Best Credit Card For Travel 2024

When it comes to spending abroad, choosing the right travel credit card can save you a huge amount of money on foreign transaction fees and even offer additional perks on top. In this guide, we explain the sometimes hefty fees you have to watch out for and provide a quick overview of the top five travel credit cards, highlighting their key features and benefits.

Top 5 travel credit cards (at a glance)

Credit Card Foreign Currency Fee Representative APR Other Benefits
 Barclaycard Rewards Credit Card  None  28.9% (variable)  – 0.25% cashback on everyday spend

– Interest-free cash withdrawals if you clear balance in time

 Santander All in One Credit Card  None  23.9% (variable)  – 0% interest for first 15 months, including balance transfers

– Up to £10 cashback per month

 Natwest Reward Black Credit Card  None  40.7% (variable) + £84 annual fee  – 0.5% everyday cashback and 1% cashback in supermarkets
 Halifax Clarity Credit Card  None  23.9% (variable)  – No foreign transaction fee for cash withdrawal
 Zopa Credit Card  None  34.9% (variable)  – Add sub-limits to prevent overspending

Best alternative to a travel credit card: Wise Multi-Currency Card

Unless you specifically need a credit facility, consider the Wise multi-currency debit card for your next overseas trip. It’s designed for those who live a life on the move, allowing users to hold balances in 40+ different currencies. This means you can pick and choose when to convert your funds to the local currency of your next trip. So if you’re savvy, you can convert your holiday money at a favourable exchange rate.

If you don’t hold the local currency when you use your card abroad, Wise applies a nominal, transparent fee to the mid-market exchange rate at the time you withdraw cash or make a purchase overseas. For example, if you have a GBP balance and use your card to pay in EUR, the fee is 0.35%, making it one of the best currency cards for travel in Europe.

Take note that Wise adds their fee to the mid-market rate, not the rate they receive from Visa or Mastercard. I’ll explain why this makes a crucial difference below.

Wise Multi-Currency Card

Using Wise’s Multi-Currency Card is Better than Cash.

  • Excellent Rates: Get real-time exchange rates with no hidden fees.
  • Convenient: Spend in multiple currencies and make free international ATM withdrawals.
  • No Need for Cash: Use your Wise card worldwide, safer and easier than carrying cash.
  • Great Exchange Rates: Get the Wise exchange rates.

💳 Learn More & Apply Now

Understanding the difference between networks and issuers

Let’s first get an understanding of how a travel credit card actually works and the roles that the different names on the card in your pocket play. It’s important as this lays the foundation for determining which travel card is the best.

The likes of Mastercard and Visa are the card networks that process the payment transactions between merchants and card issuers. They’re sometimes referred to as card schemes as well.

Banks (like Barclays) and fintechs (like Revolut) are card issuers. They’re the financial institutions that provide credit cards to consumers. They manage your account, approve credit limits, issue statements, and handle billing.

How is the FX rate calculated on a travel credit card?

The best possible FX rate that can be achieved is the interbank exchange rate (sometimes referred to as the mid-market rate).

It’s the FX rate that banks trade at with one another, but it’s not a rate which is accessible to individuals or businesses, including even mega corporations like Visa and Mastercard.

How far away you are from this interbank rate determines how good of a rate you’re achieving.

When you use a travel credit card abroad, the FX fees usually consist of two different elements.

Firstly, there’s the FX fees applied by the card networks. Seeing as Mastercard and Visa are huge buyers in the FX market, the rate they receive is close to the interbank rate.

From my research, the FX markup added to a card transaction by Visa or Mastercard is somewhere between 0.1% and 0.7%, depending on the currencies involved.

Using their own tools, you can calculate for yourself the FX markup applied by Visa on international card transactions and the FX markup applied by Mastercard on international card transactions. I’ve tested out different sums and different currencies on different dates and found that sometimes it was Visa who came out cheaper, and sometimes it was Mastercard. There’s not a lot in it.

Beyond this, there’s the FX markup, or ‘non-sterling transaction fee’ added by the card issuer. This is where you stand to lose the most. The fee can range from nothing, all the way through to 5%, depending on your exact card and the issuer. So if you spend £1,000 while on holiday, you could be looking at roughly £50 in unnecessary FX conversion fees (plus other fixed bank charges).

Is it a good idea to use your bank debit card as your travel card?

The short answer is a resounding no.

A hefty FX fee is applied when you use virtually any legacy bank debit card abroad.

Whether it’s to withdraw money, or to pay by card at an overseas merchant (like a shop or restaurant), the FX fee, or non-sterling transaction fee, is pretty unanimous across all banks – 2.99%.

Some banks then levy a fixed charge alongside this, which can range from 50p to £1 for a merchant transaction, and £1.50 per ATM withdrawal.

In effect, debit cards supplied by UK banks are designed for UK spending. There’s little incentive for the banks to provide low to no FX fees on their standard current accounts.

Take a look at the fees charged on the debit cards associated with the major standard current accounts:

 Current Account  Non-Sterling Transaction Fee
 Barclays Bank Account  2.99%
 HSBC Bank Account  2.75%
 Lloyds Classic Account  2.99%
 Nationwide FlexAccount  2.99%
 Natwest Everyday Account  2.75%

Keep in mind that the non-sterling transaction fee is added on top of the currency conversion fee applied by the card network.

Understanding travel credit cards

Credit cards are a different story to debit cards. You’ll be well aware that credit card issuers are happy to provide extra incentives as they seek to make money through interest charges. They’re hoping that you don’t clear your balance within the interest-free period.

