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Do you need a credit card to travel? 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
You can use a debit card that is connected to your checking account to pay for various travel reservations. When purchasing a flight with a debit card, 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.
» Learn more: 5 steps to get started with travel rewards
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.
» Learn more: Fly now, pay later: Are travel loans a good idea?
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.
» Learn more: 4 best banks for international travel
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: 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 ...
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 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card