The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
Tuesday, August 9, 2022

12 Surprising Ways Credit Cards Help You Save on Summer Vacations

Ways Credit Cards Help You Save On Summer Vacations

credit card advice

Andrea Woroch

Written by: Andrea Woroch

Andrea Woroch

Andrea Woroch is a nationally recognized consumer finance expert, writer, and TV personality who is passionate about helping families find simple ways to spend less and save more without making major sacrifices. Her practical budgeting and savings advice has helped millions of Americans initiate real financial change so they can stress less and spend more time doing the things they love. As a go-to media expert, Andrea has appeared on popular TV shows such as Today, Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, Dr. OZ, CNN, and MSNBC. Her work has been featured in the The New York Times, USA Today, Forbes, Reader’s Digest, Cosmopolitan, Money, Time, Woman’s Day, Yahoo, among other outlets. Andrea hosts a monthly money segment on KTLA Morning News in Los Angeles.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct instructor at the University of Florida. Today, she edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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Advertiser Disclosure

Summer and vacations go hand in hand, but record-high inflation is causing travel costs and gas prices to skyrocket, making it more difficult for families to afford a trip. 

Practicing a few basic budgeting hacks, such as reducing monthly bills, limiting discretionary purchases, and cutting back on take-out, can help you boost savings in time for your summer vacation. But don’t overlook the many benefits your credit card offers to help you get away for less. 

In fact, credit cards offer several surprising financial perks that can ease your travel experience and take the sting out of rising prices. Check out these 12 ways credit cards can help you save on a summer vacation.

1. Earn Rewards Toward Free or Discounted Travel

You can earn a variety of rewards, from airline miles to travel points to cash back, when using a credit card. These rewards can alleviate the growing financial burden of traveling, especially as prices of airfare and gas skyrocket ahead of summer. 

As long as you only use your credit card to pay for purchases you were going to make anyway, you can earn valuable rewards toward free flights and free hotel stays. You can also earn cash back rewards that you can redeem for a statement credit to pay for some of your travel expenses. 

To maximize rewards, look for a card that rewards you the most for the types of purchases you frequently make. For example, most of us buy groceries from a supermarket at least every other week, and a rewards card such as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card offers 6% back on grocery purchases.

Maximize Credit Card Rewards

This strategy will enable you to rack up more miles, points, or cash back to help pay for summer travel fees.

Another example is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which offers points worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards, helping you pay for more of your summer trip using fewer rewards.

2. Signup Bonuses

Opening a new credit card doesn’t seem like a typical saving strategy, but signup bonuses can significantly reduce travel costs. Some cards offer free cash, points, or airline miles when you meet a spending requirement within the first few months of account opening. 

Opening a new card is an easy way to earn extra rewards that can be used to cover travel expenses so less comes out of your own pocket.

Take for example the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card which offers new cardholders several thousand miles when they meet the spending requirements after account opening. While the spending threshold on this offer is on the higher side, anyone planning to make a big-ticket purchase anyway can easily earn this bonus and use those miles to cover airfare or hotel stays.

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★

4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day
  • Miles won’t expire for the life of the account and there’s no limit to how many you can earn
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Enjoy two complimentary visits per year to Capital One Lounges or to 100+ Plaza Premium Lounges through our Partner Lounge Network
  • Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of trip options
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.49% – 25.49% (Variable)
$95
Excellent, Good

Meanwhile, the Chase Freedom Flex℠ card offers a one-time cash bonus after you meet the spending requirements in your first few months of account opening, which can help pay for a car rental, meals out, or an activity on your summer getaway.

Chase Freedom Flex℠ Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★

4.8

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
  • 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back. You can choose to receive a statement credit or direct deposit into most U.S. checking and savings accounts. Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open!
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.49% – 25.24%.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
16.49% – 25.24% Variable
$0
Good/Excellent

Before biting at the first signup bonus you come across, spend time comparing offers and search for the deal that offers the most cash back, points, or miles. 

3. Cheap Companion Tickets

While companion tickets have become a less popular promotion offered by credit cards, several cards still offer this perk to help travelers save big on airfare.

The Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card offers cardholders the opportunity to buy a companion ticket in economy class on Alaska Airlines for just $121 with a discount code, and both flyers earn miles for the whole trip regardless of the ticket fee. 

Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★

4.3

OVERALL RATING

  • Buy one ticket, get one for just the taxes and fees + 40,000 bonus miles offer. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
  • Get Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22) after you make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening. There are no blackout dates.
  • Earn unlimited 3 miles for every $1 spent on eligible Alaska Airlines purchases and unlimited 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. Miles don’t expire on active accounts.
  • Enjoy 20% back on all Alaska Airlines inflight purchases and 50% off day passes at the Alaska Lounge when you pay with your new card.
  • Free checked bag for you and up to 6 guests on the same reservation – that’s a savings of $60 per person roundtrip!
  • $75 Annual Fee
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.49% – 25.49% Variable
$75
Good/Excellent

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card issues a free companion pass every account anniversary.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★

4.5

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months
  • Earn 3X miles on Delta purchases and hotels, 2X miles at restaurants (including takeout and delivery) and U.S. supermarkets, all other purchases earn 1 point per $1
  • Earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year, up to two times.
  • Get your first bag free on Delta flights booked with your card
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your card
  • Receive a 20% savings in the form of a statement credit after you use your card on eligible Delta in-flight purchases of food, beverages, and audio headsets.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.25% – 26.24% (Variable)
$250
Good/Excellent

This companion ticket can be used by a friend or family member and is valid for a single companion in economy class on a paid ticket, covering the entire price apart from taxes and government fees.

4. Travel Credits

Using rewards toward flights, hotel stays, and car rentals isn’t the only way your credit card can offset summer travel spending. Some even give you money back for travel purchases or credit toward various travel-related expenses. 

Kind of amazing, right? 

Here’s a look at some cards that offer annual travel credits worth hundreds of dollars, just for being a cardmember:

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Review

at Chase’ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★

4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • New Offer: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $900 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on air travel and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $900 toward travel
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.49% – 25.49% Variable
$550
Good/Excellent

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★

4.7

OVERALL RATING

4.7/5.0
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.49% – 25.49% (Variable)
$395
Excellent
The Platinum Card® Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

BEST OVERALL RATING

★★★★★

4.7

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new card to make $6,000 in purchases in your first 6 months of Card Membership
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel, on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. Also earn 5X Membership Rewards® points on prepaid hotels on AmexTravel.com. Earn 1X points on all other purchases.
  • $200 annual hotel credit, $200 annual airline fee credit, $25 monthly Equinox credit, $15 monthly Uber cash credit, $50 bi-annual Saks Fifth Avenue credit, and more.
  • Platinum Card Members have unlimited complimentary access to all locations of The Global Lounge Collection, including 1,400 airport lounges across 650 cities.
  • Automatic Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status and Hilton Honors Gold Status. Enrollment required.
  • Choose among three card designs
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
17.49% – 24.49% Pay Over Time
$695
Excellent

Note that these cards charge large annual fees to help offset the cost of the perks they dish out. 

You must pay for qualifying travel purchases with your credit card to earn your travel credits, and some cards may also require you to book your accommodations through the card issuer’s travel portal. 

Review your account to understand how you can qualify for these reimbursements so you don’t miss out on the benefit and free money. For example, The Platinum Card® requires you to first enroll in several of its benefits before you make the required purchase to earn the credits.

5. Free Hotel Nights

Snagging a travel credit for a hotel booking is certainly a nice financial perk, but it’s not the only way to save on accommodations. Look for a credit card that offers free hotel stays to stretch your travel dollars even further.

For example, the World of Hyatt Credit Card offers cardholders an extra free night at any Category 1 to 4 Hyatt hotel as long as you hit the spending minimum requirement in a calendar year. Meanwhile, other hotel-branded credit cards offer free night certificates, issued typically on your account anniversary every year. 

For example, the IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card offers a free night certificate every anniversary that can be redeemed at any IHG hotel retailing for up to 40,000 IHG points per night. In some cases, you may be able to upgrade your room or redeem it at a premier property by topping off the certificate with points.

(Non-Monetized. The information related to World of Hyatt Credit Card and IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card was collected by CardRates.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this product. Product details may vary. Please see issuer website for current information. Product details may vary. Please see issuer website for current information. CardRates.com does not receive commission for this product/card.)

6. Complimentary Checked Bags

Checking luggage makes traveling through an airport easier because you have less stuff to lug around, but it comes with a hefty fee. In fact, average checked baggage fees range from $30 for the first checked bag to $40 for the second and up to $150 for a third.

Although packing light and traveling with a carry-on is one way to dodge this pesky fee, using a credit card may be a better solution.

Man collecting his luggage from an airport.
Checked-luggage fees are expensive, but some credit cards offer free checked bags with specific airlines or cover airline incidentals as a statement credit.

That’s because most co-branded airline miles credit cards offer free checked bags for flights reserved on the associated airline as long as you paid for the trip using that card. In some cases, you may even get a free bag for a companion or other travelers on the same itinerary, offering further travel savings. 

Several Delta SkyMiles credit cards offer one free checked bag for the cardholder along with up to eight others traveling on the same itinerary. Just be sure to attach your Delta SkyMiles number to your reservation.

7. In-Flight Discounts

Most airlines have done away with complimentary food and snacks these days unless you’re flying first class. And you are going to have to buy a wifi plan if you expect to access the internet during the flight. 

The good news is some credit cards help you pay less or avoid these fees altogether. 

Take for example the U.S. Bank Altitude® Reserve Visa Infinite® Card, which offers 12 complimentary Gogo® in-flight wifi passes per year, or the United Explorer Card, which will give you an extra 25% back as a statement credit on purchases of food, beverages, and wifi onboard United flights.

