How to Choose a Credit Card for Europe Travel

Pick a card without foreign transaction fees and then by deciding what spending and rewards you want to prioritize.
Carissa Rawson
By Carissa Rawson 
Edited by Meg Lee

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So you’ve finally started planning a trip to Europe. You’ve figured out which countries you’d like to visit, you’re itching to try on that new beret you just purchased, and you’re wondering — what is the best credit card for Europe travel?

The U.S. credit card market is overflowing with cards competing for your attention, which may make it seem confusing when it comes time to actually, well, buy anything. We break it all down to find out the best travel credit cards for Europe, both before and during your trip.

For booking your Europe trip

The best time to figure out your travel credit card strategy is before you actually begin to buy anything for your trip. Why? Because travel rewards credit cards offer some of the most lucrative sign-up bonuses.

With a large trip to Europe on the horizon, you’ll ideally want to give yourself enough time to earn the bonus and wait for the points or miles to be deposited into your account (so that you can redeem them for hotels, flights and more).

Travel credit cards

If want to purchase airfare, hotel rooms, train tickets, a rental car or gas, you’ll want a credit card that maximizes returns on all of these. In this case, your best bet is the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. After the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually, the card earns 5x points on flights, 10x points on hotels and car rentals, and 10x points on Chase Dining purchases made through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

With a broad definition of what counts as “travel,” the Chase Sapphire Reserve® also earns 3x points on other travel worldwide, including dining at restaurants, via delivery services or takeout. Since the card earns 1x points on all other purchases, it can give Europe-bound travelers some serious value.

In addition to great bonus categories, this card also features premium benefits to ease your travel experience, including Priority Pass airport lounge access and a Global Entry, NEXUS or TSA PreCheck fee credit.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® comes with a hefty annual fee of $550, which may be off-putting to some. In that case, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers the same broad definition of travel and 2x bonus points per dollar while charging only a $95 annual fee.

When traveling within Europe

Once you get to Europe, you might actually spend more on dining and activities than travel. Take a look at the best credit cards to use during your trip.

No foreign transaction fee credit cards

First and foremost, you’re going to want to find a credit card that doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees. These fees can add up to 3% onto your bill simply for using your card outside the U.S. Thankfully, many credit cards don’t charge foreign transaction fees.

If you already have a credit card, you can check if it charges foreign transaction fees online. Otherwise, there are plenty of cards that’ll waive these fees, including our top pick for bonus travel rewards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Entertainment rewards credit cards

Odds are that once you’re abroad, you’re not going to sit around in your accommodations all day. Whether you’re heading out to the Mona Lisa or spending the day at Disneyland Paris, you’ll want a credit card that’ll maximize every dollar you spend. If you’re willing to pay the $95 annual fee, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card will give you a generous 4% cash back on entertainment — and it counts plenty of things as entertainment. These include tourist attractions, movie theaters, amusement parks, theatrical promoters, aquariums, zoos, bowling alleys and even dance halls.

If you’d rather skip the annual fee entirely, you can still earn rewards with a card like the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, which offers a respectable 3% cash back on entertainment without costing you a dime.

Restaurant rewards credit cards

Depending on how you travel, you may spend a lot of money dining out.

If you already used one of the Chase Sapphire cards to book the trip, you’re covered on eating out as well. This is because the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offer 3x bonus points per dollar on dining. Basically, if you want to spend on only one card before and during your Europe trip, pick a Chase Sapphire card.

If you’re simply looking for the maximum amount of earnings on your restaurant spend, the American Express® Gold Card with a $250 annual fee may look appealing to you. This card earns 4x points on dining worldwide, but American Express cards may not be accepted as widely as Mastercards and Visas in Europe. It’s better to have one of the Chase cards (Visa) or the Capital One Savor cards (Mastercard) just in case a restaurant you dine in doesn’t accept AmEx. Terms apply.

Other questions to ask

Before you make your selection, ask yourself these questions.

What benefits do you already have?

It may not make sense to immediately jump to the conclusion that you need a new credit card. Instead, look at your current points strategy. Do you already have a card with no foreign transaction fees? Do you have enough points to book the flight or hotel?

For example, if you already have a Chase Sapphire card, you might consider getting another card in the Chase trifecta. You could earn a chunk of points through a sign-up bonus on another card that earns Chase Ultimate Rewards®, then transfer those points to your Sapphire so you can redeem them at the higher rate for travel.

How many credit cards are you willing to get?

We’ve recommended several different credit cards that excel in certain categories. If you’re not averse to multiple credit cards, you can really maximize the points you’ll earn during your trip by applying for a few different cards to get before your trip.

If not, you’ll want to pick a single card whose bonus categories most closely overlap with your predicted travel expenses.

Keep in mind the unwritten Chase 5/24 rule, which may curb the number of credit cards you can be approved for in a 24-month period.

What kind of annual fee are you willing to pay?

The credit cards with the most perks come with the highest annual fees. If you want all the bells and whistles (high earning rates, lounge access, Global Entry membership, etc.), you’ll likely need to shell out for a card with a high annual fee.

How long do you have until your trip?

If you’re nearly ready to travel, you likely won’t have time to get more than one credit card, let alone spend enough money to earn multiple welcome bonuses. Consider this before applying for any credit cards.

How confident are you in your booking?

If you're worried your plans may change or go awry, travel insurance might help. This optional standalone insurance can be purchased separately from your other travel expenses.

But you might not even need to pay out-of-pocket for trip insurance because many credit cards offer travel insurance as a built-in benefit to customers who pay for travel expenses on that card.

Sometimes, though, not even trip insurance will guarantee a refund. Unless you’ve purchased a Cancel For Any Reason policy, which is usually more expensive, you’re only entitled to a refund if you cancel for a covered reason.

If you want to pack a new credit card for your next trip to Europe

There are several ways to slice and dice the question of which credit card is best for a European vacation.

  • If your goal is to redeem travel rewards for your vacation, apply for a new credit card at least six months in advance.

  • If your goal is to earn rewards on your travel expenses, consider applying for a travel credit card ahead of booking your accommodations and flights.

  • Advanced travel credit card users might further optimize their wallets by including cards for specific in-country travel expenses, like entertainment or dining, and that are widely accepted overseas.

Above all, get a card that won’t ding you with foreign transaction fees.

The information related to the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card and Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:

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