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The Best Credit Cards for Holiday Travel (and Making It Less Miserable)

Last updated on December 20th, 2021

The holiday season is back upon is – meaning the dreaded season of holiday travel has returned. Before you charge head-on into a sea of humanity at airport security, check out our best credit card options for holiday travel – and how they can make it less miserable this year.

“Home for the Holidays” is Easier Said Than Done

December may have just begun, but as the holiday season kicks into full gear, that means bracing ourselves – and our wallets – for fulfilling familial duties of visiting our loved ones. If you’ve ever had to deal with the madness that is holiday travel, then you know how the annual scramble back to our homesteads can leave travelers feeling jaded rather than ‘jolly.’

Attending holiday festivities isn’t as simple as driving down the block for most of us. The cooler months mean ‘tis the season for driving to the airport, waiting around a few hours in a terminal, and being crammed into an airplane cabin until you can claim your luggage and escape. Unlike those handmade shortbread cookies from that artisanal bakery down the street, travel during the holidays can sometimes suck.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) experienced a record-breaking number of travelers over Thanksgiving and Christmas, with about 66 million airline passengers contributing to the holiday rush. While 2020 saw travel levels decrease, 2021 appears to have the makings for a hectic holiday travel schedule.

In the face of crushing numbers of holiday travelers, even the most carefully laid of plans can find themselves derailed by the sheer volume of people trying to get (or out) of the airport at once. Flyers will have no shortage of headaches, with many needing to endure skyrocketing ticket prices, airport security lines that wrap around the building, overbooked flights, delayed takeoffs, and crowded terminals (and don’t get us started about the hassles that inclement weather can cause). But it’s not all bad.

There’s an unlikely ally that could help you circumvent all the waiting, rushing, and jostling of the airport— and it’s sitting right in your wallet. That’s right; your credit card could be just the ticket to make your travels bearable and keep your holiday spirit intact. Here are the four best credit card perks for holiday travel as well as the credit cards that offer them:

Travel Perks that Make Holiday Travel More Bearable

Here are the best credit card options for travelers seeking added comfort this holiday season:

#1: Security Fast Pass

One of the biggest sources of aggravation and stress that comes from air travel is being stuck in the security line, which can quickly become jammed with first-time travelers, families with small children, or unruly fellow passengers – but all that will change with a credit card that gives you access to an expedited security checkout experience. Remember grade school when skipping the line was highly frowned upon? Throw that rule out the window.

 A long security line could spell disaster when it comes to claiming your seat on an overbooked flight or making it to your gate, and if you’ve ever run late for catching a flight, then you know that every second counts. But if you’re the type that lives on the edge and gets a rush when you nearly miss your flight, by all means, stick to the standard security line.

How to Get It: Look for credit cards that offer NEXUS, Global Entry, or TSA Precheck – this benefit is most commonly available as a statement credit. CLEAR is a new form of security that relies on biometrics to clear you for entry – that means no fumbling with boarding passes and passports.

The new Aeroplan® World Elite Mastercard® from Chase is a great place to start for credit cards that let you skip the lines at the airport. The card, which features a $95 annual fee, offers $100 in statement credits every four years when the account holder uses the card to pay the applicat6ion cost associated with TSA Precheck, Global Entry, CLEAR, or NEXUS. In fact, the Aeroplan card is the only U.S. credit card that currently offers the ability to use security fast-track credits towards NEXUS. This service allows for seamless travel between the U.S. and Canada.

The Capital One® Venture® Rewards recently lost its spot as Capital One’s premier travel card, but that doesn’t mean it won’t get you through security in double time. The Venture offers TSA Precheck or Global Entry credits, plus unlimited 2X miles on all purchases for a modest $95 annual fee.

The Expedia® Rewards Voyager Card from Citi has the same price point as both the Aeroplan Card from Chase and the Venture – and also provides the coveted TSA Precheck statement credit every four years. The card, co-branded with the popular travel portal Expedia.com, also earns 4X Expedia Rewards points on eligible Expedia purchases, 2X on dining and entertainment, and 1X on all other purchases.

Other Cards to Consider: Other popular credit cards that provide TSA Precheck statement credits include the U.S. Bank FlexPerks® Gold American Express® Card, the Citi Prestige Card (no longer accepting new applicants) and the United Explorer Card.

#2: Lounge Access

Phew, you’ve made it through the labyrinth of ropes of the security checkpoint and are officially inside the terminal. Now all you need to do is to make your way through the crowds of other travelers, power-walk halfway across the airport to your gate – and wait.

Hopefully your phone is charged because you’ll be lucky to find a seat, much less an outlet. Unless, of course, your own a credit card that offers lounge access.

