When we travel outside of the U.S., I always make sure that we’re bringing the right credit cards with us. I have several boxes to check off to ensure we’re covered just in case something goes sideways during our travels.
I want to make sure that the cards I’m bringing don’t charge any foreign currency fees. I also have to make sure that I have a card with Chip + PIN functionality, for when we’d need to use an automated kiosk. I’m going to bring my ATM card so I’ll be able to get some cash, which always comes in handy.
I’m also going to bring along any cards that we used to make reservations for the trip. If you made a train reservation, bought show tickets, arranged for a tour or paid for your hotel, they might ask to see the credit card you used to make the booking. That’s a good reason to try to stick to one or two cards when making advance reservations if you can.
What if I had to stick to only ONE card for the whole trip? Which one would it be?
What expenses do you have when traveling?
Think about what your main expenses are when traveling. Much of the heavy lifting for the trip has been completed. If you’re flying overseas, your airfare is already paid for. No need to bring a card with good categories for those expenses. You’ve hopefully made arrangements for a place to stay and either have already paid for those or have a card on file for the expenses.
For us, expenses while traveling fall into four main categories:
- Local Transportation
- Miscellaneous (souvenirs)
So what card is the best for those categories?
What’s The One Card For The Trip?
If I’m only able to bring one card, I have to exclude cards from American Express. While their worldwide acceptance is much better than it had been, there are still too many places that won’t take it. I have to pick between a MasterCard or Visa product.
A great overall card for travel is either the Sapphire Preferred or the Sapphire Reserve. I’m combining them into a single category because I think either one of these cards is a solid choice. The main difference is the Reserve earns 3x points on all travel and dining expenses. The Preferred earns 2x points in the same categories. I’ve found that all types of local transportation, from buses to trains, subways, taxis, UBERs and even ferries all pay the category bonus for charges worldwide.
Another option would be the Citi (ThankYou) Premier. This card pays 3x points for all travel purchases, 2x points for dining expenses and 2x points for entertainment expenses. According to this post from One Mile at a Time, here’s what counts under the entertainment category.
..select entertainment, including live entertainment, live theatrical productions, concerts, live sporting events, movie theaters, amusement parks (including zoos, aquariums, circuses and carnivals), tourist attractions (including museums and art galleries), record stores, video rental stores and on-demand internet streaming media
That sounds like many of the things we’d be doing on vacation. Earning 2x points for those expenses may make up for the slightly reduced earning from the Sapphire Reserve on dining expenses. I guess it depends on how much you pay in each category.
While any of those cards would be a good choice in my mind, if I were forced to make that decision, I’d have to go with the Arrival+ from Barclays.
It earns 2% cashback on all charges which you can use to pay for any travel expense. It is also a true Chip + Pin card, which may come in handy. I know that I’d be giving up some in specific categories and that I’m capped at earning only 2% instead of earning points, which can be worth much more. I’d take that loss because I need to have a card that I’m reasonably sure will work wherever I am.
However, this example was to say if I could only bring 1 card. If I were able to bring one card and my debit card, I’d bring the Citi Premier. It has great bonus categories for what we spend money on when we’re on vacation (food, transportation, and entertainment). If I needed to use a card with a PIN, my debit card could do that.
If I could bring two credit cards, I’d bring the AMEX Green card, which now earns 3x Membership Rewards points for travel and dining expenses. I find we can use AMEX points for our travels more than the currencies from other banks. I’d also bring the Arrival+ as the backup card for places that don’t take AMEX or require a PIN.
Fortunately, I never needed to make a decision on a single card I could bring with me on a trip. I’ll probably bring 3 or 4 with me on our trip and Sharon will have the same in her wallet. We’ll spread cards across several banks to prevent any problems if one gets a fraud alert or lost. I’ll bring the co-brand hotel card to pay for our hotel bill and room charges. If you have an AMEX Platinum, you’ll need to bring that with you to get lounge access.
These decisions all depend on which cards you have. Knowing where you spend your money when traveling can help guide you to know which cards you need to bring with you. If you’re missing a card for certain expenses, you have a good hint on which cards to be looking at for your next application.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary