Having a bad credit card when travelling means you could waste a load of money. We all make mistakes when it comes to travel money, but don’t give your bank easy money when you don’t have to. In this blog, we focus on some easy steps you can take to become a travel money superstar and pick an awesome travel credit card which will save you money. We’ve ranked the 5 best travel credit cards UK.
Ultimate Travel Money Guide
We’ve compiled a whole load of comprehensive blogs focusing on travel money. In this blog we focus on the best travel credit cards UK, but that is just one aspect of being travel money savvy.
Using our Ultimate Travel Money Guide, you can find out what are the best travel debit cards, how to avoid money changer scams and what are those international bank fees you keep getting on your card whilst travelling? Our in house (or hostel as we are travelling) money guy James is here to offer tips and guidance on managing your money whilst travelling.
Why Should You Listen To Me?
Good point. Why should you? I’m James. I’ve worked in finance for the last decade – in banking, investments, risk and insurance. I’m also qualified in financial advice and planning. I’ve also spent almost 2 years travelling South East Asia, South Asia, South America and Central America.
So I’d like to think I know quite a bit on travelling and finance. And can offer some little known tips on travel money!
Travel Credit Cards: A Big Mistake You Could Be Making
When you think of good travel credit cards, I bet you think of good credit card reward schemes right? I’d challenge this view and argue you are better off going for a travel credit card with fee free purchases and/or fee cash withdrawals whilst abroad. Often credit card reward schemes aren’t worth your time. And fees whilst using your credit card abroad can really add up.
Get The Best Travel Credit Card: Move to America
Only joking! But if you do live in America then you’ll be spoilt for choice when trying to find a decent travel credit cards, including ones with decent rewards programs. In the UK the choice is a little more limited and rewards schemes are not so abundant.
If you are in the states, I’ve pulled together a blog on some of the best USA credit and debit cards you can get. Otherwise, stay with me to find out the best travel credit cards in the UK. I promise it will be worth your time.
I Didn’t Focus On Travel Credit Card Reward Schemes
In my quest for the best travel credit card UK, I focused on ones that gave the best deal when it came to fee free purchases and / or cash withdrawals, rather than wading through the endless reward schemes that end up costing quite a lot and not giving me what I wanted.
However, before we start ranking the best travel credit cards UK, here’s a few things to think about when you look at getting a travel credit card:
Beware Of Places You Can’t Use Your Card
In many countries cash is king. Sometimes it’s tricky to use a credit (or debit) card. Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand are obviously a different story, so your actual credit card usage will depend totally on where in the world you are going.
You Are A Snowflake
Each credit card offer will be personal to each person, based on affordability assessments and your credit history. In this case, despite what your grandad might say, you are a special snowflake.
So you will need to determine whether the suggestions I make below are right for your individual situation, even more than you would with a debit card.
It can be harder to get a credit card than a debit card. You will need to be able to demonstrate the ability to pay off the amount you use plus interest.
You also will likely need to be a permanent resident in the UK, unlike with some of the travel debit cards we have looked at.
Applying For Credit Cards Can Play Havoc With Your Credit Rating
Applications can temporarily affect your credit rating, especially if you apply for lots at once. Be captain organised, and apply for them WELL in advance of going travelling. Oh and spread out the applications!
You can check your credit rating for free beforehand using a service like Experian, to work out if you are likely to get a credit card and this can also indicate whether you will get decent terms or not. So worth doing.
Don’t Be A 1 Card Wonder
Don’t just bring one card away with you. What if it gets eaten by a ATM or worse a crocodile? I recommend bringing 1 credit and 1 debit card at least, and a few back up cards just in case.
If you are traveling around long-term with other folks, you can get multiple cards for each account. So my partner Lara and I have a card for each other’s accounts. This means that if one of us has worse terms we can just use the cards linked to the better account terms and use the other one as a back-up for crocodile related incidents.
It also helps if one of you loses their credit card, as you will still be able to access the accounts.
