5 cards I take with me on every trip abroad
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I’ve been traveling abroad quite a bit for the last nine years, though the pandemic put a stop to that. I spent the last seven months at home, rarely leaving except for the occasional grocery run and a socially distanced day trip to Monterey, Calif. In early October, I finally decided to travel to Turkey.
A two-week trip has now turned into three weeks and counting, which means I had to use my trusty arsenal of cards to pay for and maximize my travel expenses. When it comes to choosing cards to travel with, I want at least one credit card that charges no foreign transaction fees earns bonus points on travel, offers travel insurance, rental car coverage and hotel elite status benefits.
Below are the five cards I take with me on every trip abroad.
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Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
I don’t normally chase status with any hotel or airline, but I do value Hilton Diamond status courtesy of my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. For just $450 per year (see rates and fees), I get free breakfast, lounge access and 100% bonus points, among other perks while staying at Hilton hotels.
Hilton often has the largest and most varied selection of hotels in any given city and their rates are competitive too. So I often end up booking Hilton properties abroad. I get money-saving benefits, even when I’m traveling with a group, and I earn a ton of Hilton points thanks to the Aspire Card’s 14x point bonus on eligible Hilton properties.
Last year, I used the card to pay around $1,700 in charges at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives. I ended up earning almost 75,000 points through both the card and Hilton Honors. I then used those points to cover multiple free nights at the Hilton Garden Inn Konya, where rooms were going for $100 or 5,000 points per night.
Keeping the Hilton Aspire Card in my wallet has definitely paid off. This is especially true when my family has joined me on trips abroad since the program is so generous about extending benefits to multiple rooms.
Read our review of the Hilton Aspire Card.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex 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.
Citi Prestige® Card
The Citi Prestige® Card isn’t quite as useful now that all the travel protections have been removed. But I still use it for refundable travel bookings and hotel charges at non-Hilton properties. The card’s 3x bonus on hotel spending is pretty substantial for me, since I find Citi ThankYou points to be one of the most valuable currencies. I get great use out of these points and value them above Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards in some cases.
The Citi Prestige also offers a fourth-night free benefit on two bookings a year, which can add up quite a bit. I only had one trip planned this year, so I used it to knock $164 off a stay at the Hagia Sofia Mansions in Istanbul. This Curio Collection property is fairly new and features a row of historical houses converted into luxury guest rooms. The hotel even has a gorgeous pool located inside a Byzantine-era cistern, which guests can book free of charge for 45-minute blocks.
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.
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Since Citi’s travel portal gave me an error, a phone agent had to book the reservation for me through Hilton’s website. I saved $164 on my stay and still earned 15,966 Hilton points. Plus, I received free breakfast for everyone on my reservation.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
After years of resistance, I finally gave in and got myself a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card last month. The card offers a Global Entry/TSA Precheck fee credit every four years (up to $100; something I already have via my Hilton Aspire Card), travel accident insurance and auto collision damage waiver. It also earns 2x miles per $1 on every day purchases, which can be redeemed toward travel purchases at a rate of one cent each. I initially saw no use for it since I already had a 2% cash back card with no annual fee.
However, in recent years Capital One has introduced several travel transfer partners, making Venture Miles much more valuable. New applicants get 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. I applied for the card and took it with me recently on my first trip abroad since the pandemic started.
While I used mostly points and miles to cover my trip to Istanbul, I’ve been using my Capital One Venture Card to cover Uber rides. I also used it to book a one-way return fare for my sister since it was cheap and I wanted to preserve my airline miles for higher-value redemptions in the future.
Read our review of the Capital One Venture card.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred was one of my first rewards credit cards and I’ve taken it with me on every trip abroad. While I can do better than 2x on travel, the card allows me to convert my Chase Freedom Unlimited cash back to valuable Ultimate Rewards points. I bring this card with me as a back-up since it has a high credit limit and offers trip interruption/cancellation insurance.
When I’m not able to use my Citi Prestige Card (because I’m making a reservation that requires trip interruption/cancellation coverage), I pay with my Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Read our review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Charles Schwab Debit Card
Every traveler should have a Charles Schwab debit card in their wallets, along with some emergency cash in the account. That’s because Charles Schwab refunds all international ATM withdrawal fees, making this a very handy card to have during emergencies (shopping or otherwise).
All you have to do is set up a free Charles Schwab High Yield Investor checking and brokerage account. There are no monthly service fees or account minimums and the debit card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. While I wouldn’t charge any purchases to this card, it’s nice to have as a back-up in case you lose your credit cards while traveling or they stop working for whatever reason.
I've had issues with my credit cards not working at several stores in Istanbul. And when I decided to extend my trip for another week, I was happy to have some extra cash in my Charles Schwab account that I could withdraw fee-free.
If you sign up through a referral link, you can earn a bonus of up to $500 when you fund your account within 45 days.
After seven months of perpetual quarantine, I'm glad I finally got a chance to travel abroad -- and do it safely. After seeing the COVID-19 precautions they're taking here in Turkey (masks are mandatory, hand sanitizer is provided everywhere, all menus are digital, social distancing signs are all over the city, etc.), I felt comfortable enough to extended my trip.
It's certainly a nice reprieve from the poor air quality back home and the general inability to do much of anything. With these credit cards in my wallet, I'm able to not only cover additional expenses but maximize the rewards I earn.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.
Featured photo of sunset in Bodrum, Turkey, Tanatat pongphibool, thailand / Getty Images