For most travelers, the possession of one or even several credit cards is quite natural. With so much choice, it can be difficult to decide which credit card is right for you.
What is important for a travel credit card, what differences there are and what credit cards are available on the market, we look at in more detail in this article.
We also try to answer the question of the "best travel credit card".
Requirements for applying for a travel credit card
If you want to apply for a credit card, you usually have to meet some requirements. Almost always, the following things are expected of applicants:
- Minimum age: 18 years
- Main residence in Germany for German credit cards
- Good credit rating
As a rule, credit institutions always reserve the right to check the applicant's financial situation, for example by means of a SCHUFA report. In this way, it can be ensured that there is sufficient liquidity and that the cardholder is also able to cover the bills on the credit card.
How strict this check is depends on the company and the type of credit card and varies greatly. The claims for an American Express Platinum Card, for example, are higher than for a DKB Visa Card.
Basic knowledge: These credit card types exist
Credit cards are billed in different ways. There is a main distinction between the following four types:
Revolving cards are often referred to as "real" credit cards. The credit card bill is settled monthly. The special feature of a credit card of this type is the possibility of partial payment. This has the advantage that the cardholder can remain liquid, for example, in the event of a major purchase. The disadvantage of partial or installment payments, however, is the often very high interest rate that is charged for it by the credit institution.
Charge credit cards work in principle just like revolving cards: the credit card issuing institution gives the cardholder a credit, but it must be paid off in full every month, partial payment is not possible here.
This type of credit card is similar to a checking card in the way it works. The amount of a transaction is immediately debited from the account. So, as a rule, with this card you can only spend as much as is available on the linked checking account – an overdraft facility is only approved in a few cases.
Car rental companies often do not accept this type of credit cards, because it is not possible to block an amount as a deposit.
Prepaid cards work exactly as it sounds: in order to use the card, the account must first be topped up. No specific checking account is required for these cards, where the deposit comes from doesn't matter.
Prepaid credit cards are issued to almost everyone because the bank assumes almost no risk: what is not in the account cannot be used. These cards are also not suitable for renting a car. However, many people recommend prepaid cards as particularly safe when traveling. In the event of theft, only the money that was on the card account is lost.
Why do I need a travel credit card?
A travel credit card is nothing more than a normal credit card that is used when traveling. In other EU countries it is usually possible to withdraw and pay with a Girocard, but if you travel to countries outside the EU it will be rather difficult.
There EC cards are either not accepted at all as a means of payment or for withdrawals from ATMs and if they are, an extremely high fee is usually charged.
In addition, a credit card is often mandatory in the following situations:
- Booking flights
- Car rental booking
- Hotel reservations
- Buying tickets for events abroad
It is therefore not only almost always cheaper to withdraw or pay money with a credit card than with a debit card – sometimes there is no other way.
What to look for in a travel credit card
To find the best companion for traveling abroad, you should pay attention to some things when comparing different credit cards with each other.
The annual fees of credit cards vary greatly. The higher the annual fee, the more services and benefits are usually included. A high annual fee is mainly accepted by applicants who expect a certain status and luxury treatment on trips from their credit card.
However, there are also some very good travel credit cards that do not require an annual fee. Applicants should make sure that the chosen credit card does not require a permanent annual fee. Some credit cards are free for the first year, but after that conditions must be met to maintain this status.
Example: In order to keep the DKB Visa free of charge after the first year, the credit card holder must be an active customer of DKB: this means that at least 700 € must flow into his account every month.
Foreign currency fee
Some credit card institutions charge a fee for the conversion of foreign currencies. Mostly this is between 1 and 2 % of the transacted turnover. This fee applies to both payments in a foreign currency and cash withdrawals. It doesn't matter where you are in the world: if you buy online from a merchant in the U.S. and pay in U.S. dollars, you'll be charged a foreign currency fee. Therefore, make sure that your credit card is not subject to a foreign currency fee.
For someone who travels mainly within the euro zone and hardly ever makes transactions in a foreign currency, this is not a big problem and can be neglected.
Some credit card companies also charge a fee for withdrawing cash. Sometimes this fee is only charged when you withdraw cash at the counter. However, you will only need to use this service if there is no ATM at your destination or if it is out of order.
But also for the withdrawal at the ATM sometimes a fee is due. Often this is up to 4 % of the withdrawn amount, sometimes a minimum amount of 5 € is also required.