Don’t Get Caught Short On Repayments
Credit card repayments are usually due at least 20 days after your statement is issued. This can give you at least 50 days to save the money from the point you bought something.
Your statement date and payment date won’t always be the same every month. Don’t get caught short! Set up a direct debit to repay your balance in full and keep enough money in your current account well in advance.
If you do not pay off your cards in time you will throw money down the drain through paying interest, it will affect your credit rating and worst case it could potentially lead to bankruptcy.
Read Your Terms & Conditions (Yes, I Know They Are Boring)
There are a whole host of fees that go hand-in-hand with any credit card. There are normally higher interest rates on cash withdrawals than purchases, so make sure you read the terms and conditions well before applying.
What Are The Best Travel Credit Cards In The UK?
Okay, so we are finally at the point you have been waiting for right? Which are the best travel credit cards in the UK?
The credit cards we carry are:
- Barclaycard Platinum Travel Card (no longer available)
- The Halifax Clarity Card
HOWEVER, there are a couple of others out there which were not available before we left. The table below gives a overview of the best travel credit cards UK:
A Little More About Our Top Picks: Best Travel Credit Cards UK
Best Travel Credit Card UK 1: Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus (Replacement for Barclaycard Platinum Travel Card)
Damn, this one wasn’t available before we went travelling and I want it!
The Barclay Card Premium Cashback Plus is the replacement for the Barclaycard Platinum Travel Card that we have. It’s got a more boring sounding name but is arguably better as it is fee free for longer and gives you 0.25% cashback on all purchases.
Fee Heaven: Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus
Barclaycard uses Visa. So, you will have to pay the small mark-up on something called the interbank rate when using this card abroad. You have to pay this with almost all cards though.
No Foreign Fees
The best bit is that there are no additional foreign purchase fees or foreign withdrawal fees (until 31st August 2023).
To note, you have a lower cash withdrawal limit than your overall credit limit. For me this is 30% of my overall limit and operates on a rolling monthly basis.
No Interest Related Nightmares
When it comes to non-GBP cash withdrawals, you won’t be charged interest until your normal credit card purchase payment date. This will be at least 20 days after your statement date. This is pretty damn good as normally interest is charged literally as soon as you take the money out and until you pay it off.
But Don’t Use It At Home!
GBP cash withdrawals are charged interest straight away as well as a 2.99% (min £2.99) fee. So don’t use this card to take out cash back home! It’s a travel credit card, not your normal card.
Beware Of ATM Fees
When you withdraw cash that any local ATM and withdrawal fees will count towards your cash and credit limits. This will use up your cash balance and will incur interest if not paid off on time.
If you want to avoid money wasting local ATM fees (which can be £8 and more in Argentina every time you take your cash out) research free ATMs in the country you are visiting. These fees have NOTHING to do with your own bank.
Don’t Accidentally Use Up Your Limit
Beware that buying currency using your credit card at an exchange bureau counts as a cash transaction and will use up your limit! As does buying cryptocurrencies and making gambling transactions.
Don’t Lose Your Fee Free Benefits
Make your repayments! If you miss repayments then you can lose your fee free benefits. You don’t want to be stuck paying fees again when using your card abroad, so remember to make these.
Features: Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus
The best feature by far on the Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus is the fee free aspect. But there are some other features not to be scoffed at:
- 0.25% cashback on all purchases until 31st August 2023. Whilst this may be lower than some other cards out there, it is a nice little extra on top of the main and most important fee free feature. So if you use your card to pay for your flights and your big Galapagos trip, you’ll get a few quid back. Better than a kick in the teeth ay?
- An extra £15 cashback if you spend £1.5k in the first 3 months of opening the account.
- Access to discounts and offers on live events through Barclaycard Entertainment.
Just to note, you can’t apply for this if you already have a Barclaycard or had one less than 6 months ago.
Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus Customer Service:
So, what’s the customer service like?
£60 In Call Charges
I had my card blocked whilst away and had to ring up to get it unblocked when in Nepal. There were no Skype / WhatsApp calling options. I didn’t have a local sim or enough credit on my international sim, so this ended up costing £3/minute and about £60 in total. I know, bloody hell!
However, Barclays were able to unblock my card straight away AND they offered a full refund on the call charges without even asking for evidence.
I thought this was a pretty awesome touch especially for a card that is being held out as a travel credit card. I now use it for all my travel credit card needs.
Up Sh**t Creek Without A Credit Card
Barclaycard says that if you lose your card abroad you can get a temporary emergency card posted to you within 3 days and emergency cash up to £1k depending on your limit. This sounds great and is very helpful.
However, I have read that the emergency card is not PIN enabled and so only useful for online transactions.
Most UK credit card companies are reluctant to post replacement cards abroad, so you may just have to suck it up and ask someone back home to pick up your post and courier the full replacement to you.
Verdict: Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus
In the fight for the best travel credit card in the UK, Barclaycard is my favourite. You can withdraw cash fee free and interest fee, and not just use your card for purchases.
I prefer the app and the service that Barclaycard provide compared to the Halifax Clarity Card, even if the Clarity card gives me a higher credit limit.
I am a little jealous of travellers setting off now. The Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus account is better than the one I have. I blooming wish it had been around before we went travelling!
Get A BarclayCard Platinum Cashback Plus
Best Travel Credit Card UK 2: Tandem Cashback Credit Card
Again, the Tandem Cashback Credit Card wasn’t around before we went travelling 9 months ago! Like what the heck?
Who The Heck Are Tandem?
Tandem is a challenger bank (e.g a new kid on the block like Monzo) and offers an app-based account. This does have downsides if you lose your phone, compared to Barclaycard or Halifax, which have a proper website you can log into.
Tandem Cashback Credit Card Fees:
There are NO FEES on foreign purchases or cash withdrawals apart from the usual Mastercard mark-up (which all banks tend to do).
Pesky Cash Withdrawals Though
However, interest on cash withdrawals is charged straight away. Try and pay this off the same day if you need to use it for cash withdrawals or you could waste money.
Don’t Use This Card In The UK
This card is good for travelling. GBP cash withdrawals incur an additional 2.5% (minimum of £2.50) charge, don’t make this mistake and use this card in the UK unless you really have to.
Cash withdrawals are limited to 30% of your overall credit limit.
Exchange Bureaus Are Blocked
Transactions at exchange bureaus are blocked. As are cryptocurrency transactions, if you are into that kinda thing. Gambling transactions are allowed but count towards your cash withdrawal limit.
Tandem Cashback Features:
I will say it again, I don’t go for these credit cards because they have whizzy features or what not. The best way to save money whilst travelling is to use a fee free card. But here is a feature Tandem has:
- You will earn 0.5% cashback on all purchases over £1.
Tandem Cashback Customer Service:
I do not hold a Tandem card, so cannot speak from personal experience on this one.
Phone And Chat
However you can reach Tandem 24/7 by phone or in-app chat 7 days a week which saves you £££ on foreign call charges.
Help, I Lost My Phone / Credit Card
If you lose your phone you will need to buy a new smart phone and call them to have your new number registered on your account. Bit crappy, but that’s what you get with app based cards (for all their benefits and awesomeness!).
Unfortunately they will only post out replacement cards to the UK so you’ll need to get a relative or friend to send your card out to you.
Verdict: Tandem Cashback vs Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus
Tandem does not offer the lovely flexibility around cash withdrawals that Barclaycard does, as they charge interest on cash withdrawals from day one. Tandem do however provide better cashback on purchases.
So it is worth using Tandem for card purchases and Barclaycard for cash withdrawals, assuming you will pay both off in full on time.
The cashback on purchases tips the scales in favour of Tandem over Halifax (the next card I talk about), assuming you can get a decent credit limit with Tandem.
Get A Tandem Card
If you are interested in Tandem, find out more about the Tandem Cashback Credit Card.
Best Travel Credit Card UK 3: Halifax Clarity Travel Credit Card
I’ve had this card for years, since I went travelling in 2013 and it proved very useful.
However, I’ve fallen out with Halifax after a few issues with the service provided. This made me decide to use my Barclaycard unless absolutely necessary.
Halifax Clarity Travel Card Fees
There are no fees on foreign purchases or cash withdrawals apart from the usual Mastercard mark-up. Most banks charge this so you can’t get at Halifax for this 🙂
Uho, Cash Withdrawals Though!
However, you will be charged interest on cash withdrawals straight away (unlike the usual extended period after you get your statement). Try and pay this off the same day or you could end up out of pocket.
You Can Use It In The UK
GBP cash withdrawals don’t incur a fee unlike most other travel credit cards, which means you can use it in the UK.
Beware: Mind Those Cryptocurrencies!
Buying currency at an exchange bureau, buying cryptocurrencies and using your card for gambling all counts as cash use. And yikes, interest is charged from day one when you use it for these things.
Halifax Clarity Travel Card Features:
Again, Halifax’s strength as a travel credit card is in the lack of fees when using your card abroad. However, other features for the Halifax Clarity Travel Card includes:
- There are no cashback rewards or other bonuses. However Halifax gave me a much bigger limit than any other credit card and with the lowest interest rate too.
- If you get a Halifax clarity card, you can get fee free cash withdrawals (apart from MasterCard mark up) and purchases for the foreseeable future! Unlike Barclaycard which runs out in 2023.
- It uses the Mastercard rate, which is also usually slightly better than Barclaycard’s Visa rate.
Halifax Clarity Travel Card Customer Service:
Unfortunately based on my personal experience, customer service is where Halifax has let me down and so is not my go-to card anymore.
- Card expiring: My card is due to expire in the middle of our travels. I tried to get my card reissued with a later expiry date but this wasn’t possible. I’m not sure if this is a Halifax policy or applies to all credit cards, but is worth bearing in mind. This means my card is effectively useless for half of our trip.
- No new/replacement cards abroad: They do not post new or replacement cards abroad. Not particularly helpful for a card holding itself out as a “travel credit card”.
- £60 call charges: My card was blocked trying to make the same transaction that my Barclaycard got blocked for. The customer service experience with Halifax vs Barclaycard was very different. It took way longer to get my Halifax card unblocked. The staff I spoke to didn’t seem to appreciate the issue of having to call up from abroad to get my travel-specific credit card unblocked whilst travelling. I eventually managed to get the call charges refunded after kicking up a fuss and making a formal complaint. It is apparently not their policy to do so, so do not expect any luck in this department.
Verdict: Halifax Clarity vs Tandem Cashback vs Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus
The issues with the customer service I faced have really put me off using Halifax unless I absolutely need to. I don’t wanna risk using my Halifax Clarity card again, getting it blocked and needing to spend a lot of money trying to get it unblocked.
Halifax Clarity portrays itself as a travel credit card but this is not helpful if you encounter issues when using it whilst travelling.
I have heard of someone else having similar issues and ending up asking their mum to call up the bank from the UK, then WhatsApp call them and hold the 2 phones together. What is this nonsense?! It’s a shame as the interest rate is lower and the credit limit higher than my Barclaycard. But, I will stick with Barclay.
Get A Halifax Clarity Card
If you are interested in potentially using Halifax as a backup option then check out the Clarity card.
Best Travel Credit Card UK 4: Santander Zero Credit Card
The Santander Zero card is pretty similar to the Halifax card.
Santander Zero Fees:
No Foreign Fees
Like all the other travel credit cards mentioned, there are no fees on foreign purchases or cash withdrawals apart from the usual Mastercard mark-up.
