What's in Our Wallet

February 05, 2019

Not much money, to be honest. But, we do have a useful set of credit / debit cards that make traveling more enjoyable and cost effective.

A few high-level points:

  • Have cards from at least 2 financial institutions. Sometimes your transactions will be wrongly flagged as fraudulent and your card will be suspended until you are able to verify your purchases. This gets very awkward at the checkout line, boarding a boat, etc. If you have a card from a different institution, you have an alternate payment method if your primary card gets locked out.
  • Foreign transaction fees can be EXPENSIVE. Be sure to find cards that are free of foreign transaction fees. We have a few separate cards that we use domestically that we won’t using while traveling because they have expensive international fees. An example of how expensive things can get: Chase debit cards typically charge $5 AND 3% of the transaction amount. So if you’re pulling out $500, it’s going to cost you $20.
  • Only carry your 2-3 primary cards (1 debit, 2 credit, for example) with you. Keep at least 1 debit and 1 credit card in your luggage or somewhere else safe. If you get mugged or lose your wallet, you’re going to want a backup plan for accessing money.
  • Some foreign countries charge you extra for using a card. In the USA the seller typically eats the transaction fees. In other countries they will often pass them on. This means an extra 1-3% added to your bill when using a card. You can handle this how you want. I personally hate cash, so it’s often worth the fee for me not to have to carry it, but you may find that carrying cash is best for you.

Top Picks for credit and debit card

Here is a list of what we use and why:

Chase Sapphire Reserve (Credit Card)

This is the best travel card. 3% cashback on restaurants and travel expenses. Those two categories are probably 80%+ of what we spend when we’re on the road. No foreign transaction fees is also a must and this card delivers. The card also gets you a free “Priority Pass” and credit to cover TSA precheck registration.

Priority pass gives you access to airport lounges. It’s fantastic. Lounges are a great place to take a break during a layover, especially if you have kids because it’s a safer place for them to run around. In many airports, you can get meal credit (~$28/person) to certain restaurants as well. It’s all included in the priority pass.

TSA precheck is a game changer for domestic travel (especially with kids!). You don’t have to take off your shoes, or remove liquids / electronics and you get to go through the fast-track line. Several time i’ve walked straight through security without waiting at all. It will change your travel experience. The best part is Chase reimburses you for it when you have this card.

Card details

  • Annual fee $450
  • They give you $300 in travel credit annually (so this effectively knocks it down to $150)
  • Sign on bonus 50,000 points (~$500)
  • 3% back on restaurants and travel
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Credit towards TSA precheck
  • Extra 50% bonus points when you redeem toward travel on the Chase platform (We haven’t found this to be very helpful b/c it has poor coverage of airlines and often the tickets are more expensive, but maybe it will work for you)

Capital One 360 Checking (Debit Card)

I didn’t think about debit card transaction fees until right before we left. I looked up Chase’s fees and they were crazy high ($5 + 3% of transaction). Googling around, I found that Capital One is the way to go. They charge no fees for atm withdrawals and no foreign transaction fees. Plus, it helped me diversify away from Chase so that I have 2 places to access my money in case one gets locked out.

Card details

  • No annual fee (A MUST for me for checking accounts)
  • No ATM transaction fees, including international

Other cards we have

Here are some other cards we have. We’re not using many of these while travelling, but they are great domestically

Chase Freedom

No fees. Rotating 5% back categories (one quarter will be gas stations, the next will be Walmart, etc.). This was the first card we got when we got married. Still a great card.

Chase Freedom Unlimited

No fees. 1.5% back across the board. Our go-to card when we can’t remember which card has the best cash back for the purchase we’re currently making.

Chase Marriott Bonvoy

6x points back on Marriott. 100,000 sign on bonus. Automatic Silver status at Marriott. Annual free night. We mainly got this for the sign on bonus. Marriott is our hotel of choice while traveling, so it pays off. Otherwise I’d probably ditch this one after we used the bonus points.

Bank of America Alaska Airlines card

30,000 bonus miles. Free buddy pass when you sign up. Free checked bags. Annual buddy pass for just taxes and fees. We travel a lot on Alaska, so the free checked bag ends up paying for itself. We used the free buddy pass to get to Hawaii. A great card IF you plan to fly Alaska a lot. Otherwise, stick to the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Thanks for reading!