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Use the right credit cards to pay smart for your next vacation

By Justin Boyle

There's almost nothing better to do with leisure time than travel. The world is huge, and global trends in media and commerce are making it more accessible than ever to regular working people like you and me.

The warm season is a popular time to get away from home for a while, whether it's to the balmy summer beaches of the Mediterranean or the autumns and winters of Argentina, Australia and other destinations in the southern hemisphere. The right credit cards can help you pay smart for your travels abroad, earning you miles, points and other rewards while helping you avoid surcharges and fees that might surprise less savvy travelers.

There are two types of travel plastic to keep at hand: credit cards with miles promotions and credit cards with no foreign transaction fee.

Credit cards with miles promotions

The first step in any vacation to foreign soil is getting there, and using a card with no foreign transaction fee airline credit card or a bank-sponsored card that offers a strong airline benefits package can make that first step a breeze. Some cards offer double and triple points for flights booked through certain carriers, and more cards than ever are allowing points redemption for international travel.

Blue Sky from American Express offers cardholders no blackout dates on redeemed points and includes car rentals and hotels in its redemption options. Points can be earned toward flights on any airline, and the card carries no annual fee.

Credit cards with no foreign transaction fee

Foreign transaction fees snuck up and surprised quite a few friends of mine who studied abroad in college. When a charge has to switch currencies -- from dollar to euro, for instance -- there are often surcharges involved. The best credit cards for travelers come with built-in ways around this inconvenience.

Blue Sky does charge a foreign transaction fee however Cardmembers have 24/7 access to the American Express Global Assist Hotline when traveling more than 100 miles from home.

Capital One offers multiple no charge overseas cards for wise travelers. In fact, not only does Capital One refrain from charging fees to their cardholders, they choose to absorb rather than pass along to their customers the 1-percent foreign transaction fee charged to them by Visa and MasterCard.

An increasing number of issuers are offering credit cards with no foreign transaction fee. Chase and Discover are also beginning to rethink the way they handle their international fee structure in today's global village.

Other benefits of no charge overseas cards

More and more, people are shying away from the tried-and-true method of carrying cash instead of charging purchases when traveling internationally. Citing confusion over bill denominations, pickpockets and petty thieves, among other reasons, today's travelers appreciate that the best credit card reward programs can make carrying foreign cash unnecessary.

Don't hesitate to look into airline credit cards issued by overseas carriers, especially if travel abroad might become a habit for you. Be aware, though, that what you know as miles might go by a different name to an international airline -- British Airways card calls them "Avios" -- because most other nations use the metric system.

With thorough planning and a good combination of credit cards, you can take the guesswork and unpleasant surprises out of your international travel plans this summer. Remember to compare credit cards online at sites like MoneyBlueBook.com, then contact your issuer's customer service department if you have specific needs or questions. Happy travels!

Justin Boyle is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas.

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