(Non-Monetized. The information related to United Explorer Card was collected by CardRates.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this product. Product details may vary. Please see issuer website for current information. Product details may vary. Please see issuer website for current information. CardRates.com does not receive commission for this product/card.)

8. Airport Lounge Access

Anyone who has ever been stuck at an airport, whether due to a flight delay or long layover, knows how incredibly uncomfortable and expensive it can get trying to pass time in the terminal before takeoff. That’s where your credit card can come to the rescue. 

Some cards offer access to exclusive airline lounges at no charge. These lounges offer more comfortable seating, complimentary wifi, and free food and refreshments.

A few standout examples include the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, which offers unlimited access to all-inclusive amenities at the Capital One Lounge and at Priority Pass lounges worldwide.

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★

4.9

OVERALL RATING

4.7/5.0
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.49% – 25.49% (Variable)
$395
Excellent

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® provides full membership to Admirals Club lounges and access for up to two guests or immediate family members traveling with you.

AIR MILES RATING

★★★★★

4.5

OVERALL RATING

  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® Bonus Miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for up to two guests or immediate family members traveling with you
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
  • Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible AAdvantage® mile earned from purchases
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
18.24% – 27.24% (Variable)
$450
Excellent, Good

Additional Disclosure: Citi is a CardRates advertiser.

Though this perk is often found on credit cards that charge an annual fee, it usually pays for itself when you compare the cost to access the lounge without the benefit.

9. Travel Insurance 

A surge in travel cancellations over the last couple of years due to health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many Americans to lose money.  According to a survey by Forbes Advisor, 50% of Americans surveyed have canceled a trip due to COVID, and 83% of those who canceled lost money as a result.

Whether you’re looking to safeguard your vacation against cancellation, interruption, or simply get added coverage for a rental car, think twice about how you pay for your trip. Your credit card may provide some travel insurance perks at no additional cost.

The Chase Sapphire Credit Cards offer a range of travel insurance coverage, including Trip Cancellation and Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, and even Lost Luggage Insurance, to give you peace of mind and protect your budget.

The United Explorer Credit Cards offers similar insurance benefits, plus Baggage Delay Insurance, Trip Delay Reimbursement, and Travel Accident Insurance.

10. No Foreign Transaction Fees

Traveling abroad isn’t cheap and it’s not just airfare, hotel, and sightseeing activities that can bust your budget. Even something as small as foreign transaction fees add up quickly.

Many credit and debit card issuers charge foreign transaction fees for any purchase made in a different currency at a rate of approximately 3% of the total sale. 

This may not sound like a lot, but travelers on extended trips should consider looking for a credit card that waives this fee to save more money. For instance, the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card promises no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee, so you can enjoy this perk completely for free.

CASH BACK RATING

★★★★★

4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.8/5.0
  • One-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • $0 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you’ll get Capital One’s best prices on thousands of trip options. Terms apply
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won’t expire for the life of the account and there’s no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months; 16.49%-26.49% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
0% for 15 months
0% for 15 months
16.49% – 26.49% (Variable)
$0
Excellent, Good

While some credit cards that waive foreign transaction fees charge an annual fee, plenty don’t, so do some research before signing up.

11. Priority Boarding

There’s nothing more irritating than boarding a plane late and missing out on overhead space to store your carry-on bag. While you can pay a fee during booking to board early on many flights, using the right credit card can ensure you avoid long lines and dodge this extra charge. 

For instance, the United Explorer Card allows the primary cardmember and companions on the same reservation to board United-operated flights ahead of general boarding.

12. TSA Precheck/CLEAR Reimbursements

Expect more delays at the airport during peak travel seasons such as summer, including long lines to get through security. While getting to the airport with plenty of time to spare before your departure time is one surefire way to ease the stress of traveling, your credit card can come to the rescue too. 

In fact, some credit cards offer a reimbursement of the application fee for TSA Precheck for domestic travelers or reimbursement of the application fee for Global Entry for international travelers. Some credit cards will also reimburse the annual fee for CLEAR membership. 

These services offer an expedited airport security screening process so you can skip long lines and avoid having to remove shoes, belts, jackets, liquids, and electronics from your carry-on luggage. 

Airport security line.
Some cards reimburse TSA PreCheck, CLEAR, or Global Entry fees to help you breeze through airport security lines.

Both the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, among several others, offer cardholders a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®. Just make sure to pay the application fee using the associated card and send the receipt for reimbursement, which will be applied as a statement credit through your online account. 

The Platinum Card® offers statement credits each year when you use its credit card to pay for your annual CLEAR membership.

Save On Your Next Summer Vacation

As you can see, travel cards have several features that can help you substantially save on your next vacation. Rewards aren’t the only way to earn free travel. If you choose the right card, you can acquire travel insurance, airline perks, annual travel credits, lounge access, free hotel stays, and many other perks that can make your next trip both cheaper and more comfortable. Choose wisely, and safe travels! 

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