Credit Cards I Use While Traveling

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I’m currently packing to head on a pretty big trip, in fact our “biggest” trip ever, and naturally one of the things we are packing are rewards credit cards.  I have a fairly complex system of credit cards we maximize for various category bonuses at home, but that system isn’t practical or necessary when we travel.  When we travel, I am most concerned about having cards that are accepted where we are going, that won’t cost me an extra fee to use, and that can offer me protections or perks if I need them.

Here are the cards that I pack in my travel wallet, as well as why they make the cut:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card:

This card has the most secure spot in my travel wallet for several reasons.  First, it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, so we can use it around the world without extra fees.  Second, it is available with a chip so that it is easier to use outside the US – even at many unmanned kiosks that don’t accept traditional non-chip US credit cards.

The Platinum Card® Amex or Mercedes-Benz Platinum:

Our Platinum card also has a firm spot in our travel wallet, but for different reasons that the Sapphire Preferred.  The Amex Platinum gets us into Centurion Lounges for free, but it is also a card I trust in the event we had some sort of unforeseen emergency on the road.  If you need assistance and are more than 100 miles from home, you can the use the Premium Global Assist Hotline and have 24/7 medical, legal, financial or other select emergency coordination and assistance services, including medical and legal referrals, passport replacement, cash wires and more.  The hotline and coordination are free, but other charges from third parties they set-up are not necessarily free.  The Amex Platinum also does not charge foreign transaction fees, so while it isn’t my favorite card to put spending on since there aren’t really any bonus categories, it won’t cost you extra if you do use it out of the United States.

Ink Bold® Business Card or Ink Plus® Business Card:

Some of my travel is business travel, and I like to keep as much of that in one spot as I can for organizational reasons without missing out on too many points.  I gotta admit having lots of cards in rotation makes my own accounting a bit more complex.  These cards have lots of great bonus categories, but the ones most relevant to travel are 2x on hotels and gas, so we do use them for those categories and other expenses on the road.  It’s also a good back-up to the Chase Sapphire Preferred in the event the retailer needs a imprint of the raised numbers (rare, but does still happen).

Hotel Specific Cards – especially for domestic travel:

If I have a hotel specific co-branded card for where we are staying, then I try to bring that card along so I can earn bonus points on hotel charges.  For example, you could bring a Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card to earn 10x on Club Carlson hotel expenses put on the card, or a Citi® Hilton HHonors Reserve Card to earn 10x on Hilton HHonors expenses on that card.  However, be aware that many of the hotel specific cards still charge foreign transaction fees, so that may wash out the value of the points you are earning outside the US.  In this example, the Club Carlson card does charge foreign transaction fees while the HHonors Reserve Card does not.

Card Used to Purchase the Airfare:

It is also a good idea to bring the credit card that you used to purchase the airfare.  I have heard many stories of various airlines around the world requesting that the credit card used to purchase the airfare be presented at check-in.  I’ve still never hit this issue, but that doesn’t mean I won’t in the future.  Additionally, if you are traveling with the card you used to purchase the airfare, then you can also have easy access to their assistance in the event of lost/delayed baggage or for other trip interruption issues that might be covered expenses on the credit card that you used to purchase the airfare.

Cards From at Least Two Banks:

I travel with far fewer credit cards than I run errands with in my normal life, but I still like to have at least three credit cards from at least two banks.  I want to have a back-up option in the event something happens with one of my accounts due to a fraud alert or other issue that might temporarily freeze my ability to use a certain card or even accounts within a certain bank.  I also make sure to have a debit card that I can use to easily pull cash out of an ATM if needed.

What cards make the cut in your travel wallet?


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  1. The whole “no foreign transaction fees” is a bit of a scam as the bank may not apply a 3% fee, but it really depends how the actual FX rate is calculated – this can vary greatly. Do you how it’s calculated on the Sapphire card?

