Roamad Money

Choosing the Best Travel Credit Cards

Posted In: Credit Cards | Travel Money

Digital Roamads have unique needs when it comes to travel credit cards.

We can’t just apply for any ol’ credit card and then move on to the next task. Every card on the market these days – and uncountable numbers exist – offers different benefits and perks. Some of those are quite useful and, indeed, necessary when you’re a Roamad. And some of them are entirely pointless and of no practical value.

I have more than three decades of credit-card experience as a global traveler using all manner and brands of travel credit cards. And as a financial writer, I’ve penned a large number of stories on credit cards for major news outlets and a credit-card-focused website. So, let’s run through the list of what a Roamad really needs in a travel credit card so that you will better understand the cards I included in my curated collection of “Best Roamad Credit Cards.”

Roamads travel. That’s what we do. And what we need from a travel credit card when we’re on the road is certain protections, while what we want on the road are certain conveniences. Let me break down those needs and wants. At the end of this, I’ll tell you why certain airline credit cards are on the list of Best Roamad Credit Cards, and why others are not.

The 5 Credit Card Needs of Every Roamad

The best travel credit cards will meet all, or almost all of these needs:

Trip Delay Reimbursement

Air travel has increasingly become “air trouble” with flight delays and cancellations for reasons ranging from weather to labor actions such as employee strikes to maintenance issues. When your trip is delayed for an excessively long period, this coverage kicks in to foot the costs of meals, hotels, and transportation between airport and hotel. It takes the financial sting out of a delay that can easily cost you hundreds of extra dollars.

Trip interruption / cancellation insurance:

Life happens and trips are impacted for one reason or another. Maybe they’re interrupted and you have to return home for an emergency. Maybe the trip is cancelled because of an emergency. This coverage kicks in to make you whole (or pretty close to it) financially in terms of airfare, hotels, tour packages, and other such costs you’ve prepaid.

Lost Luggage insurance

Statistically, airlines lose about two bags for every 1,000 passengers. FAA data shows that roughly 2.7 million passengers fly every day in the U.S., so the math says roughly 5,400 go missing daily. And that’s just America. This coverage kicks in to help you afford the cost of replacing lost items in your bag and the bag itself.

Auto rental collision damage waiver

Basically, an insurance policy to cover you every time you rent a car. You can rely on your personal auto insurance policy (assuming you have one) but then you risk higher premiums if you end up making a claim because of an accident in a rental car. This way, the credit-card company covers the damage. Beware, however, that in some countries, including Ireland and others, you will need a document from your credit-card company asserting that it does, in fact, provide coverage to you in that country, otherwise the rental agency will demand you pay for daily coverage or it will hold on your credit card the full value of the vehicle, which can then screw up your capacity to use your credit card for purchases.

$0 Foreign transaction fees

Many credit cards impose a fee every time you swipe. Typically, that fee is in the 2.5% to 3% range, meaning every $100 you spend incurs an additional cost of as much as $3. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re a Digital Roamad living your life abroad, you use your credit card frequently. Over the course of an average year, transaction fees can add hundreds of dollars in unnecessary expenses to your life. So you absolutely want a card that imposes no foreign transaction fees.

The 6 Credit Card Wants of Every Roamad

These are not necessary for a travel credit card, but they add to the convenience and separate the best travel credit cards from otherwise good travel credit cards.

Baggage delay reimbursement

While lost-luggage insurance in a necessity, baggage delay is not. We can all get by without our bags for a day or so, despite the inconvenience and a bit of added costs for toiletries and such. Nevertheless, baggage delay reimbursement is a nice perk to help you afford the cost of a few clothes to tide you over, if necessary.

Global Entry / TSA PreCheck statement credit

U.S. airports are among the most poorly managed in the world. Sorry, but having grown up in the airline industry in America, and having experienced hundreds of airports across nearly 70 countries, I can say that without hesitation. Thus, making your life less hectic in U.S. airports goes a long way toward reducing the stress and frustrations all too common among travelers. Global Entry will simplify your re-entry into the U.S. through passport control when returning from abroad, while TSA PreCheck will (usually) usher you through airport security lines quicker and with less hassle. Cards that offer statement credit when applying for either of these services are a nice way to save $100 every few years.

Travel Credits

Airlines ding us for everything they can get away with these days – rebooking fees, baggage fees, food and drinks. Travel credits offer $200 to $300 a year that you can apply toward those extraneous costs we face when traveling.

Airport Lounge Access

Airports are hectic. They’re often crowded and noisy. It’s sometimes difficult to find a place to sit – and, then, when you do the chairs are not terribly comfortable. Lounges are the antidote. They offer a respite from the craziness in the terminal; they offer free food and drink, and sometimes hot meals; they provide showers when you have layovers on long-haul intercontinental flights. And the best of the best (British Airways’ first-class lounge in Heathrow’s Terminal 5, Turkish Airlines’ beautiful business-class lounge in Istanbul, Cathay Pacific’s The Wing lounge in Hong Kong, many of the American Express Centurion Lounges) are truly oases.

Security and Check-in Benefits

Similar to Global Entry and TSA PreCheck benefits. These benefits allow you to check-in for flights at business-class and/or first-class check-in counters, avoiding the sometimes-enormous economy-class lines that seem to stretch for days. They also give you access to priority security lines, which are often markedly shorter than are security lines for the hoi polloi.

Airline-Specific Benefits

Assuming you apply for a credit card branded by a particular airline, you gain a wide range of benefits specific to that airline and, sometimes, the airline alliance it’s part of. This typically includes bonus miles, special awards when you redeem miles for travel, various upgrade benefits when flying, maybe discounts on food when in the air, lounge access, check-in perks, a free companion ticket each year, no baggage fees, and the like.

Why Certain Airline Cards are Better Than Others

With nearly three million miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage program, I was loyal to AA and the oneworld Alliance for decades (AAdvantage member since 1986). And I regularly relied on my Citibank AAdvantage business and personal credit cards for almost all of my spending.

But then Citi axed a variety of benefits that are hugely important to me as a Roamad, including car-rental insurance, trip cancellation/delay protection, baggage loss/delay protection, and travel accident coverage.

As a Roamad, I now think Citicards are functionally useless. Literally every need I have as a roamadic traveler is gone, save for $0 foreign transaction fees. All I’m getting are the wants, minus the needs … which is precisely why I stopped using my AAdvantage cards and applied for Chase cards tied to United Airlines. Which, in turn, is why I now fly United and Star Alliance carriers wherever I go.

Yes, a credit card has that kind of power. Properly designed, it can influence decisions on which airline to tie yourself to as a frequent flyer.

For my money, Chase’s United MileagePlus cards, and American Express’ Delta Skymiles cards are the only two airline-branded credit-card offerings that make any sense for globe-hopping Roamad. It’s all about practicality and knowing you’re covered in those moments travel becomes a hassle.

A final Thoughts on Cash-Back Cards

If you’re a true nomad who’s flitting about the globe, but you’d rather collect money on cash-back credit cards rather than airline miles or travel points, I urge you to check the fine print of whatever cash-back card you have or want. Many explicitly ringfence the rest of the world, meaning you won’t earn cashback using the card overseas. You’ll pick some money buying plane tickets or hotels or travel packages for foreign destinations that you pay for in the U.S. before you leave. But you don’t always earn for plane tickets, hotels, packages, restaurants, or anything else you buy when you are abroad.

So before you sign up for a cash-back card, or before you go running around the world with the cash-back card already in your wallet, log in to you account – or call your card company – and determine what the rules are when it comes to collecting cashback on your foreign spending.

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