Whether you have an upcoming trip or plan to live in Europe, having the right credit card can make your travels easier (and better).
The good news is, you’re in the right place to learn about the best credit cards for Europe.
There are tons of credit cards available in the US and it can be hard to sift through all the details. It’s also important to know that some cards are better than others for specific types of travelers.
We will delve into everything you need to know about finding the right card for your trip and share our top card picks for traveling in Europe. If you’re just looking for a card recommendation, feel free to jump ahead what we think are the best cards for traveling in Europe.
At the bottom we go over everything you need to consider when choosing the right travel card.
Why Get a Travel Credit Card for Europe
Lost luggage. Delayed flights. Fraud protection.
Let’s face it, when you travel…things will go wrong.
But believe it or not, using a credit card help protect you on your trip.
Here are some reasons to why using a credit card when traveling makes sense:
- Trip protection – When you purchase travel using the right credit card you get the added benefit of protection against delayed flights, lost luggage, and more.
- Travel benefits – Apart from the added security of insurance and trip protection, many travel credit cards give you travel benefits such as airport lounge access and automatic hotel elite status. This can mean getting free room upgrades, free breakfast and lounge access during your stay just for having the credit card.
- Insurance – Travel credit cards often give generous travel insurance benefits, such as primary insurance on car rentals and emergency evacuation insurance. Look for these higher benefits in premium travel credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum Card.
- Avoid carrying cash – Using a credit card for your daily spending allows you to avoid carrying around large quantities of currency. This way you don’t have to worry about misplacing it and or theft.
- Fraud protection – Credit cards are among the best ways to avoid fraud while traveling. Unlike debit cards that immediately withdraw cash from you account or just losing cash, credit cards give you peace of mind that you are covered. Just be sure to contact your credit card issuer as soon as you find out that your card has been lost, stolen, or has fraudulent transactions.
- Earn miles and points – You get to continue earning airline miles and hotel points during your travels in Europe.
These are just a few of the reasons to get a travel credit card for Europe—or for travel anywhere in the world.
What You Need To Know About Using a Credit Card in Europe
Don’t expect to be swiping your credit card for every purchase while traveling in Europe. Depending on where your travels will take you, some countries in Europe are much more accepting of credit cards than others.
Use of credit cards varies greatly from country-to-country across Europe. You can expect to solely using credit cards for payment in Scandinavian countries and quite the opposite in Austria where cash is the norm.
Quick Tip: When paying for a bill in a restaurant you’re sever will bring the credit card terminal to your table. You’ll need to tell them what tip amount you would like to add upfront, before they run your card. Unlike in the US you won’t be able to write in the tip amount after the transaction.
Another important thing to note is choosing a card with a payment network that is readily accepted. This will make using a card that much easier while traveling.
For the most part European countries widely accept Visa or Mastercard. You’ll find that Discover and American Express are not as accepted, which is why I would not recommend using these credit cards as a first option for traveling in Europe.
Lastly, from my experience most train ticket and public transportation ticket kiosks only accept purchases using a credit card with a chip and PIN. So, you’ll want to make sure you have a travel credit card with a chip and PIN if you plan on purchasing these types of tickets. Of course you can buy them other ways (online or from a person), but using the kiosks is much more efficient.
When to Apply a Travel Credit Card
Timing your credit card applications are important if you plan on using the credit cards welcome bonus to book an award flight to Europe or hotels during your trip.
Alternatively, you want to make sure you get your credit card in time for your trip and to purchase and flights and hotel using your card for insurance and protection benefits.
Now let’s back up to booking flights and hotels from the miles and points you earned from a generous bonus for opening the credit card. Although there is no hard and fast rule for a timeline, the earlier the better. Ideally you would open the card within the same year to avoid paying the second annual fee before your trip.
As a general rule, for the best award flight options you’ll want to plan to book award travel at a minimum of 6+ months in advance. This means you should apply for the credit cards you want to use on your European trip up to ~9 months before your trip to ensure that have hit the minimum spending require and the bonus miles have posted to your frequent flyer account.
What Kind of Credit Card Should You Get?
One of the biggest considerations is the type of credit card it will benefit you most for traveling Europe.
This comes down to what type of credit card will you get the most value from. And ultimately what kind of traveler you are.
There are almost endless different credit card options on the market today, with each major card issuer offering valuable travel cards. That said, not all travel cards are created equal.
If you’re looking to book award flights, you want to focus on a credit card that either earns flexible points that can be transfer to an airline or a co-branded airline credit.
For free hotel nights you’ll want to focus primarily on hotel credit cards. You can also transfer flexible points to hotel programs, but this is generally not going to be the highest value redemption option.
Below we rank our favorite cards in each of these categories.
Best Travel Credit Cards for Europe
We’ve selected what we think are the best travel credit cards for Europe. All of these cards are great options and I’ve had each of them at one point in time or another.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has been a long-time favorite travel rewards credit card. It’s also Chase’s bread and butter card for anyone looking for a solid rewards credit card that earns flexible points.
The highlight of this card is that you can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to various airline and hotel partners at a 1:1 ratio. This gives you ultimate flexibility on how you use your points.
Learn more ➡
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card earns 2X points on all travel and dining, anywhere in the world. For every other purchase you will earn 1X point per dollar spent. These points can add up quickly after earning a hefty welcome bonus.
One of the best ways to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points is to transfer them to an airline transfer partners to book a flight to Europe.
You can transfer points at a 1:1 ration to the following airline partners:
- Aer Lingus AerClub
- British Airways Executive Club
- Flying Blue Air france / KLM
- Iberia Plus
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
- United Airlines MileagePlus
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Another great use is to transfer points Hyatt to book free nights during your European travels. You can transfer points to other hotel programs, including Marriott and IHG, however you won’t get top value for your points.
