UPDATE: FOR OUR LATEST CREDIT-CARD ADVICE, READ THE BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR TRAVELERS IN 2018.
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.?
—Jim and Anne
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.