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Top Rewards Credit Cards for International Travel

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Generally, I advocate using whichever rewards card offers the best return in points and miles, but there are other factors to keep in mind when you leave the country. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen looks at four cards that you should think about keeping in your wallet on your next international trip.

If you’re reading The Points Guy, chances are good that you’re (at least somewhat) interested in traveling internationally. However, jetting out of the country carries its own challenges and considerations, and one of the most important ones is which credit card(s) to carry. In this post, I’ll explain what you should look for in a credit card when you’re outside the US, and discuss what I think are the best credit cards out there for travel abroad.

Many cards offer solid value when used abroad, but which are the best options? Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

One of the most important features to look for in a card you plan to use outside the US is waived foreign transaction fees. These fees can add as much as 3% to every purchase, so avoiding them is an easy way to keep costs down, especially since cards that waive these fees come in all different shapes and sizes. I used this as the baseline of my analysis, as all of the cards on the list below will not charge you extra for making purchases outside the country.

Naturally, there are many other factors that make a card appealing for international travel; in compiling this list, I looked for some (or all) of the following characteristics:

  • Chip (and PIN) capabilities
  • Trip interruption and/or cancellation insurance
  • Rental car coverage
  • Lost or delayed baggage
  • Emergency evacuation
  • Purchase protection

The chart below summarizes whether these benefits are included with each of the credit cards on my list:

  Annual Fee Trip Cancellation Trip Delay Lost Baggage Delayed Baggage Car Rental Insurance Purchase Protection (per claim / account) Emergency Evacuation Travel Accident Insurance
Chase Sapphire Preferred $95 $10,000 $500 $3,000 $500 Primary $500 / $50,000 None $500,000
Citi Prestige $450 $5,000 $500 $3,000 $500 Primary (outside the US) $10,000 / $50,000 $100,000 $1,000,000
Ink Plus $95 $5,000 $300 $3,000 $500 Primary (if renting for business) $10,000 / $50,000 None $500,000
SPG Amex $95 None None None None Secondary (primary for a fee) $1,000 / $50,000 None $100,000

Note that each of these benefits comes with a lot of fine print and red tape, so don’t assume (for example) that you’ll automatically get a check for $10,000 if your trip is cut short. The coverage options are basically insurance policies that require you to submit a claim, so you’ll need significant documentation to utilize them. Many of them also require you to charge the entire cost of the trip to the given card; as always, read the terms and conditions of your coverage very carefully.

In addition, remember that each one of these cards has its own value proposition that goes beyond just international travel. You’ll see that I deliberately chose cards that cover the annual fee spectrum ($95 – $450), so in addition to these travel protections, consider how each card can help you earn the rewards and benefits you want.

Let’s take a closer look at each card to see which one would be best for your upcoming international trip.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of my all-time top credit card recommendations.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of my all-time top credit card recommendations.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Current sign-up bonus: 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, plus 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months.

Annual Fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

Key travel benefits:

  • Trip Cancellation/Interruption — You’re covered for up to $10,000 of pre-paid, nonrefundable travel expenses if you have to cancel or interrupt your trip.
  • Trip Delay — If your trip is delayed more than 12 hours or forces an overnight hotel stay, you can get reimbursed for expenses such as meals and lodging up to $500 per ticket.
  • Lost Luggage — If your checked or carry-on bags are damaged or lost, you’re covered up to $3,000 per passenger.
  • Delayed Luggage — When your baggage is delayed over 6 hours, you’ll be reimbursed for essential purchases like toiletries and clothing up to $100 per day for 5 days.
  • Car Rental Insurance — Chase added primary car rental insurance on the Sapphire Preferred back in 2014, which means that you are covered for losses or damages to a rental (of 31 days or less) without having to submit a claim to your own insurance company.
  • Purchase Protection — You’re covered for theft or damage on new purchases for 120 days (up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account).
  • Travel Accident Insurance — The card includes up to $500,000 of accidental death or dismemberment coverage when you use it to pay for your air, bus, train or cruise transportation

Analysis: This card is one of TPG’s favorites, and offers a ton of value for a relatively low annual fee. Ultimate Rewards points regularly appear near the top of TPG’s monthly valuations, and for good reason. I love transferring points to Hyatt for luxurious award stays at properties like the Andaz Wall Street, though there are several other ways to get maximum value out of your Ultimate Rewards points. The card has also included EMV chip technology since 2013, adding yet another appealing characteristic for international travelers.

The Citi Prestige carries a high annual fee but a number of benefits that make it a great option for traveling outside the US.
Citi Prestige carries a high annual fee, but comes with a number of benefits that make it a great option for traveling outside the US.

2. Citi Prestige Card

Current sign-up bonus: 50,000 ThankYou points after making $3,000 in purchases with your card in the first three months the account is open.

