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Travel is likely to get back on its feet at some point in 2021, but if you’re thinking of putting a trip on your calendar, before you click the “book now” button, you’ll want to make sure you’re using a credit card that will cover you in case something unfortunate happens, especially given the state of the world right now.
Many people are unaware that some credit cards include various travel insurance benefits, which could come in handy during your next trip. For instance, if you ever need to cancel your trip because you get sick, or if your flight is delayed and you have to stay the night at a hotel, the right credit card can have you covered.
Knowing the ins and outs of these travel insurance protections and which credit card provides what coverage could potentially save you a boatload of money. Hopefully you’ll never have to use these benefits, but if you do, your wallet could be pleasantly surprised.
What are credit card travel insurance protections?
Credit card travel protections are not the same thing as travel insurance, which is a broad policy you can buy to cover a specific trip or series of trips. The travel protections that come on eligible credit cards are tailored to cover specific issues you might encounter on a trip. There are typically seven different benefits that credit cards can potentially cover — here’s a quick explanation of each type of coverage:
Trip cancellation and interruption insurance: If you need to cancel a covered trip or if your covered trip is interrupted in the middle of travel due to illness, injury, weather or terrorist incident, this coverage will reimburse you for your nonrefundable expenses related to the delay cancellation. There are a number of exclusions, so you’ll need to read the fine print of your particular credit card for details.
In regards to the coronavirus pandemic, this is where your credit card can help you out. If you fall ill with coronavirus and need to cancel your trip or cut it short as a result, you can file a claim with your credit card if it has trip cancellation or interruption coverage. The same coverage also applies if a quarantine is imposed by a physician due to coronavirus, or if an authoritative power imposes travel restrictions.
However, if you choose to cancel a trip as a precautionary measure — even if there’s a pandemic in the place you’re traveling to — this isn’t considered a covered event, and the travel insurance on your credit card most likely won’t reimburse you for your lost expenses.
Trip delay insurance: If your common carrier (meaning an airine, bus, cruise ship or train) is delayed for a certain number of hours due to a covered reason, such as weather or mechanical issues, you can be reimbursed for many eligible out-of-pocket expenses, such as meals, transportation, lodging and toiletries.
Lost luggage reimbursement: If your carrier loses or damages your carry-on or checked luggage, you’ll be reimbursed up to a maximum amount.
Baggage delay reimbursement: If your checked baggage is delayed for a certain number of hours, you’ll be reimbursed up to a maximum amount per day for eligible essentials, such as clothing and toiletries.
Rental car insurance: Many credit cards offer rental car damage coverage, which allows you to waive some of the pricey insurance policies offered by car rental agencies.
Some cards offer what’s known as “secondary” car rental insurance, which means your credit card coverage will only kick in after any other insurance coverage takes place, such as your own personal auto policy. Other credit cards offer “primary” car rental insurance, meaning you don’t have to worry about filing a claim with anyone else first.
Travel accident insurance: If you (or in some cases, your immediate family members) suffer an accidental death or dismemberment during travel, your beneficiary can make a claim for coverage on credit cards with this policy.
Emergency evacuation insurance: If you’re injured or become sick during a trip far from home that results in an emergency evacuation, you’ll be covered for eligible medical services and transportation.
The best credit cards with travel insurance protections
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best overall for travel protections
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best travel protections with a low annual fee
The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for earning flexible rewards
United Club Infinite Card: Best for United flyers
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Best for Delta flyers
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card: Best for earning cash back
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card: Best for business travelers
Here’s a look at the specific travel protections that are available on each of these credit cards:
Let’s dive into the details of each of these cards and see which one might be the best choice for you when you’re booking a trip in 2021.
Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best overall for travel protections
If travel insurance is one of your top priorities when it comes to a credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the best choice out there. In fact, it’s the only card that offers all seven types of coverage mentioned in the chart above. And across those categories, it offers top-of-the-line insurance and generous reimbursement caps.
Where this card really stands out is in its trip delay coverage. If your mode of transportation is delayed for six hours or more, the coverage kicks in immediately. On many credit cards that offer this protection, the coverage doesn’t apply until your transportation is delayed for 12 hours or more — or only when it requires an overnight stay.
