Travel Tips for Beginners: Managing Travel Expenses with Credit Cards

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Last updated on April 2nd, 2024

Travel credit cards are indispensable tools when taking a trip. Whether you’re taking a road trip to the beach or catching a long-haul flight worldwide, travel credit cards can offer significant benefits to help you on your current trip and rewards to help you book your next trip. 

Keep reading to learn how to select the right cards, maximize rewards, and minimize fees while optimizing your travel budget using credit cards. Whether a beginner or a seasoned traveler, there’s always more to learn about maximizing your cardholder benefits while on vacation.

Table of Contents

At a Glance

  • Travel credit cards provide security and luxury benefits to make your vacations more enjoyable.
  • Perks like TSA PreCheck can take much of the strain out of airport travel but often comes with an annual fee.
  • Credit card travel insurance and trip reimbursement protections protect you from unexpected delays and emergencies.
  • Always read the credit card’s terms and conditions carefully before applying.

How to Maximize the Benefits of Your Credit Cards While Traveling

Using a credit card to pay for your travel expenses has many benefits. The exact strategies you’ll want to use will depend on which cards you have in your wallet. Every card has unique perks, so read about your cards to know which benefits you can take advantage of. The following are some general guidelines on how to maximize your benefits while you’re on the road. 

There are no additional fees besides your card’s annual fee for using these benefits. These features are likely available in some capacity on most travel cards, but the terms and conditions will be better on premium travel cards. For instance, a $100 annual fee airline card might give you two passes to an airport lounge per year, while a $600 annual fee airline card might give you an unlimited lounge membership.  

Statement Credits

Some cards will give you statement credits on your travel purchases. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve give cardholders a $300 annual statement credit on any travel purchases made with your card. Even entry-level cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred offer cardholders a $50 annual statement credit for hotels booked through Chase’s travel portal. It’s crucial to read the guidelines on which purchases are eligible for these credits before using your card. 

The king of statement credits is undoubtedly the Platinum Card® from American Express. Although it might cost you $695 per year to be a cardholder, you can get more than $1,500 in annual statement credits if you use your card wisely. Some of these credits are notoriously hard to use, so research before applying to ensure you can take full advantage of the card. 

Travel Insurance

Most travel cards will offer some form of travel insurance. This can include trip cancellation or interruption, a trip delay reimbursement, coverage for lost or delayed baggage, travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, and more. The best travel rewards cards will provide the most comprehensive coverage, while basic rewards cards might offer one or two insurances with minor coverage. 

TSA PreCheck, CLEAR, and Global Entry

TSA PreCheck is a program the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) offers. It allows travelers to go through expedited security in airports across the country. You won’t have to take off your shoes, take electronics or liquids out of your bags, or remove belts. Travelers with TSA PreCheck will get through security in 10 minutes or less. From personal experience, sometimes I’ve gotten through security in less than two minutes, even on busy travel days. The application costs between $78 and $85 and is valid for five years. 

Global Entry expedites your re-entry into the U.S. from abroad. With Global Entry, you use a kiosk that uses facial recognition software. It is significantly faster than the traditional customs and immigration line. The application fee costs $100 and is valid for five years. Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck as a benefit, so you do not have to apply for these two programs separately.

Many travel credit cards will offer an application fee credit for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry every five years. You can likely enroll in these programs without incurring additional costs, improving your travel experience. 

CLEAR is another program that is less common and more expensive. A CLEAR Plus membership costs $189 per year and uses your eyes or fingerprint to move you to the front of the security line. You can use CLEAR in conjunction with TSA PreCheck to make your way through security even quicker. Some cards, like the Platinum Card by American Express or the Amex Green Card, will offer a statement credit for a CLEAR Plus membership each year. 

Access to Airport Lounges

Going to a lounge in the airport is an excellent way to elevate your travel experience. Lounges can offer food, beverages, showers, places to sleep, and information about your flight. It’s much more comfortable and convenient than sitting in the terminal waiting to board. Premium airline cards, like the Delta SkyMiles Reserve, will offer access to their lounges (in this case, the Delta Sky Club). General travel rewards cards like the Capital One Venture X will offer a Priority Pass membership, which grants you access to more than 1,400 airport lounges worldwide, or the Plaza Premium Lounge Network. Before applying for a premium credit card, check which airport lounges you can access as a cardholder. 

Credit Card Safety While Traveling Abroad

Credit cards are typically safer to use than debit cards, especially while traveling. Credit cards offer fraud protection, which means you aren’t held responsible for unauthorized purchases on your card. You can notify your card issuer before traveling so they don’t block your purchases while you’re in another country.

If you’re worried about getting pickpocketed, you can bring a wallet in the shape of a belt underneath your clothes or a purse with straps that cannot be cut. Many wallets on the market also have RFID-blocking technology to protect you from scammers. Just in case something happens, only carry one or two cards with you at a time. Leave the rest of your cards in your hotel or Airbnb, so you have a backup card. You can also use your mobile wallet on your phone using tap to pay if this option is offered, which is the most secure way to use your cards. Keep an eye on your finances while you’re traveling so you are aware of any suspicious activity taking place. 

Strategies to Maximize Rewards and Benefits

The best way to maximize your rewards and benefits is to read about your specific card. Every credit card is unique — knowing what’s offered is the only way to maximize your benefits. Try to take advantage of every benefit your card offers to get the most value, especially if you pay an annual fee. 

If you plan on traveling internationally, you should pick a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Even a 2% foreign transaction fee can add up when taking an international vacation.

Travel cards will typically earn points or miles on purchases that can be used to book future travel. Try to only use cards that offer bonus points on select categories. For instance, I use my Capital One Venture X to book hotels and car rentals because I earn 10 points per dollar when I book through Capital One Travel. However, I use my Chase Sapphire Preferred on dining purchases, earning three points per dollar compared to Capital One’s two points. 

While the value of your credit card points will depend on several factors, like the card you use and how you redeem your points, you can generally expect that a travel card will allow you to cover flights, hotel stays, or car rentals in the future. When you rack up enough points, you can explore options for redeeming your points for the most value. 


Credit cards are one of the best ways to manage your travel expenses. You can get premium benefits like airport lounge access and be covered with travel insurance in the event of an emergency. 

Ready to make the most of your travel budget? Read hundreds of travel card reviews, explore our comprehensive credit card comparison tool, and find the perfect card to get the most out of your travel expenses.

Related Article: Navigating Credit Card Debt During A Financial Crisis

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