Summer travel can be pricey. Credit card rewards and sign-up bonuses can help you save money when booking your trip. But don’t overlook the potential for savings from cardholder benefits. Money-saving credit card perks that could help you this summer include:
— Free hotel night on your account anniversary
— Free hotel night with booking
— Travel credits
— Trip protections
— Companion airfare certificate
— Free checked bags
— Waived foreign transaction fees
Travel Credit Card Perks That Offer Summer Savings
Credit card rewards usually get the lion’s share of attention, but these benefits can provide a lot of value.
Free hotel night on your account anniversary. Many hotel credit cards offer a free hotel stay every year, typically at the same time you pay your annual fee. The value of the free anniversary night can be worth far more than the yearly cost.
“You can save hundreds of dollars, depending on the hotel you use them for,” says Patti Geroulis, co-founder of The Travel Sisters, which offers advice on using credit card rewards. “I usually book a hotel in the highest category allowed. Another way to maximize the value is to book a hotel in an expensive destination, which would be pricey if I had to pay in cash.”
Just watch out for added costs, including resort and parking fees. Your free night certificate typically doesn’t cover these expenses.
Free hotel night with booking. Some credit cards grant you a free night if you book a specified number of consecutive nights, usually four or five. So on a six-night hotel stay, you’d only have to pay for five nights. Depending on where you’re staying, this benefit could save you hundreds of dollars. But keep in mind some costs, such as taxes and fees, may not be included.
Travel credits. Several credit cards provide various forms of travel credits to help cover the cost of your trip. You could get access to travel credits to pay for airfare, hotels or other travel expenses, or airline fee credits that cover checked bags, in-flight refreshments or other costs.
Depending on the card, though, there may be some limitations. For example, you might only be able to use your fee credit on one airline.
“Usually travel cards that have (travel) credits have high annual fees,” says Geroulis, “so make sure you can use your credits when deciding if your travel card is worth keeping.”
Trip protections. Depending on which credit card you have, you could have access to travel insurance benefits. In addition to rental car insurance, you might get trip cancellation and interruption protection, lost or delayed baggage insurance, travel accident insurance, or even emergency evacuation and transportation insurance.
Geroulis says many people leave money on the table by not taking advantage of their card’s trip protections. “People apply for travel credit cards for the free points and don’t pay attention to all the benefits,” she says. “Also, reading the fine print can be boring, so many cardholders don’t read through their credit card agreement.”
To maximize the value of these benefits, take the time to read through your card agreement and your benefits guide. Understand what’s covered and how much benefit you can receive.
Rental car insurance can be particularly valuable if it provides primary coverage. Primary coverage means you can file a claim with the card’s insurance policy first, rather than starting with your personal auto insurance like you would with secondary coverage. Dan Miller, owner of travel blog Points With a Crew, says using credit card car rental insurance saved his mom nearly $1,000 during a trip to Scotland.
Companion airfare certificate. A handful of airline credit cards provide a free companion airfare certificate, either as part of an introductory offer or on an annual basis. Depending on the card, the certificate can be good for an entire fare or a set amount, say $100, essentially giving you a discount.
Before you plan your trip, make sure you understand the perk’s conditions and whether you can use it. For example, you might not be able to use a certificate on a first-class ticket, or you might be restricted on where you can travel.
[Read: Best Hotel Credit Cards.]
Free checked bags. Many airline credit cards let you check your first bag for free when you fly, which can save you $30 each way with some airlines. Here’s the real kicker, though: Some cards will even waive the fee for a certain number of people who are traveling with you.
Most Delta credit cards extend the benefit to nine passengers on the same reservation, says Miller, who frequently travels with his family of eight. “That savings can really add up.”
To give you an idea of the savings potential, paying $30 each way for nine checked bags round trip would normally cost $540. If you often travel with family and friends, this feature could really pay off.
Again, read the fine print if you have a card with this benefit. Some cards may require you to pay for the flight in full with your credit card, while others just require you to add your frequent flyer number to the reservation.
Waived foreign transaction fees. Travel credit cards often have this perk, so it doesn’t get a lot of fanfare. But if you’re planning a long trip abroad, the savings can add up. The typical foreign transaction fee is 3% of all transactions you incur internationally. So if you spend $3,000 while on your international trip, you’ll save $90.
Note, however, that a foreign transaction fee is not the same as the currency conversion fee that a merchant might charge. If you’re in another country and the cashier offers to charge you in U.S. dollars instead of the local currency, that person may add a fee for the service or use an unfavorable exchange rate. To avoid this extra charge, always opt to pay in the local currency.
[Read: Best Airline Credit Cards.]
How to Pick a Travel Credit Card Based on Perks
Having the right travel credit card perks can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over time. But no credit card offers all of them, so it’s important to take the time to compare different options to find the best one for you.
Start by thinking about your travel habits. Instead of focusing on just your upcoming summer trip, think about credit card perks that you can use on most, if not all, of your future vacations.
For example, if you prefer road trips over flights, getting a card that offers airline-related savings likely won’t provide much value. The same goes with hotel-related perks if you frequently travel but always stay with family or friends instead of at a hotel.
Also, consider the card’s annual fee. Some of the best travel perks come on cards that charge annual fees in the hundreds of dollars. But if you’re not going to get that money back in value, it won’t be worth it.
On the flip side, some credit cards have benefits that easily make up for their annual fee — plus some. With hotel credit cards that offer an annual free night stay, for instance, you may never have to use the card for anything else to ensure the benefits outweigh the costs.
Finally, don’t forget about the rewards. Travel benefits can provide savings while you’re on your trip, but a credit card with a great rewards program can help you accumulate value during the rest of the year.
Just keep in mind that there’s usually a trade-off. A card might provide excellent rewards but lackluster travel perks. Or it could have both but charge a triple-digit annual fee. Find a balance that best suits your travel needs.
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Credit Card Perks That Can Save You Money on Summer Travel originally appeared on usnews.com