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5 perks that make picking a travel credit card a no-brainer

Even if a travel rewards card has a high annual fee, these special benefits can outweigh that cost


Many travel rewards cards offer perks that easily make up for their annual fees. Some even go above and beyond with the value they provide. If you’re considering a travel credit card, watch out for these benefits that can make the card you’re comparing a no-brainer.

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Picking the right credit card isn’t always easy, especially if the cards you’re considering have annual fees.

Several credit cards, however, offer perks that easily make up for its yearly cost. Some even go above and beyond with the value they provide.

If you’re considering a travel credit card, watch out for these benefits that can make the card you’re comparing a no-brainer.

Free anniversary hotel stay

Hotel credit cards make it easy to rack up points with your favorite hotel brand, and many of them also provide complimentary elite status. What makes most of them an easy sell, though, is a free hotel stay every year.

Depending on how you redeem your free night, you could get far more value than what you pay with the card’s annual fee.

The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, for instance, charges a $95 annual fee and offers a free annual night worth up to 35,000 points. That includes the Residence Inn New York Manhattan/Times Square, which can run close to $400 per night.

Note, however, that some cards may require that you spend a certain amount each year to qualify for the perk. Also, keep in mind that the anniversary free night may not always be truly free.

“Find out if there are some fees involved with your extra night,” such as parking and resort fees, says Beverly Harzog, a credit card expert at U.S. News & World Report. “If so, put that in your budget.”

See related:  Best credit card perks for summer travel

TSA Precheck and Global Entry credits

More than 20 credit cards offer an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, which can cost up to $100 just to apply. What’s more, these cards typically recycle that benefit every four or five years when it’s time to renew your membership.

These expedited airport security memberships can be valuable for frequent flyers. According to the Transportation Security Administration, 92 percent of TSA Precheck passengers waited less than five minutes to get through security screening in March 2019. And Global Entry allows you to bypass the customs line when entering the United States from abroad.

Some of the cards that offer this perk charge annual fees in the hundreds of dollars. But there are other cards that charge modest fees, making it an easier choice.

For example, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card offers a statement credit for the application fee for either program every four years. The card’s annual fee is $0 the first year, then $95 after that. The PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express® Card is even more impressive because it offers the perk every four years and doesn’t charge an annual fee at all.

If you get a card that offers this benefit, pick Global Entry, even if you don’t have any immediate plans to travel internationally.

“The Global Entry application only costs $15 more than TSA Precheck and includes TSA Precheck benefits,” says Oliver Browne, a credit industry analyst at Credit Card Insider. “So there is really no reason not to get it, especially if your card issuer is reimbursing you for the application fee.”

Free checked bags

Many airline credit cards give you your first bag free when you fly with that airline. Depending on the card, how often you fly and who flies with you, it can be easy to rack up savings that outpace the card’s annual fee.

Many major airlines charge $30 per bag each way, giving you a potential savings of $60 per person per flight. If you fly alone at least twice a year and check a bag each time, you’ll get your money back.

“That’s an uncapped benefit,” says Dan Dougherty, managing director of airline partnerships at Barclays. “You could fly with your family every week if you wanted to. That can’t be matched outside of having an airline card.”

The AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard, for instance, offers a free checked bag for you and up to four others on your itinerary. That’s a potential savings of $300 on each round-trip flight.

The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card goes even further, offering a free checked bag for you and up to eight other passengers on your itinerary.

Keep in mind, though, that eligibility for the perk can vary by card. Many cards, for example, give you the perk regardless of how you pay for the flight. With the JetBlue Plus Card and the United Explorer Card, however, you have to purchase your ticket with the card to get the benefit.

See related:  When comparing premium cards, don’t forget to eye insurance perks

Travel credits

Some of the best travel credit cards offer annual credits that you can use for various travel-related expenses. With some cards, it may be limited to airline fees or hotel expenses, while others will give you statement credits for any travel-related purchase you make up to a certain amount each year.

Again, a lot of the cards that offer annual travel credits charge steep annual fees. But that’s not always the case, and even when it is, it can still be a no-brainer when coupled with other card perks.

One card that should be on your radar is the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card. It charges a $95 annual fee and offers an annual $100 credit for airline incidental costs, including seat upgrades, baggage fees, in-flight services and airport lounge fees. In other words, the card essentially pays for itself every year, plus some.

A card that offers more luxury perks is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. While it charges a $450 annual fee, it offers a $300 annual credit for purchases at eligible Marriott Bonvoy hotels, plus an anniversary free night award worth up to 50,000 points. Between those two perks alone, you can easily get the annual fee back in value and more every year.

Companion airfare certificate

Some airline credit cards offer more than just priority boarding and a free checked bag. They also provide savings on flights when you travel with a companion, and those savings can equal or exceed the cost of the annual fee.

“If you’re already planning a vacation with the family,” says Dougherty, “it’s providing value on something you would normally be spending money on anyway and making that trip even more special.”

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, for example, outdoes its $75 annual fee with an annual companion fare that is available upon your account anniversary.  You can get a fare from $121 — that’s $99 plus $22 in taxes and fees — and it could potentially save you hundreds on a flight for you and a friend. And the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card pairs its $250 annual fee with a yearly companion certificate good for any domestic main cabin fare.

Again, there are terms and conditions to consider if you’re thinking of getting a card with this benefit. With the Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard, for instance, the annual $100 companion discount is good only for round-trip travel between North America and Hawaii.

See related: 5 credit card perks that save you money

Picking the right ‘no-brainer’ credit card

Plenty of credit cards offer benefits that easily make up for their annual fees, but it may not be reasonable to apply for them all. As you consider which card to get, think about your travel habits and the likelihood that you’ll get the full value of the perks.

If you rarely travel with a companion, for instance, a companion airfare certificate or discount won’t do you any good. That’s also the case for a free checked bag perk if you always fly with a carry-on.

Don’t just get a credit card based on one benefit, though, says Browne.

“When looking at a travel rewards card, look at the range of rewards and benefits offered,” he adds.

There’s no best credit card or credit card benefit for everyone, so understand your needs and travel plans, then pick the card or cards that are best suited for them.

“We all value things differently in life,” says Harzog. “As long you don’t carry a balance, whichever credit card makes you happy is perfectly fine.”

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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