Paying for your holiday travel with your credit card to get points, miles and cash-back rewards is a no-brainer. But if you really want to take advantage of all the travel-friendly benefits your card offers, don’t stop there.
Card perks such as waived baggage fees, rental car insurance and trip cancellation or interruption insurance can amount to hundreds of dollars in savings. That’s especially nice during such a hectic, costly season: In 2014, 5.7 million U.S. travelers booked flights between Dec. 23 and Jan. 4, and the average price for a discounted round-trip airline ticket alone was $186, according to a study by AAA.
Here are seven key benefits that could save you money on your holiday trip.
1. Travel statement credit rewards
If you’ve saved up rewards on your general travel credit card, the holiday season might be a good time to cash in, especially if you can redeem your rewards as a travel statement credit. Use your card to book the airlines or hotels with the lowest rates, and redeem your points against those charges afterward. Each issuer defines travel differently, but generally, airfare and hotel costs are covered.
Cards that let you redeem rewards for travel statement credit:
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card : Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases. A mile is worth 1 cent when redeemed as travel statement credit.
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®: Earn 2 miles per dollar spent. Get a 5% bonus when you redeem rewards. A point is worth 1.05 cents when redeemed for travel statement credit.
- BankAmericard Travel Rewards® Credit Card: Earn 1.5 points per dollar spent. A point is worth 1 cent when redeemed for travel statement credit.
2. Airline fee credits
Some credit cards offer airline fee credits, which cover costs such as checked baggage fees, airport lounge access, in-flight meals and upgrades. Trim your holiday travel costs or travel in style for less by redeeming these credits on your trip. Keep in mind that these benefits may expire at the end of each calendar year.
Cards with airline fee credits:
- Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express: Get up to $100 a year for incidental fees with your selected airline.
- Citi Prestige® Card: Get an annual $250 air travel credit.
- U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Travel Rewards Visa Signature® Card – 20,000 Bonus FlexPoints: Get an airline allowance of up to $25 with every award travel ticket.
3. Waived checked baggage fees
You know the holiday drill: Travel lightly when you’re departing, and return with more gifts, souvenirs and leftovers than you know what to do with. Use the benefits on your co-branded credit cards to save money on these fees. In some cases, you have to book your flight with the card to get this bag credit. Other times, you can get the fees waived if you include your frequent flyer number on your ticket.
Cards with waived checked baggage fees:
- Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express: First checked bag fee waived for you and up to eight other travelers on your reservation.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®: First checked bag fee waived for you and up to four other travelers on your reservation.
- The Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite MasterCard®: First checked bag fee waived for the primary cardholder.
4. Discounts and freebies for your plus-one
Two-for-one deals aren’t just for Black Friday. Before you book a couple’s trip over the holidays, find out if you have a card that lets you add someone to your hotel or flight reservation at no extra cost, or at a discount. In some cases, you may have to meet a certain spending threshold to get this benefit.
Cards with companion benefits:
- Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card: Your second guest stays free because of automatic HHonors Gold status benefits.
- Virgin America Visa Signature® Card: Receive a $150 airline credit toward a companion ticket every year.
5. No foreign transaction fees
If you’re spending the holidays abroad, bring a card that doesn’t charge those pesky 1% to 3% foreign transaction fees. Keep in mind that all Capital One and Discover cards have this feature.
Other cards with no foreign transaction fees:
- Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card
- Discover it® - 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer
- British Airways Visa Signature® Card
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
6. Trip cancellation insurance
Nix the trip cancellation insurance at checkout if you’re paying with a card that already includes it. With this benefit, you can get a refund on your nonrefundable airfare and other travel costs if you have to cancel your trip for reasons such as illness or severe weather.
Coverage varies by card and issuer, but generally, cards with World MasterCard and Visa Signature benefits offer this complimentary protection, and American Express charges extra for such coverage.
Cards with trip cancellation insurance:
- Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card: Get reimbursed for up to $5,000 in nonrefundable travel expenses if your trip is canceled because of sickness, severe weather or other covered events. The card also comes with a trip delay reimbursement in case of a postponed flight.
- Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer: Get reimbursed for up to $1,500 a year in nonrefundable travel expenses if your trip is canceled because of covered events.
7. Primary rental car insurance
If you’re paying for your rental with a credit card comes that comes with either primary or secondary car rental insurance, you save around $20 a day by declining the collision damage waiver (CDW) offered by the rental company. Most cards offer secondary coverage, which requires you to file a claim with your regular car insurance provider first and could make your insurance rates go up. But with primary insurance, your issuer covers the damages first.
Cards with primary rental insurance:
- United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card (for business)
The bottom line
During the hustle and bustle of peak travel season, the most valuable credit card features are flexible rewards and traveler-friendly benefits. Read about your card’s benefits to find out which ones you can take advantage of this year.
Remember, you don’t need to overspend to get good deals this holiday season. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of using the right card at the right time.
Image via iStock.