A fully loaded jumbo jet can weigh over a million pounds when taking off, but a traveler’s most powerful tool can weigh just five grams. The right travel rewards credit card can offer perks such as priority service, discounts on in-flight purchases, and free checked bags.
But beyond these widely marketed features lies a range of unknown credit card travel hacks that are shared within the community of travel rewards enthusiasts, who are sometimes called travel hackers. Using these travel hacks will allow you to get through the airport faster, save money on flights, and receive perks at the hotel.
Hacks to get through the airport faster and more comfortably
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Get free fast-track through security and immigration.
Estimated Hack Value: $100
Access a faster and less invasive security screening with TSA’s Pre-Check program, a component of the wider Global Entry program. The application requires a $100 fee, but credit cards such as the American Express Platinum, Citi Prestige, and the American Airlines AAdvantage Executive card from Citi cover the cost.
Bypass the id-check, and the lines at security.
Estimated Hack Value: $150
The CLEAR program offers you the ability to skip the wait and ID checks at 13 participating airports. In addition, Visa Signature cardholders can register to receive 6 months CLEAR membership at no cost and $60 off the $179 annual rate when membership automatically renews.
Give your whole family lounge access.
Estimated Hack Value: $200
The American Airlines AAdvantage Executive card from Citi offers an Admiral’s Club lounge membership valid for your entire immediate family or two guests. Additionally, this card is unique in that all authorized cardholders receive the same privileges as the primary cardholder.
Hacks to save money on flights
Access more United Saver Award Seats
Estimated Hack Value: $75
United Airlines is not known for offering a generous selection of award seats at its lowest mileage levels. However, if you have the United Explorer or United Club cards from Chase, you will have more economy class award seats available to you after logging in.
Get 3% back towards travel rewards.
Estimated Hack Value: $120
The Discover it Miles card offers 1.5 times the miles for each dollar spent, and doubles the miles you earn in your first year as a cardmember. You can also redeem your miles for cash back.
Earn Delta Medallion status
Estimated Hack Value: $120
The Delta Reserve card offers new cardholders 10,000 Medallion qualifying miles as a sign-up bonus, and as many as 30,000 additional Medallion qualifying miles each year. Medallion status provides priority service, preferred seating, and even upgrades to first class.
Save big on airfare.
Estimated Hack Value: $160
World Elite MasterCard holders can receive savings of 10 to 30 percent on airfare from select carriers including Hawaiian, Lufthansa, Singapore and Cathay Pacific. Aeromexico even offers a free companion seat with a full fare, business class ticket.
Get your credit card to pay your airline fees
Estimated Hack Value: $215
Several credit cards offer statement credit toward airline fees such as change fees, seat selection fees, and charges for in-flight food and entertainment. The Premier Rewards Gold, American Express Platinum, Citi Prestige and Ritz-Carlton Rewards card offer $100, $200, $250, and $300 per year respectively.
Earn the Southwest Companion certificate
Estimated Hack Value: $350
The Southwest Rapid Rewards cards from Chase offers 50,000 points as a sign-up bonus, which is nearly half of the 110,000 points you need to earn before the end of a calendar year to obtain a Companion Pass. The Companion Pass is valid for both paid and award tickets and covers all taxes and government fees.
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Rental Car and other transportation hacks
Save on Uber rides
Estimated Hack Value: $25
Uber has become a boon for travelers who want to avoid the hassle of car rentals and the expense of taxis. Holders of the CapitalOne Quicksilver card receive 20 percent off their Uber rides through April 2016.
Get premium rental car insurance for less.
Estimated Hack Value: $70
You don’t have to pay $10 to $20 per day for full rental car insurance when American Express offers its Premium Rental Car insurance for $19.95 per rental. This policy has no deductible and covers more expensive cars excluded by most credit cards’ standard policies.
Enjoy elite status with rental car companies.
Estimated Hack Value: $180
If you have a World Elite MasterCard, such as the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, Citi ThankYou Premier, or ThankYou Prestige, you can enroll in three different rental car elite status programs: Avis First, National Emerald Club Executive, and Sixt Platinum status, all of which offer discounts, faster service, and free upgrades.
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Get perks and benefits at hotels.
Estimated Hack Value: $175
Some travel credit cards offer hotel perks such as room upgrades, late checkouts, and credits toward dining and spa services. World Elite MasterCard offers its Luxury Hotels and Resorts collection, Visa Signature features its Signature Luxury Hotel Collection, and American Express Platinum has its Fine Hotels and Resorts.
Receive elite status with hotels.
Estimated Hack Value: $200
The American Express Platinum offers cardholders elite status with Starwood and Hilton hotels, while the United Club card provides Hyatt Platinum status. Both offer similar perks, but in each case, you have to request the upgrade.
Stay in the nicest hotel for free.
Estimated Hack Value: $275
The Hyatt Rewards card from Chase offers new cardholders two free nights at any hotel, including some that cost over $1,000 per night. In addition, the Hilton HHonors Reserve card from Citi offers new cardholders two free weekend nights at most of its properties.
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Other credit card travel hacks
Get Free WiFi.
Estimated Hack Value: $20
American Express offers several credit cards that feature free Wi-Fi service from Boingo, including the Starwood Preferred Guest card and the Platinum card. Boingo features over one million hotspots around the globe that you can access from your tablet, smartphone or laptop.
Transfer your rewards for free.
Estimated Hack Value: $25
Most credit card reward programs will charge you dearly to transfer points to someone else. Some credit card reward programs, however, allow families to pool their points at no charge. For example, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program allows you to transfer points to household members, while the Citi ThankYou program lets you transfer points to anyone you want.
Skip the annual fee.
Estimated Hack Value: $60
While many travel rewards credit cards require an annual fee, you can often have it waived by calling. Though it sometimes requires threats to cancel your credit card, you could find yourself a few dollars richer or with more valuable points and miles as an alternative. It never hurts to ask!
Play golf for free
Estimated Hack Value: $115
The Citi Prestige card offers customers three free rounds of golf each year booked through Golf Switch, a service for over 2,000 public and private courses around the world. Reservations must be made at least three days in advance and held with your Citi Prestige card.
Insure your award travel.
Estimated Hack Value: $190
Many credit cards offer travel insurance policies, but only when you pay for your trip with your card. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, however, you can receive trip delay insurance and lost luggage insurance on the awards you book with your points and miles, so long as you receive those points and miles from a Chase credit card.
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