Active-duty military can get fees waived, special perks from rewards cards

Ordinarily pricey luxury travel cards may be free for those who serve

Summer Hull
Personal Finance Writer
Summer Hull writes the weekly "Get to the Points" column for CreditCards.com

Get to the Points

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There are more than 2 million active-duty military men and women in this country, and with their service comes a host of extra duties and responsibilities civilians can only begin to understand. One way service members can get some extra protection and assistance is with credit cards and other types of loans and financial products.

There are a few laws on the books, including the Military Lending Act and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, that outline a variety of required financial protections, such as maximum interest rates that active-duty military members may be charged.

These laws must be followed by all lending institutions in the United States, but some banks take things a step further and open up some opportunities unique for active-duty service members that go above and beyond the letter of the law.

Military families sacrifice enough, so let’s look at some rewards credit card tips and strategies specifically for those in active-duty service.

Enjoy premium rewards credit card perks without the big annual fees

One of my favorite tips for active-duty military families is to look at some of the premium rewards credit cards, specifically those from Chase and American Express, because both of those banks currently waive annual fees for those on active duty. Be aware this perk is not specifically required by law, so not all banks take this approach.

See related: Credit guide for military members and their families

With Chase, if you are on active duty and opened a Chase personal credit card on or after Sept. 20, 2017, then you can enjoy all of that credit cards’ perks without the annual fee.

One great Chase credit card to consider if you are on active duty is the Chase Sapphire Reserve that comes with a $300 annual travel credit to use as you wish, Priority Pass Select lounge membership and earns 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining. This card normally has a $450 annual fee.

Another premium Chase card to consider if you are active duty is the Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card that also normally has a $450 annual fee and includes an annual $300 travel credit. For military families, this credit is essentially travel money in the bank without getting hit with an annual fee.

Having the Ritz-Carlton card also can get you discounts on airfare, hotel credits, upgrades to the Ritz Carlton Club Level, and even score you elite status in the Ritz Carlton and Marriott programs.

With American Express, active-duty military members can get annual fees waived regardless of when the cards were opened. In fact, I’ve heard of annual fees being refunded for those who were on active duty years ago, but charged an annual fee during that time.

Those on active duty should definitely consider picking up an American Express Platinum card that normally carries a $550 annual fee. 

The AmEx Platinum card will make your family’s travel much more comfortable as it will get you in the growing AmEx Centurion Lounge network, into a Delta Sky Club with a same-day Delta ticket and Priority Pass Select membership. The Platinum card also comes with a $200-per-year airline fee allowance and monthly Uber credit valid within the United States.

Most of these premium cards, including the AmEx Platinum, also will cover your Global Entry application fee of $100.

These perks are worth hundreds of dollars per year, and those on active duty can enjoy them without the sting of the annual fee.

Call those credit card companies to save

While it’s great to get premium rewards credit card perks without paying annual fees, active-duty military may be able to get some money back if they paid fees or higher interest rates that were charged while on active duty.

To find out, call the number of on the back of your credit cards and let them know you are an active-duty member of the military and need to be sure your cards are getting SCRA benefits. Who knows, you may have some credits owed to you from previously paid fees and higher interest rates!

Protect loved ones with the Chase Survivor Program

A final credit card benefit to consider if you are active-duty military is the Chase Survivor Program. I hate to even mention this one, but just like having life insurance, it is good to be aware of a benefit even though you hope to never use it.

The Chase Survivor Program helps surviving family members of a military customer who dies as a result of his or her military service by essentially canceling some types of their Chase debt.

For example, if an eligible military Chase customer dies while serving our country, then their debt is canceled not only on their Chase credit cards, but for most existing Chase mortgages, auto loans, student loans and other consumer or business debt.

Surviving family members can then hopefully keep their home, car or other financed purchases with Chase without continuing to carry the financial burden.

Being an active-duty member of the military comes with a long list of stressors and burdens, but there are some rewards credit card perks and benefits that can lighten the load a bit, and help make the journey a little more comfortable.

See related: Best military credit cards


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Updated: 10-23-2018