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Update: The Hilton American Express Ascend Card is now the Hilton Surpass® Card from American Express and is offering a bonus of 125,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Summer is almost here, and that means the busiest travel season of the year is nearly upon us. Though you are probably not planning a whirlwind jetsetter extravaganza quite as crazy our summer intern’s, chances are you will be among the nearly 3 million flyers passing through US airports daily in the coming months.
You might have already booked your international trip. Or perhaps you’re waiting to see if more deals to Europe, to Asia or to South America come around. Award prices have generally been sky high, though we have seen some flash sales recently. Whatever your strategy for summer travel is this year, make sure you are carrying credit cards that will save you time, money and stress while navigating the globe.
Here’s a checklist of credit-card benefits that will come in handy for your international summer vacation, and which specific products offer them. You probably already have one or more of these credit cards in your wallet. The key will be remembering to use them at the right time and for the best benefits.
1. Get Global Entry and TSA PreCheck
It should go without saying at this point that if you plan to travel internationally, you should consider applying for Global Entry beforehand. Global Entry is US Customs and Border Protection’s expedited security screening process for trusted travelers, and can literally save you hours of standing in line if you land at the same time as a lot of other flights. It costs $100 to apply (or re-register), but several credit cards will reimburse you for this fee when you charge it on them (up to $100). Many of them even have low or no annual fees, which means you’re potentially saving a lot of time as well as money.
Among the top credit cards for Global Entry application reimbursement are:
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (credit every four years)
- United Explorer Card (credit every four years)
- IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card (credit every four years)
- Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card (credit every four years)
- Chase Sapphire Reserve (credit every four years)
- The Platinum Card® from American Express (credit every four years)
- Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard (credit every five years)
- Citi Prestige Card (credit every five years)
What’s more, if you get Global Entry, you’re usually approved for TSA PreCheck as well, meaning you’ll have access to expedited security screening lines when departing from the US.
2. Get A Card That Waives Foreign Transaction Fees
If you’re traveling abroad, the single most important credit card benefit you should look for is waived foreign transaction fees. Forex fees are those annoying charges some credit cards levy of 2% – 3% on international purchases. That might not sound like much, but that’s $20 – $30 on $1,000. So they add up. That also likely wipes out any value you might get from points or miles you earn on purchases. Go over your specific cards’ benefits carefully to make sure any you’re using in another country waive these fees.
The good news is many of the most popular travel rewards credit cards, including some cash-back cards and business credit cards, now waive forex fees. Here’s our list of top options, which you can also find below.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
- United Explorer Card
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
- Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
- Citi Prestige Card
- Citi Premier Card
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
- Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
- IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
- Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
- Uber Visa
- Discover it® Miles
The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
As you can see, whether you want to earn airline miles, hotel points, or points that you can put toward statement credits, there are options for every type of traveler.
3. Check Your Trip Delay, Interruption and Cancellation Protection
Trip delay protection covers incidents like if your flight is delayed and you end up having to spend the night at or near the airport. It will usually reimburse you for costs like lodging, meals, toiletries and medication. This type of coverage can vary dramatically, kicking in as soon as six hours on top cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige, or 12 hours with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, or Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, for example. The benefit is typically maxed out at $500 per person or ticket.
Trip cancellation and interruption protection applies you have to miss all or part of your trip due to unforeseen circumstances. Among the top choices for outright trip cancellation, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the United Club Card all offer trip cancellation and interruption coverage of up to $10,000 per covered trip and a maximum of $20,000 per occurrence and $40,000 during any 12-month period.
Circumstances that are specifically covered include severe weather that prevents the start or continuation of a trip, the financial insolvency of a travel supplier, or accidental bodily injury or loss of life experienced by the cardholder, a traveling companion, or an immediate family member.
The Citi Prestige and Citi Premier offer reimbursement of up to $5,000 per person for trip cancellation due to events like illness, death, or severe weather. Likewise, the Bank of America Premium Rewards card will reimburse you of up to $5,000 per person per trip if you have to cancel due to a covered reason.
The Capital One Venture only covers up to $1,500 per instance.
As with any type of travel insurance policy, the terms of coverage can vary widely from card to card, and most exclude many circumstances, such as pre-existing conditions or injuries brought on by the traveler’s own behavior. So read the terms and conditions in your card’s benefits package carefully to know what you’re entitled to before making any travel purchases.
4. Secure Primary Rental Car Insurance
Most credit cards offer secondary insurance on car rentals, meaning that you must first go through your personal car insurance or insurance you purchase through the rental agency before this benefit will apply. Secondary insurance does not usually cover damages to cars or property other than the rental car, nor to physical injuries suffered by the driver, passengers, or pedestrians. In short, it’s quite limited.
However, a handful of Chase credit cards offer primary insurance on car rentals. Primary insurance will apply before your personal car insurance policy and typically covers full damages due to collision or theft up to a maximum (usually $50,000).
Among the best options are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred, as well as both the United Club Card and the United Explorer Card.
Chase’s Ink Business Preferred, Ink Business Plus (no longer available to new cardholders) and Ink Business Cash cards all offer primary insurance for car rentals used for business purposes, though you might need to provide proof that this is the case.
Although some of its cards lack even secondary rental car insurance, American Express has a Premium Car Rental Protection plan that is available with 59 cards currently, including the Platinum Card® from American Express, the American Express® Gold Card, the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express, the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend among many, many others. After enrolling, cardholders pay a flat fee of $19.95 – $24.95 per rental, and primary coverage kicks in, along with a maximum loss or damage benefit of up to $75,000.
Before settling on a rental car insurance strategy, be sure you understand your card’s benefits fully, what’s excluded, such as types of vehicles or even entire countries, and make the best choice for your needs.
The information for the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card and United Club Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
5. Spring For Lounge Access
Finally, if your plans involve traveling to, from, or through several airports with companions in tow, it might behoove you to get a credit card that offers airport lounge access.
Certain cards, like the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and the United Club Card offer access to their own airlines’ clubs as well as some members clubs. For instance, the Citi card confers Admirals Club membership, which means entry to American’s own 50 or so Admirals Clubs, plus 60 partners lounges like the Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Haneda (HND) for the cardholder and up to two guests or immediate family.
However, several other cards offer access to Priority Pass and other lounges. The Platinum Card from American Express gets cardholders and up to two guests into Priority Pass lounges, the Amex’s own Centurion Lounges and Delta Sky Clubs when traveling on Delta (though only for the cardholder – guests are extra).
The Chase Sapphire Reserve, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card will all get cardholders and up to two free guests into Priority Pass lounges while Citi Prestige cardholders can get in with two guests or immediate family.
Having a place to grab a snack, take advantage of free Wi-Fi, charge devices, and just plain relax away from the main terminals or concourse of a busy airport might be well worth it for families traveling together this summer.
Traveling internationally adds a whole new set of considerations for an already stressful planning process. Choosing the right credit card not only to purchase your travel, including airline tickets and hotels, but also to carry with you as you venture abroad can be crucial. Benefits like trip delay and cancellation protection as well as primary car rental insurance can be huge time and money savers. Avoiding foreign transaction fees and getting Global Entry are also added conveniences that make the travel experience that much better. Luckily, many travel rewards credit cards offer comprehensive perks packages that take the headaches out of international travel, meaning your summer plans can be as fun, relaxed and adventurous as you imagined.
Featured photo by Kris S / Getty Images.
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*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
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