Beware Of Those Pesky Cash Withdrawals
Like Halifax and Tandem interest on cash withdrawals is charged straight away! Try and pay this off the SAME DAY or you could end up wasting money on interest. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Yay, You Can Use It In The UK
GBP cash withdrawals don’t actually have a fee unlike most other travel credit cards. So you can use your credit card abroad and in the UK.
Bitcoins, Gambling and Exchange Bureaus
Buying currency at an exchange bureau, buying cryptocurrencies and using your card for gambling all counts as cash use. You will be charged interest from DAY ONE when you use it for these things.
Special Snowflake Cash Limit
The cash limit is a maximum of 50% of your credit limit, but this can vary by personalised offer from Santander.
Santander Zero Features
As I have gone on and on about, the most important thing (in my humble opinion) when picking a travel credit card is not being charged fees to use your card abroad. However, some Santander Zero credit card features are:
- There are cashback offers of up to 15% on specific retailers. In the first 60 days, you get a bigger cashback of 25% if you make 5 purchases at these retailers.
- There is 0% interest on purchases for 12 months. But if you pay off your transactions on time there will always be 0% interest so this shouldn’t sway you as you can get into bad habits and build up too much debt!
Santander Zero Customer Service
I’ve never had any Santander accounts or cards so cannot give any insight into how good their customer service is.
Verdict: Santander Zero vs The Others
Santander and Halifax seem to offer pretty much the same, so you may want to go for the best combination of credit limit and interest rates.
For Santander, you gotta have a income of £7.5k a year to even be considered. That’s why it’s below Halifax in my rankings. If you’ve already quit your job ahead of travelling this may be a deal breaker.
Sign Up For Santander
Check out the Santander Zero card.
Best Travel Credit Card UK 5: Aqua Reward Card
This is only included in the best travel credit cards UK for the sake of completeness, I am not really a fan. I actually hold an Aqua card, not a reward one as it wasn’t available at the time.
I got it before going travelling last time as a back-up but I have never used it. The tiny credit limit of £250 I got with it made it almost as useless as an ashtray on a motorbike
Aqua Reward Card Fees:
No International Fees
As with all the travel credit cards we’ve discussed in this travel money blog, there are no foreign exchange fees on purchases apart from the usual Mastercard mark-up.
Eww, High Cash Withdrawal Interest
If you withdraw cash anywhere, you will incur a 3% (minimum £3 charge) and be charged interest straight away (at almost up to 70% APR for some customers!!). This is NOT cool.
Aqua Reward Card Features:
Along with virtually no foreign fees on purchases abroad, the Aqua Reward Card offers the following features:
- You are more likely to be accepted for this credit card if you have a low credit score, but interest rates are very high and credit limits are very low.
- There is cashback of 0.5%. Although, it is capped at £100 a year. This is hard to reach anyway given the teeny weeny credit limits available.
Aqua Reward Card Customer Service:
I didn’t have the greatest customer service experience from Aqua. After receiving a letter from Aqua addressed to someone else, I rang up to ensure they had the right address for me as clearly they had messed up their records. They asked my address as part of the security checks and obviously my address didn’t match what Aqua had on record. As you know, they’d mixed up my account with someone else’s. This led Aqua to lock my account.
I provided all the evidence they asked for that my address was actually my address (not helped by the fact that I had subsequently moved) but apparently this wasn’t enough. I gave up for a couple of years.
A Few Years Later, I Tried Again
After getting frustrated and not wanting this blocked card potentially affecting my future credit limit potential I tried again to get the card unblocked. This took multiple calls, letters, escalations, more posting of evidence before they finally unblocked it.
Aqua bank took no responsibility for the issue apart from saying they would look into it. I never heard back from them on the outcome.
So take from this what you will. In my experience, Aqua customer service was pretty poor and the features of the credit card aren’t amazing either.
Verdict: Aqua Reward Card
I’d say it’s not the best travel credit card in the UK. The only reason you may want to consider this is if you struggle to get another credit card as the lending criteria is more relaxed. However this comes at an extortionate cost in terms of interest.
