Travel is expensive. Even with super low international fares, hotel sales, and Airbnb deals, there are lots of other expenses that can add up. Whether it’s checked bag fees, hotel expenses or even the taxes and fees on award bookings, you can cover most of them with the right credit cards. Here are seven ways your credit card can save you money on travel.
1. Free Hotel Nights and Flights
Why pay for hotels when you can get free nights through co-branded credit cards? Every major hotel chain has at least one credit card through which you can earn free nights. The easiest way is through welcome bonuses. Below are the biggest bonuses currently being offered by hotel rewards programs:
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card
The IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card is offering 125,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. That’s enough for 1 – 12 free nights at an IHG hotel, depending on the category. Not bad for a single credit card bonus!
Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
If you’re looking for the most free Hilton nights, the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express is the way to go. The card offers 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within your first 3 months, plus a free weekend night after renewal. When I got the card, my “annual” free weekend night was issued at the same time that I earned my welcome bonus. You can also earn an additional free weekend night after spending $60,000 on the card in a year.
Cardholders earn 14 points per $1 spent at Hilton hotels, which can really stack up when you combine it with the bonus points issued to Hilton Diamond members (you’ll get this status level upon approval) and Hilton’s frequent double points promotions. The card earns 3 points per $1 spent on all purchases and 7 points on flights booked directly with the airline or on amextravel.com, car rentals and U.S. restaurants. Translation: You can earn a lot of free nights with this card.
World of Hyatt Credit Card
The World of Hyatt Credit Card currently offers 25,000 bonus points after $3,000 spent within 3 months of account opening. Plus another 25,000 points after $6,000 spent within 6 months.
A free night in a standard room ranges between 5,000 – 40,000 points, so these points can go quite a long way in securing free nights.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card from Chase
Want to give your Marriott balance a big boost? The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card is offering 100,000 bonus points after $5,000 spent in the first 3 months. If that number concerns you, it breaks down to a more manageable $1,667 per month. Charge all of your household bills to this card and you’ll have enough points for 1-20 free Marriott nights.
2. Global Entry/TSA Precheck Fee Credits
Want to skip the long security and customs lines during your next trip? Then Global Entry is the way to go. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s trusted traveler program allows you to go through a shorter customs line on your return from an international trip. Also, upon approval, you will be enrolled in TSA Precheck, which lets you skip the regular security line in favor of a more streamlined screening.
With the rise in premium credit cards, Global Entry/TSA Precheck fee credits have become the norm. Not only do premium credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express Platinum and Citi Prestige Card offer this benefit, but so do cards with lower annual fees, like the Capital One Venture Rewards.
All of these cards offer a $100 credit for Global Entry application fees and $85 for TSA Precheck. The credit can be claimed every four years, which is exactly how long membership in these programs lasts. Obviously, you’ll want to go with Global Entry since it gets you into both programs.
3. Free Checked Bags
Checked bag fees are pretty outrageous nowadays, with legacy carriers charging $30 per bag on domestic flights. With the right credit card, you can get a free checked bag for yourself and your travel companions. Co-branded airline credit cards from the major carriers offer this benefit to cardholders:
- Citi AAdvantage Platinum Card
- Barclay AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard
- Delta Reserve Credit Card
- Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card
- United Explorer Card
- United Club Card
Many premium credit cards offer annual travel credits that can be applied towards checked bag fees. These include cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige and American Express Platinum. It’s important to note that the American Express Platinum credit is only applicable to fees with a single airline. The airline must be selected every January and cannot be changed before the year is up.
4. Free Airport Lounge Access
Airport terminals are busy, hectic places and while many have improved their dining options, the cost of eating a decent meal can be quite high. That’s where airport lounges come in. These lounges offer a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of the terminal, not to mention complimentary food. While the quality varies by lounge, you can’t beat the fact that it’s free.
Several rewards credit cards offer free club lounge access for cardholders as well as guests. The creme of the crop is the Amex Centurion Lounge, which is exclusively available to those with an American Express Platinum or Business Platinum Card. Simply show your card and you and up to two guests can enter free of charge.
If you’re traveling to cities without a Centurion Lounge, Priority Pass is your friend. With over 1,300 lounges worldwide, it offers unparalleled access. You can get a free Priority Pass Select membership through the following credit cards:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Citi Prestige
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card from American Express
- The Platinum Card from American Express
5. Free Room Upgrades
Regardless of the caliber of hotels you’re staying at, upgrades are always nice. Whether it’s to a suite or a room with a good view and club lounge access, room upgrades can make your hotel stay a little more pleasant. Getting these room upgrades free of charge is even better.
Lots of credit cards offer cardholders instant mid-tier elite status or better. With elite status, you can qualify for room upgrades and other perks. For example, the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express comes with instant top-tier Diamond status.
I’ve been a Hilton Diamond member for about three year and I’ve gotten upgraded on every single stay, except for one. I once even got upgraded to the Penthouse Suite at the Conrad Bali, which came with its own rooftop infinity pool.
If you’re more of a Hyatt loyalist, you’ll be glad to know you can spend your way to top-tier Globalist status with the World of Hyatt Card. The card awards 2 elite night credits for every $5,000 spent, plus 5 qualifying nights annually.
6. Priority Check-In at Hotels
If you’ve ever showed up at a hotel front desk precisely around check-in or check-out time, you know how long the lines can get. Luckily, you don’t have to deal with those lines if you have elite status from your rewards credit card. Every major hotel chain has a dedicated check-in desk for elite members, offering shorter lines and faster service.
7. Free Lounge Access and Breakfast
Hotel club lounge access and breakfast are two benefits reserved for elite members or those willing to pay for it. With elite status gained from co-branded credit cards, you can get these perks free of charge.
Hilton offers free breakfast and club lounge access to their Diamond members, while Gold elites get free breakfast only. As a Hilton Gold elite member, I often got upgraded to club rooms, so I essentially got the same benefits as a Diamond member. If that sounds good to you, consider picking up a Hilton Honors Surpass Card, which comes with instant Gold elite status.
Some credit cards also offer property credits that you can apply towards breakfast, club lounge upgrades or pretty much any other on-site purchases. The Hilton Aspire Card comes with an annual $250 resort credit that can be used at participating Hilton hotels.
In addition, the card also offers a $100 property credit on 2-night bookings made at a qualifying hotel through HiltonHonors.com/aspirecard.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card from American Express has a similar benefit. Cardholders receive an annual $300 property credit applicable at Marriott hotel. What’s great about this card is that it gets you access to Amex Offers.
Over the past two years, I’ve consistently received statement credit offers at Marriott properties, around $50 off $250 spent. Offers like these, combined with the $300 property credit and elite benefits can go a long way in saving you money on Marriott hotel stays.