Traveling abroad can be expensive, but it's even worse when you have a credit card that charges you foreign transaction fees. It's frustrating to review your credit card statement after returning from a vacation and see all your charges marked up by 3% or more. That fee can add up quickly, especially when you're paying for big ticket items like hotel rooms or rental cars.
Thankfully, there are a number of credit cards geared specifically toward travelers that don't charge foreign transaction fees. And anyone who travels abroad — even if it's just once a year or every other year — should have one of these cards in their wallet. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)
These days, it's practically standard for travel rewards cards to not charge foreign transaction fees, as you'll find in CNBC Select's roundup of the best travel credit cards. In this round up, we dug a little deeper into specific categories to provide you with a few more options.
Here are CNBC Select's picks for the best credit cards without foreign transaction fees:
3X points on dining out and ordering in; gas, rideshares and transit; flights, hotels, homestays and car rentals; and popular streaming services. 1X points on all other purchases
20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months
0% APR for 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers
14.49% to 24.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers
Introductory fee of 3% ($5 minimum) for 120 days, then 5% ($5 minimum)
Who's this for? This card offers a strong rewards program whether you're a frequent traveler or someone who spends most of their time closer to home (or, like many of us, are a combination of the two). The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card is a well-rounded card that offers unlimited 3X points per dollar spent on dining out, ordering in, travel and a number of streaming services, including Apple Music, Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Sirius XM Radio Inc. and Spotify Premium.
Frequent travelers will like this card because it gives you points not just on flights and hotels but also car rentals, homestays and ridesharing services. There are no blackout dates on flights booked through Go Far® Rewards, and there are no foreign transaction fees.
There's also an impressive welcome bonus for a no-annual-fee card: Earn 20,000 points after you spend $1,000 within the first three months. That's the equivalent to $200 in cash.
The additional perks geared toward travelers are also worth noting. Cardholders can take advantage of lost luggage reimbursement, car rental loss and damage insurance, roadside assistance and 24/7 travel and emergency assistance.
This card also provides a year of no interest on purchases and balance transfers. (After the introductory period there's a 14.49% to 24.99% variable APR.) If you have expected upcoming expenses that you want to pay for over time, or you're looking to consolidate debt, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card can help you finance debt without incurring interest charges.
2.5% cash back on qualifying purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle)
$99, waived the first year
12.24% to 22.24% variable
Who's this for? The Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Card ranks as CNBC Select's best cash-back card, even with its $99 annual fee (waived the first year). This card earns the average American the most cash back compared to other cards with an estimated $546 after the first year and $2,335 after five years.
Cardholders earn an industry leading 2.5% cash back on all purchases (up to $250 in cash back rewards per billing cycle).
Beyond rewards, this card has a competitive 12.24% to 22.24% variable APR, which is helpful if you wind up carrying a balance (though we always recommend paying on time and in full to avoid interest altogether).
This card also has no foreign transaction fees and comes with travel benefits, such as travel accident coverage, roadside assistance and auto rental collision damage waiver.
You have to become a member of Alliant Credit Union and open an account. The easiest way to become a member is by supporting Alliant's partner charity, Foster Care to Success. You don't need to pay the charity directly — Alliant pays $5 on your behalf when you apply to join the credit union. Membership is also open to family members of current members, employees of partner organizations or those who live or work in qualifying towns and communities near Chicago's O'Hare International airport.
4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases
Earn a one-time $300 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening
0% for the first 12 months on purchases; N/A on balance transfers
15.99% to 24.99% variable
3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR
Who's this for? Sports fans, movie buffs and adventure seekers will all find a common reason to like the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: unlimited 4% cash back on entertainment purchases. Compared to other rewards cards, this is the highest unlimited rewards rate on entertainment spending, whether you're buying movie tickets, taking a family trip to the zoo or spending the evening bowling with friends.
Through January 2022, cardholders who buy tickets through Vivid Seats, a ticket resale site, can take advantage of 8% cash back.
Cardholders can also benefit from exclusive access to entertainment events, such as the iHeartRadio Music Festival and the Capital One JamFest.
Beyond entertainment perks, there's also 4% cash back on dining, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases. Plus, you can enjoy foodie-centric perks, such as exclusive access to premium reservations with OpenTable.
This card does come with a $95 annual fee, but it can be offset by the cash back you earn.
10X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 3X points on travel worldwide (immediately after earning your $300 annual travel credit), 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out, 1X point per $1 on all other purchases
50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth up to $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
16.99% to 23.99% variable
5%, minimum $5
Who's this for? If you're a frequent traveler looking to make your flights and hotel stays more luxurious, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® should be on your radar. This card is geared toward frequent travelers with 3X points on dining and travel worldwide and no foreign transaction fees.
The value of Chase rewards points varies depending on how you use them. If you redeem points for cash and gift cards, each point is worth $.01, which means that 100 points equals $1 in redemption value. (See more on how the value of points is calculated.)
When you use points through Chase Pay® for a statement credit to cover all or part of a purchase made at participating Chase Pay® merchants (Amazon, for instance), each point is worth $.008, which means that 100 points equals $.80 in redemption value. Redemption values for other reward options may be worth more or less than this.
The value of points increases 50% when you redeem for travel on Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruise reservations when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. This is a great way to maximize the value of your rewards and makes this card stand out from the pack.
While this card offers great rewards and benefits, it does come with a hefty $550 annual fee. However, if you take advantage of all the annual credits, you can come out well ahead of the fee. There's an annual $300 travel credit, as well as a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees cardholders can redeem every four years. And the Priority Pass™ Select membership, which gives you access to more than 1,000 lounges in 500 cities worldwide, has a value of about $429.
5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠, 2X miles per dollar on every other purchase
60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within 3 months of account opening
N/A for purchases and balance transfers
17.24% to 24.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers
3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR
Who's this for? The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers the best rewards rate on select hotel purchases: Earn 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠. If you're looking to take a trip before the end of the year, this is a great way to maximize the amount of miles you can earn.
While Venture does come with a $95 annual fee, it's low compared to some other rewards cards, with some annual fees up to $550.
In addition to rewards, every four years cardholders receive a credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application, up to $100. If you travel often, this is a great perk that can save you time and money.
This card has no foreign transaction fees and comes with a bunch of additional travel perks, such as travel accident insurance, 24-hour travel assistance services and an auto rental collision damage waiver.
To determine which cards will put the most money back in your pocket, CNBC Select evaluated 127 popular rewards credit cards offered by major banks, financial companies and credit unions that allow anyone to join. We compared each card on a range of features, including travel rewards (points and miles), annual fee, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, one-time perks, annual perks, redemption rates, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available.
CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.
Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.
We then estimated how much the average consumer would redeem over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.
It's important to note the value of a point or mile varies from card to card and based on how you redeem them. When we calculated the estimated returns, we assumed that cardholders are redeeming points/miles for a typical maximum value of 1 cent per point or mile. (Extreme optimizers might be able to achieve more value.)
Our final picks are weighted heavily toward the highest five-year returns, since it's generally wise to hold onto a credit card for years. This method also avoids giving an unfair advantage to cards with large welcome bonuses.
While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your travel habits.
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