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According to AAA, as many as 107 million Americans traveled over the 2017 holiday season. Some traveled by plane while others took a train, a bus or an old-fashioned road trip in the family automobile. However, one fact remains static across all who left home to celebrate the holidays elsewhere— they spent plenty of cash to get to their year-end festivities.
If you find yourself gearing up to spend money on plane tickets, a road trip or hotels over this year’s busy holiday season, picking out a rewards card early on can help you save money or have a more enjoyable experience. Depending on the type of travel you plan to partake in, you may want to explore travel rewards cards that offer airport lounge access, rental car insurance, free checked bags or trip cancellation/interruption insurance. Or, perhaps you simply want a card that can help you earn rewards on gas and dining along your road trip route.
Either way, check out these travel rewards cards and all they have to offer.
Traveling by car? These cards can help.
If you’re renting a car this holiday season, you should consider rewards cards that offer primary auto rental coverage. Doing so will save you money since you can rely on this coverage instead of using your own insurance or paying for additional insurance coverage at the rental counter.
While there are plenty of credit cards that offer auto rental coverage, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card® is one of the most popular since it offers primary auto rental coverage (instead of secondary) as a cardholder perk when you use your card to pay for a rental. Other rewards cards that offer primary rental car coverage include the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, United Explorer Card and MileagePlus Club Cards, Ritz-Carlton Visa Infinite Card, and the J.P. Morgan Reserve Card.
Another road trip benefit we like about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card® and Chase Sapphire Reserve® is the fact that both let you use points to book all sorts of hotels through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Meanwhile, you can also transfer Chase points to hotel partners like Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG Rewards at a 1:1 ratio.
If your main goal this winter is saving money on gas, on the other hand, definitely check out cards that offer more than the standard 1 or 2 points per dollar on gas purchases.
Some of our favorite rewards cards for gas include:
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card: 3x points on gas purchases
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: 3% cash back at U.S gas stations
- Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card: 3% cash back on gas or your choice of one of five other popular categories, up to $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter
Traveling by plane? Pick up a card with the right travel benefits.
If you’re traveling by plane, you may want to focus on entirely different selections of cards altogether. Why? Because some of the best travel credit cards on the market offer insanely valuable frequent flyer perks such as Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® access which allow you to skip the lengthiest lines at airport security, VIP airport lounge access, airline credits good for checked bags and travel incidentals and more.
If you hate the idea of waiting in boring airport lines or you plan to travel overseas for the holidays, a card that offers credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓® should be your top priority. Some of our favorite rewards cards that offer this benefit include:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
With less time spent in airport queues, you should also make sure your rewards card offers access to VIP airport lounges. While there are several different airport lounge access programs, that most popular offered via credit cards is the Priority Pass Select membership. This membership offers access to over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide and allows you to bring two guests in with you.
Amazingly, there are quite a few rewards cards that offer this benefit for free as a cardholder perk. This list includes:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Hilton Honors American Express Ascend credit card
- Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury card
The Platinum Card® from American Express is another popular card for airport lounge access since it offers a Priority Pass Select membership, access to American Express Centurion Lounges, and access to Delta Sky Clubs when you fly with Delta Air Lines. The same is true for the business version of this card — the Business Platinum Card® from American Express.
When it comes to other airport perks, make sure to explore cards that offer additional ways to save money or enjoy your flight more. As an example, the Platinum Card® from American Express, Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and Hilton Honors American Express Aspire credit card offer travel credits you can use for in-flight meals, internet access, or checked bags.
Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers some of the best travel interruption/cancellation insurance coverage when you use your card to pay for the major components of your trip. This coverage will reimburse you for up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for “pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels” in the event your trip is canceled or interrupted for covered reasons such as accidental bodily injury or severe weather. Keep in mind that the Chase Sapphire Reserve® also offers trip delay coverage, roadside assistance, lost luggage reimbursement, emergency evacuation and transportation coverage, and more — all at no cost just for being a cardholder.
The bottom line
Traveling for the holidays may always be stressful, but it can cost less or be more comfortable this year with the right combination of travel and rewards credit cards. Make sure to take a closer look at the cards in your wallet to see which travel benefits they offer, if any. And, if you find your cards are leaving you without the right perks for the holiday season, it may be time to “gift” yourself a new rewards card.
Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.