So if you were supposed to fly out in the morning, but your flight gets delayed seven hours to late in the afternoon, the Chase Sapphire Reserve will cover food for you in the interim, along with your traveling spouse or domestic partner and all traveling dependents under the age of 22. That could save you quite a bit of money on expenses you weren’t planning for.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve also shines with its emergency evacuation and transportation insurance. This benefit will cover you for up to $100,000 in medical services or transportation. Many other cards don’t even offer this protection — or cover you for a lower amount. But if you do find you need to use this coverage, call the benefits administrator immediately, as they will need to approve and coordinate your evacuation.
And while it’s a benefit you hope you never have to use, the Sapphire Reserve will insure you for up to $1,000,000 in the case of accidental death or dismemberment. Every other card on our list that offers this coverage only insures you to up to half the amount.
Despite the Chase Sapphire Reserve truly having it all, its $550 annual fee isn’t something to balk at. But it’s a small price to pay to get so many protections on every trip you pay for with the card. And once you take into consideration the $300 yearly travel credit, Priority Pass Select lounge access and other benefits, your net out-of-pocket cost for being a card holder is relatively low.
Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Learn more and apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Chase Sapphire Preferred: Best travel protections with a low annual fee
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is only a slight step down from the Chase Sapphire Reserve — it includes most of the same travel insurance protections, just not to the same extent. But the annual fee on this card is significantly lower at just $95 per year.
Sapphire Preferred card holders get the same trip interruption and cancellation coverage as the Sapphire Reserve — up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip if your trip is halted or canceled for a covered reason. You’ll be reimbursed for any prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses, such as airfare, tours and hotels. This will even cover you if you’re sick — just make sure to get a doctor’s note.
Other travel protections are also comparable between the two cards, but the main difference is that to be eligible for trip delay insurance with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, your flight needs to be delayed at least 12 hours — or require an overnight stay — and there’s no emergency evacuation coverage.
Additionally, the auto rental collision damage insurance on the Chase Sapphire Preferred is primary coverage but will only cover you for up to the actual cash value of the rental car. Conversely, the maximum on the Sapphire Reserve is $75,000, which could potentially cover damage beyond the car itself in the event of an accident.
Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Learn more and apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
American Express Platinum: Best for earning flexible rewards
The travel insurance benefits on the Amex Platinum card were improved at the start of 2020, which means you’ll now have even more protection on your next vacation.
The Amex Platinum has the same trip cancellation and interruption insurance as the Chase cards, but with one limitation — you’re only able to make up to two claims in a consecutive 12-month period. This shouldn’t be a problem for most travelers, but if you find yourself canceling trips regularly, you’ll want to use a different card. Neither the Amex Platinum nor the Chase cards cover voluntary cancellations.
You’ll also get trip delay insurance with the Amex Platinum, up to $500 per ticket, and to be eligible, your trip only has to be delayed by six hours or more. Again, you’re limited to a maximum of two claims per card in a 12-month period, but unlike the cancellation and interruption coverage, this is a benefit you might find yourself using somewhat often — especially if you travel often.
Where this card falls short is that its car rental insurance only provides secondary coverage, so if you have an accident, you’ll first need to file a claim with any other insurance providers — such as your own personal auto insurance company — before this insurance kicks in. It’s much easier to have a card that offers primary coverage, though having some sort of protection is better than no protection at all.
The Amex Platinum also carries a $695 annual fee (see rates and fees), but it comes with many luxury perks such as airport lounge access — including the very popular American Express Centurion Lounges — elite hotel status, elite car rental status, monthly Uber Cash credits, airline incidental fee credits and credits for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue.
United Club Infinite Card: Best for United flyers
The United Club Infinite Card doesn’t offer as many travel protections as some of the other high-end cards on our list. But if you’re flying United and want to reap the travel benefits of using the airline’s premium credit card, you’ll still receive a number of important protections with this card.
Trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance both come with the United Club Infinite Card, as well as primary car rental insurance. You’ll also get trip delay reimbursement coverage, although travel must be delayed at least 12 hours or require an overnight stay to apply.
