How to choose a card for European travel
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With pandemic-era travel restrictions dropping and a favorable exchange rate, Europe is a top travel destination for 2023. As rising inflation continues to drive up travel expenses, your dollars (and points) can go a lot further abroad.
Whether traveling during the high season or snagging off-peak discounts, you can enjoy all the best that Europe offers without breaking the bank. But why just lean on a strong dollar when you can tack on additional savings with your credit card?
From covering airfare and hotels to protecting your biggest travel expenses, the right credit card can make your trip cheaper and more convenient. With so many options, it’s easier said than done. Luckily, we have you covered with everything you need to know about choosing a credit card for a trip to Europe.
Here are the features you should look for in the cards you bring to Europe:
First and foremost, you want to ensure that the credit card you take to Europe is widely accepted. Generally, Visa and Mastercard have wider acceptance there than Discover and American Express.
While you can certainly bring your Amex and Discover cards, it’s best to pack a backup. That way, you won’t get stuck in a stressful situation where you can’t pay for something because your card isn’t accepted.
A substantial welcome bonus
If you’re headed to Europe, you might want to consider picking up a new credit card welcome bonus. Whether you want to cover some of your travel expenses or use your travel spending to meet credit card spending requirements, the timing could work out to your advantage.
If you want to cover a few hotel nights, consider a hotel credit card. The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card is an excellent pick because it offers 100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. The card’s $95 annual fee is reasonable, especially if you’re saving hundreds of dollars on hotel bookings.
An airline credit card welcome bonus can save you even more money by covering the cost of airfare to Europe. For example, the United℠ Explorer Card* offers 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months of account opening. This bonus is enough for one round-trip ticket to Europe.
Transferable rewards earned with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Citi Premier® Card can provide even more flexibility.
The Citi Premier bonus is among the highest at 60,000 points after $4,000 spent within the first three months of account opening. You can use those points for flights to Europe through transfer partners like Aviana Lifemiles, Flying Blue, Turkish Miles&Smiles and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. In fact, Virgin Atlantic has one of the cheapest award tickets to Europe, starting at just 10,000 miles each way in economy class.
Bonus points on travel and dining
With the favorable dollar-to-euro exchange rate, you might be tempted to splurge a little during your trip to Europe. You’ll want a credit card that will reward you generously for these purchases. Your biggest expenses will likely be travel and dining, which is why a card like the American Express® Gold Card would be ideal to bring along. The card earns 4X points on dining worldwide and 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on AmexTravel.com.
If you’re looking for even higher rewards potential, the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card offers 10X miles on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel. You’ll also earn 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One and 2X miles on all purchases. So whether you’re planning to shop till you drop or splurging on hotels, you’ll earn generous rewards with this card.
No foreign transaction fees
Earning lots of points during your Europe adventure should be a priority, but not if you accrue 3 percent or more in foreign transaction fees. Luckily, you can avoid these pesky fees by opting for a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
Most travel rewards cards waive these fees, allowing you to earn points and protect your purchases without the added cost. Examples include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card.
Even some no-annual-fee cards like the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card offer no foreign transaction fees when you use your card abroad.
Most importantly, you’ll want to be aware of popular credit cards that don’t waive this fee, like the Citi® Double Cash Card and Chase Freedom Unlimited®. The last thing you want is to get penalized for using your credit card abroad, so skip these cards in favor of ones that waive these fees.
Most people who travel internationally, including to Europe, will buy travel insurance to protect their trip. It’s a good idea, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic. If your trip is canceled or interrupted due to illness or other covered reasons, insurance will reimburse any non-refundable travel expenses. This layer of protection can save you thousands of dollars in an emergency.
But you don’t have to pay for this safety net if you have the right credit card in your wallet. Plenty of credit cards include travel protection like trip interruption/cancellation coverage, trip delay reimbursement, travel accident insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and primary rental coverage. The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers some of the most comprehensive coverage if you charge your travel expenses to the card.
- Emergency evacuation and transportation coverage: Up to $100,000 per trip
- Primary auto rental collision damage waiver: Up to $75,000 for theft or collision damage
- Trip cancellation/interruption insurance: Up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip
- Lost luggage reimbursement: Up to $3,000 per person
- Trip delay reimbursement: Up to $500 per ticket
- Emergency evacuation and transportation
Chip and PIN capability
If you use your credit card in Europe, you might be surprised when the cashier asks for a PIN. Chip and PIN credit cards are more common in Europe and considered more secure than the chip and signature cards we have in the U.S. But not to worry – lots of popular U.S. credit cards are equipped with this technology. They include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Citi Premier® Card and Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card.
To find out if your credit card is chip and PIN enabled, simply call your card company and ask if you can set up a PIN. Many rewards credit cards have this capability and you can even set a PIN upon activation. But if you’re unsure, a simple call will get you answers. The last thing you want during your trip to Europe is for your card to be rejected because you don’t have PIN capability. Find out ahead of your trip and set it up, if possible.
Global Entry fee credit
Having Global Entry can make your return home from Europe much more pleasant on the return. This trusted traveler program gets you expedited entry into the U.S. While everyone else stands in a long line at passport control, you can skip to the Global Entry kiosk, scan your passport and get waved through in a matter of minutes. If you have Global Entry, you’ll also be enrolled in TSA PreCheck, which gets you into an expedited line for security screening where you keep your shoes and light jacket on.
The Global Entry application fee is a downright bargain at just $100 for five years. However, you can get this fee reimbursed with certain credit cards. They include the Capital One Venture, Chase Sapphire Preferred and United Explorer Card. The Global Entry application fee credit offsets the first year’s annual fee on these cards. While it’s not the only benefit you should consider when choosing a credit card for European travel, enough credit cards offer it that it’s worth being mindful of.
The bottom line
Europe is becoming increasingly cashless and traveling with a credit card is mandatory these days. While you can get by with any credit card, choosing the right one will ensure that your card is accepted, you earn points and don’t incur additional fees in the process. If you take it a step further, you can even improve your travel experience and offset the cost entirely. Best of all, you’ll have peace of mind and can focus on enjoying your trip.
*All information about the United℠ Explorer Card has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.