You’ll also get 25% more value when you redeem points for travel through Chase Unlimited Rewards Travel Portal. This can be a great way for booking flights, hotels, and car rentals on a whim if you don’t want to spend the time searching and booking the right award flight. The travel portal is now powered by Expedia which makes it incredibly easy to use.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Learn more ➡
Things to Consider When Choosing a Travel Credit Card
This guide will walk you through all the things you need to consider when choosing the right credit card for traveling in Europe.
This includes everything from the initial welcome bonus, annual fees, travel benefits, to how widely accepted the credit card is in Europe.
Type of Credit Card
Do you want to earn airline miles? What about free Hotel nights? Not sure yet?
These questions will help you decide which credit card is going to be the most valuable for your travels to Europe. Some of our favorite credit cards earn flexible points that can be transferred to travel partners. This allows you to transfer points to airlines and hotels whenever you see fit.
Alternatively it can be valuable to earn airline miles directly with a co-branded Airline credit card since you’ll also get added travel benefits associated with that airline for having the credit card. This includes additional free checked bags, companion fares, lounge access, and better award flight availability.
Co-branded Hotel credit cards are also a great option for redeeming points for free hotel stays. The good news is that almost every major hotel brand has a co-branded credit card and they all offer sizable welcome bonuses worth a handful of free nights. This makes earning hotel points incredibly easy.
You can expect to earn at least one free night at a top tier property or ~10 free nights at the lowest tier property. If you’re looking to earn free hotel nights on your trip to Europe you’ll want to narrow down which hotels you want to book and focus on earning points without hotel program.
For instance, if you’re looking to book a Marriott hotel in Paris, you’ll want to first decide which hotel you’re after. Then earn Marriott points well in advance to book free nights at this property at the lowest nightly points rate.
Credit Card Issuer
This is important because depending on where you are traveling in the world, different credit card issuers are more or less accepted.
In Europe you want to have a credit card on the Visa or Mastercard payment system as these are the most accepted credit card networks.
From my experience you want to avoid American Express and Discover as they are much less accepted within Europe. The last thing you want is to be stuck with your bill without a form of payment because they don’t accept your credit card.
Foreign Transaction Fees
One thing for sure is that you want to avoid foreign transaction fees during your trip to Europe. These fees are generally 3%, which can add up fast on a longer trip
The good news is almost all travel credit cards on the market do not have any foreign transaction fees. All the cards we mentioned in this article have 0% foreign transaction fees, so you won’t have to worry about using your credit card while traveling in Europe.
One of our favorite things about applying for new credit cards is earning a generous welcome bonus worth lots of free travel. One large welcome bonus can be worth a free round-trip flight to Europe or multiple free nights at a luxury hotel.
Be sure to always compare current welcome bonuses on our credit card page to make sure you’re getting the best offer out there.
Travel reward credit cards typically have annual fees that range from $95 to $550. The general rule is, the higher the annual fee, the more valuable benefits the card offers.
If you are a frequent traveler it can be easy to get more value out of the card’s benefits than the cost of the annual fee.
For instance, let’s take a look at the Hilton Aspire Credit Card that comes with a $450 annual fee. At first glance you may have sticker shock looking at the $450 fee.
However, once you break down all the cards benefits and put them to good use you come out well ahead.
The card’s benefits include:
- A free weekend night at any Hilton hotel
- $250 Hilton resort credit (good towards the nightly rate)
- Priority Pass lounge access
- Hilton Diamond status
You can see why adding up the card’s benefits, even before calculating in the value of the initial welcome bonus, can be worth well over $450 every year you keep the card. The catch is you have to travel enough to use them. The bottom line is to compare all the cards benefits and weigh them against the cards annual fee.
Rewards Earning Rates
Many travel rewards credit cards allow you to earn miles and points for every dollar spent, plus extra points in select bonus spending categories.
This means that if you have a co-branded airline credit card you’ll earn extra points when you use that credit card to purchase airline tickets with that airline.
This also goes for co-branded hotel credit cards, so you’ll want to make sure that you pack your co-branded hotel credit cards along on your travels to Europe and charge your hotel bill with your associated co-branded credit card.
Almost all travel rewards credit cards come with benefits that range from automatic elite status, airport lounge access, free annual nights, to invaluable travel insurance.
You can expect to receive more lucrative benefits with cards that have higher annual fees. In general a card with a higher annual fee is a marketed as a premium credit card.
For example the Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card is a Visa Infinite credit card that gives you some of the highest insurance benefits of any travel credit card on the market.
These include primary insurance on car rental, emergency evacuation and even some medical insurance during your travels. When you have a premium travel rewards credit card like this you’ll want to make sure to book all your flights with it to ensure that your trip is covered to the full extent possible.
EMV Chip and PIN
Moreso in Europe than in the U.S., having a card with a chip and pin is essential. Rarely does it come up in the U.S. that you’ll use a PIN, however in Europe using a PIN is mandatory when your purchasing things from a kiosk and sometimes online.
A common example is purchasing train tickets or public transit tickets from a machine in the station. There’s no way to purchase a ticket using a credit card without a chip and PIN.
The good news is that almost all credit cards these days have a chip and many allow you to set up a PIN simply by calling the number on the back of your card. Of course to save time and headaches, be sure to set the PIN before taking off to Europe.
Most travel rewards credit cards require you to have good or excellent credit. If you don’t quite have a high enough credit score, you’ll want to work on improving your credit score before applying for one of these cards.
In the meantime you can learn more which credit cards we recommended for people with low credit scores.