Especially when traveling, it is important for most people to have some cash with them. How well credit cards are accepted depends, of course, on the destination country. It's always helpful to have some cash in your pocket for paying for public transportation, small purchases on the road, and tipping.
Therefore, it is important for a travel credit card to be able to withdraw money worldwide free of charge.
The foreign fee is something the credit card company has no influence on, but we still want to mention it here. This fee is charged by the bank of the ATM from which you withdraw money. Often this is a fixed amount between 1 and 7 €, which is independent of the amount withdrawn.
Until a few years ago, there were still some credit card providers that reimbursed their customers for these fees. Unfortunately, there is no bank in Germany that does this anymore.
Avoid foreign fees at ATMs – our tips:
- Find out in advance which bank in your destination country does not charge foreign fees for withdrawals with your credit card
- Avoid withdrawing very small amounts
- Always withdraw in the local currency!
- Pay with the credit card wherever possible
You only really need a TAN if you want to do online banking with your credit card, for example if you want to make bank transfers. PIN or signature is sufficient for cash withdrawals and local payments.
Make sure that the TAN procedure offered by the bank is feasible for you from abroad. To choose from are usually:
- smsTAN (via SMS)
- chipTAN (with a small device)
- pushTAN (via an app)
- photoTAN (scanning a barcode)
The smsTAN can be problematic, for example, if there is no cell phone network, and some people find the chipTAN impractical because you have to carry the TAN device with you.
These are the features a travel credit card should have
Some services a good travel credit card should have in any case. Among others, these are:
Apart from 24/7 support, where you can block your credit card at any time, the credit institution should also refund money charged by fraudsters without discussion. It is even stipulated by law that the cardholder is only liable up to a maximum of €50 until the misuse or loss of the card is reported. In addition, the company is required to provide a free replacement card.
The easier the cardholder can protect himself and his credit card from misuse, the better. This already starts with the coordination of sales and transactions via an app. By activating push notifications, you are immediately informed when a transaction has been made with your credit card. This way, you notice immediately if a suspicious amount is charged to the card.
Support that can also be reached from abroad
Support that can be reached from abroad should already be a prerequisite for a travel credit card. This way you can have your card blocked in an emergency and request a replacement card if you're traveling for a longer period of time. Some credit card institutions also offer apps for this purpose, which can be used to do all of this.
Many people feel safer if their credit card has a limit. This way, in case of theft or misuse of the card, the damage is limited to a certain value. With many credit cards, you can set and change the limit yourself via the app.
Nice to have – optional services of a travel credit card
In addition, there are some services that are more likely to be found on credit cards for which you have to pay an annual fee. Among other things, these are the following:
Some credit cards include an insurance package that protects the cardholder in all kinds of situations. Especially a foreign travel health insurance, travel cancellation insurance and rental car services are an advantage for travelers. Whether it is worthwhile for you to get such a credit card, depends entirely on your normally booked insurances.
The Eurowings Gold Card is one of the few credit cards that does not charge any fees for cash withdrawals and foreign currency conversion and at the same time includes a small insurance package (foreign travel health insurance and rental car comprehensive insurance). We'll take a detailed look at this card, though.
Many people associate credit cards with earning airline miles on frequent flyer programs. However, this is mainly reserved for premium credit cards, which charge a sometimes high annual fee.
One of the few free credit cards with which miles can be earned is the Payback American Express Card. For frequent travelers, however, this is only suitable to a limited extent due to cash withdrawal and foreign currency fees. The Eurowings Visa Card also earns miles, but it's only free for the first year.
If earning miles is new territory for you, check it out here:
Earn miles – a world of its own, quite confusing at first glance. We give you an understandable introduction to the topic!
Those who want to enjoy amenities and preferential treatment on the road are more likely to need one of the premium credit cards. The well-known frontrunner here is probably the American Express Platinum Card, with which comes status in various hotel programs, Priority Pass for lounge access at airports, and other perks. It costs, though, a whopping €660 a year for the Platinum Card.
The best free travel credit cards 2020
Here we present our favorites for travel credit cards, the "best" travel credit cards, as of 2022. We limit ourselves to three good travel credit cards without annual fee.
Next, we present two premium credit cards that have an annual fee.
1. Travel credit card GenialCard Hanseatic Bank
The Visa Card from Hanseatic Bank is more of a newcomer in the travel credit card league, as the conditions for foreign currency conversion and cash withdrawals have only been this good since 2019.
