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Stuck in the Airport? Lost Your Luggage? Your Credit Card Can Help

Dec. 5, 2011
Airline Credit Cards, Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards, Travel Credit Cards
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Aw nerds! Looks like this page may be out of date. Head over to our page about how to save money on holiday travel with your credit card for updated info.

The gist: Many credit cards offer a host of travel protections, from lost baggage insurance to emergency services.

Among the lesser-known benefits of most signature credit cards is their suite of travel protections, which range from the need-it-far-too-often to the I-hope-I-never-need-this-ever. As a point of reference, all credit cards must offer fraud protection, so if a card is touting that benefit, don’t get too excited. Most cards also offer emergency travel services, such as putting you in touch with lawyers or doctors, but won’t pay for it. In general, the four credit card networks (Visa, MasterCard, AmEx and Discover) vary in which benefits they offer, but Visa/MC are the most comprehensive. All offer credit card rental car insurance, but that’s a blog post unto itself. Here’s a breakdown of travel protections and insurance by network.

Visa: While all Visa cards offer some perks, the most extensive ones are on the Visa Signature cards (these tend to be rewards cards, though not necessarily the most exclusive – the Capital One Venture, for example, is a pretty accessible card, but comes with Visa Signature perks).

World MasterCard: Like the Visa, MasterCard has tiered benefits. The standard MasterCard has travel accident insurance, while the Gold MasterCard will pay for some emergency travel services and offers rental car insurance. World MasterCard and above has a full suite: trip cancellation, baggage, and more.

American Express: American Express benefits are by far the worst, at least when it comes to travel perks provided gratis. While most don’t offer trip cancellation or delayed luggage insurance, you can purchase them for a fee (but the other networks give them for free). Despite its reputation as a traveler-friendly issuer, AmEx’s substandard insurance policies could make you think twice about reaching for your Platinum to book your tickets.

Discover: Really, the only Discover card that offers good travel benefits is the Discover Escape. And offering the best travel perks of a Discover card is the very definition of a big fish in a little pond. Its perks are about similar to Visa’s and MasterCard’s, but at the end of the day you’re still holding a Discover card.

» MORE: 7 Ways your credit card could save you money on holiday travel

Visa Signature World MasterCard American Express Discover Escape
Travel/Emergency Assistance Provides resources, but does not pay for expenses Yes; covers medical expenses, evacuation and emergency travel up to $25k Provides resources, but does not pay for expenses Provides resources, but does not pay for expenses
Travel Accident Insurance Up to $250k Up to $1mil Up to $500k Up to $500k (flight insurance only)
Trip Cancellation Insurance No Up to cost of trip Available for purchase Up to cost of trip
Travel Delay Insurance No No Available for purchase $150/day
Lost Luggage Reimbursement Up to $3k per trip No Available for purchase Up to $2,500 per trip
Delayed Baggage Insurance No Up to $300 Available for purchase No
Rental car insurance Yes Yes Yes Primary
Source Visa MasterCard AmEx Discover