Protect Your Holiday Travel for Free By Paying With the Right Credit Card

Photo (cc) by Andrew Morrell Photography

Imagine you are looking forward to heading out for holiday travel, or even just heading home from a week on the road, and your flight becomes one of the more than 22 percent operated by domestic carriers that are delayed, or worse yet, one of the unlucky 2.65 percent that have been canceled this year.

Or imagine you get sick or hurt right before you are supposed to head out on a much-anticipated trip. Or maybe your checked bags decide to take a vacation of their own and accidentally head to a destination different from yours.

What’s next? Who foots the bill for the unexpected expenses these events can create?

If you paid for your trip with the right credit card, you will have options beyond solely what the airline or other travel providers have to offer, thanks to trip protection coverage that comes from using select premium credit cards.

This coverage is not to be confused with travel insurance you can purchase independently via third parties that will often offer more comprehensive options than the default coverage that may come with your credit card, but it can be a helpful buffer when unexpected travel hurdles come your way.

But first, take a look at this video by Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson about what to do if your flight is canceled. Then keep reading to find out about protections from your credit card.

Get expenses covered when your bags are lost or delayed

If you pay for your trip with a Visa Signature card such as the Alaska Airlines Visa or United MileagePlus Explorer card, you can be reimbursed for expenses for clothing and toiletries resulting from baggage delays of more than six hours, up to $100 a day for three days. A permanently lost bag is covered up to $3,000 per passenger ($2,000 for residents of New York state).

Paying with a World MasterCard-branded credit card such as the US Airways Premier World MasterCard will get you identical protections for delayed or lost baggage.

Many airlines will also offer some financial assistance for delayed or lost bags, but it is good to have your credit card offer backup protection.

Trip delay coverage

The coverage afforded by some credit cards doesn’t stop with delayed luggage. When your trip itself is delayed more than 12 hours, or requires an unexpected overnight stay, you and your family are covered for non-reimbursed expenses such as meals or lodging up to $500 per ticket with select cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

You need to have purchased your airline tickets with a card that has that benefit and put your unexpected expenses incurred during the delay on that card as well.

Beginning Nov. 23, the Citi AAdvantage Executive MasterCard will have an even more generous policy that allows for up to $500 in trip delay coverage for delays beginning after just three hours. Examples of covered delays would be those caused by the “common carrier” (e.g., airline, cruise ship, train), if your passport/money/documents were lost or stolen, the flight was overbooked, or in the event of severe weather. The severe weather clause is key because airlines often will not cover expenses in the event of weather.

It is worth mentioning that when you are flying on frequent-flier miles, the trip may, or may not, be covered depending on the card used. For example, the Citi AAdvantage Executive MasterCard specifically calls out travel using American Airlines AAdvantage miles as not being covered for delay coverage.

Trip cancellation coverage

Having extra protection from your credit card in the event of delays is great, but the financial losses that can come when you can’t take a trip at all can be even greater. For very expensive nonrefundable trips or those that are at high risk of cancellation, I would not rely solely on a credit card’s included trip cancellation coverage; however, for your ordinary vacation, it can be quite handy.

For example, the Citi AAdvantage Executive MasterCard covers up to $5,000 in nonrefundable expenses per person, per trip. A few covered reasons for cancellation include becoming sick or injured (provided a doctor confirms in writing it is severe enough to not travel) or there is a severe weather event, such as a hurricane, that causes all travel to or from your destination to stop for at least 24 hours.

The United MileagePlus Explorer card offers trip cancellation coverage that’s similar to the Citi Executive card, but with a limit of $10,000 for each covered trip. The covered reasons are similar, though each card and issuer will have its own specific wording for the same events.

For example, the United MileagePlus Explorer card’s weather clause doesn’t have the 24-hour requirement of the Citi Executive card, but instead says it would cover a cancellation due to “severe weather that prevents a reasonable and prudent person from beginning or continuing on a covered trip.”

Suggestions to protect yourself

There is no one card that offers the best protection all the way around for your trip, though I have mentioned several cards that offer better-than-average protection.

Before purchasing your next trip, I highly recommend you brush up on the exact coverage that your credit cards provide and use the one that will offer you the best protection for your situation. This information is in those card benefit pamphlets that periodically come in the mail, or you can often find the benefit guides online. If all else fails, call the card issuer and request a new benefit guide.

Most of the credit cards will require you to charge all of your eligible trip expenses on the card for them to be eligible for coverage, so take that into consideration before booking outbound flights with one card and return flights with another.

If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to use your trip delay or cancellation coverage, collect any and all documentation such as doctor’s notes, flight numbers, delay length and more, as you may need those in order to submit your claim with the credit card company.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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