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Best credit cards for international travel of 2020
CNBC Select reviewed popular travel credit cards to find the best options for people that travel internationally, so you can maximize rewards and save on unnecessary fees.

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Booking international travel can be costly, but with a little advanced planning you can use a credit card to save money. One of the biggest mistakes credit cardholders make abroad is using a card that charges foreign transaction fees, which average 3% per purchase.

If you spend $1,000 on purchases during your overseas vacation, you'll pay $30 in fees that can easily be avoided by using a credit card with no foreign transaction fee. There are many financial steps to take before an international trip, and you can check off choosing the right credit card by considering one of the options mentioned below. (See our methodology for more information on how we choose the best cards.)

CNBC Select reviewed popular rewards credit cards to find the best options for people who are traveling outside the U.S., so you can maximize rewards and save on unnecessary fees. All of the cards mentioned below have no foreign transaction fees.

Best credit cards for international travel

Winner

American Express? Gold Card

  • Rewards

    4X Membership Rewards? points when you dine at restaurants worldwide and shop at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    35,000 Membership Rewards? points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $250

  • Intro APR

    Not applicable

  • Regular APR

    See rates and fees

  • Balance transfer fee

    See rates and fees

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • See rates and fees and our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Strong rewards program with 4X points earned on dining worldwide and 3X points earned on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com
  • Up to $100 credit in airline fees, up to $120 in dining credits at participating partners and up to $100 hotel credit
  • 35,000 Membership Rewards? points welcome bonus after you spend $4,000 within first 3 months
  • Baggage insurance plan covers up to $1,250 for carry-on baggage and up to $500 for checked baggage that is damaged, lost or stolen
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • No introductory APR period
  • $250 annual fee
  • This is a charge card, which means you have to pay off your balance in full each billing cycle
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $824
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,719

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

read more
On American Express's secure website.

Who's this for? If you love food and travel, the American Express? Gold Card could be the ideal rewards card for you. Cardholders earn a competitive 4X points per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide and 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X). Plus, earn 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

You can save money on in-flight food and beverages as well as seat upgrades and checked baggage with the annual $100 airline fee credit. Simply complete a one-time activation by selecting an airline to benefit from this perk. Cardholders also receive an annual dining credit of up to $120 ($10 a month) at participating partners, including Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boxed and participating Shake Shack locations.

This card does have a $250 annual fee, but it can easily be offset if you take advantage of all the added card benefits. Just using the $120 dining credit and $100 airline fee credit each year effectively reduces the fee to $30. Then, the rewards you earn help further "pay" for the card.

Cardholders can also benefit from Amex Offers, where you can earn statement credits or bonus Membership Rewards? points at select retailers. Travelers will appreciate that there's no foreign transaction fees as well as the insurance for car rentals and damaged, lost or stolen luggage.

Check out CNBC Select's best rewards credit cards.

Best for No Annual Fee

Wells Fargo Propel American Express? Card

  • Rewards

    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

  • Welcome bonus

    20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for 12 months on purchases and qualifying balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    15.49% to 27.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Introductory fee of 3% ($5 minimum) for 120 days, then 5% ($5 minimum)

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.
  • 0% APR for the first 12 months on purchases and balance transfers
  • No blackout dates on air travel when redeemed through Go Far Rewards

Cons

  • Minimum reward redemption amount of 2,500 points
  • Balance transfers incur a 3% fee ($5 minimum)
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $584
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,120

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

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Information about the Wells Fargo Propel American Express? Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Who's this for? The Wells Fargo Propel American Express? Card offers a strong rewards program for frequent travelers all at no annual fee. Cardholders earn 3X points per dollar spent on dining out, ordering in, travel, and a number of streaming services, including Apple Music, Hulu, Netflix and Spotify Premium. Those kinds of rewards are hard to find among no annual fee cards.

The travel rewards are unique since 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.

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 equivalent to $200 in cash.

The additional perks geared toward travelers are worth noting: Cardholders can take advantage of lost luggage reimbursement, car rental loss and damage insurance, roadside assistance, 24/7 travel and emergency assistance and no foreign transaction fees.

