By Ariana Arghandewal
Whether you’re looking to cut travel expenses or make travel more pleasant, credit cards can open up a world of unique travel benefits. Here are some of the best travel benefits available to credit-card holders:
- Elite status. When it comes to getting the most perks, elite status is where you want to be — and reward credit cards make it possible to either get elite status outright or earn it through credit-card spending. Every hotel rewards card, for example, offers some level of elite status (usually mid-tier) for as long as the cardholder keeps the account open. To earn top-tier status, cardholders usually have to spend $40,000 in a calendar year. This is how it works with the Chase Hyatt Visa and the Hilton Surpass card from American Express. If channeling $40,000 of household spending onto a credit card sounds absurd, it beats spending 50 nights in hotels … if elite status is what you’re after.
- Club-lounge access. Dealing with a busy airport terminal or the claustrophobia of a hotel room sometimes requires a club lounge for escape. Airlines sell annual club-lounge memberships for upwards of $500, and hotels tack on at least an extra $60/night for club-lounge access. However, if you have the right rewards card, you won’t have to pay a dime. Most co-branded airline credit cards come with a pair of club-lounge day passes, valued at $50. American Express Platinum cardholders get access to the exclusive Centurion Lounge, currently available at four airports and counting. Have hotel elite status through a credit card? Enter into the perks of hotel club-lounge access.
- Free checked bags. Who wants to pay $50-plus on top of their airfare for the privilege of checking luggage? If you’re like me (universally hated by flight attendants and fellow passengers because I can’t lift my carryon bag over my head), checked-bag fees can really eat into your travel budget. Every major airline-rewards credit card offers cardholders at least one complimentary checked bag. Often this benefit extends to four or more companions on the same itinerary, making the savings substantial.
- Point discounts. If you’re in the travel-hacking game and your travel budget consists largely of points and miles, maximizing them is crucial — and a great maximizer is a credit card that offers a discount on award bookings. The American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum card offers 10 percent of redeemed miles back, up to 10,000 miles a year. The US Airways Premier Rewards card from Barclay offers a 5,000-point discount on award redemptions. On the hotel front, the Club Carlson Premier Rewards Visa is incredibly generous, offering cardholders their last night free when they redeem at least two. Many cardholders like to maximize this benefit by booking hotels in two-night increments, essentially securing a two-for-one redemption rate.
- A speedier airport experience. We’ve all seen them: Those people who skip the long security lines, keep their shoes on, and get to the gate before you’ve pulled your liquids out of your bag. They’re members of CLEAR, a pre-clearance program that gives registered members a speedier security check at select airports. Annual membership costs $179, though Visa Signature cardholders get six months of free membership and $60 off if they choose to renew it.
While most folks don’t like paying annual fees for rewards cards, if you play the cards right (so to speak), the fees are largely offset by benefits like the ones outlined above.
So what’s your favorite rewards credit-card perk?
Ariana Arghandewal is the creator of http://www.pointchaser.com, a fun and informative look at travel deals across the internet and around the world.
Photo courtesy American Express.