3X points on eligible travel and mobile wallet purchases|
The Platinum Card from American Express
Annual fee: $695
Welcome bonus: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months, plus 10x points on eligible purchases at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S. (up to $25,000 in combined purchases during your first 6 months).
Rewards rate: You can earn 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare (on up to $500,000 per calendar year, after that 1X) and eligible hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases.
The Platinum Card from American Express — a luxury travel rewards card — offers benefits that seasoned travelers love. Cardholders have access to more than 1,200 lounges in 130 countries. You’ll also get automatic Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite and Hilton Honors Gold status, plus valuable benefits with The Hotel Collection and Fine Hotels & Resorts, which can make every hotel stay special. Select benefits require enrollment.
And when you return home from that vacation in Europe, you'll be glad you were reimbursed for your Global Entry charge so you can skip the lines at customs.
Uber Visa Card
Annual fee: $0
Welcome bonus: Earn 10,000 points (valued at $100) after spending $500 in the first 90 days.
Rewards rate: You could earn 5% cash back on Uber, Uber Eats, and JUMP (except purchases of Uber Cash and Uber gift cards); 3% cash back at restaurants, bars, hotels, vacation rentals, and airfare; and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
I like that all of Barclays' credit cards offer chip-and-PIN technology, which is essential while traveling through Europe. And with no annual fee and ample opportunity to earn rewards on travel spending, the Barclays Uber Visa Card offers plenty of possibility.
The card also provides up to $600 in mobile phone theft and damage protection to give you peace of mind while you’re on the go.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Annual fee: $550
Welcome bonus: Earn 50,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Rewards rate: Earn 10X points on Lyft rides, Chase Dining purchases, and hotels and cars booked through Ultimate Rewards; 5X points on air travel booked through Ultimate Rewards; 3X points on travel and dining, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has been one of the most popular premium credit cards since its launch. Although the card is $550 annually, it’s jam-packed with credits and features that make the fee worth paying.
You'll receive a $300 credit each year that will automatically be applied towards travel category expenses. Cardholders also get a Priority Pass Select membership to access airport lounges, plus a credit to cover TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fees.
Points can be transferred to nine airlines and three hotel loyalty programs. When points are used to purchase travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, they’re worth 1.5 cents each.
Citi Premier Card
Annual fee: $95
Welcome bonus: Earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.
Rewards rate: You can earn 3X points at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations, and on air travel and hotels; and 1X points on all other purchases.
The Citi Premier Card earns bonus points on common travel expenses, and when you redeem points for travel via Citi’s booking portal, they’re worth 1.25 cents each. This means that the 80,000 point sign-up bonus is worth up to $750 if you book travel through the ThankYou Travel Center.
U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card
Annual fee: $400
Welcome bonus: Earn a 50,000 point bonus after spending $4,500 in the first 90 days.
Rewards rate: Earn 5X on prepaid hotel and car rentals booked in the Altitude Rewards Center; 3X points on eligible travel and mobile wallet purchases; and 1X points for all other eligible purchases.
The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card offers tremendous benefits for the frequent traveler. Each year, you'll receive $325 in travel credits as well as bonus points on travel and mobile wallet purchases. Points are worth 1.5 cents toward travel, so the 50,000-point bonus could be worth up to $750 in travel.
Cardholders will also enjoy 12 complimentary Gogo inflight Wi-Fi passes each year, up to $100 in TSA PreCheck or Global Entry reimbursement every four years, and a Priority Pass Select membership to access airport lounges.
Do this before you leave for vacation
Before you depart for your European vacation, follow these tips to minimize any problems when using your credit cards in a new country.
1. Share travel plans with your bank
Banks are always on the lookout for fraudulent transactions. If your credit card is suddenly being used in a new country, the bank may block your account until it can verify the transactions are from you.
To avoid this scenario, let your bank know where you’ll be traveling. Be sure to include any countries you may have a layover in as well. Many banks now allow you to notify them via their app or website to expedite the process.
2. Download the bank’s app to track purchases
I like to track my money regularly, but you need to be even more vigilant with your accounts while traveling. One of the easiest ways to keep up to date with your accounts is to download your bank’s app to your mobile device. With the app, you can typically track transactions, make payments, or even notify the bank if you’ve lost your credit card.
3. Set up automatic payments
In a perfect world, we all pay our credit cards in full each month to avoid interest. However, that’s not always the case. This is especially true when you're focused on the fun while traveling in a foreign country.
This is why I suggest that everyone sign up for automatic payment of the minimum amount due. Doing so will keep your account in good standing, avoid late payment fees, and ensure you don’t have a late payment reported to the credit bureaus.
Which international travel credit card is right for you?
There are many international credit cards to choose from, but which one is right for you? Analyze the cards listed above and determine which of the benefits are most important to you. They’re all good choices, but their fees and perks may work best for different types of travelers.