This card also provides a year of no interest on purchases and balance transfers (after a 15.74% to 27.74% variable APR). If you have expected upcoming expenses that you want to pay for over time, or you're looking to consolidate credit card debt, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express? Card can help you finance debt without incurring interest charges.

Read CNBC Select's Amex Gold Card review for more detail and check out CNBC Select's best no annual fee credit cards.

Best for Dining

Capital One? Savor? Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Rewards

    4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a one-time $300 cash bonus once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95, waived the first year

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 months on purchases; N/A on balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    16.24% to 25.24% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Unlimited 4% cash back on entertainment purchases
  • 8% cash back on all Vivid Seats ticket purchases through May 31, 2020
  • Ability to redeem rewards at any amount, unlike some other cards with $25 minimums
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee after the first year
  • Cable, digital streaming and membership services are excluded from the 4% cash-back rate
  • No introductory 0% financing offers for purchases or balance transfers
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $781
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,327

Rewards totals incorporate the cash back earned from the welcome bonus

read more
Information about the Capital One? Savor? Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Who's this for? Travelers who love to eat out can't go wrong carrying a dining rewards card. The Capital One? Savor? Cash Rewards Credit Card offers 4% cash back on dining purchases. This is one of the highest rewards rates on dining available, and Capital One classifies dining as restaurants, cafes, bars, lounges, fast-food chains and bakeries. Plus, you can enjoy foodie-centric perks, such as exclusive access to premium reservations with OpenTable. And no worries if you're dining overseas, this card doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.

You can also earn 4% cash back on entertainment spending, whether you're buying movie tickets, taking a family trip to the zoo or spending the evening bowling with friends. Through May 31, 2020, cardholders who buy tickets through Vivid Seats, a ticket resale site, can take advantage of 8% cash back.

Cardholders benefit from exclusive access to dining, sports and entertainment events, such as the iHeartRadio Music Festival and the Capital One JamFest. Beyond dining and entertainment perks, there's also 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases.

This card does come with a $95 annual fee, but it's waived during the first year and can be offset by the cash back you earn.

Check out CNBC Select's best credit cards for dining out and restaurants.

Best for Hotels

Capital One? VentureOne? Rewards Credit Card

  • Rewards

    5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel?, 1.25X miles per dollar on every purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% APR for 12 months

  • Regular APR

    13.49% to 23.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel?
  • 0% APR for 12 months
  • Miles never expire for the life of the account

Cons

  • No Global Entry or TSA PreCheck statement credit offerings
  • No airport lounge access
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $500
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $1,699

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

read more
Information about the Capital One? VentureOne? Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Who's this for? Anyone looking to book hotel rooms should consider the Capital One? VentureOne? Rewards Credit Card with its impressive offer 5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel?. Cardmembers can earn unlimited 1.25X miles on all other purchases, making it a solid choice for everyday use. The card has no annual fee and charges no foreign transaction fees.

Another perk is the intro 0% APR period, which lasts for 12 months for new purchases (after a 13.74% to 23.74% variable APR). This can come in handy if you want to pay for a vacation over the course of a year and avoid interest charges.

The Capital One? VentureOne? Rewards Credit Card offers new users a strong welcome bonus: 20,000 bonus miles after they spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months. You can redeem miles for past travel expenses using the Purchase Eraser?, which is essentially a statement credit. Or you can book new travel reservations through the Capital One Rewards Center.

Additionally, with this card, it's possible to transfer your miles to any of Capital One's partner airlines, including JetBlue, Emirates Skywards, Air Canada and Air France. (Read how to make the most of your airline miles.)

Read CNBC Select's Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card review for more detail and check out CNBC Select's best hotel credit cards.

Best for Luxury Travel

Chase Sapphire Reserve?

  • Rewards

    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 worldwide, 1X point per $1 on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    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?