If this is your only option find out more about the Aqua Reward Card.
Conclusion: Best Travel Credit Cards Offered In The UK
So, who wins the battle for the best travel credit card offered in the UK? For me, the best travel credit card UK is the Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus.
The Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus provides the extra benefit of fee and interest free withdrawals. It also comes with some cashback.
The fact it uses Visa means that if a merchant or ATM has issues with accepting Mastercard (which a lot of credit and debit cards are) you will be covered.
Additionally Barclay’s customer service is good and there is some cover for emergency cash advances.
Bring Backup Credit Cards
Avoid lost or stolen card nightmares and bring either a Tandem, Halifax or Santander credit card as a backup. The card you choose should depend on the credit limits and interest rates you are offered.
Tandem may be the best choice as you can earn more cashback on purchases than the Barclaycard option. So can use Tandem for purchases and Barclaycard for cash withdrawals. This would be the best of both worlds I’d say!
8 Little Known Money Tips: Travel Credit Cards
Avoid getting in money trouble whilst travelling with these top travel credit cards tips:
- As I said before, bring a few different cards away with you just in case of a emergency. An ATM might swallow your card or your kid might chop it up. It might seem a lot to manage, compared to the 1 debit and 1 credit card you may use at home. You get used to it quite quickly and find that the majority of the time you are only using 1 or 2 anyway and the rest are good back-ups.
- Get cracking and apply as soon as possible for the credit cards you want. It can take some time for approval and for your card to get to you. Once you receive your cards you will want to personalise your PINs, check your cards work and authorise them.
- For credit cards you should check your credit score as soon as possible before applying, so you can challenge any errors and start improving it if you need to. To find out how to do this, check out the Money Advice Service’s (set up by the UK Government) helpful guide.
- Get app happy. Some cards will require apps and others will also have useful banking apps that are worth downloading and getting familiar with before you go. The apps are a very useful way of staying in control of your banking whilst on the go. Make sure your phone supports the most up to date versions of these apps.
- Security, security, security. You should enable all security features on your phone and the individual banking apps. Such as fingerprint ID, pass codes and facial recognition to secure your personal and financial information as much as possible. Unfortunately nothing is 100% secure, but there is no sense in making it easy for thieves.
- Get a digital key. Some banks use physical or digital secure keys. If you have the option of switching to digital do it as it will save you having to carry a physical key. You can lose your physical key, break it or it can even run out of battery. And you don’t want to waste your time and money on the phone to your bank because of a stupid physical key.
- Banks are currently rolling out a 3rd layer of security for online purchases. SMS codes sent to your registered number. So you’ll probably end up having to bring your UK sim travelling with you now and swap it in when you want to make online transactions.
- Postman Pat. You will likely receive post from your bank that can be important. Whilst you are away make sure you get a Royal Mail redirection service and if possible have someone you trust to manage your post for you and tell you of anything important you get. You don’t want to be coming back after an awesome time away to a massive credit card bill, bankruptcy notice or court order because you have forgotten to set up a direct debit to pay your card off and missed all of the warning letters.
What Is The Best Travel Debit Card?
Now you know what are the best travel credit cards UK. As part of the Ultimate Travel Money Guide, I’ve also written a blog on the Best Travel Debit Cards. Get even more travel money savvy and save your money for the things you really want, don’t throw it at the banks. We all know they don’t deserve it!
Explore More In Our Ultimate Travel Money Guide:
These posts are up to date as of March 2019 and will be updated periodically. But always check with the companies mentioned and keep an eye out for new ones I haven’t mentioned. I’ve mostly focused on all things UK based. Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any tips from your country you would like me to include.
We’ve found these to be pretty suitable for our needs. Your needs may differ and so the Ultimate Travel Money Blogs can only be taken as a guide rather than constitute personalised financial advice. Please get in touch if you have any specific questions and I will do my best to answer them.