Most travel credit card users are in it for the points—which is smart. If you frequently book travel and dine out, double or triple points mean free money toward flights, hotels, and more. But point-happy travelers who don’t read the fine print of their card agreement (who does?) might not realize just how many free credit card travel benefits their card comes with—and they’re missing out.
Nowadays, issuers provide an array of travel perks that you might not even know you have. Here’s what to look for in your credit card travel benefits.
Lounge Access and Meal Credits
One of the best credit card travel benefits available today is one that typically must be opted into: free airport lounge access. One of the most popular credit cards for this perk is Chase’s Sapphire Reserve, which comes with Priority Pass membership only once you log into the card’s benefits portal and activate the membership. Why? Probably because it’s a super in-demand freebie, as evidenced by recent lounge overcrowding that’s caused some credit cards to offer airport meal credits in lieu of lounge access at busier hubs. Still, if you know it’s there, it’s smart to opt in for the free membership and airport restaurant credits. I’ve personally used both perks while traveling and saved lots of money on airport meals as a result.
Note: Like many premium cards, Chase Sapphire Reserve has a high ($450) annual fee, but much of that charge ($300) is redeemed automatically on travel expenses as you spend—making it a low-fee card for frequent travelers.
Travel Health Insurance
Considering buying travel accident or health insurance in case you need to see a doctor on a trip abroad? Stop price comparing and check what you might already have for free as a credit card perk. One of the most underrated credit card travel benefits is health insurance coverage that can save you a lot of money if you unexpectedly need medical assistance in another country. Many credit cards also provide up to $500,000 in “accidental death and dismemberment” (ADD) insurance for travel on any common carrier. Cards with travel emergency assistance perks include Chase’s Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve, Citi’s Prestige Card, and an array of American Express cards.
Free Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
Don’t let annual fees, which most premium cards have, scare you away from travel cards. They often make up for the fee in credit card travel benefits. If you’re enrolling in or renewing Global Entry, for example, you can often be reimbursed the $100 enrollment fee as part of annual fee credits. Not interested in Global Entry? TSA PreCheck enrollment or renewal fees also qualify for the reimbursement.
Rental Car Coverage/Roadside Assistance
Roadside assistance and/or rental car insurance is included with many credit cards these days—not just travel cards. According to SmarterTravel insurance expert Ed Perkins: “Rental car coverage is by far the most important travel benefit your credit card provides: If you rent with a card offering this benefit and the car is damaged during the time you rent, the card picks up whatever costs you can’t first recover from your regular insurance.”
All that’s required to take advantage of a card’s free rental car coverage is to use the card for the rental agreement and decline the rental company’s (usually outrageously expensive) collision damage waiver (CDW), which can be as high as $30 per day—sometimes much more than the base rental rate.
As for roadside assistance: Visa premium cards, most American Express cards, and many others offer some type of roadside assistance, similar to what you can get from AAA if a car you’re driving runs out of gas, suffers a flat, or experiences a dead battery. But if you’re in a rental car, call the rental company first.
Lost Bag Protection
If you buy an airline, bus, rail, or other ticket with your card and your baggage on that trip is stolen, damaged, or permanently lost, Visa premium cards, most AmEx cards, and quite a few others cover you. Bag protection can also cover costs incurred if your bags are lost and therefore delayed—i.e., if you need to buy some necessities in the interim.
This type of card coverage is typically secondary, meaning that you must first claim dues from the carrier. The card may cap collection at a typical figure of $3,000 or only provide coverage of claim expenses that exceed the carrier’s maximum limit. And payments on most such claims cover only the depreciated value of the items lost or damaged, not the replacement value: Most people would have a tough time coming up with $3,000 worth of value for what’s in their baggage.
Delay and/or TCI Insurance
If your trip is delayed, a few premium cards offer a modest amount of coverage toward the cost of meals, accommodations, and various “essential items.” Coverage kicks in only after a specified time, sometimes as long as 18 hours of delay, and reimbursement may not be available until you can prove you’ve asked for it from your carrier. But if the airline won’t pay out, it’s a good back-up option—and can make a big difference in a nightmarish flight delay.
Some credit cards also provide trip-cancellation/interruption (TCI) benefits, but the pay-out limit tends to be low. Only a few premium cards provide this benefit, including Capital One World MasterCard and several Citi cards.
A few premium cards provide arrangements with local agencies that fill the function of a ritzy hotel concierge in major cities: They can arrange tickets for sightseeing, local entertainment, tables at famous restaurants, and more—some of which could be sold out or unavailable to other average customers. Note that while the service is “free,” you of course will have to pay for whatever the concierge arranges for you.
What to Wear on Your Next Trip
Women’s Amazon-Based Casual Outfit
Men’s Amazon-Based Chill End of Summer Outfit
Women’s Semi-Fancy, Formal Summer Dress Outfit
Men’s Semi-Casual Outfit for Dinner on a Vacation
Women’s Swimsuit with Jean Shorts
Men’s Swimsuit to Wear on a Cruise
Women’s Cute and Casual Outfit from Nordstrom
Men’s Cute and Casual Summer Outfit
Women’s Amazon-Based Work Business Casual Summer Outfit
More from SmarterTravel:
- How to Choose the Best Travel Credit Card
- Everything You Need to Know About Travel Insurance
- Is Any Travel Rewards Card Worth a $550 Annual Fee?
SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel and just upgraded her own credit card for better credit card travel benefits. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.
Editor’s note: Ed Perkins also contributed to this story.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. It is $450, not $350. It has been corrected.