Airport lounges offer a respite from the bustle of an airport terminal and can range from casual to ultra-exclusive. These private waiting areas mean that you can sit on stand-by away from the masses with plenty of breathing room – not to mention complimentary beverages, snacks, desks, or even showers, that are sometimes available. Lounge access is a must-have for passengers who will need to wait around in-between layovers, those trying to kill time for a delayed flight, or for those who made it through security sooner than they expected.

How to Get It: Look for credit cards with Priority Pass lounge access and enjoy complimentary or discounted admission to 1,300+ airport lounges around the world. Certain cards may provide reimbursement if you purchase a membership, while others offer it completely free of charge simply for being a card owner. If you’re loyal to a particular airline or two, you might find that their co-branded cards offer access to airline-specific lounges or discounted day passes.

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is unique among lounge access credit cards in that account holders don’t need to break the bank to access the premium airport facilities they crave. The card offers ten complimentary Priority Pass lounge visits each year for an annual fee of $95. Given that Priority Pass visit costs roughly $30/ visit, this feature offers almost $300 in value for a $95 in annual fee – not bad!

The Capital One Venture X Card is another new kid on the block – but don’t let that fool you. Venture X replaces the Venture as Capital One’s premier travel card – and packs the sort of punch the regular Venture just couldn’t.

The Venture X offers Priority Pass Select and Capital One Lounge access, $300 in travel credits each year, up to 10X miles on travel purchases, and more. Given the $395 price point is significantly below the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum Card, that is a heck of a lot of oomph for a reasonable annual fee.

Thanks to its impressive lounge perks, The Platinum Card® from American Express still reigns supreme as the ultimate travel card. Unlike many on this list, the Platinum Card offers var more than just Priority Pass Select. Cardmembers gain access to the prestigious Centurion Lounges from Amex and Delta’s SkyClub and the 1,500+ Priority Pass locations worldwide.

Travel is made just-that-more-easier thanks to $175 CLEAR statement credits, plus other credits for travel-related purchases. These credits include a $100 airline credit, a $200 hotel credit, and more. Not bad for a card that many carelessly deride as a glorified coupon book.

Other Cards to Consider: Other popular credit cards that provide lounge access include the American Express Green Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Citi Prestige Card (no longer accepting new applicants), and the Mastercard® Black Card™.

s, $300 in travel credits each year, up to 10X miles on travel purchases, and more. Given the $395 price point is significantly below the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum Card, that is a heck of a lot of oomph for a reasonable annual fee.

#3: Priority Boarding

Boarding the plane can be an ordeal of its own when everyone is crowding the entryway and waiting to pounce once their boarding group to be called. Skip the hassle and ensure that you’ll have room in the overhead bin when you’re one of the first ones to board.

How to Get It: Although this perk can usually be purchased along with your airline tickets, owning a co-branded airline card will almost always automatically entitle passengers to earlier boarding privileges.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Card is one of the best options for priority boarding, thanks to its four upgraded bookings per year. The card also provides impressive Rapid Rewards points on all eligible purchases, an annual anniversary points bonus, and more – for $149 per year. However, these four upgrades are valuable because they are for group A, whereas many airlines only provide priority boarding after higher elite tiers.

The United Explorer Card is another great airline rewards card for priority boarding. Not only does the Explorer Card offer TSA Precheck and in-flight savings, but the card also provides Group 2 priority boarding on all United-operated flights. For the frequent United traveler, the Explorer Card from Chase hits all the right notes – especially given its fairly modest $95 annual fee (which Chase waives for the first year).

The Free Spirit® Points Plus Mastercard® is unique amongst this list of travel cards in that it offers premium perks for near-prime credit scores. Issued by Mercury Financial – the issuer of the popular Mercury Mastercard –  the Points Plus offers Zone 2 priority boarding on Spirit flights, up to 3X Free Spirit points per dollar spent on purchases, and more.

Other Cards to Consider: Other popular credit cards that provide priority boarding benefits include the  Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, and the Spirit Airlines World Mastercard from Bank of America.

#4: Discounted In-Flight Purchases

You’ve finally made it on the plane, and it’s the home stretch – but that doesn’t mean your troubles are over. Airplane cabins mean being stuck with crying babies and chatty seat neighbors. While inflight discounts may not inherently sound like they’ll solve all your problems – a pair of inflight headphones (because you left yours in the terminal), a sweet snack, or a nip of an adult beverage will go a long way towards maintaining what holiday cheer you have left.

How to Get It: Once again, co-branded airline cards are the key to unlocking inflight savings. These purchases may take the form of a discount or a statement credit.

Credit cards That Offers In-Flight Discounts

There are far too many credit cards that provide in-flight discounts, with almost every airline credit card offering this perk. Here is a partial list of current credit cards that provide account holders with discounts on purchases in-flight:

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About: Cory
Cory Santos

Cory is BestCards.com's "Jack of all trades" and resident credit expert, covering all facets of the credit card space. In addition to credit cards, Cory finds that jogging, cats, and memes are essential parts of a balanced day.