How Your Credit Card Can Protect You When Traveling

Quick Answer

Many credit cards have insurance benefits that will automatically apply to eligible trips that you book with your card. These can help cover, reimburse or pay for various unexpected travel-related expenses.

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Before your next trip, review your credit cards to see if they offer travel insurance benefits that can help protect you when you're away from home. When available, these benefits can help you save money and ease concerns that may arise when something goes awry. Read your card's terms and conditions closely to fully understand your coverage and how to file a claim if necessary.

Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver

A credit card's rental car insurance benefit can reimburse you if your rental car is damaged or stolen, and for towing and loss-of-use charges. It can provide significant savings as a rental car company's damage waiver might otherwise cost you as much as $45 a day.

Most credit cards only offer secondary coverage—which means you must file a claim with your auto insurance company first, and the credit card will cover excess costs. The benefit may act as primary coverage if you don't have auto insurance. But even if you do have auto insurance, you may want to look for a travel credit card that offers primary insurance coverage.

Additionally, the credit card benefit might not include liability coverage, which is what helps if someone sues you for medical or property damages (you hit someone's car and injure them, for example). There may also be policy limits that vary depending on the credit card, type of car, length of the rental and where you're traveling.

Baggage Delay Insurance

Baggage delay insurance can help cover the cost of items you have to buy if your bag is delayed, or replacement costs if it's lost. To receive the benefit, your bag might need to be delayed for a certain amount of time, such as four hours. Coverage typically kicks in when traveling by plane, train, bus or ship. Limitations and maximum coverage per person and item may vary by card.

Trip Delay Reimbursement

Trip delay reimbursement benefits can reimburse you if your scheduled trip is delayed by a certain amount of time (such as at least six hours), or if a delay requires you to spend the night somewhere. Covered expenses can include meals, toiletries, medication, lodging and other personal items, although there may be a per-trip or per-ticket coverage maximum.

Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance

Trip cancellation and interruption insurance can reimburse you for non-refundable costs if your trip is canceled or interrupted by a covered incident—such as a non-refundable ticket or the cost to book a flight home early. The covered incidents might include sickness, jury duty or bad weather, but these may vary depending on your policy. The benefit generally applies to you and eligible family members who are on the trip you booked with the credit card.

Travel Accident Insurance

Travel accident insurance offers financial protection for death and injuries. Death and dismemberment coverage can pay out if you or a covered family member dies or loses a limb or eye during a covered trip. It's not a benefit you'll ever want to use, but the payment can be significant and help you deal with the unexpected costs that arise as a result.

Travel and Emergency Evacuation and Assistance

The emergency travel and evacuation assistance benefits can help connect you with professionals while you're traveling. These can include medical and legal referrals, translation services and emergency prescription refills. If you or a covered family member get injured or sick and need to get home quickly, some cards will help cover emergency medical transportation as well.

Roadside Dispatch

Roadside dispatch assistance can connect you with local providers if you need help when you're away from home. Depending on the credit card's benefit, you might receive basic services—such as a tire change, jump-start, help into a locked car or a short tow—for a set price. Some cards go a step further and cover the costs (or a portion of the cost) for these types of services.

How to Choose the Best Travel Credit Card

If you have a travel credit card, you can review the card's benefits to see what types of insurance you already have, and the card policy's features and limitations. You might want to also see what other cards offer, and whether it makes sense to apply for a new travel card that offers more or complementary benefits. To narrow in on the best option, you can:

  • Check your credit. The best travel credit cards may require a good to excellent credit score. You can check your FICO® Score for free with Experian, and see which factors are most helping or hurting your credit.
  • Plan your redemption. Some travel cards are better than others depending on the type of travel you have in mind. For example, an airline rewards credit card might be best if you travel with family and will take advantage of free checked bags or priority boarding. But a different card, such as one that includes primary rental car coverage and helps pay for roadside dispatch, could be best if you're planning a road trip.
  • Consider the type of rewards. Similarly, consider the type of rewards you want to earn and use. Some travel cards give you points or miles in airline or hotel loyalty programs, which can be beneficial, but tie you to that company. Others offer points or miles that can help cover travel costs regardless of where you make a purchase, or cash back that you can set aside for future adventures.
  • Review the benefits and features. Look over the card's benefits to see which types of travel-related insurance you'll receive when using the card. Also, look for other helpful benefits, such as statement credits or status in loyalty programs, that can help make your travel less expensive or more enjoyable.
  • Compare current offers. Travel credit cards often have intro bonus offers that can give you a large amount of cash back, points or miles. However, you may want to wait until the card you want has a good intro bonus offer, because you might only be eligible for the intro bonus the first time you get the card.

Card issuers also release new credit cards from time to time, and travel credit cards' benefits and features can change over time. With this in mind, it might make sense to occasionally review your current cards and the available options.

Compare the Best Travel Cards

The best card for you won't necessarily be the best for someone else, and you'll want to compare cards from several issuers to see which one checks all your boxes. Experian CreditMatch™ makes it easy to review and compare card offers, and you can even create an account to get personalized credit card offers based on your unique credit profile.