Why booking your holiday travel with the right credit card matters now more than ever
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The last month has been a wild ride for airlines and passengers.
Over Halloween weekend, American Airlines canceled or delayed more than 3,000 flights. A few weeks prior, Southwest’s schedule was decimated, with over 1,800 flights canceled. Those two meltdowns came just a couple of months after Spirit Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights in a span of a few days.
As a traveler, you may ask yourself: What exactly is going on?
The answer to that is complicated. Planes are full, airports are congested and some airlines are facing staffing shortages along with other pandemic-related challenges. That has led to reduced flexibility for recovering from otherwise routine weather events. When enough things go wrong at the same time, a perfect storm of mass cancellations has played out.
Airlines have reassured customers that they’re better equipping themselves to prevent issues this holiday season. Still, you’ll want to prepare yourself for traveling smart as we head into the busy holiday season.
Part of that process should involve using the right credit card to pay for your trip. Doing so can protect you in case things go wrong thanks to benefits like trip delay or cancellation coverage. The best offense is a good defense, and given the barrage of travel factors beyond your control, strategy matters now more than ever.
Here’s a roundup of the best credit cards with trip delay and cancellation coverage – as well as some of the fine print you should be aware of – so you can take full advantage of these benefits if you unfortunately need them.
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Best credit cards with trip delay and cancellation coverage
It’s always been smart to book airfare with a card that offers built-in protections, but now it’s absolutely essential if you want to have a solid Plan B. While you’re entitled to a refund from the airline if you experience a cancellation and choose not to travel, according to U.S. Department of Transportation rules, that doesn’t solve all of your problems.
Airlines may not pick up the whole tab for additional hotel nights, meals and other expenses you might incur when they’re unable to get you back home or to your destination on time. However, your card’s protections can help as long as you’ve used it to pay for your tickets. Here are a few of our favorite options:
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase offers some of the most traveler-friendly policies, especially on its premium personal travel rewards card, the Sapphire Reserve.
If you experience a delay of six or more hours or require an overnight stay, you can be reimbursed up to $500 per ticket for you (the cardholder), your spouse, and your dependent children under 22 years of age, as long as you paid at least a portion of the ticket cost with your card.
The covered amount applies to meals, lodging, toiletries, medication and other personal use items that you purchase during the delay.
The card’s trip cancellation and interruption insurance will kick in for prepaid expenses due to covered losses, including potential flight cancellations if “the cancellation is the result of severe weather or an organized strike affecting public transportation.” If that’s the case, you can receive up to $10,000 per person, with a maximum of $20,000 per trip, to cover prepaid trip expenses that you can’t use if your flight is canceled.
Official application link: Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Like its sister card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers both trip delay reimbursement and trip cancellation and interruption insurance — and the card has a lower annual fee of just $95.
The trip delay reimbursement on the card will only kick in for delays of 12 hours or more (or requiring an overnight stay) instead of six hours with the Sapphire Reserve. If this applies to you, you can ask to be reimbursed up to $500 per ticket for you, your spouse, and dependents under 22 years old.
The same coverage amounts apply for trip cancellation coverage as with the Sapphire Reserve if the airline cancels the flight due to severe weather or other eligible reasons. You can receive $10,000 per person, with a maximum of $20,000 per covered trip.
Official application link: Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card
The Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card offers up to $500 per ticket purchased for you and your eligible family members if your trip is delayed for more than 12 hours. On the trip cancellation and interruption front, you can receive up to $2,500 per person if your trip is canceled or cut short for eligible reasons.
Official application link: Bank of America Premium Rewards.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Amex Platinum is one of the top all-around travel rewards cards thanks to its many perks.
Among its most valuable benefits, cardholders can access the Global Lounge Collection to escape the airport chaos, which comes in handy during flight delays. The card also added many new travel protections back in 2020, which makes it even more compelling.
For delays of six hours or more, cardholders can receive up to $500 per covered trip with a maximum of two claims per 12-month period. Trip cancellation and interruption insurance provides reimbursement for inclement weather (among other covered reasons) and offers up to $10,000 per covered trip and $20,000 per 12-month period. As long as you pay for the round-trip flights with your card, you can receive reimbursement for you, your family members and your traveling companions.
Official application link: Amex Platinum.
Fine print to be aware of
While it’s crucial to check your respective benefits guide to find the exact coverage details, here are some general tips to know when filing a trip delay or cancellation claim through your credit card.
Your delay must be longer than a defined amount of time
While premium cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Amex Platinum will provide reimbursement for flight delays of six hours or more, other travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Bank of America Premium Rewards require delays to be at least 12 hours (or overnight) before you can invoke their coverage. It’s essential to know these nuances to be eligible for any compensation, and make sure that delay threshold is met before you begin charging expenses for which you want reimbursement.
Pay attention to the credit card you use to pay for your trip
If you purchased your round-trip flight on a debit card, don’t expect to get any trip coverage from your trusty Chase Sapphire Reserve. And while most cards require you to pay for at least a portion of your trip with your credit card, some, such as the Amex Platinum, require you to charge the total amount of the trip on your card to qualify for any protections. Knowing the exact stipulations in your card’s coverage is crucial to filing a successful claim if things go wrong.
Keep all of your receipts
Keep receipts of everything you purchase on your trip, from your original flight receipt to any expenses you incur during your flight delay or cancellation. When filing your claim, you will need to submit documentation to receive the maximum reimbursement amount from your credit card.
Flight delays and cancellations are unfortunate and, at times, unavoidable. While they can put a real damper in your plans (and burn a hole in your wallet), the right credit card can save the day — and that is definitely something to keep in mind as we head into this frenzied holiday season.
Official application link: Chase Sapphire Reserve
Official application link: Chase Sapphire Preferred
Official application link: Bank of America Premium Rewards
Official application link: Amex Platinum
Additional reporting by Summer Hull.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.
Featured photo by Jeremy Hogan/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media for Getty Images.
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