Key takeaways

  • Many travel credit cards reward you for both travel and everyday spending (such as groceries, dining and gas)
  • 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 fee credits for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry

With worldwide turmoil and continued economic instability, 2023 has had a shaky start. Yet, people continue to travel and see as much of the world as possible, and travel credit cards continue to be a vital asset to travel hackers for minimizing expenses and improving their 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 need to look for in 2023.

1. Bonus rewards on travel and everyday spending

Between high inflation and global supply chain shortages, things are getting more expensive by the day. While you can’t control inflation or rising costs, you can maximize your return in these spending categories with the right credit cards.

The right credit card line-up can help you earn lots of rewards in everyday-spending categories like groceries, dining and gas, but many cards also offer rewards on travel spending, too. Most credit cards that offer rewards in these categories offer more than the standard 1X points or 1 percent back per dollar spent. 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

Two 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 will reimburse you for eligible expenses when your trip is cancelled or interrupted for eligible reasons. This great benefit can 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 luggage fees or elite status benefits, these perks can 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 $60,000 on your card within 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 while at the airport, and it doesn’t have to be massively expensive. 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

Despite putting minimal spending on my Hilton Honors Amex Aspire card, I keep renewing it every year. That’s because the card provides automatic, top-tier Hilton Diamond elite status, which can easily offset the $450 annual fee. 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.

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, many 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 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 higher prices and economic uncertainty in 2023, but with the right credit card strategy, we can all 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.

Learn more: Check out Bankrate’s travel toolkit for tips and tricks on how to maximize travel with a credit card.

*All 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.