Seven ways your credit card can save you money on holiday travel

Card perks such as waived baggage fees, rental car insurance and trip cancellation or interruption insurance can amount to hundreds of dollars in savings.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters/File
People rest at LaGuardia airport on the day before Thanksgiving, in New York.

Paying for your holiday travel with your credit card to get points, miles and cash-back rewards is a no-brainer. But if you really want to take advantage of all the travel-friendly benefits your card offers, don’t stop there.

Card perks such as waived baggage fees, rental car insurance and trip cancellation or interruption insurance can amount to hundreds of dollars in savings. That’s especially nice during such a hectic, costly season: Last year, 5.7 million U.S. travelers booked flights between Dec. 23 and Jan. 4, and the average price for a discounted round-trip airline ticket alone was $186, according to a study by AAA.

Here are seven key benefits that could save you money on your holiday trip.

1. Travel statement credit rewards

If you’ve saved up rewards on your general travel credit card, the holiday season might be a good time to cash in, especially if you can redeem your rewards as a travel statement credit. Use your card to book the airlines or hotels with the lowest rates, and redeem your points against those charges afterward. Each issuer defines travel differently, but generally, airfare and hotel costs are covered.

Cards that let you redeem rewards for travel statement credit:

2. Airline fee credits

Some credit cards offer airline fee credits, which cover costs such as checked baggage fees, airport lounge access, in-flight meals and upgrades. Trim your holiday travel costs or travel in style for less by redeeming these credits on your trip. Keep in mind that these benefits may expire at the end of each calendar year.

Cards with airline fee credits:

3. Waived checked baggage fees

You know the holiday drill: Travel lightly when you’re departing, and return with more gifts, souvenirs and leftovers than you know what to do with. Use the benefits on your co-branded credit cards to save money on these fees. In some cases, you have to book your flight with the card to get this bag credit. Other times, you can get the fees waived if you include your frequent flyer number on your ticket.

Cards with waived checked baggage fees:

MORE: Airline Credit Cards’ Unsung Perk: Free Checked Bags

4. Discounts and freebies for your plus-one

Two-for-one deals aren’t just for Black Friday. Before you book a couple’s trip over the holidays, find out if you have a card that lets you add someone to your hotel or flight reservation at no extra cost, or at a discount. In some cases, you may have to meet a certain spending threshold to get this benefit. 

Cards with companion benefits:

5. Waived foreign transaction fees

If you’re spending the holidays abroad, bring a card that waives those pesky 1% to 3% foreign transaction fees. Keep in mind that all Capital One and Discover cards have this feature.

Cards with no foreign transaction fees:

MORE: Best No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Cards of 2015

6. Trip cancellation insurance

Nix the trip cancellation insurance at checkout if you’re paying with a card that already includes it. With this benefit, you can get a refund on your nonrefundable airfare and other travel costs if you have to cancel your trip for reasons such as illness or severe weather.

Coverage varies by card and issuer, but generally, cards with World MasterCard and Visa Signature benefits offer this complimentary protection, and American Express charges extra for such coverage.

Cards with trip cancellation insurance:

  • Marriott Rewards®  Premier Credit Card: Get reimbursed for up to $5,000 in nonrefundable travel expenses if your trip is canceled because of sickness, severe weather or other covered events. The card also comes with a trip delay reimbursement in case of a postponed flight.
  • Citi®Double Cash Card: Get reimbursed for up to $1,500 a year in nonrefundable travel expenses if your trip is canceled because of covered events.
  • Wells Fargo Propel World American Express: Get reimbursed for up to $1,500 in nonrefundable travel expenses if your trip is canceled or interrupted because of covered events.

7. Primary rental car insurance

If you’re paying for your rental with a credit card comes that comes with either primary or secondary car rental insurance, you save around $20 a day by declining the collision damage waiver (CDW) offered by the rental company. Most cards offer secondary coverage, which requires you to file a claim with your regular car insurance provider first and could make your insurance rates go up. But with primary insurance, your issuer covers the damages first.

Cards with primary rental insurance:

MORE: NerdWallet’s Top Credit Cards With Primary Rental Insurance

The bottom line

During the hustle and bustle of peak travel season, the most valuable credit card features are flexible rewards and traveler-friendly benefits. Read about your card’s benefits to find out which ones you can take advantage of this year.

Remember, you don’t need to overspend to get good deals this holiday season. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of using the right card at the right time.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @ideclaire7.

 This article first appeared in NerdWallet.

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