While the holiday season as a whole can be a lot of fun, the same generally can’t be said of holiday travel. Airports, especially, are stressful in the run up to big days like Christmas and New Years. They tend to be crowded and chaotic, with endless security lines and no place to charge a phone or relax. Luggage sometimes gets lost in limbo, and flights are delayed or cancelled completely.
If you find yourself wondering whether the trip home to see loved ones is worth the spike to your blood pressure, then it might be time to take a second look at your credit card. It could be the answer to staying zen this season.
One of the most sought-after credit card perks these days is lounge access. Lounges offer a quiet(er) place to rest, as well as amenities to enjoy, while waiting to board a flight.
There are a number of top-tier credit cards that offer lounge access, although the extent of the access varies. For example, some credit cards offer a select number of passes at a reduced entrance fee, while others boast unlimited free passes year round.
The lounges themselves vary, too. Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounges, for instance, offer complimentary snacks and drinks, a quiet, no-cell-phone zone, Wi-Fi, reading materials, PCs for business use and even showers. Amenities you might see in other lounges include alcoholic beverages, televisions, luggage storage, family washrooms with baby changing stations, beds for lengthy layovers and more.
Just keep in mind that, like everywhere else during the holidays, lounges can get busy. Also, they are usually first come first served and often have restrictions on how long you can stay.
Free checked luggage
It’s no secret that the holiday season is one of the most expensive times of the year to travel.
Forty-five percent of Canadians used a credit card to pay for their holiday travel in 2022, according to a survey of more than 1,000 Canadian adults conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet Canada. Among them, about a quarter (23%) still have not paid off their 2022 holiday travel expenses that they put on a credit card.
If you’re planning on using a credit card to cover seasonal expenses, try to use a card that will pay you back. That “payback” could take the form of cash, points or miles to go toward future purchases, or other useful benefits.
For instance, Aeroplan members with certain co-branded Aeroplan credit cards, get their first checked bag free for up to nine people travelling on the same Air Canada flight. This perk is particularly valuable during the holidays when you may have to pack extra winter outfits or gifts, or travel with a big family — or both.
How valuable is it exactly? On a domestic economy class flight with Air Canada, your first checked bag can cost up to $36. If everyone in your party of nine checked a bag, you’d be saving $324.
Nerdy tip: Using a credit card to cover travel expenses can be a strategic way to earn rewards. However, you should make it a goal to pay off the balance by the end of the billing cycle to avoid paying interest that could negate those rewards.
Travelling over the holidays means a lot can potentially go wrong. Since it is a significantly busier time, airport snafus like lost or damaged luggage are more likely to occur. And Canada, in particular, gets big winter snow and ice storms that can delay and even cancel flights.
That said, many travel credit cards come with some type of travel insurance to assist you in these situations. Coverage varies, but depending on the situation, you may be able to get accommodation for the night, food while waiting for your delay, compensation for lost luggage and more.
It’s important to note that to take advantage of trip insurance, you need to have booked your flight using the credit card that comes with that benefit. Some issuers also require the entire booking to have been charged to the card, as opposed to using points to cover the cost.
Dedicated security lines, priority boarding and other time savers
Before your holiday vacation, try to review your travel credit card’s benefits so that you’re aware of any time-saving features. For example, the Visa Infinite Privilege series of credit cards includes priority check-in, priority boarding and priority baggage handling, all of which will help cut down on your wait time.
Sometimes travel perks are airline- or airport-specific. There are a couple of top-tier American Express credit cards, for instance, that offer access to priority security lanes and complimentary valet service, along with parking and car care discounts, specifically at Toronto Pearson Airport.
If you are a Canadian citizen who frequently travels to the U.S. — especially during the holiday season when lines at Customs are long — then a NEXUS membership will make your life a whole lot easier. Members get a NEXUS card they can present at border points of entry, which expedites crossing.
Normally, a membership costs $50 (in the form of a non-refundable application fee), but certain travel credit cards offer rebates. NEXUS membership is good for five years.
This survey was conducted online within Canada by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet Canada from October 3 – 5, 2023 among 1,021 Canadian adults ages 18 and older. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 3.6 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contactBria Weaver, [email protected].
Budgeting boundaries, maximizing your savings, exploring risk-free investments and taking steps to pay down debt are top ways to prioritize your financial health during the season of spending.