What are the best credit cards for European travel?

Written by
Erica Sandberg
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European vacations have risen to the top of many travelers’ bucket lists. From Denmark to Greece, Portugal to Austria, people are packing their bags and preparing for destinations they’ve put off for years. If you’re among them, you’ll want to bring the right credit card with you. It can help you have a great time at the lowest possible cost. 

Here is what to look for in a travel card, and an overview of the best cards for European travel – no matter which country you visit.

What to look for in a European vacation credit card

No foreign transaction fees

Make sure the card you bring does not charge you for foreign transactions. These fees can really add up. Depending on the account, you may be assessed a fee of between 1% and 5% of the purchase. Therefore, if you were to charge $5,000 on a card with a 4% foreign transaction fee, your bill would grow by $200. 

Airport experience

Although flying has lost much of its past elegance, a good travel card can make the experience more pleasurable. 

A card that is co-branded with an airline often gives annual passes to the company’s lounge, while other travel cards offer extensive lounge access through Priority Pass Membership. These lounges provide a respite from crowds, and can save you money since they are stocked with complimentary food and beverages.  

If your card gives Priority Pass membership, you may also have restaurant access to eat and drink for free at various places within the airport.

Many travel cards, especially those connected to a specific airline, will allow you to jump the line with priority boarding.

And then there are all the travel related benefits, such as credits for TSA PreCheck, to expedite security screening for flights from U.S. airports, and Global Entry, which combines TSA PreCheck with swift U.S. customs screening when you fly into the U.S.

Planning on checking your bags? Some cards cover the cost of bag check for both you and your travel partners. Since fees are often in the $35 per bag range, it can save you a considerable sum – and you won’t have to cram everything into a small overhead bag. 

A few credit cards offer annual companion passes, too. Just pay the taxes for the person who is joining you and you’re ready to go!

Statement credits

To keep costs within reason, check out credit cards that offer valuable statement credits. They can reduce the amount you owe after making charges. 

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers a reimbursement of up to $300 in statement credit each account anniversary to cover a variety of travel expenses including airfare and hotel charges. The Capital One Venture X card is also another good option offering credit for travel. Cardholders can earn $300 credit annually for bookings made through Capital One Travel.

Rewards and bonuses

A credit card with solid travel rewards and a strong welcome bonus can go far towards your next European vacation. Look for a card that earns rewards on travel purchases so you can earn leading up to your trip, but also consider whether your card will continue to earn you rewards while you travel. You can continue earning on things like restaurant purchases and perhaps even grocery store purchases to stock up your Airbnb kitchen. Just make sure those rewards are earned internationally and not just in the U.S.

Credit card welcome bonuses are something else to consider. If your card has a whopping welcome bonus for new cardholders – say 50,000 airline miles once meeting a certain spend threshold within the allotted time frame – you might even be able to erase the cost of your ticket price if you plan things right.

Trip insurance protection

When traveling overseas it is particularly important to be protected against unforeseen events.

If your card offers trip insurance, you may have coverage against canceled flights due to severe weather, unexpected illness or injuries and more. Depending on the policy, you will likely have to pay out of pocket, then file a claim later. Trip insurance may also cover the cost of lost or damaged luggage, and auto rental collision. 

Card and cash acceptance 

Of course, you will need to have your credit card accepted at the places you want to use it. You will likely be safe with Mastercard and Visa credit cards, but not all merchants and hotels in Europe accept American Express and Discover. When in doubt, bring one of each. 

You may also be surprised that many merchants prefer to be paid in cash or don’t accept cards at all. So while plastic is safe and financially advantageous due to the conversion rates, it’s smart to pack euros (not too much, since if it’s lost or stolen the money is gone for good). In some cases you can pay with U.S. dollars, but in general you’ll get a better deal with the local currency. 

Exchanging money in Europe, however, can be surprisingly expensive, so try to use your credit card whenever you can for the best conversion rate.  Banks in the U.S. can generally convert dollars to euros at a competitive rate, so consider converting a little cash before you go. You can also make a withdrawal from an ATM with your debit card in Europe if you need a little more. Just be sure to try and find a partner bank to your U.S. bank to avoid added fees.

As for withdrawing cash from your credit card, do so only in an emergency. You’ll be charged the cash-advance fee of 2% to 5% of the transaction, and interest will start to accrue immediately. 

Best credit cards for European travel

So which credit cards are ideal for your European excursion? Here’s our curated list, none of which charge foreign transaction fees. If you don’t already have one of these cards, consider opening an account before your trip abroad.

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  • 5x points on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 2x points on travel booked elsewhere
  • 25% more value when redeeming points through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • AnnualFees annual fee

This is a terrific and well-priced card that can help you travel comfortably. It offers numerous airline and hotel loyalty partners so you aren’t restricted to one or two brands if you want to transfer your rewards. The sign-up bonus is 60,000 points, good for $750 toward travel, after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. It also comes with a $50 Annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, which can take a little edge off your stay.

