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

Last updated on August 18th, 2020

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’.

“Home For the Holidays” is Easier Said Than Done

November may have just begun but we’ll bet on Nanna’s famous stuffing that you’ve begun eyeing the pre-Black Friday sales and gearing up for feast-mode (we can practically taste pumpkin pie already). As the holiday season looms closer, that means bracing ourselves – and our wallets – for fulfilling familial duties of visiting our loved ones. For most of us, however, attending holiday festivities isn’t as simple as driving down the block. 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, we won’t sugar coat it: traveling during the holiday sucks. Last year the T.S.A. experienced a record-breaking number of travelers over Thanksgiving and Christmas, with about 66 million airline passengers contributing to the holiday rush. In the face of numbers like these, 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 and need to endure skyrocketing ticket prices, airport security lines that wrap around the building, overbooked flights, delayed takeoffs, and crowded terminals (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 4 best credit card perks for holiday travel as well as the credit cards that offer them:

1. Skipping the Security Lines

Remember grade school when skipping the line was highly frowned upon? Throw that rule out the window. 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 uncooperative linemates – but all that will change with a credit card that gives you access to an expedited security checkout experience.  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 get 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 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, you are your own proof.

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 must do is to make your way through the throngs of other travelers, power-walk halfway across the airport to your gate…and wait. Hope 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 1,200+ 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.

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.

4. Complimentary or Discounted In-Flight Purchases

You’ve 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.

Making Holiday Travel a Piece of Cake: Other Travel Tips

If everything we’ve mentioned is old news, kudos to you for being a savvy, expert traveler. Here are some additional ways that you can use your card to ease the hassle of holiday travel:

  • Tap into the rewards program of your airline (or a partner airline) to see whether a matched status might make you eligible for exclusive lounge or boarding access.
  • In the instance that your co-branded airline credit card doesn’t come with the privileges you want, airline’s desk attendants usually give special treatment to cardholders so it’s always worth mentioning that you’re a cardholder.

Traveling during the holidays doesn’t have to be hectic, be sure to take advantage of the awesome perks of your plastic this season – but don’t forget that these credit card airline perks are available long after presents have been opened.

About: Allan
Allan Guzman Chinchilla

Allan is the Managing Editor at In addition to leading a robust team of writers in the pursuit of thorough credit cards expertise, he is an avid fan of films, food, traveling, and Star Wars.