  2. I just got back from a trip last week and I did the same thing– took a hand full of credit cards that I knew I would use for meals (freedom), travel specifics (barclays), hotel specific card, and others. This worked out great and I was glad I was prepared. The week before, my son had gone to Costa Rica and i had given him my Chase Sapphire preferred (he is an additional card member). His card was turned down at the car rental company and hotel because they couldn’t make an impression of the card (this is what he was told). He ended up using his bank debit card to pay for almost everything all week long. Can I exchange my Chase Sapphire for a card that would be better accepted in the future? I sent a secure message to Chase yesterday but have not heard back from them. Thanks for any input you have on this.

  3. CSP completely useless for three weeks in Japan. Tried it everywhere, failed, and ended up using Ink Bold. Citi Aadvantage Executive or whatever it’s called worked like a charm everywhere in Turkey, although every vendor seemed surprised I had to sign a slip.
    Amex Plat is a pretty good play in combination with the amex rental car coverage for $25 per rental: valuable peace of mind depending on where you’re traveling.

  4. I just spoke with Chase and they informed me that they can replace my Chase Sapphire with cards with raised numbers so that this problem will not happen on a future trip. Unfortunately, son is back from his trip now and I don’t see him going out of the country for atleast 5 months. I am hoping that he will have his own CSP by then.

  5. One debit card is not enough.
    There are numerous reports of ATM machines swallowing a card and not giving it back. Also eating a card; giving it back in unusable condition.
    Though I haven’t had those issues personally, I have had it happen that my bank was updating it’s system in the wee hours, which happened to be daytime hours where I was, and debit was unavailable.
    Plus if you did get fraud on an ATM card, you can have it shut down immediately, and use the other one. I always have at least two debit cards from different banks for International trips. I favor my Citi ATM card, since they don’t charge for use at non-Citi ATMs overseas, nor do they charge any extra fees.

    • Robert, that’s smart. I guess I technically also usually have a Bluebird and I have used it in a pinch at an ATM abroad. Options are always good!

  6. The Fairmont Visa offers primary rental car coverage in most countries, so I take it with me if I will be renting a car.

    Regarding AMEX Plat: “but it is also a card I trust in the event we had some sort of unforeseen emergency on the road.”

    Unfortunately, this came true for us on a trip we took to Central America. Everything stolen except our passports.

    Amazingly – to the point where my loyalty to AMEX, and the Platinum Card, was increased significantly – AMEX came through with a cash wire to a nearby Moneygram location the next morning! To top it off, they did not charge me any fees whatsoever. When I returned home, the exact amount they wired me was on my statement. Truly exceptional.

    I know it had to cost them money to make this happen (I am not sure how much), but they did not charge me a cent. My partner and I still are shaking our heads, impressed with how well AMEX supported us in this difficult situation.

    The rest of our vacation was great, by the way.

    Just FYI, I called Chase first (my CSP was stolen too), and their ‘global assist hotline’ (or whatever they call it) representative suggested that I call a family member or friend to wire me money, since it is so expensive to do this through chase. I ended the call shortly after he made this statement, so I don’t know how much they would have charged for to wire me the emergency money.

  7. @Robert, good point about having a spare ATM card. I actually had my ATM card swallowed by the ATM in Indonesia. It was my own fault–I’m so used to the system here where the ATM immediately spits card back out before proceeding with transaction that I walked away from the ATM without ejecting the card. By the time I realized my error the machine had swallowed it. I was able to reach my bank to verify that the swallowed card would be destroyed and they would send me a new one. In the meantime I was fine as I was with family who could spot me cash should I need it. But this could easily not be the case elsewhere.

    I think we always need to balance lowering the risk of taking so many credit/ATM cards vs potential need.

    @Lark, yes, so far AMEX service has lived up to its reputation for me. Fortunately I didn’t have an extreme case like yours. In my case, the van I had rented for my family vacation was scratched up & vandalized. First I went through my regular car insurance, which paid only part of it. Then I remembered that I’d gone ahead with additional insurance through AMEX (its regular coverage doesn’t include passenger vans) and contacted them. I should’ve done that first, because they took care of everything with minimum fuss.

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