Key takeaways

  • Many travel credit cards reward you for both travel and for spending on everyday items like groceries, dining and gas.
  • When choosing a travel credit card, look for travel insurance benefits like trip cancellation and interruption insurance, auto rental insurance and lost or delayed baggage coverage.
  • Recurring travel perks like annual free nights, airport lounge access or elite status can help offset any annual fees and make travel more enjoyable.
  • Look for travel perks like no foreign transaction fees, free checked baggage on eligible flights and credits toward TSA PreCheck or Global Entry fees.

Despite worldwide political turmoil and continued economic instability, the post-pandemic travel boom continues as demand for travel remains high. Travel credit cards continue to be a vital asset for travel hackers wanting to minimize expenses and improve their overall travel experiences.

Whether you’re evaluating your current credit card portfolio or looking to add a new one to your wallet, here are five travel card benefits you’ll want to look for.

1. Bonus rewards on travel and everyday spending

Although high inflation and the global supply chain shortages of the past few years seem to be easing, prices on items from groceries to airfare remain higher than in the past. While you can’t control inflation or rising costs, you can maximize your return in these spending categories with the right credit cards.

Although the right credit card line-up can help you earn lots of rewards in everyday-spending categories like groceries, dining and gas, many cards also offer rewards on travel spending, too. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, earns 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year, then 1 percent) and 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations. Add one of these cards to your wallet and you can make lemonade from the lemon of a stressed economy.

If you don’t want to keep track of bonus categories across multiple credit cards, consider a card that offers a flat rewards rate on all spending — such as one of the best 2 percent cash back cards.

2. Travel insurance benefits

In an increasingly unpredictable world, travel insurance is more important than ever. While there are coverage limits, many credit cards offer travel insurance (of all different types) that can save you money and stress in a difficult situation.

Auto rental car coverage

A few years ago, I was involved in a minor fender bender while driving a rental car. It was dark out, and I grazed a metal partition while making a left-hand turn. Five months later, I received a bill for $3,600 from the rental car company. Ouch. Luckily, it only cost me around $400 and I didn’t have to get my insurance company involved. That’s because I paid $14.99 (at the time) for primary coverage through American Express’ Premium Car Rental Protection program. That coverage saved me over $3,200 and a rising insurance premium.

Many credit cards offer auto rental insurance in the form of an auto rental collision damage waiver. While most credit cards provide secondary coverage, some premium credit cards offer primary rental car coverage, which can be an invaluable benefit if you’re involved in an accident. Some premium travel cards that offer primary auto rental coverage include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

Trip cancellation/interruption insurance

Trip interruption insurance can give you peace of mind if you’ve booked an expensive trip and can’t complete it. Many credit cards actually offer both trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage, which can reimburse you for eligible expenses when your trip is canceled or interrupted for eligible reasons. This great benefit could save you thousands of dollars in an emergency, not to mention the cost of buying an insurance policy.

For example, The Platinum Card® from American Express offers trip cancellation and interruption insurance of up to $10,000 per trip and up to $20,000 per eligible card (every 12 months) for covered reasons (additional terms and conditions apply).

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the coverage limits on your credit card’s policy to determine whether it makes sense to buy additional coverage. In most cases, what the credit card offers is sufficient.

Lost or delayed baggage insurance

Thousands of bags are lost or mishandled every year. While the odds of losing your luggage are low, it can put a damper on your trip if it does happen. Luckily, many credit cards offer baggage delay insurance or lost luggage reimbursement.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers baggage delay insurance that will reimburse you up to $100 per day for five days for eligible expenses when baggage is delayed by a passenger carrier for over six hours.

3. Recurring travel perks

This is the year to take inventory of your credit cards and make sure they’re serving you well. If you’re paying an annual fee, look for a card with recurring benefits. Whether it’s annual free nights, waived baggage fees or elite status benefits, these perks can help offset your annual fee and make your travels more pleasant.

Annual free nights

Annual free hotel nights are one of the best benefits you can get from a travel card, and many hotel credit cards offer this type of perk. For instance, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card* offers one annual free night award every year after card renewal, along with one additional free night after you spend $30,000 on your card within a calendar year. You’ll earn another free night for a total of two additional free nights after you spend $60,000 on your card in a calendar year.

The World of Hyatt Credit Card* also offers one free night every year after the cardmember anniversary, good for any Category 1-4 Hyatt hotel or resort. I once used my Hyatt free night at the Park Hyatt Istanbul, where rooms were going for over $250 per night at the time. Needless to say, I was happy to pay the card’s $95 annual fee in exchange for this helpful perk. The property has since gone up to a Category 5, meaning the free night is no longer valid there, but it was an excellent value at the time.

Airport lounge access

Airports are getting busier and food is getting more expensive. Airport lounge access can be a great way to keep your costs down and your comfort level up while spending time at the airport. Sure, credit cards that offer lounge access tend to carry high annual fees, but this can be worthwhile if you use this benefit enough.

Airline or hotel elite status

Recurring card benefits, like automatic airline or hotel elite status, can save you a lot on travel and are worth considering when shopping for a new credit card. For example, I keep renewing my Hilton Honors Amex Aspire card every year despite the fact that I don’t spend much on it. That’s because the card provides automatic, top-tier Hilton Diamond elite status, which can easily offset the $550 annual fee.

4. Waived fees

Despite what your favorite travel bloggers like to say, travel is never free — even if you’re using points and miles. There are resort fees, luggage fees and award taxes to contend with. And when using your card abroad, you’ll sometimes need to pay foreign transaction fees.

Luckily, many top travel credit cards come with no foreign transaction fees. As for luggage fees, several of the top airline credit cards come with free checked baggage benefits.

For instance, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®* offers a first checked bag free on domestic flights for the cardholder and up to four travel companions on the same reservation. That presents savings of up to $150 per one-way flight, more than the card’s $99 annual fee ($0 intro annual fee the first year).

5. Trusted traveler programs

Trusted traveler programs like Global Entry and TSA PreCheck can make going through airport security and customs speedy and convenient. Membership in these programs is affordable to begin with, but with the right credit card, you can get your application fees waived.

Global Entry and TSA fee credits used to be limited to premium credit cards (which come with high annual fees). That’s no longer the case. Nowadays, many entry-level travel credit cards, like the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card, offer up to $100 in credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.

The bottom line

Travelers might be facing high prices and economic uncertainty, but with the right credit card strategy, you can easily weather the storm. It’s a good time to reassess your current credit card lineup or consider adding a new card to your wallet so you’re better positioned to do so. Hopefully, these tips can help you minimize your out-of-pocket costs. Check out Bankrate’s travel toolkit for more tips and tricks on maximizing travel with a credit card.

Issuer-required disclosure statement:
*Information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card, The World of Hyatt Credit Card and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.