The United Club Infinite Card also offers baggage delay reimbursement, which means if your bags are delayed in getting to your final destination by six hours or more, you can be reimbursed for essential toiletries and clothing until your bags arrive, up to $100 per day. However, you can only submit a claim for the first three days with this card, while many other cards provide reimbursement for up to five days.
Despite not covering every travel protection on the list, the United Club Infinite Card also comes with United Club membership, a $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck and the ability to check your first and second bag for free when flying United, and it earns 4 miles for every dollar you spend on United purchases,
Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card: Best for Delta flyers
The Delta Reserve Amex comes with the exact same travel insurance protections as the Amex Platinum card. This means you’ll have access to trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement, lost luggage reimbursement, secondary auto rental collision damage insurance, travel accident insurance and emergency evacuation coverage.
But, if you’re a regular Delta flyer, you may want to have the Delta Reserve Amex over the American Express Platinum for its Delta perks, especially since it carries a lower $550 annual fee (see rates and fees). In addition to the card’s travel protections, you’ll get complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs and Amex Centurion Lounges when flying Delta, complimentary upgrades on Delta when available and your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
Bank of America Premium Rewards: Best for earning cash back
For those looking for a simple credit card that earns cash back but also comes with some basic travel insurance protections, the Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card could be your best option.
Like all the other cards on our list, you’ll get trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance with the Bank of America Premium Rewards, although your coverage is significantly lower than what the other cards provide — up to $5,000 per person and up to $10,000 per trip.
Many other cards cover you for up to $10,000 per person, so if your trips are typically on the expensive side, you’ll probably want to pick another card. But most travelers will find the $5,000 maximum more than sufficient.
Emergency evacuation coverage is another benefit of this card, but the coverage is half of what some other cards provide — up to $50,000 per incident, where some other cards provide up to $100,000. That being said, this is a unique benefit, so receiving some protection is better than none at all.
You’ll also be covered for essentials with the card if your trip is delayed by 12 hours or more (or requires an overnight stay) and if your luggage is lost or delayed, and the card has secondary auto rental collision damage insurance.
And when you’re not on the road, the Bank of America Premium Rewards card earns 2 points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Points can be redeemed for cash back at a rate of 1 cent apiece, and you can even increase those rates if you have status in Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program.
Ink Business Preferred: Best for business travelers
If you’re a business traveler who wants to keep all of your expenses on your business credit card, the Ink Business Preferred has you covered. You’ll find that the coverage on the Ink Business Preferred is almost exactly the same as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which is great for a business card that only costs $95 a year.
The main difference between the Ink Business Preferred and other Chase credit cards is that while you’re insured if your trip is involuntarily interrupted or canceled, you’ll only be reimbursed for up to $5,000 per person and up to $10,000 per covered trip. Many other cards cover double that amount, but that’s typically only necessary if you’re booking a big, lavish trip.
Other travel insurance protections on the Ink Business Preferred include trip delay insurance, baggage delay reimbursement, lost luggage reimbursement, primary auto rental collision damage waiver and travel accident insurance, all comparable to the protections on the personal Sapphire Preferred.
Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Ink Business Preferred.
Learn more and apply for the Ink Business Preferred.
How to make sure your next trip is covered
With so many credit card travel insurance protections and the many nuances to each benefit, you’ll want to first consult with your credit card company to find out the exact coverage terms on your card. You might find that you’ll only be covered if your trip is over a certain number of miles from your home or a minimum number of days away — and in some cases, even a maximum number of days.
Some credit cards also require that you pay for the trip entirely with your credit card, while other cards allow you to just put a portion of the trip on the respective card. In some cases, the rules can even differ across protections on the same card. But if you only need to put a portion of the trip cost on your card to be covered, you could use points or miles to pay for your trip and just put the taxes on the card.
With the coronavirus pandemic dragging into 2021, it’s likely that travel may be touch and go for at least a portion of the upcoming year, and you’ll want to be protected if you have unanticipated issues before or during your trip. So before you book your 2021 travel, make sure you know what travel insurance protections are important to you, and use a credit card that will cover you in case the worst happens.
Looking for a new credit card? Check out CNN Underscored’s list of the best credit cards of 2021.