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Today’s post comes as an answer to reader Neal, who writes in wondering about the best credit card to go to Europe. He says
I have been reading your blog and subscribed to your mailing list and while I’m still at the very beginning stages of building my credit, I can’t wait to be able to use all of your tips as I am an avid traveler!
I’m writing you for my Mom and step father, who are planning a trip to Italy. They haven’t yet booked flights and they mentioned to me today that they are interested in opening a new credit card or two. Just from reading your blog I know the fastest way to free flying is by the bonuses offered up by credit cards! They bank with <redacted> exclusively but are open to anything, and haven’t ever used a rewards card before. Both have credit scores in the mid-800’s. What would be the best options for them to in terms of signing up for a card or two with large bonuses they can use on flights roundtrip to Italy and accumulate rewards while they have the card? Also, it’s just the two of them and its an anniversary so I’m sure they would like to fly in style if possible! Thanks for your time, not only with this email, but with your blog 🙂
I actually get quite a few emails, and a lot of times they are in a similar vein to this. Many times I just answer the email, but there are many times as well that I get about 2 or 3 paragraphs in and then realize that there are probably lots of people that would benefit from this answer, so I end up turning it into a blog post. Judging from the fact that you’re reading this post, you can probably guess which way this one went 🙂
Basics to take care of before finding the best card to go to Europe (or anywhere)
Before you apply for any credit card, there are a few basic things that you’ll want to do first.
- Check out my Beginner’s Guide to miles and points. This covers a lot of the basics including the difference between cash points and “points” points, how to check your credit score (I use Credit Sesame to check mine for free) and making sure you have the financial discipline consistently pay off all of your bills (including any outstanding credit card debt) in FULL each and every month
- You can join our free miles and points Facebook group. I created this group as a flame free place for people to learn about miles and points, talk earning and burning strategies, and share travel stories. You can also email me at dan at pointswithacrew dot com with your question – like I said, I read every email and reply (or post!) to almost all of them. The advantage of posting in the miles and points Facebook group is that you also get the wisdom of a lot of other smart people.
What’s the best card to go to Europe?
What’s the best card to go to Europe? As always, it depends :-). A few of the factors to look for
- Where you’re leaving from – if you don’t live in (or can easily get to) a hub, then it may be much harder to find those cheap $400 flights to Europe
- How much time do you have before you’re planning on travel. Especially if you want to travel in a premium cabin, you’ll want to give yourself a LOT of time (12+ months at least) to a) sign up for the cards, b) get the miles, and c) find the award availability
- Do you have specific dates and places you HAVE to travel on? If so, according to the Traveler’s Triangle, expect to have trouble finding award availability and/or have to pay a lot more for your ticket, whether it be cash or award.
As you can see, finding the best card for travel to Europe is not as straightforward as you might think. One suggestion I like to make is do some test bookings. Use a variety of airline search engines to look for what award availability looks like (and how much it costs) for something similar to what you want to book. Use Google Flights to check cash prices for some examples
That will give you a bit of an idea on how many miles your tickets will cost and what miles might help you the most. When in doubt, a card that gives flexible points and can transfer to a variety of airline programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards or Citi ThankYou points would make sense.
Best card for travel to Europe
Okay if you put a gun to my head and asked me for the best card to go to Europe, I would probably say the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. There’s a reason the CSP is the card I find myself most recommending for people starting out. It has
- A good signup bonus (generally 50K Chase Ultimate Rewards + 5K for adding an authorized user)
- Waived annual fee the first year and only $95 after that. It’s one of the 4 cards I’ll consider paying an annual fee on. Speaking of cards I’ll pay the annual fee on, another of the cards on that list – the Chase IHG card – as of this writing has a signup bonus up to 100,000 IHG points.
- Lets you transfer to Chase partners like United, Hyatt, Southwest and more
- While you’ll generally get the BEST value from your Chase points if you transfer them to travel partners, with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can also use them as cash at the value of 1.25 cents / point. So your 50,000 points are worth $625 in travel if you book that way (SEE: The difference between cash points and “points” points and why it’s important)
- Many people already have a Chase Freedom card with points on it and applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred lets you combine those points and make them more valuable
With cash fares to Europe so cheap now, another option would be something like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® – current signup bonuses give 50,000 Arrival miles as a signup bonus once you spend $3000 in the first 90 days. That is worth a straight $500 in travel, and the nice thing about that is that you can use them for any kind of travel, even things that “regular” miles and points can’t cover.
Any other suggestions on the best credit card to go to Europe? Leave them in the comments!