Note: The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted existing and future travel plans, and turned greater attention to trip insurance. Read our take on specific information concerning travel insurance and COVID-19, or see our comprehensive guide to managing your finances during COVID-19.
Traveling over the holidays doesn’t have to be an ordeal. In this series, we’re sharing expert advice to help you use your credit cards to travel smarter and focus on having fun.
The holiday season can derail even the best-laid travel plans very quickly. All it takes is one massive snowstorm, even one way across the country, for travelers to go from actually traveling to being stuck at an airport.
Depending on what’s in your wallet, though, you may have some aid you don’t even know about. If you paid for your trip with a travel credit card, you may already have travel insurance benefits available to you.
Which cards offer travel insurance benefits?
A little-known perk of travel cards, travel insurance benefits often require no activation and are granted with little more than a purchase. More cards offer travel insurance than you may realize, including:
In addition, business credit cards may also come with select travel insurance benefits. These perks extend to any travels purchased with the card, not just business travel. Business cards that offer travel insurance benefits include:
How can these insurance benefits help me when I travel?
Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation suggests travelers’ odds of having their flights delayed while flying in the United States are 1 in 5, while the chances of an airline losing your bags are 2.46 in 1,000. Those numbers can increase when thousands of holiday passengers are displaced due to weather, air traffic holds, irregular operations and other problems.
This holiday season might be the time to consider how travel insurance could help you in the most common situations. If you paid for your flight or hotel using a points-earning or travel credit card, the good news is that you may qualify for assistance. Some of the most common benefits you may already have include:
Trip cancellation insurance
Getting sick on the day you intend to travel home for the holidays or getting into a fender bender on the way to the airport can ruin an entire trip. With trip cancellation insurance, travelers may get some of their unrecoverable costs reimbursed, like flight-change or frequent-flyer-mile redeposit fees.
Trip delay insurance
Under the trip delay and interruption benefit, travelers who are delayed by between six and 12 hours due to no fault of their own may get reimbursed for unforeseen expenses. This may include meals and a hotel room for a night, but is limited to a set amount per instance.
Baggage loss insurance
When you’re the last one standing at the luggage carousel, it could mean that your luggage is at a different airport — or even gone for good. If this comes to pass during your travels, you could be entitled to more than just a report and reassurance that it will be delivered at some point. If luggage is lost for a period of time, travelers could get reimbursement for emergency replacement items, like cell phone chargers and new clothes, up to a per-day maximum (usually around $250).
How do I activate my travel insurance benefits?
Unlike a traditional travel insurance policy, credit card benefits don't require a separate purchase, nor do they require any sort of activation. Your insurance is in force from the moment you purchase a flight until the moment you get home.
However, your insurance benefits can vary based on how you purchase your travel. Some credit card programs grant benefits if travelers pay for trips with their credit card or points earned directly from spending. But you may not get the same benefits if you transfer points from the credit card program to another program and book a trip through the loyalty program instead.
» Learn more: How airline and hotel loyalty programs reward you during the holidays
Before you book your next trip, be sure to read about travel coverage in your card's benefits guide and terms and conditions. That will help you understand when you would be covered, and situations where your trip wouldn't qualify.
How do I get reimbursed?
Unfortunately, while these travel inconveniences affect you immediately, getting payment for your claims won’t be as quick. All of these benefits are meant as reimbursements for unexpected purchases. That means while you won’t get money upfront for emergency purchases, you will get your money back once your claim is approved.
Be sure to document all of your interactions with travel providers as they happen, as well as any proof required for a claim. This includes lost luggage reports and all receipts for any purchase you make as a result of your qualifying situation.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card