Annual Fee: $450

Key travel benefits:

  • Annual Air Travel Credit — You’ll automatically receive a $250 credit each year that can be applied to flight-related expenses charged to your card, including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.
  • Trip Cancellation/Interruption — If a trip you paid for with your Citi Prestige card is canceled or interrupted for a covered reason, you’ll receive up to $5,000 of reimbursement per person to cover nonrefundable expenses.
  • Trip Delay — You can receive up to $500 of reimbursement for expenses you incur due to a delay of more than 3 hours.
  • Lost Luggage — You’ll enjoy coverage of up to $3,000 per person, per trip when your baggage is lost on a trip paid for with your Citi Prestige Card.
  • Delayed Luggage — Like the trip delay coverage, when your baggage doesn’t get to your destination within 3 hours of your arrival, you’re covered for up to $500 of reimbursement for necessary items (until your bags arrive).
  • Car Rental Insurance — For car rentals outside the US, you’ll also enjoy primary car rental coverage when you use your Citi Prestige Card.
  • Purchase Protection — Citi Prestige offers purchase protection coverage of up to $10,000 per item (or incident), up to a maximum of $50,000 per year per account.
  • Emergency Evacuation — Citi Prestige covers up to $100,000 in medical evacuation costs if you become seriously ill or are injured on a trip paid for entirely with your card.
  • Travel Accident Insurance — When you pay for the entirety of a trip with your Citi Prestige Card and are seriously injured or killed while traveling, you may be entitled to compensation of up to $1 million.

Analysis: Citi Prestige provides a host of benefits like a fourth night free on hotel stays, three free rounds of golf, a $250 annual air travel credit and the most generous lounge access policy of any credit card. While ThankYou points aren’t the most valuable currency out there, there are still several ways to redeem them for great value. When you factor in all of these travel benefits, this is a terrific card to have in your wallet while traveling abroad.

The Ink Plus is one of the best travel rewards business credit cards on the market.
The Ink Plus is one of the best travel rewards business credit cards on the market.

3. Ink Plus Business Card

Current sign-up bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening.

Annual Fee: $95

Key travel benefits:

  • Trip Cancellation/Interruption — You can be reimbursed for up to $5,000 of nonrefundable expenses when your trip is canceled or interrupted for a covered reason.
  • Trip Delay — If your trip is delayed by more than 12 hours, you can receive up to $300 in reimbursement for expenses that aren’t covered by an airline (like meals or lodging).
  • Lost Luggage — Ink Plus offers up to $3,000 of coverage for lost or damaged luggage when your trip is paid for entirely with the card.
  • Delayed Luggage — You can be reimbursed for up to $500 of expenses ($100 per day for 5 days) when your baggage is delayed for at least 6 hours.
  • Car Rental Insurance — When you rent a car for business purposes, the Ink Plus offers primary coverage; otherwise, it’s secondary coverage that will kick in after your submit a claim and are reimbursed by your own insurance company.
  • Purchase Protection — Like Citi Prestige, Ink Plus offers $10,000 of protection against theft or damage of new purchases, though this is limited to $50,000 over the lifetime of the account.
  • Travel Accident Insurance — Ink Plus offers $500,000 of travel insurance to cover accidental death or dismemberment.

Analysis: The Ink Plus Business Card is another product that offers a strong value proposition, even if you don’t own a formal business. You’ll earn Ultimate Rewards points on every purchase, and earn 5x points on purchases at office supply stores and with telecommunications and cable TV providers (on up to $50,000 of spending annually). When you factor in these additional protections, this too is a great option to have in your wallet when traveling outside the US.

The American Express
The new SPG Amex is (finally) a solid option for international travelers.

4. Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express

Current sign-up bonus: 30,000 Starpoints after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months (this limited-time offer is available through September 14, 2015).

Annual Fee: $95 (waived for the first year)

Key travel benefits:

  • Car Rental Insurance — The SPG Amex provides secondary car rental coverage, but you can enroll in the issuer’s primary coverage for a flat rate on rentals of up to 42 days. This is actually free to opt in; you aren’t charged until you use an enrolled card to rent a car.
  • Purchase Protection — You’ll be covered for damage and theft up to $1,000 per claim up to $50,000 per account per year.
  • Travel Accident Insurance — The SPG Amex offers you up to $100,000 in compensation in the case of death or dismemberment on a trip paid for with the card.

Analysis: At first glance, this card may not seem as impressive as others when it comes to travel benefits. However, the Starwood Amex does have several things going for it. For starters, Starpoints typically take the top spot in TPG’s monthly valuations. His most recent list pegs them at 2.4 cents apiece — higher than any other loyalty currency. In addition, American Express announced some significant enhancements to the card back in June that just kicked in on August 11th. The move to get rid of foreign transaction fees was long overdue, but the card also added the Boingo American Express Preferred Plan for cardholders, which gives you access to over 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the globe, helping you stay connected when traveling internationally.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, any card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees is a good basic option for traveling abroad. However, it’s important to consider the other available benefits and protections in order to maximize your purchases and make sure your trip goes smoothly. I hope this post has given you some ideas as to what you should look for when choosing which cards to take with you on an international trip.

What’s your favorite rewards card for international purchases?

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

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  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named a 'Best Credit Card' for Travel Rewards by MONEY Magazine
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 16.24%-23.24% Variable Introductory Annual Fee of $0 the first year, then $95 0% Excellent Credit