How to Travel Without a Credit Card

Debit cards, gift cards, PayPal and cash can be used to cover travel costs if you don't have or want a credit card.
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Written by Elina Geller
Lead Writer
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Edited by Kevin Berry
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Do you need a credit card to travel — abroad or at home? Not exactly. Though it's true that built-in card benefits, like purchase protection and the ability to dispute a charge, make using a credit card often the easiest and safest way to pay for travel, not everyone wants to get a credit card — or is able to get approved for one. And yet, those individuals will still likely want to travel at some point.

If you fall into this category, you have several other payment options to choose from, depending on the type of travel you’d like to book. Here's how to pay for travel without a credit card.

Ways to finance travel without a credit card

1. Use a debit card

It's normal to wonder: "Should I travel with debit card?" And the answer is — it's up to you.

You can use a debit card that is connected to your checking account to pay for various travel reservations. When booking a flight without a credit card and using a debit card instead, simply enter your debit card details in the credit card section. Be aware that if the money isn’t automatically debited from your account at the time of purchase, the airline may place a hold for the amount of the ticket until the flight purchase clears. The funds placed on hold in your bank account cannot be used to make other purchases.

If you put your hotel or car rental reservation on your debit card, the hotel or car rental company may place a larger hold on your card than the cost of the booking to safeguard for any accidents. For example, at Marriott, a hold may be placed on your debit card for the total cost of the room plus taxes, any applicable resort fees and a hold for incidentals (these daily fees can vary by location). The hold may remain on the card until five days after your departure. Be sure that you’re comfortable with the hold that is placed on your card because until the hold is released, that money in your bank account cannot be used for other purchases.

2. Get a PayPal account

You can use PayPal to pay for your flight, hotel or car rental. PayPal is a money transfer company where you can link your bank account and make online purchases. Using PayPal as a purchase method provides the security of paying for travel without entering your credit or debit card details with the airline or hotel.

» Learn more: How does PayPal work?

3. Buy gift cards

Another way to pay for flights or hotels is to purchase gift cards where they are sold. For example, many grocery stores sell specific airline and hotel gift cards, as well as Airbnb gift cards. You can purchase those cards using cash or debit, and then use the gift cards to pay for your flight, hotel or rental booking when you're ready.

4. Pay with cash

Although you cannot use cash to purchase a plane ticket online, many airlines will allow you to pay for tickets in cash at certain airports.

The websites of United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines all mention that they accept cash as a form of payment at designated check-in counters at specific airports.

5. Search for miscellaneous payment options

Depending on which airline or hotel you’re booking with, additional payment options may be available. For example, Uplift, which allows you to pay for purchases using an installment loan option, is listed as a payment method on United and Southwest.

6. Open a bank account that waives foreign ATM fees

International travel without a credit card is also possible. If you plan on using your debit card to pay for travel or withdraw cash when you’re away from your local bank, opening a bank account that waives foreign ATM fees is recommended. If you have a bank account that doesn’t waive ATM fees, you may end up paying two sets of fees:

  • Your bank may charge you to take out cash from another bank’s ATM.

  • The other bank’s ATM may charge an additional withdrawal fee on its own.

There are several banks out there that waive ATM fees or that waive a specific number of foreign ATM fees per month, so make sure you do your research when opening a bank account so you avoid paying unnecessary fees.

An alternative: Sign up for a no-annual-fee credit card that waives foreign transaction fees

If you’re planning on going abroad and don’t have a credit card because you don’t want to pay an annual fee, consider a no-annual fee card that also waives foreign transaction fees. Foreign transaction fees can be as high as 3%, which can quickly add up — especially if you’re using your card abroad.

Although you may not get many travel-related perks like free lounge access or extra points on specific bonus categories, you can still get a card that you can use for international travel without paying a fee and without the hassle of dealing with ATMs or local currency.

Two of the best no-annual-fee travel credit cards for this situation are:

  • Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, which comes with the following welcome offer: 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.

  • Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, which gets you a: Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening.

If you want to try traveling without a credit card ...

Yes, you can can travel without a credit card. Although using a credit card to pay for travel is more convenient and safer than using other methods, you still have various options available to you that you can use to book your travel. PayPal, cash, gift cards and debit cards all make it possible to pay for travel without a credit card.

If a debit card is your preferred payment method, make sure you have a bank account that waives ATM fees so that you can avoid paying extra fees. If you are open to getting a credit card but don’t want to pay an annual fee, consider a card with no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee that you can use for purchases abroad. You’ll have more protections than paying with cash but won't incur any fees.

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:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.


Intro offer


Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.


Intro offer

Up to $300

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.


Intro offer


Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

See more travel cards
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