I think the time when Ben Franklin’s old adage “a penny saved is a penny earned” rings truest is when I’m traveling abroad. ATM and foreign transaction fees just add up too fast.
Generally, any money I save is money I can put toward something I actually want to spend it on. Whether that’s a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, wine tasting in Mendoza or street food at 4 a.m. pretty much anywhere in the world, I can think of infinite better uses for my money than forking it over in fees. (My utopia is also one in which roaming charges are nonexistent, but that’s a conversation for another time.)
The great thing is that it’s totally avoidable to hold onto that money if you play your cards right. When you’re spending money fee-free on a flight for your next trip or meal out, many cards will even throw that back to you in forms of cash or valuable points toward travel. Behold, Map Happy’s list of the best credit and debit cards for traveling. This plastic, its fantastic.
Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard
This is one of the best travel credit cards out there because there’s no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee. Every time you spend money, you’re pretty much earning travel-related rewards. Users earn double miles for every dollar spent on travel and dining, and a mile per dollar for everything else. Plus if you redeem your miles for any travel purchase, you get 10% of those miles back. There’s also a 20,000 mile sign-up bonus if you spend at least $1,000 in the first 90 days your account is active. Can you see yourself circling the globe yet?
There’s also the even-more-baller Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard (for an $89 annual fee that’s waived after the first year) that has beefed-up benefits including a 40,000 mile sign-up bonus and double the miles on all purchases. This card also possesses the EMV chip that’s pretty much a requirement to swipe your plastic pretty much all over Europe these days.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
If you have commitment phobia when it comes to particular airlines or hotel groups but want to rack up the travel rewards all the same, this could be your card. Chase has partnerships with a ton of travel industry biggies like United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and more. What that means for you is that you can transfer all your points 1-to-1 hassle-free to all those companies. The sign-up bonus isn’t slouchy either: 40,000 bonus points for $3,000 spent in the first three months the account is open.
With the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can earn double points for money spent on travel and dining while earning one point per dollar for everything else. There are no foreign transaction fees and the $95 annual only kicks in after the first year. Of course, there’s no way it could make this list without having an EMV chip option. We actually did a full review on this credit card a few months back.
Chase has a whole travel-friendly infrastructure set up, too, and if you book anything like flights, hotel stays, cruises and car rentals through their Chase Ultimate Rewards program with points, there’s an automatic 20% discount. (And they’re not jacking up their prices, either; they’re comparable to all the major travel search engines.)
This could be the card for traveling couples, too: There’s 5,000 bonus points when you add an authorized user soon after opening the card. Chase is pretty helpful to cardholding travelers in other nice ways, too, like lost luggage reimbursement or if you’ve accidentally lost your phone at Disneyland. (If the airline doesn’t care, at least Chase should!)
Capital One Venture Rewards
Travel credit cards don’t get much more straightforward than this Visa card. You earn two miles for every dollar spent—whatever it is—and there are no foreign transaction fees. The sky really is the limit on how many miles you can earn and those miles never expire. Like most of the premium travel cards, the sign-up bonus is 40,000 miles if you swipe $3,000 worth of purchases in the first three months. The card comes with some thoughtful amenities, too, like automatic travel and car rental insurance and around-the-clock roadside assistance.
The annual fee, waived the first year, is $59. The watered-down but also rather impressive version of this card is the VentureOne Rewards Card which comes with no annual fee and rewards users with 1.25 miles for every dollar spent.
Charles Schwab Bank
In truth, credit cards can only take you so far, because no matter where you are you’re also going to need cold, hard cash. The way I like to do it is to take out money in manageable increments as I go along to avoid ending up with mounds of foreign currency at the end of a trip (and losing out when changing it all back). But that really only makes any sense at all if you can dodge ATM fees. Enter Schwab Bank.
The High Yield Investor Checking Account quite frankly sounds intimidating. In fact, the name potentially scaring people off is the only reason I can think of as to why everyone isn’t already carrying this card, because it’s a real win. (Or if you’re like Erica, you’ve managed to find a real use for that brokerage account.) There is no minimum balance—really, $0—no monthly service fees and you will never pay an ATM fee. To be accurate, every single one of your ATM fees will be rebated when you withdraw money with the debit card tied to your Schwab account. That’s money in the bank for you.
Armed with this debit puppy and any of the other listed credit cards, you’re set to pay for everything on the road fee-free. Go forth and draw money freely.
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards
There aren’t any specific traveler perks per se with this card but it’s still one of the simplest, travel-friendly cards there is. Swipe away around the world without a care, because there are no foreign transaction fees nor is there an annual fee.
It’s a card where you don’t have to worry about the who, what, when, where or how when it comes to managing with your points. You’re getting cash back at a flat rate of 1.5% for everything. Brainless. That’s a slightly better cash-back rate than you’ll get with most other cards and it adds up.
NerdWallet has done some good legwork and rounded up a pretty exhaustive list of all credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. Some key points:
- All Discover and Capital One credit cards have no foreign transaction fees.
- Thinking small isn’t a bad idea. Most local credit unions don’t charge foreign transaction fees.
While it’s also common to see airlines hawking credit cards at the airport, hotel credit cards are another route that people also often overlook. If you feel allegiance to one particular chain or just happen to find yourself staying with one brand more often than others, it’s worth considering. The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card has a number of airline and hotel benefits that add up fast and is also another favorite
Ultimately, go with what’s right for your budget and travels. There’s a card out there for everyone.
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