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The best and worst credit cards to earn bonus points when abroad

Aug. 25, 2022
10 min read
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You might be surprised — in a bad way — to return home from an international trip and realize you earned a measly 1 point per dollar on all of your expenses during that trip. What gives?

If you aren't aware, your favorite credit card for bonus categories may earn bonus points on purchases only in the U.S. With that in mind, let's look at "use this, not that" for credit cards you should swipe on your next international trip.

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Restaurants and dining outside the US

The list of credit cards that earn bonus points at restaurants in the U.S. is long. However, several of those cards don't earn bonus points outside the U.S. This will include your Hilton credit cards from American Express.

MATT DUTILE/GETTY IMAGES

A better option is the Citi Prestige® Card. You'll earn 5 ThankYou Rewards points per dollar at restaurants worldwide, as well as with airlines and travel agencies. Cardholders earn 3 points per dollar at hotels and with cruise lines plus 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. TPG values these points at 1.8 cents apiece, meaning you're getting a 9% return when dining abroad. Plus, there are no foreign transaction fees. The Prestige Card has a $495 annual fee but is no longer open to new applicants.

Another good option is the American Express® Gold Card. You'll earn 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar at restaurants worldwide (plus 4 points per dollar on takeout and delivery in the U.S.). Cardholders also earn 4 points per dollar on up to $25,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets per calendar year (then 1 point per dollar), 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with the airline or through the Amex Travel portal and 1 point per dollar on all other eligible purchases. There are no foreign transaction fees, and points are worth 2 cents apiece according to TPG's valuations, giving you an 8% return on your dining purchases. The card has a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees).

The information for the Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The best credit cards for dining

Food delivery outside the US

Food delivery is big business these days. You may have Uber credits from American Express (which you can use with Uber Eats), Grubhub/Seamless credits, Grubhub+ and Gopuff credits. These can lead to free food being delivered to your door.

Unfortunately, these benefits only apply in the U.S. That means using cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express, Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card or even a Delta cobranded credit card for food delivery in other countries won't qualify for free deliveries or any bonus points on these purchases.

OSCAR WONG/GETTY IMAGES

A better option is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, as you'll earn 3 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on dining and at restaurants worldwide; however, if you book via Chase Dining, you can earn 10 points per dollar. Cardholders also earn 10 points per dollar on hotels and car rentals purchased through the Chase travel portal, 5 points per dollar on flights purchased through the Chase travel portal, 3 points per dollar on all other travel (excluding the $300 travel credit) and 1 point per dollar on everything else. TPG values Chase's Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents apiece, giving you a 6% return when dining abroad (boosted to 20% if booked through Chase Dining). There are no foreign transaction fees, and the card's annual fee is $550.

Also consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, with which you can earn 3 points per dollar on takeout, food delivery and at restaurants worldwide. Cardholders also earn 5 points per dollar on travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal (excluding purchases reimbursed by the annual $50 hotel credit); 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides through March 31, 2025; 3 points per dollar on select streaming services and online grocery orders; 2 points per dollar on travel; and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. The Sapphire Preferred has no foreign transaction fees and an annual fee of $95.

You could also use the Citi Prestige and Amex Gold Card (both mentioned above), as these cards will earn bonus points on food delivery under their broad "restaurants and dining" categories.

Related: Make the most of your food delivery orders with these 7 credit cards

Gas stations outside the US

When filling up your tank in the U.S., you may choose to pay with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card or Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card as they're on our list of the best credit cards for gas purchases. However, you won't earn any bonus points on gas purchases when using these credit cards in other countries.

ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

Instead, consider the Citi Premier® Card, which earns 3 ThankYou Rewards points per dollar at gas stations worldwide. Cardholders also earn 3 points per dollar at restaurants, supermarkets, hotels and on air travel. Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. There's no foreign transaction fees, and the annual fee is $95.

An often-overlooked option is the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi. You can earn 4% cash back on eligible gas, and EV charging purchases (on the first $7,000 in combined purchases between gas and electrical vehicle charging each year, then 1% back) — and this isn't reserved only for Costco gas stations. Cardholders also earn 3% back on restaurants and travel, 2% back on in-store and online Costco purchases and 1% back on all other purchases. The card has no annual fee but does require an active Costco membership. There are no foreign transaction fees on the Costco Visa card.

Related: Best credit cards for gas purchases

Supermarket and grocery purchases outside the US

At home, you may be using the American Express Gold Card, Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card from American Express or The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express for grocery store purchases. However, these cards won't earn any bonus points on these purchases when you're outside the U.S.

The information for the Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card and the Amex EveryDay Credit Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

MARIA SAVENKO/SHUTTERSTOCK

Consider using the Citi Premier Card for these purchases, as you'll earn 3 ThankYou Rewards points per dollar at supermarkets worldwide. Cardholders also earn 3 points per dollar at restaurants, gas stations, hotels and on air travel. Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. There are no foreign transaction fees and the annual fee is $95.

Another good option is the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, which provides unlimited 3% cash back at grocery stores. Cardholders also earn 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases and tickets at Vivid Seats; 4% back on dining, entertainment and streaming services; and 1% back on all other purchases. Cash-back rewards are worth 1 cent apiece. The card has a $95 annual fee and does not charge foreign transaction fees.

The information for the Savor Cash card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: 6 foolproof ways to maximize rewards on grocery spending

Avoiding foreign transaction fees

Imagine coming home from a trip to another country to find out you paid an extra fee every time you swiped your credit card. That can be a shocking reality if you use a card with foreign transaction fees. You might be using cards like the Citi® Double Cash Card, Chase Freedom Flex or Chase Freedom Unlimited for your everyday purchases while in the U.S. Unfortunately, you shouldn't use these cards at merchants in other countries.

JACOB LUND/SHUTTERSTOCK

To avoid foreign transaction fees, consider the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, as you can earn 2 Capital One miles per dollar on everyday purchases worldwide. Cardholders also earn 5 miles per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals booked through Capital One Travel and 5 miles per dollar spent on cars booked through Turo (through May 16, 2023). There are no foreign transaction fees, and the card has a $95 annual fee.

Also consider the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card, which earns 1.5 Premium Rewards points per dollar on everyday purchases. Cardholders also earn 2 points per dollar on travel and dining. Those with Bank of America Preferred Rewards status can boost these earnings by up to 75%, as well. There are no foreign transaction fees, and points can be redeemed at 1 cent apiece. The card has a $95 annual fee.

Related: Savvy Saturday: Avoid foreign transaction fees while in the US

Bottom line

A little extra planning for which credit cards you'll keep in your wallet on an overseas trip can avoid the shock of not earning bonus points and the frustration of paying foreign transaction fees on each purchase.

Many credit cards apply their bonus-earning categories worldwide. However, knowing which cards don't earn bonus points and miles in other countries can help you choose the right credit card for your purchases when traveling internationally.

For rates and fees for the Amex Gold, click here

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases