Before I graduated from university, I decided to enter the big kid world by signing up for a great travel credit card. Up until this point I used my U.S. Bank Rewards card, which gives wonderful cash back on purchases in the United States. But, it charges a whopping 3% on all purchases overseas. To put it this way, for every $3,000 you spend, you waste $90 in overseas transaction fees. For a recent college graduate, that’s a lot of money that could be paying for, I don’t know, food.
So as the cautious buyer I am, I spent quite a few days pouring over credit card options. The best resource I could recommend is NerdWallet’s review of the Best Travel Credit Cards of 2016… I would never have been able to decide without it.
I took my time on the decision and (spoiler alert) ended up going with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
Things I looked for in my credit card:
- No foreign transaction fees (obviously)
- A low annual fee
- A major credit card brand accepted overseas (i.e. MasterCard or Visa)
- A great sign-on bonus
- Long-term, useful rewards scheme
- Independence in my choice of airline/hotel/tourism provider
No Foreign Transaction Fees
Pretty simple: if you’re getting a travel credit card for overseas travel, it should never have foreign transaction fees.
If you read the NerdWallet review, you’ll note that almost all travel credit cards have an annual fee. Most of the time, that fee is waived the first year (a great sign-on bonus). The way I think of it is like this: If you will spend $3,000 or more on a credit card in a year—which at 3% per transaction equals $90 in fees—then you usually get your money’s worth. In my case, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (the first on NerdWallet’s list) has a $95 annual fee and was a bit too much compared to my minimal spending.
The Capital One Venture annual fee was smaller at $59 (and waived the first year) and was much more manageable. I also considered the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, but with an annual fee of $89 and the same sign-on bonus as the Capital One Venture, it just made more sense to go with the lower of the two options.
Major Credit Card Accepted Overseas
This is critical. Some credit cards accepted all over the United States aren’t always welcome overseas.
During my travels, I have noted which are most usable. Visa and MasterCard are your safest bets, while Discover and American Express sometimes are not accepted at smaller establishments. To avoid the headache, I personally did not mess with a card that wasn’t Visa or MasterCard.
The Capital One Venture is a Visa, though this fact is not obvious when looking at the card. Chase Sapphire Preferred is also a Visa, though again, it is hard to tell.
Again, this is pretty straightforward on NerdWallet. Spend $4,000 in 3 months with Chase Sapphire Preferred and get 50,000 points (or about $500 in cashback credit). Or, spend $3,000 in 3 months with Capital One Venture and get 40,000 points (or $400 credit).
I went with the latter, simply because my expenses were not high enough to be able to spend $4,000 in 3 months, and the annual fee was also higher with Chase Sapphire. Plus, for spending $1,000 less, I only “lost” $100 in cashback. Barclaycard has the same sign-on bonus as Capital One Venture, but a higher annual fee.
Long-Term, Useful Reward Scheme
Capital One Venture is very straightforward, which I liked for where I’m at in life. Earn 2 miles per $1 spent, and cash-in on any travel purchase for money back. Even my visa processing fees counted as travel expenses, so I could use my miles to get money back for those purchases.
Chase Sapphire Preferred is more specific. You get 2 points per $1 on dining and travel, and 1 point per $1 on everything else. For me, who is not a constant traveler (though a frequent one) it worked better to have Capital One’s simplified system.
Barclaycard is just like Capital One Venture, with a 2 points per $1 spent scheme.
Independence in Travel Choices
This last point is a biggie… Delta has some amazing credit card rewards, but only if you primarily fly with Delta. Since they are one of the more expensive airlines and I tend to find my fares on SkyScanner or with cheap airlines like IcelandAir and WowAir, it really was not worth it to feel obligated to fly with them.
Capital One Venture allows me to book travel with anyone, anytime. They do not partner with specific airlines and make traveling and getting money back simple.
The Final Decision
After seeing the annual fee and redemption scheme for Chase Sapphire Preferred, I knew I wasn’t a big enough spender to really reap the benefits of the card. With that eliminated, it came down to Capital One Venture and Barclaycard.
Two huge factors for me were reviews on the cards and the annual fee. They have the same sign-on bonus and benefits scheme, but Capital One Venture has a $59 annual fee and Barclaycard has an $89 one.
What really tipped the scales were reviews from users. Many complained that Barclaycard frequently shuts down their card due to strange transactions (like, hello, people are using the card to travel!) and then has a very tedious process to get the card working again with poor customer service. While you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, I did not want the hassle of being in the midst of travel and having my card cut off with no way to call or email Barclays to fix it.
Capital One, though including some similar reviews, seemed to have a much more positive user experience. For me, that’s a big deal and was the final deciding factor.
I’ve been using my Capital One Venture for around 6 months now and couldn’t be happier. It is accepted everywhere, and I know that every dollar I spend is earning me credit toward future travel. When I had to pay to change flights with Delta, I could use my accrued credit to pay the difference and know that I still was earning money back. What could be better than that?
One Last Note
Europe runs on credit cards with chips—luckily, the U.S. is climbing on board and these travel cards are equipped with chips. One thing I will note is that Barclaycard has chip-and-pin capability overseas, whereas Capital One Venture is a chip-and-sign card. Europe works off of chip-and-pin, so vendors get confused when I need to sign the receipt still instead of punching in my pin. It can be a tiny hassle, but if you keep a small pen in your purse or wallet, it really isn’t that bad (and still is worth the $30 I’m saving in annual fees).
What is your favourite travel credit card? Let me know in the comments below!
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