7 Travel Card Perks That Make Flying Better -- and Less Expensive

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With the right travel credit card, flying will be an experience you look forward to.

Ask people what they don't like about flying, and you probably won't have any trouble getting an answer. Tickets can be expensive, and once you get to the airport, everything is expensive. It takes forever to go through security. The seats in the boarding area are uncomfortable.

If any of these complaints sound familiar, a travel card could help. Many of these cards have benefits that improve both your time at the airport and in the air. Here are the features to look for if you want to cut your travel costs and enjoy flying more.

1. Airport lounge access

Premium travel credit cards often include airport lounge access. This benefit can get you into certain types of airport lounges for free. The exact lounges will depend on which credit card you have: An airline credit card could have lounge access for that specific airline's lounges. Travel cards that aren't tied to a specific airline may include membership to a program with a large collection of different lounges, such as the Priority Pass program.

Airport lounge quality varies, but there's almost always free food and drinks, so it beats paying $5 for a bottle of water. The furniture also tends to be much nicer, making it easier to relax before your flight.

2. Free checked bags

Most airlines charge for each checked bag -- $30 is a standard amount for the first one. That's an extra $60 on a round-trip flight.

Fortunately, free checked luggage is a common perk with airline credit cards. The number of free bags depends on the card. Some get you one free checked bag, while others get you two or more. If you have any travel companions on your flight reservation, an airline credit card may also allow them to check bags free of charge as well.

3. A membership fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

There are a few programs that allow you to get through airport security quicker. Two of the most popular are Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. Here's how they work and what they cost:

  • Global Entry: Offers expedited security through immigration and customs when entering the United States. Costs $100 for a five-year membership. Includes a TSA PreCheck membership.
  • TSA PreCheck: Allows you to use TSA PreCheck security lanes for flights in U.S. airports. Costs $85 for a five-year membership.

Several travel cards include a credit toward either of these programs. If you pay the fee with one of these cards, the purchase gets automatically reimbursed. Of the two programs, Global Entry is the obvious choice, since it also gets you a TSA PreCheck membership.

4. Money back on in-flight purchases

Another common perk with airline credit cards is money back on in-flight purchases, such as food, beverages, and internet. This is usually a statement credit that covers a certain percentage of your purchase rather than a discount offer. For example, if your card gives 25% back on in-flight purchases and you spend $20 on food and drinks, you'd get a $5 statement credit.

5. A companion ticket

Your travel companion can fly for free or at a significant discount with a companion ticket. Note that even with free companion tickets, you still need to pay any applicable taxes and fees. The travel companion also must be flying on the same itinerary as you.

Some airline cards offer a free companion ticket every year. Others send you one after you spend a minimum amount on your credit card. If you have a regular travel partner, a companion ticket can be a huge money saver.

6. Complimentary upgrades

Everyone likes getting upgraded from economy to business- or first-class. But this rarely happens out of the blue. Airlines typically reserve complimentary upgrades for members in the higher status tiers of their frequent flyer programs. However, the right airline card could also get you upgraded.

Higher-end airline cards may offer complimentary upgrades on either regular tickets, award tickets, or both. These are, of course, subject to availability. There are also credit cards that automatically put you in an elite status tier with an airline's frequent flyer program, which is another way you could get upgraded.

7. Travel insurance

There's always the chance of a frustrating setback during a trip. Luggage can end up lost or delayed. Your trip could get cut short because of bad weather or illness.

Most travel credit cards offer complimentary travel insurance for circumstances like these. Exact protections depend on the card, but here are some of the most common:

  • Trip cancellation/interruption insurance
  • Trip delay reimbursement
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Lost luggage reimbursement

Travel protections can come in handy in difficult situations. And there's peace of mind in the knowledge they're there if you need them.

Frequent flyers will find credit cards provide plenty of valuable perks. If you want a card that will improve your air travels, look at airline credit cards for the airlines you like. Travel cards that are part of big credit card rewards programs, such as those offered by Chase, American Express, and Citi, are also popular choices.

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