Best Travel Debit and Credit Cards
What to Look for in a Debit Card
- NO Withdrawal Fees: Many banks charge a flat fee every time you use an international ATM with your debit card. Determine what the per transaction fee is and keep that in mind. Most online banks offer ATM fee reimbursements because they do not offer their own ATMs.
- NO Transaction Limits: While not prevalent in the U.S., we have met some travelers who say they have a maximum number of transactions for withdrawing money from the ATM before additional fees kick in. Check to make sure whether you have a limit and strategically withdraw money.
- No Maintenance Fees: For the long-term traveler, check with your bank to determine if you have any maintenance fees on your checking or savings accounts. Sometimes bank clerks can help you create a program to deter these fees.
Debit Card Best Use
In addition to our Schwab account, which is our primary designated travel debit/ATM account, we also each individually maintain our own savings and checking accounts with other banking institutions. These individual accounts also have auto-pay features already set up to pay credit card bills we did not feel the need to transfer to Schwab. Having individual savings and checking account outside of Schwab also allows us with a backup access to cash via ATM if our primary debit card is not accessible. The caveat is that our backup banking institutions do not offer ATM fee reimbursements, so we do not use it unless we have no choice. We periodically fund our Schwab account through wire transfers, which unfortunately costs us $3-5 per transaction and take 3 business days to process.
What to Look for in a Good Travel Credit Card
- NO (or Low) Foreign Transaction Fees: Some credit cards and debit cards charge Foreign Transaction Fees, a percentage of your purchase made on your credit card or debit card. Determine what this percentage is. There are some that offer 0% FTFs and others that charge a small percentage.
- Different Credit Card Companies: Make sure you carry a Visa AND a MasterCard since some countries more widely accept one over the other. Discover Card is hardly used and American Express is only accepted in luxury businesses.
Our Best Travel Credit Card Recommendations
Before we left on our trip of a lifetime, we made sure to maximize the credit card rewards (reward miles and reward points) because it came at no additional cost to us by signing on at least 7 months in advance before leaving (for some programs, it takes 3-4 months to earn bonus rewards by meeting minimum spending and another 3 months waiting period for your reward miles to become usable). We both have excellent credit scores, pay down our bills every month and do not carry payments or pay hefty interest, and only planned on keeping the credit card for less than a year (to avoid the annual fee). Since opening all of these credit cards we recommend below, we only kept our primary card, the Capital One Venture credit card. We were able to use these cards on our normal day-to-day spending on groceries, utility bills, entertainment, auto insurance, travel insurance, purchases for our trip, and we were able to even pay our rent with a credit card. By using credit card instead of traditional methods of direct deposit or checking required some additional fees, but the overall payout of a free flight outweighed those small fees.
More About Travel Hacking
We are not the best at travel hacking and still have much to learn as there are many who are pros at travel hacking who are able to not only get flights for free, but are also able to get upgraded to fly first-class by accumulating massive reward points or free hotel night stays. Reward programs allow you to earn double or even triple points by either staying at affiliated hotel chains, dining at specific restaurants, or purchasing special deals. Below are some people who have done it well and can offer wisdom on this aspect.
Disclosure: I do not have a degree in finance nor am I being paid to promote these products. These are personal referrals based on personal experience. Be sure to read the credit card offers on their website as programs and rates may change.