Cash or card: What’s best to use when traveling?

Learn more about when might be the best time to use a card or cash when traveling.

As you plan your next trip, consider how you’ll book your travel and what you’ll use to pay while you’re away. Credit cards and cash can both be convenient at different times. And there might even be alternatives worth considering. 

In general, credit cards offer benefits and security that you don’t get with cash. But you might need cash for certain purchases. Read on to learn more.

When you might want to use a credit card

Credit cards can offer convenience and protection, like security alerts and $0 liability for unauthorized charges, whether you’re traveling within the U.S. or abroad. 

You can use your card at any store that accepts the payment network linked to your card. When you use it responsibly, paying with a credit card can also offer multiple benefits. Depending on your card, these might include:

  • Rewards: You may be able to earn cash back or other types of rewards on your purchases.
  • Potential to build credit: Using a credit card and consistently paying bills on time in full can help you build a positive credit history
  • Travel-related protections: When using an eligible card to book travel, you could receive benefits like travel accident insurance or a car rental collision damage waiver
  • Security features: Every Capital One credit card offers a number of security features, like Card Lock, which lets you instantly lock a card to stop it from being used for purchases.*
  • Unauthorized charge coverage: Some credit card issuers—like Capital One—offer $0 liability for unauthorized charges. If your card is lost or stolen, you will not be responsible for charges you did not authorize.

Those are some of the potential benefits of using a credit card while traveling. You can look at specific benefits, terms and conditions to narrow down your choices to a card that’s right for you. 

Foreign transaction fees may come into play when choosing a credit card. Capital One’s U.S.-issued cards don’t charge a fee for using your card for foreign currency transactions, but other credit cards might. You can check your card’s terms and conditions to see what fees there are. 

You also want to watch out for dynamic currency conversion (DCC) fees if you’re using a card abroad. This optional service converts the foreign price to your home currency. But merchants aren’t usually providing this service for free. A DCC could cost you more.

When you might want to use cash

Credit cards can offer you benefits, flexibility and protection if your card is lost or stolen. But there may be times when it helps to have cash on hand. 

For example, you might want to make sure you have cash before visiting local markets. And it could be nice to have cash for tips after a meal or when you’re taking a tour. 

Other payment methods to consider

In addition to credit cards and cash, you have other payment options while traveling. Here are a few to consider:

Debit card

A debit card could be a good alternative for making purchases. You can pay using money you already have without carrying cash. Or you can use it to withdraw cash. 

Some checking accounts may charge a fee when you use your debit card at ATMs abroad. And some banks might also charge a foreign transaction fee. Capital One doesn’t charge any additional international ATM withdrawal fees when you use 360 Checking and MONEY Teen Checking products abroad. But you could be charged a fee by the ATM operator. And there may be fees for non-360 products—like Total Control Checking, Essential Checking and other products—when you use an ATM outside of the U.S. and its territories. 

Mobile wallets

You could get the benefits of a credit card without actually carrying the card by using a mobile or digital wallet. A mobile wallet is essentially a digital version of your real wallet. Depending on the wallet, you may be able to store things like credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards, boarding passes, hotel reservations, event tickets and other types of personal data.  

Mobile wallets can add an extra layer of security because they often use advanced technology that doesn’t rely on your actual account numbers. But some merchants might not accept mobile wallet payments. 

Prepaid travel cards

With a prepaid card, the card isn’t connected to your checking account like it is with a debit card. You can load money onto a prepaid travel card and use it for purchases or to withdraw cash.

Like some credit and debit cards, some prepaid cards may offer $0 liability for unauthorized charges if you register the card. You may also be able to load the account with a foreign currency to lock in an exchange rate.

Traveler’s checks

Traveler’s checks might be another option, but they’re not as common as they used to be. You can buy these checks at certain financial or travel-related companies. Then you can use the checks where they’re accepted to make a purchase or cash them when you reach your destination.

Traveler’s checks are generally printed with a unique serial number—which means you may be able to get a refund if your checks are lost or stolen.

Be sure to check the terms and conditions to understand any restrictions or fees that might apply. And remember that some companies no longer issue or accept these checks. Plus, you can get similar safety features with other payment options.  

Find your next travel card or bank account

Credit cards can be great travel companions. They may reward you for your purchases and can help protect you if your card is lost or stolen. But there are also other payment types you could consider, and you may want to have some cash on hand for parts of your trip. If you’re looking for a debit card to take on your travels, you can open a Capital One 360 Checking Account. If you’re looking for a new credit card, you can see if you’re pre-approved. It’s quick and it won’t hurt your credit. 

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