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The Best Chip Credit Card for Travel in Europe

Wendy Perrin | April 14, 2014
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Question:

Wendy,

We enjoyed hearing your talks about the “Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know” on an Oceania cruise in South America. We now need a credit card with an embedded chip to use in Europe at gas stations, in restaurants, etc. Do you have a credit card you recommend for this that we can also use in the U.S.?

Thanks,

—Jim and Anne

Answer:

I remember meeting you onboard, Jim and Anne! How great to hear from you again.

There are two types of credit cards with electronic chips: chip-and-PIN cards, where you punch in a PIN code rather than signing a credit-card slip, and chip-and-signature cards, where you need to sign (which means you can’t use them at unmanned kiosks). Chip-and-PIN cards are better for Europe because they work in more locations. They work at automated payment machines such as those you find in train stations, at gas pumps, and in parking garages. The problem is that few U.S. banks issue chip-and-PIN cards.

Here’s a handy-dandy Google Doc, compiled by frequent-traveling FlyerTalk members, listing chip cards that are available in the U.S. One of the chip-and-PIN cards listed, the Globe Trek Visa, is also recommended by Rick Steves; it has a magnetic stripe, so it can be used in the U.S., and it charges no foreign-transaction fees.

Personally, though, I use a chip-and-signature card in Europe and really haven’t been inconvenienced. At unmanned payment terminals, such as ticket machines or toll booths, I simply use cash. The card I carry, a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, charges no foreign-transaction fees, and the annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year. (That’s my own card in the photo above—with my name blacked out by my protective husband who took the photo.)

Jim and Anne, I remember that you and virtually everyone on that Oceania ship were savvy mileage collectors as well as frequent travelers and foodies, so I’m going to assume that loyalty points matter to you and that you spend a lot on travel and dining.  Therefore, you should know that, for people who travel and dine out often, the Chase Sapphire card really pays off when it comes to points. It earns you double points for travel and restaurant purchases, as well as a 7 percent annual dividend on all miles earned every year, and the points give you flexibility too: You can transfer them into a variety of different airline and hotel programs, as well as into any of the three major international airline alliances, although it’s easiest to transfer them to United and redeem them on flights within the Star Alliance, since this gives you access to mileage-award seats on many different airlines and routes worldwide. If you’ve got most of your miles with American Airlines or Delta, this might not be the card for you: While you can transfer points to American’s partner British Airways with the goal of using them for flights within the Oneworld alliance, or you can transfer them to Delta’s partner Korean Air with the goal of using them for flights within the SkyTeam alliance, the process isn’t as easy as it is with United, in my experience.

Jim and Anne, if you like the sound of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I suggest you both get one because that way you’ll each earn 40,000 bonus points for signing up for the card. It won’t cost you extra, since the card is free for the first year. You can wait till after your trip to Europe to decide whether or not you want to keep the card; if not, you can dump it before paying the annual fee. (Just be sure to transfer your points to one of the airlines or hotels first.)

Does anyone have a chip card they think may be better than the two mentioned here? I’d love to hear about it.

Update: In July 2014 Chase made a few changes to this card’s benefits. Most notably, it discontinued the 7% annual dividend for new cardholders (and is phasing it out for existing cardholders by 2016). But it also beefed up the car rental collision damage coverage it provides, upgrading the coverage from secondary to primary. Here’s a description of the changes

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8 Comments

  1. Shay Seng

    I’ve been very satisfied with the Chase Sapphire card for the last couple of years, however this year because of my trip t Europe in Dec, I decided to ask for a new Chip and Signature card from chase. The card worked fine in the US, but kept getting denied in Europe.

    I must have called the help line a good dozen times — wasting precious vacation time. What was worse is that I only brought another Amex as back-up ( and Amex is not always accepted in Europe). The Chase team kept trying something and declaring that it should work. Back and forth we would go, they even sent me new cards to my hotel in Barcelona. No luck. What’s worse was that they kept insisting that I try one of two work arounds — repeatedly — even after I told them that they didn’t work.

    Workaround 1 was to swipe instead of “dip”. The problem with that was that the chip was functioning ( it just contained bad info), so from the point of view of the machine, the card had a functional chip — so it refused to let me swipe. the machines kept telling me that a card with a chip needs to be inserted not swiped.

    Workaround 2: tell the merchant to manually enter in the number. Since the chip could be read, no merchant was willing to enter in the card manually — quite rightly so, for fear of fraud.

    I kept telling the Chase people this but their reply was always the same. Until I insisted on talking to a manger — who, finally conceded that they have been having issues with the chips and that they don’t have any other work arounds.

    As a result I’ve had to cancel restaurant bookings etc – for fear of not being able to pay.

    Beware.

  2. KJ

    Hi Wendy,

    I have the same exact card you have, and I have been using it at automated chip+PIN kiosks Spain for parking and train tickets without any issues. I might be wrong when I say this, but I believe chip+signature cards defaults a signature (instead of PIN) where the transaction device provides the option, but has a fallback option of chip+PIN where it is required.

  3. Sedona Joel

    I agree on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. The chip and signature is very handy but the most valuable benefit to using the card for cruise purchases is the FREE trip cancellation insurance worth 7 – 10% of the cruise fare plus the 2 miles/dollar spent.

    I’m currently aboard the Oceania Marina on my way to NYC. I gave a talk on using points to a group of about 30 fellow passengers earlier on this voyage.

  4. Sam B

    My American Express Platinum and Chase Marriott Premier cards both have chip and sign. They work well in Canada and Europe, and have even used them at kiosks. Recently some stores in the US are requiring me to insert chip, so the switch is slowly starting to happen here too.

  5. Susanna Temescu

    Hi Wendy, What about that Barclay’s world master card that has come highly recommended for Euro travel purposes. How do these two compare? Good luck on your new venture.
    Susanna

  6. Andrew

    I was able to use my chip and signature Chase Sapphire Preferred card to purchase museum tickets from an automated kiosk in Vienna last fall…not sure if that’s different than train ticket kiosks.

  7. Karen Fawcett

    Wendy: Thanks for the “puce” tip. Unfortunately, even though it makes the credit card more secure, there’s no pin code associated with it so people will still have to sign a credit card slip. that’s a pain if you’re trying to buy a train ticket or gas in Europe.

    I just called and the person said that if there were pin codes, people might think the credit cards can be used for cash withdrawals. They can – but you’ll pay a hefty interest rate contrasted to an ATM card. I’m still looking for the PERFECT US credit card with a chip and a pin code.

    Karen
    http://www.BonjourParis.com

  8. GREG

    Another gushing CSP post. It’s a good card but hope you’re not considering taking commissions from it in the future. Wendy please stay above that fray – your credibility is rock solid now.

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