GenialCard from Hanseatic Bank – important at a glance:
- Permanently without annual fee (a free additional card)
- No foreign currency fee
- Withdraw cash for free: no fee for cash withdrawals worldwide
- Can be linked to a third-party account
- Cash back at select online retailers and travel bookings
- Partial payment possible, but very expensive (13.6% APR)
2. Travel credit card DKB Visa Card
The DKB was until recently one of the last banks that reimbursed the foreign fee from ATMs. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case and the DKB Visa Card has lost this advantage. However, it is still a very good travel credit card with the following benefits:
DKB Visa Card – important at a glance:
- Permanent no annual fee, automatically active customer status in the first year (active customer = cash inflow of at least €700 per month)
- No foreign currency fee for active customers (2.2% otherwise)
- Free cash withdrawals: No fee for cash withdrawals worldwide
- Cash withdrawals under €50 only possible with the paid mini cash option
- ApplePay, GooglePay and contactless payments
- Must be linked to a DKB-Cash current account (account opening is free and there are no account management fees)
- Emergency package in case of card loss: replacement card and emergency cash within 48 hours (only free of charge for active customers)
3. Travel credit card Barclaycard Visa
Barclaycard had confusing billing for a long time, for example, the entire bill could not be paid automatically each month through a checking account. Since this problem has been solved, the card is at the forefront of travel credit cards.
Barclaycard Visa – important facts at a glance
- Permanently without annual fee (three free additional cards possible)
- No foreign currency fee
- No fee for cash withdrawals worldwide
- ApplePay, GooglePay and contactless payment
- Can be linked to a third-party checking account
- Partial payment possible, but very expensive (18.38 % APR)
- Emergency cash within 48 hours, emergency replacement card in three days
Premium travel credit cards with fees
Here are two premium credit cards that don't charge cash withdrawal or foreign currency fees:
Eurowings Gold Card
The Visa card, like the Barclaycard is also issued by Barclays Bank.
- Free of charge in the first year, then €69 annually
- Welcome bonus (currently 5.000 miles)
- No foreign currency fee
- No fee for cash withdrawals abroad (in Germany: 4%, min. 5,95 €)
- Health insurance and rental car comprehensive cover for trips abroad
- Up to three partner cards for free in the first year (€10 per card thereafter)
- Earn Boomerang Club miles (one mile per $1 in sales)
- amenities when traveling (u.a. Priority check-in, Hertz Gold status)
- ApplePay, GooglePay and contactless payments
Barclaycard Platinum Double
This package is something special among the credit cards, because here the applicant gets both a Visa and a MasterCard.
- 99 € annual fee (up to three partner double cards free of charge)
- No fee for cash withdrawals (possible from 50 €)
- No foreign currency fees
- Travel insurance package: rental car, trip cancellation and international travel health insurance for up to six family members
- ApplePay, GooglePay and contactless payments
At the moment, there is no prepaid credit card that convinces us so much that we want to recommend it to travelers. The MasterCard from N26 was very good in the past, but has lost some of its advantages and now also charges foreign currency fees of 1.7% in the free version. So it only comes into question for travel within the euro zone.
American Express credit cards suitable as travel credit cards?
For travelers who are not only in the luxury segment, these cards have rather less relevance. The only two cards with no annual fee, the Payback American Express and Blue Card, don't really score high with many benefits.
While cardholders of the Amex Payback Card can at least participate for free and automatically in the Payback program and thus collect points more effectively, owners of the Blue Card have to pay 30 € extra per year to participate in the Membership Rewards program. All American Express cards charge fees for withdrawing cash (4%, min. 5 €) and the use of foreign currencies (2%), which is especially negative for travelers.
The Luxury Card: American Express Platinum
The card costs a whole €660 per year, is made of metal and comes with the following benefits and services, among others:
- Extensive insurance package for the whole family (read more: Amex Platinum insurance)
- Priority Pass (access to over 1.200 airport lounges)
- Travel credits, discounts, special offers
- Preferential treatment when traveling (z.B. faster check-in, welcome gifts, room upgrades)
- Instant hotel status, z. B. at Hilton (see here: our Hilton Gold Status experiences)
The problem with the acceptance
Even though American Express is becoming more widespread, acceptance is still not as high as Visa and MasterCard.
We still use the American Express Platinum on our trips. However, this can really only be recommended for frequent travelers. If you travel only 1-2 times a year, the AMEX Platinum does not make sense for you.