A credit card without travel benefits is like the earth without the sun–it won't survive long.
While points get all the spotlight, several perks are hiding in the fine print for the savvy traveler. Some will save you hundreds, if not thousands, when something inevitably goes wrong. Others will make every single flight better. The key is keeping up with which card offers what. Companies constantly compete to add new ways for travelers to benefit while quietly letting old perks go. It’s terrible to book a rental car and not realize until after the crash that your card no longer carries rental car insurance–especially when another one that does is sitting in your wallet. Before you book anything, look for these benefits and protections to upgrade your travel.
Top Picks for You
Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance
The days of our false sense of invincibility around our booked trips are long gone. More travelers are looking for insurance to protect their purchases. Before you do, check your credit card for trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage. Particularly common on travel-brand credit cards, this benefit will reimburse costs if you can’t go or if your trip is cut short due to illness, weather, and other covered setbacks. Bottom line: your card may already carry comparable insurance without yet another purchase.
Rental Car Damage Coverage
Once upon a time, credit cards were dropping this reassuring protection, leaving those who weren’t paying attention with some expensive fender-benders. Happily, auto rental collision coverage is back with many travel cards. If you’ve got it, make sure you know whether it is for primary or secondary coverage. If it’s primary, decline the rental company’s offers. Most plans reimburse up to the car’s value for theft and collision damage. You must use this card for your final rental cost–no trying to swap it after the fact. While more cards cover domestic and international rentals, check the destination details.
Trip Delay Reimbursement
Everyone has heard, if not lived, a harrowing tale of canceled flights and endless delays that leave people stranded, sometimes for days. Those aggravated travelers have no reimbursement when the “reasons beyond our control” explanation come from the airline. If your card has this coverage and you used it to book the tickets, your frustrating delay becomes less expensive. Reimbursement for lodging and meals often starts after 12 or more hours of delays and is capped per ticket.
Baggage Delay and Lost Luggage Reimbursement
The last of the “things went wrong” protections shows up for you when your luggage doesn’t. If your bag is just taking an extended detour, baggage delay will reimburse you for essential toiletries and clothing up to a set amount for several days. Keep your receipts; they are crucial for reimbursement.
If your checked or carry-on luggage is lost or damaged, cards with these perks will reimburse you for your listed losses, typically up to several thousand dollars. You must use this card to book your flights and keep all documentation of delayed and lost luggage from the airline to qualify.
You don’t have to be a frequent flyer or have a ticket in business class to get into every lounge. Airline-branded cards can come with a few free passes each year to use the airlines’ club lounges. Other credit card companies team up with Priority Pass lounges and access to lounges that operate independently. Don’t sit against the wall for the one open outlet unless you’ve checked your card.
Global Entry, TSA Precheck, and NEXUS Reimbursement
If you’ve ever gazed enviously at that short TSA Precheck line or watched someone breeze through customs, the solution might be waiting in your card’s fine print. Several credit card companies offer up to $100 in statement credit for purchasing the time-saving clearance of your choice. All you have to do is go through the approval process and let your card quickly take you through security with your shoes on.
Points and status are the top two ways to get an upgrade without paying full price. Credit cards can help you earn both, bumping you up the status chart closer to those open seats. One of the best, little-known perks for Southwest Airlines-branded cards are the four upgraded boardings a year. Pay the fee for any available A1-A15 boarding spots at the gate, and you’ll get a statement credit to your account four times a year. While it’s not a class upgrade, it is a free shot at those coveted emergency exit row seats.
No Foreign Transaction Fees
This one may not sound as glamorous as the perks you can put your hands on, but no one would turn down up to nine percent in savings on every purchase. That’s how much travelers save when they use cards with no transaction fees. You can charge in local currency, get the best exchange rates, and avoid additional fees for the hassle. Don’t start spending internationally until you ditch those charges.
Discounts With Travel Partners
Many credit card benefits focus on flights, but that doesn’t mean lodging, rental cars, restaurants, and even ride-shares get left out of the savings. Credit cards affiliated with travel brands regularly partner with hotels, cruises, and rental car chains for savings and status. Cards also team up with statement credits towards restaurant partners, Uber VIP memberships, and streaming services. It can be hard to keep up with the options, so check offers before you start spending.
Checked Bag Fees
Airline-branded credit cards usually include a free checked bag regardless of your route. This can mean saving over $100 a bag for round-trip flights. Too many travelers forget that, using a different card to pay for what would have been a free bag or stuffing everything into carry-on solely to avoid a non-existent charge. The airline’s booking system normally will catch the free bag when you book online, but give it a check before you start planning your luggage.
Money Back for Inflight Purchases
If you have an airline credit card for the carrier you’re flying, load it into the airline’s app or have it on hand. If you decide you need that in-air wifi package or another gin and tonic to get through, airline credit cards give you discounts at the time of purchase or in statement credit. Never leave easy savings on the seat tray.
While it is never one of the top-billed benefits, several credit card companies offer concierge services to help you secure restaurant reservations, tickets to top events, and boutique experiences worldwide. This complimentary service can also help you navigate options in unfamiliar destinations to get the most out of your trip.