Now that the travel is coming back, you may be wondering if you can earn credit card rewards abroad. We’ve been wondering too – here’s what we’ve found out.
Summer is here, and everyone is excited to travel again now that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available. CreditCards.com’s editorial team is excited, too, and we’re discussing how we’ll use our rewards credit cards on vacation.
In one such discussion, a question came up of whether it’s possible to earn rewards using a U.S.-issued credit card outside of the country.
I’ve decided to investigate and concluded that yes, indeed, a card from an American credit card issuer can earn rewards internationally. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Read on to find out how you can earn credit card rewards when abroad and what to consider choosing which cards to take with you.
Read terms and conditions
Many rewards cards earn rewards in bonus categories even when you’re using them outside of the U.S. For example, if you’re dining out in Europe and using the American Express® Gold Card, you’ll still earn 4 points per dollar (assuming the restaurant accepts Amex cards and has the right merchant code – more on that later).
Still, other cards state specifically that they’ll only give you bonus points at U.S. businesses. Using Amex as an example again, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express only earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in annual spending, then it’s 1%), 6% with select U.S. streaming subscriptions and 3% at U.S. gas stations.
For that reason, it’s always best to check your card’s terms and conditions. If the rewards rate only works in the U.S., the terms will more than likely state so. If you can’t find this information, call the number on the back of your card to check with a representative.
Remember about merchant codes
When you’ve made sure your card offers bonus rewards abroad, success is still not guaranteed.
Say you go to an adorable small café in Paris and use your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Yet, when you check your account later, you notice that you only earned 1 point per dollar on that transaction. What gives?
Chances are, the café doesn’t have the right merchant code. Each retailer has a merchant category code that credit card issuers use to determine the purchase category and award points or cash back accordingly.
This can even happen in the U.S. Even after over a year of nerding out on credit cards, I’m still mystified by merchant codes. I suppose after seeing a coffeeshop coded as a convenience store and a well-known local bookstore not coded as a bookstore, I shouldn’t be surprised, yet I always am.
One way or another, you can’t always guess if a business will have a merchant code that makes sense, whether you’re using your card in the U.S. or abroad.
Have some options in your wallet
Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
Remember that your card might not even be accepted in some places when you’re traveling. While Visa and Mastercard have high acceptance rates outside of the U.S., you might have a harder time attempting to pay with an American Express or Discover card.
Further, in some countries and towns, cash is still king, and even your Visa card might not buy you much.
It’s best to have a few payment options with you. Bring your Amex and Discover – there’s still a chance they’ll be accepted. Bring your Mastercard or Visa too. Finally, always carry some cash in the local currency to be on the safe side. You might not earn any rewards using the latter, but you’ll have the most widely accepted form of payment.
Best credit cards to take abroad
Now that we’ve figured out what to expect as far as earning rewards abroad goes, let’s talk about which cards you should take with you.
Here are some of my personal favorites. These cards charge no foreign transaction fees and have something to offer to various types of travelers.
Chase Sapphire Reserve card
If you don’t have an aversion to a $550 annual fee (which you probably shouldn’t as this card practically pays for itself), the Chase Sapphire Reserve card is an easy choice.
It provides everything a traveler could want from a credit card: a flexible $300 credit each account anniversary to cover travel, Global Entry and TSA PreCheck credits to go through airport security lines quicker and a Priority Pass membership to relax at an airport lounge. Moreover, the card comes with primary rental car coverage and travel protection.
Finally, you’ll also be able to earn 3 points per dollar on travel (after earning $300 annual travel credit) and dining.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
With the increased annual fee, the cost of The Platinum Card® from American Express is certainly not for the faint of heart. The card now costs $695 per year.
Still, if you’re ready to pay the price for premium benefits – and their list has grown as well – the Platinum Card has a lot to offer to travelers.
You’ll get up to $200 in airline fee statement credits, up to $200 in hotel statement credits on select prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel and up to $200 in Uber Cash (for U.S. rides and eats) annually, as well as up to a $100 hotel incidental statement credit on eligible hotel bookings. As a cardmember, you’ll also receive Hilton and Marriott Gold status (enrollment required).
Your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees will also be covered with a statement credit, plus the card can now cover your Clear membership. You’ll also have travel protection for your peace of mind.
Further, you’ll be able to enjoy lounge access in many locations around the world with the Global Lounge Collection. The Amex Platinum offers access to select Priority Pass lounges, The Centurion Lounge, Delta Sky Club, as well as Airspace, Escape, Plaza Premium and Lufthansa lounges.
Additionally, you’ll earn 5 points per dollar on airfare booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year) and 5 points per dollar on prepaid hotel bookings made through the portal.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars in annual fees to have a decent travel credit card that will offer plenty of value wherever you go.
At $95 per year, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card earns 2 miles per dollar on all spending – no need to worry about things like merchant codes. Plus, Capital One issues cards on Visa and Mastercard networks, so you can rest assured your card is likely to be accepted in many locations around the world.
While the card doesn’t offer a long list of travel benefits, you’ll still get credits to cover your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees.
You can earn rewards abroad with your American credit card. However, it’s not guaranteed, since merchant codes aren’t always set up properly, and some foreign businesses might not accept certain kinds of U.S. credit cards – or any cards at all.
If you’re shopping for a travel credit card, head over to CardMatch. This tool from CreditCards.com allows you to browse credit card offers tailored to your credit profile without any impact on your credit. Happy travels!