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by Christy Bieber | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on July 1, 2019
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Travel credit cards offer a wide variety of benefits. But which are the most important?
Are you a jetsetter who loves to spend your spare cash seeing the world? If so, a travel credit card could make your trips much more affordable and more pleasant, too. Travel credit cards are designed for those who are always on the lookout for a new adventure, and they offer rewards for travel spending and special perks you can enjoy on your trip.
There are countless travel credit cards to choose from, so you'll want to compare features and fees to find the best card for your situation. As you start to shop around for the best travel card, there are 12 great perks you should look for. An affordable card that offers the most valuable perks for you is the card that should be in your wallet.
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Some travel cards give you a free ticket on your cardholder anniversary, while others allow you to fly a companion for free on one of your trips. While these free tickets are usually limited to domestic flights, they can still be worth several hundred dollars. When getting to your destination costs nothing, you'll have more money to spend having fun once you've arrived.
Not all travel cards are focused on airlines. Hotel cards can offer special perks such as a free night's stay after you book enough reservations; early check-in and late check-out; free upgrades to better rooms; and free premium in-room Wi-Fi. Cards that enhance your hotel stay can be the ideal choice if you regularly stay at a particular chain, or if you take road trips more often than you fly.
Airports can be aggravating, uncomfortable places -- unless you're kicking back in a members-only lounge. Airport lounges don't just provide cushy seats, free Wi-Fi, and outlets to charge your electronics. You can also score free drinks and food, use private bathrooms with showers, and perhaps even access private suites with beds where you can get some real rest while waiting for your redeye flight.
Some credit cards grant lounge access to you and a guest or two, while others allow all authorized card users to get in. Just make sure your card gives you access to lounges that are in the airport terminals where you spend the most time. Otherwise, your airport lounge access may be nearly worthless.
Most credit cards have some kind of rewards program where you can earn points or miles for purchases. But the best travel cards will offer you extra rewards when you book travel. In some cases, you can get these bonus rewards not just for airline flights and hotel stays, but for Airbnb bookings, Uber or Lyft rides, and more. If you tend to spend a lot on travel, it makes sense to pick a card that gives you the most rewards for these types of purchases.
When you've earned your travel points by using your card, you don't want to be told when you can and cannot use them. Make sure your travel card allows you to book air flights and hotel stays even during the holidays or the busy season. Otherwise you could find your points aren't redeemable on the dates you actually want to travel.
Some people are loyal to a particular hotel or airline, but most of us just go with whatever airline or hotel offers the best deals. If you don't want to be restricted to cashing in your rewards with only one company, look for a card that allows you to transfer points to other programs or that's part of the OneWorld Alliance so you can fly with one of 13 different member airlines.
Do you buy alcohol, Wi-Fi, or food on flights? If so, you'll love a travel card that gives you a statement credit or a discount for these in-flight purchases. Anything you buy on an airplane is likely to be expensive, so scoring savings on these purchases through your card may be a valuable perk.
Baggage fees are the norm among airlines these days. As a result, you may be forced to either cram all your clothes into a carry-on or pay upwards of $30 -- and sometimes much more -- just to bring your suitcase along when you travel.
The good news is that some travel cards allow you to take a free checked bag on your flight or to get reimbursed for airline incidental fees, including baggage fees. When you opt for one of these cards, you don't have to worry about traveling light.
No one likes to think about what could go wrong when they travel, but you need to plan for this possibility. You can purchase travel insurance, but these policies often come at a hefty cost.
If you have a good travel card, though, you don't need to worry about insuring your trip, because your card will have you covered. Depending on the travel card, you should get car rental coverage, trip cancellation or interruption insurance, and insurance that covers you in case of lost or delayed baggage. When you're stuck buying toothpaste and new clothes because your suitcase got rerouted to Japan, you'll be happy to have this insurance.
TSA PreCheck allows you to go through a faster security line and avoid the hassle of taking off your shoes and taking out your laptop. Global Entry gives you automatic access to TSA PreCheck and allows you to clear customs faster when traveling internationally. But there's a fee for enrolling in either of these programs.
Good travel cards will pay that fee for you, providing a statement credit that covers the cost of either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. Of course, you'll still have to pass the screening process before you're accepted into the program.
Travelers need to be able to use their card wherever they go -- without incurring additional fees. That's why good travel cards won't charge you a foreign transaction fee if you use your card outside of the United States. Some cards charge as much as 3% of each purchase, so be sure to avoid those if you plan to leave the country anytime soon.
Many travel cards provide a sign-up bonus when you become a new cardmember and spend a certain amount within three months of opening your account. This sign-up bonus could be enough for a free airline ticket or hundreds of dollars in free travel. Be sure to compare different bonuses and spending requirements to find a generous reward that you can actually earn.
Not every travel card will have all of these features -- and some of the cards that do will charge hefty annual fees. You should decide which of these travel card perks is most important to you and find a card that offers the member benefits you'll enjoy the most.
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