  • Annual fee

    $550

  • Intro APR

    None

  • Regular APR

    18.49% to 25.49% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    Excellent

  • See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit for travel purchases
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit up to $100 every four years
  • Priority Pass? Select lounge access at 1,000+ VIP lounges in over 500 cities worldwide
  • Special benefits at The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection
  • Free DashPass subscription for a minimum of a year when you activate by December 31, 2021
  • $60 DoorDash credit in 2020 and 2021
  • Complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership

Cons

  • High $550 annual fee, but it can be offset by taking advantage of all the card’s perks
  • No introductory APR
  • Relatively high balance transfer fee
  • Estimated rewards earned after 1 year: $1,231
  • Estimated rewards earned after 5 years: $2,755

Rewards totals incorporate the points earned from the welcome bonus

read more
On Chase's secure site

Who's this for? The Chase Sapphire Reserve? is geared toward foodies and frequent travelers who are looking for luxurious perks, such as annual travel credits, airport lounge access and complimentary hotel room upgrades. You can take advantage of an annual $300 travel credit, which can cover everything from airfare and hotels to parking and tolls.

Cardholders earn 3X points on travel worldwide (immediately after earning your $300 annual travel credit) and on dining at restaurants worldwide and 1X point per $1 on all other purchases. Points are worth 50% more when redeemed for travel via Chase Ultimate Rewards?. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 redeemed toward airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards?. This perk is a great way to get the most value for your rewards.

Chase recently added new Lyft perks including 10X points on Lyft rides through March 2022 and a complimentary year of Lyft Pink membership (worth $19.99 per month). Lyft Pink includes 15% off car rides, relaxed cancellations, priority airport pickups, up to three free 30-minute bike and scooter rides per month and more.

While this card has a robust rewards program, it also comes with a steep $550 annual fee. All the card's added credits and benefits provided by Chase can help offset the cost. The $300 annual travel credit effectively reduces the annual fee to a more manageable $150. Cardholders can take advantage of a Priority Pass? Select membership that has a value of about $429, as well as Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit of up to $100 every four years.

Read CNBC Select's Chase Sapphire Reserve review for more detail and check out CNBC Select's best travel credit cards.

Best for Bad Credit

Discover it? Secured

  • Rewards

    2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1%); unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    At the end of your first year, Discover automatically matches all the cash back you earned

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    10.99% for the first 6 months on balance transfers; N/A for purchases

  • Regular APR

    24.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*

  • Foreign transaction fee

    None

  • Credit needed

    No credit history

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • Discover automatically reviews your credit card account monthly, starting at eight months, to see if your security deposit can be returned while you continue to enjoy your card benefits
  • Strong cash-back rewards program
  • Simple welcome bonus with no minimum spending requirements
  • No fee charged on purchases made outside the U.S.

Cons

  • Low credit limit prevents cardholders from charging high-cost items or many expenses
  • You have to have a Social Security number and U.S. bank account to apply for this card
  • Relatively high 24.49% variable APR
  • Discover isn’t as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard
On Discover's Secured Site

Who's this for? If you have no credit history or bad credit (scores below 580), a secured card may be your best option. The Discover it? Secured is a well-rounded secured card that offers many benefits that are typically found with unsecured cards. Cardholders can earn cash back, receive a generous welcome bonus, use the card overseas without incurring added fees and more — all for no annual fee.

Cardholders earn a competitive 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter (then 1%). Plus, you can earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. The welcome bonus is also unique: Discover will match any cash back you've earned during the first 12 billing cycles. So, if you earn $50 cash back at the end of the first year, Discover will give you an additional $50.

This card requires a $200 security deposit, which is fairly standard for secured credit cards. It stands out from the crowd because it gives users a clear path to upgrading to an unsecured card (and getting their deposit back). Starting at eight months from account opening, Discover will review your account to see if you can get your security deposit back, which takes the guesswork out of wondering when you'll qualify for an unsecured card.

Read CNBC Select's Discover it Secured review for more detail and check out CNBC Select's best credit cards for bad credit.

Best credit cards for international travel

Best for Credit card Estimated rewards earned after 5 years
WinnerAmerican Express? Gold Card$2,719
No Annual FeeWells Fargo Propel American Express? Card$2,120
DiningCapital One? Savor? Cash Rewards Credit Card$2,327
HotelsCapital One? VentureOne? Rewards Credit Card$1,699
Luxury TravelChase Sapphire Reserve?$2,755
Bad CreditDiscover it? SecuredN/A

Our methodology

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.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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