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  • 10x points on hotels and car rentals and 5x points on flights purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on all other travel purchases
  • 50% more value when redeeming points through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Priority Pass Select membership
  • AnnualFees annual fee

New cardholders can earn 60,000 bonus points worth $900 toward travel after charging $4,000 in the first three months of opening an account. The rewards earning potential is high, and you’ll get a $300 annual travel statement credit each account anniversary to cover a variety of travel expenses including airfare and hotel charges. This card offers Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application reimbursement and access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, enabling you to enjoy room upgrades and complimentary daily breakfast. 

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  • $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application reimbursement
  • 5x miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 2x miles per dollar on all other purchases
  • AnnualFees annual fee

You get a lot out of this card for a relatively low annual fee. It begins with the 75,000-mile bonus, worth $750 in travel, earned after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening the account. You can redeem the miles for almost any travel purchase, too, from Europe’s famous bed and breakfast accommodations to train tickets, boat tours, and excursions. You can also transfer your miles to over 15 travel loyalty programs for excellent flexibility.

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  • $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application reimbursement
  • Access to Capital One Lounge and the Partner Lounge Network
  • 10x miles on hotels and rental cars and 5x miles on flights  when booked through Capital One Travel, 2x miles on everything else
  • AnnualFees annual fee

This is a great card to take with you to Europe, especially if you are bouncing around various airports because it offers a full range of lounges. You’ll also receive $300 annual credit when you book through Capital One Travel. If you don’t have this card already, you can get a jumpstart on lowering your trip costs with the 75,000 bonus miles – valued at $750 in travel – which you will earn once you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening the account. The 10,000 mile anniversary bonus can also help smooth out costs. And if you’re looking for luxury, booking accommodations through Capital One Travel is the way to go in style.  

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  • 10x points on hotel and car rental bookings made on the Citi Travel℠ portal (through 6/30/2024); 3x points on air travel, other hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and at supermarkets; 1x on everything else
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit
  • AnnualFees annual fee

One of the best features of this card for your European adventure is that you can earn 10 points on hotels, car rentals and attractions when you book them through Citi’s travel℠ portal. The $100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more every year is a nice touch. The card has a decent welcome bonus, too. You’ll earn 60,000 ThankYou® Points, valued at around $750 in travel, after making $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of opening the account. You can transfer your points to a number of airline loyalty programs, such as TrueBlue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. Citi is a CardRatings advertiser.  

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  • Get up to $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card. (Minimum two-night stay required.)
  • Select one qualifying airline and then receive up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year when incidental fees are charged by the airline to your Card.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR Plus at 45+ airports nationwide and get up to $189 back per year on your membership (subject to auto-renewal) when you use your Platinum Card.
  • Either a $100 statement credit every four years for a Global Entry application fee or a statement credit up to $85 every 4.5 years for a TSA PreCheck  (through a TSA official enrollment provider) application fee, when charged to your Platinum Card.
  • Enjoy access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 per calendar year, and 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • AnnualFees annual fee
  • Terms apply. Enrollment required for select benefits.

It’s nice to have an American Express card with you on your travels throughout Europe, especially if you’re looking for a luxury travel experience. This card comes with an 80,000 Membership Rewards points bonus after you spend $8,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership. To add a layer of luxury and protection to your trip, this card offers concierge service. Professionals are at the ready to help you book tickets for concerts and athletic events, secure hotel or restaurant reservations, and assist with lost luggage and missed flights. American Express is a CardRatings advertiser.

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  • Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • Use your card and get up to $189 in statement credit back per year on your CLEAR Plus membership.
  • Either a $100 statement credit every four years for a Global Entry application fee or a statement credit up to $85 every 4.5 years for a TSA PreCheck  (through a TSA official enrollment provider) application fee, when charged to yourcard.
  • Access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X point for each dollar you spend on other eligible purchases.
  • AnnualFees annual fee
  • Terms apply. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Heading to Europe for business? You can also make it pleasurable with the Amex Business Platinum card. Not only is the reward rate excellent, but you can earn a whopping 120,000 Membership Rewards points after you charge $15,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months. You will have plenty of airport lounges from which to choose, from Paris to Budapest. Since this card gives you access to the Fine Hotels and Resorts program, you are entitled to complimentary room upgrades, free breakfast, early check ins and late check outs. If you want guidance wining and dining your clients in a foreign country, reach out to the concierge service who can assist no matter where you are in the world. 

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author
Erica Sandberg
Cardratings Contributor

Erica is a personal finance reporter and writer. Her passion is helping individuals, families and small business owners understand money and credit so they can achieve their goals. Erica has contributed to countless media outlets, hosted the television program “Making it in San Francisco” and...Read more

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