One of the benefits you can receive through a select handful of credit cards is zero FX fees.

Remember, this doesn’t mean there’s no FX fee at all. It simply means they pass on the same rate they receive from Visa or Mastercard and don’t skim anything on top.

As I’ve already established, this seems to fall anywhere between roughly 0.1% and 0.7% off the interbank rate.

Here’s the thing. Credit cards are usually never a good idea if you want to withdraw cash. OK, some credit cards may not charge you an extra FX fee to withdraw cash abroad, but you’ll likely be charged a hefty transaction fee as standard.

Whether you’re withdrawing cash with a credit card in your home country or abroad, you could be looking at a charge between 2.5% and 5%, depending on your credit card and provider.

How did we determine the best credit card for travel?

First of all, zero foreign currency fees were a prerequisite to make the top 5. We’ve only selected the credit cards that pass on the Visa or Mastercard rate, with no additional fees.

From that point onwards it was a case of looking at the extra benefits they provide on top. Some offer cashback incentives, others offer decent points schemes.

What is the best travel card? Ultimately, it depends on the benefits that most float your boat and the interest rate you’re happy to accept. Just take satisfaction in the knowledge that our selection of credit cards add no extra fees for non-sterling transactions.

Travel credit card offerings can vary significantly based on your location, with many cards providing benefits tailored to specific regions. For instance, while some of the top cards in the UK might offer generous rewards on international travel, their Canadian counterpart might focus on benefits within Canada. It’s essential to consider local options and resources to find the best fit for your travel needs.

Insider tip: Don’t be fooled by credit cards with an international name. For example, Lloyd’s ‘World Elite Mastercard’ offers 0.5% and 1% cashback on purchases at home and abroad, but a 2.95% fee still applies to all foreign transactions.

Top 5 credit cards for travel

Here are our top 5 travel credit cards explained in more detail:

1. Barclaycard Rewards Credit Card

barclaycard_rewards credit cardThe Barclaycard Rewards Card offers 0.25% cashback on everyday spending and no transaction fees abroad. It also includes additional benefits like access to exclusive events through Barclaycard Entertainment, 24/7 fraud protection, and an option for a free additional cardholder. Users can also earn up to 15% cashback at participating retailers by registering for Barclaycard Cashback Rewards.

Aside from no foreign transaction fees, we make it the best credit card for international travel as it offers the ability to generate cashback, while still coming in at a lower APR (28.9%) than the Natwest rewards black credit card (40.7%). Keep in mind that it’s a representative APR, and eligibility depends on financial circumstances and credit history.

2. Santander All in One Credit Card

Santander All in One Credit CardThe Santander All in One Credit Card offers a unique blend of benefits that other cards in our top 5 do not. Aside from zero foreign transaction fees, applicants are eligible for 0% interest on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, complete with no balance transfer fee. It also provides 0.5% cashback on all purchases, though this is capped at £10 per month.

The card has a monthly fee of £3 and a representative APR of 29.8%. Additional features include card controls via the mobile app, personalised offers through Santander Boosts, and account alerts to help manage spending.

3. Natwest Reward Black Credit Card

Natwest Reward Black Credit CardThe NatWest Reward Black Credit Card allows cardholders to earn 1% cashback at supermarkets, 0.5% at petrol stations, and 0.5% on other purchases, with up to 15% cashback at selected retailers. The card includes a minimum credit limit of £5,000 and offers 24/7 priority customer service.

The representative APR is 40.7%, with an annual fee of £84, which is waived for Reward Black current account holders. The card can be managed via the NatWest mobile app, and users can easily check their eligibility without impacting their credit score.

4. Halifax Clarity Credit Card

Halifax Clarity Credit CardThe Halifax Clarity Credit Card has no real other benefits of note, aside from no fees for using your card abroad, whether that’s for purchases or cash withdrawals. For this reason, it fails to make our top 3. As you’d expect, you can manage your account online, and should you need to get in touch urgently, you’ll have access to a UK call centre to help with essential services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Despite the lack of other benefits, the Halifax Clarity card has the best representative APR (23.9%) of all 5 travel credit cards we’ve listed. So if you don’t think you’ll be able to clear your balance within the interest-free period, this could be the one to go for.

5. Zopa Credit Card

zopa credit cardIf you’re looking to dodge the mainstream banks, a Zopa Credit Card could be the way to go. Aside from zero foreign currency fees, there’s little in the way of benefits but Zopa’s simple app makes managing your credit card easy. You can see your PIN, download statements, see how much you’ve spent and much more, all on the go.

With a feature dubbed a ‘credit cushion’ you can also set aside some of your available credit balance to keep it for when you really need it.

The representative APR is 34.9%, and there are no monthly fees.

Summing up

By now, you should hopefully have a better understanding of the fees that accumulate when you make a card transaction overseas.

Through undertaking an extensive travel credit card comparison, we’ve identified the top 5 to consider before your next trip. However, determining what the best travel credit card is for you depends on the exact features and benefits you’re looking for.

If you’re specifically looking for a credit facility, the Barclaycard Rewards Credit Card and the Santander All in One Credit Card offer perhaps the broadest range of benefits, while not adding any additional currency fees to the rate they receive from Visa or Mastercard.

But, consider also a multi-currency debit card if you want to hold and convert multiple currencies at favourable rates. What’s more, the fact it’s linked to a multi-currency account, there’s no need to make a credit application.