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Here’s Why I Only Use One Credit Card When I’m Traveling Abroad

A woman sitting in a sunny plaza next to her suitcase while she looks something up on her tablet and holds her credit card.

Image source: Getty Images

Over the last year and a half, I’ve gotten a lot better at maximizing my credit card usage to earn points and cash back. I often strategize about which card to use for which purchase. In fact, when I traveled to Hawaii earlier this year, my travel companion and I used four different cards between us to boost the rewards we earned.

You might expect me to be chomping at the bit to do the same when I travel abroad — but I just returned from a trip to Northern England, and I relied on just one card for the entire trip (including booking my flight and a two-night hotel stay before I left the U.S.). I did bring a backup credit card, just in case I encountered a mishap or lost the card I was planning to use for everything, but as it turned out, I didn’t need to use it. Here’s why relying on just one card for an international trip can work in your favor.

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It saves you time

First and foremost, only using one credit card for a vacation abroad is a great time-saver. At home, I have more time to ponder which card is best for which purchase, based on the type and amount of rewards it earns (often expressed as points per dollar or a certain percentage of cash back).

But I don’t get out of my own country very often, so that time is special — I would rather pull out the same card for every purchase, hotel stay, or restaurant meal than worry I’m losing out on rewards by not using a different card in every situation.

It’s easier to track your spending

I had set a strict budget for my England trip, so I needed to keep a close eye on my spending while I was out of the country. Using the same credit card meant that I only needed to log into one mobile app to see how much I spent every day of my trip — and since the app automatically converts GBP to USD, I didn’t have to do the math myself.

It aggregates your points for future travel

Finally, I relied on just one card for this trip because I wanted to build up as many points as possible for future travel. And this card in particular is a travel superstar — its highest bonus categories are travel booked through the issuer’s portal, dining out, and other travel expenses, like public transit.

All other purchases earn a base rate of 1 point per $1, so I was earning points every time I whipped out my card to cover any expense. Best of all, now all the points I earned are sitting in my account, waiting for me to turn them into hotel stays or experience bookings through the card issuer’s portal.

Three qualities of the best travel credit cards

Have I convinced you that using just one card on an international vacation is the way to go? Here are a few features shared by the best travel credit cards — so you can pick the right one for your adventures.

1. No foreign transaction fees

OK, this one is absolutely crucial because foreign transaction fees have the potential to make your vacation a lot more expensive. A typical percentage for these fees is 3% — so if you spend $1,000 in a foreign currency, you’ll pay an extra $30. I’d rather spend $30 on a cheap pub lunch during my trip than on a silly fee.

2. A high credit limit

Unfortunately, you won’t know what credit limit you’ll be given until you apply for a card and get approved. But if you have several travel credit cards and are trying to pick the right one, I recommend going with the one with the highest limit. That way, you’re less likely to bump up against it in the course of your spending. Keep in mind that using more than 30% of your credit limit is a short trip to credit score damage.

3. Bonus categories that fit your vacation spending

This one is pretty easy because most credit cards marketed for travelers specifically pay higher rewards rates in the categories that travelers use. These include travel bookings (plane tickets, hotel stays, and so on) and dining out (who doesn’t love a fancy dinner on vacation?).

Travel credit cards can make international travel even better. Take the time to pick the right card for you and reap the benefits.

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