Personal Finance

How Credit Cards Can Make Air Travel Less Painful

Some people believe “getting there is half the fun.” Those people probably haven’t traveled. There’s lost luggage, long lines and late flights. Fortunately, credit cards can be your secret weapon. Think of that tiny piece of plastic as a Swiss Army knife for the inevitable troubles of air travel. Use these tips to keep you flying high.

Make It Rain (Points)

Some credit cards are built from the ground up for serious travelers. Newer offers from the credit card market address do just that,. Some offer up to 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening the account. A perk like this can add up to a $750 value when redeemed for travel expenses. Opt for reward plans that offer at least 3 points for each $1 spent on travel.. If you can get at least a value of 1 cent for each of these points, which is fairly standard, it will translate to serious savings. Some luxury cards will also throw a $200 - $300 travel credit on top of ordinary points. However, the cards that tend to do this tend to come with annual fees that can reach as high as $450, so you need to be a frequent traveler to make this travel reward cards work for you.

If fees like that are too high then opt for the a lower annual fee card card. More affordable options command a more reasonable annual fee -- typically around $95. However, you may pick up lower rewards as a result. Lower fee cards can be a good deal for low to moderate spenders. If you are a serious traveler, paying the higher fee may be worth it. Getting more points per dollar can make up for even the steepest fees. At the end of the day, it all comes down to how the math breaks down. Use online comparison tools to help you figure out the breakeven point, and don’t let annual fees scare you away.

Before you invest time and money into a travel credit card, make sure you are comfortable with its reward program. Some will give you a lot more flexibility than others, which is an important factor to consider. You can have a million miles, but they will be worthless if you can’t use them

Ditch the Bags

Amid waning air travel following the 9/11 terrorist attacks airlines pared losses by introducing bag check fees. More than a decade later it’s clear this fee is here to stay. However, there are ways around paying an average of $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second.

Airline specific cards offered from major carriers like like American and Delta are a great way to leave the baggage fee at home. In many cases the perk allows for one free checked bag. Some cards will also permit a free checked bag for up to nine additional passengers. Choose carefully, the perk only works with the airline attached to the credit card. Also, be aware that if your existing elite status permits a free checked bag you cannot stack the perk. That is, you will not be allowed to combine the credit card perk with the frequent traveler benefit.

Jump the Line

Most of air travel is waiting. Credit cards can change this. Some companies offer elite status upon opening an account. With these cards you’ll enjoy benefits like priority access at security checkpoints. Additionally, holders immediately become a airline club members making the hassle of travel more relaxing with access to lounges.

The best way to cut down on lines is to enroll in Global Entry, which includes all the benefits of TSA PreCheck. Many travelers ignore this service given the $100 application fee. However, several credit cards offer a full reimbursement for this cost.

Not a Frequent Traveler? Not a Problem

Want to enjoy the perks of a frequent traveler even if you’re only in the air a few times a year? Now you can. Some cards offer deals that permit choosing benefits on a trip-by-trip basis. Start by choosing one-time elite status for a particular flight. This benefit will come at a cost. However, you can defray, or completely offset the expense with a credit card that reimburses for air travel incidentals.

For example, some cards may offer a $300 credit to holders each year. This total can be used to reimburse for expenses like lounge day passes, first class upgrades, and in-flight Internet. Be warned, in many cases you must call the credit card company directly to use the credit. It won’t simply be applied to your credit card bill.

When opening a new credit card account for airline perks be sure you have your next trip lined up. If the year passes without any trips you’re stuck with an annual fee and little to show for it. Bon voyage.

The article How Credit Cards Can Make Air Travel Less Painful originally appeared on ValuePenguin.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.