Whether you’re a frequent traveler or just want a good deal on your next big vacation, you may want to consider getting a travel credit card that rewards you for the money you spend.
However, choosing a travel credit card can be complex. There are two types of travel rewards cards: flexible and co-branded. If you want to earn rewards that you can use for lots of different airlines or hotel brands, a flexible travel card is often best, but if you’re an avid and loyal customer of a particular airline or hotel chain, a co-branded card may be the most lucrative.
Besides unraveling how a card's reward system works, look carefully at the benefits you’d receive. Here’s a guide to some of the most common credit card perks.
- Travel credit cards from American Express, Chase and Capital One tend to offer the most cards with travel perks.
- Airline cards often offer waived baggage fees and insurance-style coverages to protect you against trip cancellations, travel accidents and lost luggage.
- Most coverages only apply to trips that you purchase with your card.
- Baggage and rental car coverage tend to be secondary, meaning you have to file a claim with your insurance or the carrier (airline, cruise line, train) first.
Waived Baggage Fees
Many co-branded airline credit cards will waive the fee on one (or even two) checked bags for the cardholder and a limited number of companions. Since this fee can range up to $35 per bag, getting a credit card can often be worth it, even if there is a modest annual fee.
Global Entry and TSA Precheck Reimbursement
A common benefit on travel cards is a statement credit for either the Global Entry or TSA Precheck airport security programs. Global Entry costs $100 and grants you expedited clearance when returning from international travel. TSA Precheck, meanwhile, costs $85 and provides expedited security check-ins at U.S. airports. Both memberships need to be renewed every five years.
The Global Entry membership includes TSA Precheck.
Plenty of different credit cards offer this statement credit and you can find this feature on cards with annual fees under $100.
Airport Lounge Access
If you fly frequently, you may want a travel rewards card just for the exclusive airport lounges. Premium cards like The Platinum Card from American Express offer complimentary airport lounge access, though, generally speaking, these high-end travel cards include a hefty annual fee. It is possible, however, to acquire a less expensive card with limited or low-cost lounge access and a cheaper annual fee: The Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express is a good example.
Even at the high end, these cards could be a decent value if it’s important for you to have a quiet place away from the hubbub while you travel.
The Platinum Card from American Express provides a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership for the cardholder that gives you and two guests free access to Priority Pass lounges across airports.
Lost or Delayed Luggage Reimbursement
This insurance is provided by many different travel rewards cards. Lost or delayed baggage insurance is secondary coverage, however, which means it kicks in after any insurance offered by the airline or travel provider has been exhausted. In other words, it would pick up the remainder of the reimbursement cost after your other insurances have paid out, up to a certain limit.
You’ll need to read the guide to benefits for your card to determine whether some contents are excluded from the coverage. These might include cash, travel documents, prescription drugs and rare coins.
Many issuers will only provide lost luggage coverage if you have paid the entire cost of your trip on their card.
Trip Interruption, Delay, or Cancellation Insurance
If your trip is canceled or cut short due to illness, severe weather, or another unexpected event, you can be reimbursed if you’ve got a travel rewards card with travel cancellation or interruption insurance. This is something to pay attention to when booking your trip, since paying with the correct card can mean you won’t lose out on your hard-earned money or points.
It’s important to read the details of your insurance policy carefully. For instance, if you cancel your trip because of a change in financial circumstances, an injury due to intoxication, or a preexisting medical condition, the coverage may not apply.
Like any coverage, there will be a limit on how much your issuer will reimburse. Consider buying a separate travel insurance policy if you don’t think the card limit will be enough.
Travel Accident Insurance
Travel accident insurance is offered by certain credit cards and provides reimbursement to travelers in the case of severe injury or death.
Not all credit cards offer this benefit and most that do only cover you during common carrier travel — such as when you board a plane, boat, or bus. The exception to this is the Chase Sapphire line of credit cards, whose travel accident insurance lasts for the first 30 days of your trip when traveling.
As with all of the benefits listed here, in order to qualify for travel accident insurance, you’ll need to charge part or all of your travel to your eligible credit card.
Rental Car Collision Damage Waiver
Several different credit cards will offer rental car insurance when you charge all or some of your rental car cost to your credit card. You need to be aware, however, that the way these credit cards offer insurance varies. Eligible American Express credit cards, for example, offer secondary insurance. This means that American Express will pay the cost for damages only after your own insurance has been exhausted.
Other credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, offer primary rental car insurance. This means that when you decline rental car insurance at the counter and pay for your rental with your credit card, whether in cash or with points, these cards will pay for damage before it goes through your personal insurance.
Airline Fee Credits
You often incur incidental costs when flying, including drink or entertainment charges on board, baggage fees, pet fees and more. Some travel rewards cards — often with high fees — will credit your statement for these expenses, up to a limit each calendar year. Keep in mind that some types of expenses may be excluded.