My Life as a Traveler

In Praise of the Mighty Credit Card

Anyone who knows me knows that I pay for just about everything with one of my credit cards. Why? Miles and travel points, of course! If there's any way that I can save money and earn travel credit where it doesn't cost me anything, you know I'm in!

So, what are the best credit cards to use for travel? Here are my current favorites:

My credit union Visa – best for ATM machines. You should know by now that traveler's checks and even changing dollars for euros in a bank is sooo passe. The best way to get your spending money in Europe is to use a cash machine. There are lots of them, they are easy to find, and, if you have the right card, there is no exchange fee or higher exchange rate charged when you use them. Although this card does not give me any travel points of credit, there is no ATM fee when I use it, no matter where. The exchange rate is the same as in a bank, with no extra fees. So, for travel in Europe, at least, make sure that your card has no ATM fee. The only thing I have to do is be sure to call the credit union and let them know when and where I'll be traveling so they don't think those Rome ATM charges are fradulent. And of course, make sure you know your PIN code. If you have forgotten it or have not written it down somewhere, you cannot just call or email and get it. It must be snail-mailed to you from the bank and you have to plan on three weeks to get it. Gotta plan ahead!

My Chase Sapphire Visa – best for purchases in another country. Many credit cards (my credit union Visa, my American Express, for example) charge up to a 4% fee on purchases in a foreign currency. This can really add up. This Visa card has no foreign exchange fees and gives me points I can use for future trips as well.

My Starwood Preferred American Express – this is my go-to card for purchases at home. I don't use it on travel because it has huge additional fees. However, I do bring it to use as a backup in case one of the other cards has a problem. Points go to hotel stays at Starwood properties, which start at 4000 points per night. The cool thing is that if you spend a certain amount of money in the first few months after receiving the card, they give you 40,000 points! That's at least a week of hotel stays at a Sheraton. Not bad.

I also have a USAirways Visa card, which I use for purchasing tickets. I am a USAirways frequent traveler, so using this card to buy tickets gets me more points. Plus, they give you 30,000 miles after the first purchase. A roundtrip ticket within the US will cost 25,000 miles. That's a free ticket plus they include a companion pass – buy a regular fare ticket and the second person flies for $99. I do not, however, take this on on trips.

I also have a Citibank Mastercard, my go-to card before my Chase Sapphire visa. My ticket for this upcoming trip was FREE using the points I had accumulated on this credit card. Yay!

The main thing to remember when using credit cards on travel is to be sure to call the 800 number on the back of the card (except for American Express – no need) and advise them that you will be using the card in a foreign country. They note it in their fraud file and now, that Rome cash withdrawal will not be flagged as suspicious.

Three days to go before takeoff!


One response

  1. mary

    Good article-your travel agent pal agrees with this article 102%.

    May 10, 2013 at 4:18 pm

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