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You might have heard that we’re in for a record-breaking summer of travel. Delta Air Lines has already said it’s seeing strong demand this summer, even beating out pre-pandemic years like 2019. Likewise, more than 42.3 million Americans are set to travel at least 50 miles from home this Memorial Day weekend, which is often considered the unofficial start to the summer travel season.

This means you can likely expect longer-than-usual lines at the airport, crowded terminals and a more hectic travel experience throughout the summer. With this in mind, you should come prepared with a credit card that offers travel benefits that can help make your travel more seamless and less expensive.

These credit cards can make your summer travel easier

A photo of passengers walking through a crowded airport concourse in Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

But there are a lot of travel credit cards out there, so where do you start?

Good question. There’s not one catch-all credit card for every traveler. Instead, look at your upcoming travel plans and compare them to our list of credit cards that can make your summer travel easier.

Then, pick a card or two that has benefits that best fit your travel plans. For example, if you plan to travel multiple times this summer and want Delta Sky Club lounge access and free checked bags on Delta Air Lines, you might consider applying for both the Amex Platinum and Delta Gold card.

Alternatively, you might consider the Southwest Priority card if you only fly Southwest for priority boarding upgrades and other airline-specific perks. And if you’re not loyal to a single airline, the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s flexible rewards and travel protections could make your travel less expensive.

So, look through the credit cards below to see which are the best fit for your summer travel. Finding the right card (or pair of cards) could make your trip more enjoyable and save you money at the same time.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: Travel and rental car protections

A black BMW i3 hatchback driving down a city street in Oslo, Norway.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has long been one of the most iconic travel credit cards, in large part due to its consistently good welcome offer and the fact that it earns bonus points on travel and dining. It earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points as well, which can be redeemed for some of the world’s best first- and business-class products when transferred to its list of airline and hotel partner programs like Air Canada Aeroplan, United MileagePlus and British Airways Executive Club, among others.

But the Sapphire Preferred can also make your travel experience less costly if you fall victim to flight delays or cancellations or if you damage a rental car. This is because the Sapphire Preferred offers some of the best travel protections of any travel credit card with a sub-$100 annual fee.

On the travel side, you will be reimbursed for up to $500 in expenses incurred when your flight is delayed 12-plus hours. Eligible expenses include things like meals and lodging while you wait to get home. Likewise, you’re also eligible for $100 per day in expense reimbursement if your bags are delayed by six-plus hours, for up to five days. Eligible expenses include things like clothing and toiletries.

Another nice travel protection is trip cancellation and interruption insurance. Prepaid, nonrefundable travel booked with the Sapphire Preferred that’s canceled or interrupted by sickness, severe weather and other covered situations is covered up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip.

Further, rental cars charged to the Sapphire Preferred are covered against theft and damage. This means you can decline the rental car company’s Loss and Damage Waiver (LDW) and have the Sapphire Preferred’s built-in insurance pay the rental car company for any damage incurred. Just note that you’ll still need your own liability coverage, as this is not included with the Sapphire Preferred.

Related: These are the best credit cards for renting cars.

When it comes to earning points, the Sapphire Preferred earns 3 points per dollar on dining, 2 points per dollar on travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else. You’ll also earn 5 points per dollar on Lyft rides (through March 2025) and on airfare, hotels and rental cars booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

Welcome offer: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Annual fee: $95

Read CNN Underscored’s full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Learn more and apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

The Platinum Card® from American Express: Airport lounge access and other premium perks

The bar at the Delta Sky Club in Chicago O'Hare International Airport

The Amex Platinum is an iconic premium travel card that offers card holders a slew of different benefits, both at hotels and at the airport. For starters, you can use it to access a handful of different airport lounges before your flight. This gives you a place to relax away from the busy terminal with free drinks, food and alcohol.

The Amex Platinum includes access to the following lounges:

But the perks don’t stop there. The Amex Platinum also includes a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application credit every four years, letting you breeze through security and, in the case of Global Entry, customs lines upon return to the US. It also includes an annual credit for CLEAR, which lets you go through dedicated security lanes at select airports and stadiums around the country.

You’ll also receive Hilton Gold status and Marriott Gold Elite status when you link your loyalty accounts to your American Express account. These status tiers include benefits at their respective hotel chains, including room upgrades and priority support. This can make your stay a lot more enjoyable if you’re lucky enough to score a free upgrade.

Of course, the card has a high $695 annual fee (see rates and fees). But on the bright side, it’s offset by a number of statement credits. On the travel side, you’ll get a $200 airline incidental fee credit for an airline of your choice. This reimburses you for things like checked bag fees and in-flight refreshments.

You’ll also enjoy up to $200 per year in Uber Cash, which is dispersed in monthly increments of $15, plus a $20 bonus in December. Additionally, you will get up to $200 in credit toward prepaid bookings at Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection properties made through American Express Travel, up to $100 per year in Saks Fifth Avenue statement credits and more.

Read our full review of the Amex Platinum for the full list of credits and benefits. If you travel frequently, having the card in your wallet can make your travel more enjoyable, especially if you live near an airport with a participating lounge.

Welcome offer: Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the card in your first six months of card membership.

Annual fee: $695

Read CNN Underscored’s full review of the Amex Platinum.
Learn more and apply for the Amex Platinum card.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: American Airlines perks

An American Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner in Amsterdam

If you’re flying American Airlines this summer and need to check a bag, you might consider opening the AAdvantage Platinum Select card before your trip. This card — like many airline credit cards — includes a free checked bag on all American Airlines-operated flights. These savings can add up if you plan to fly American a handful of times this summer.

Likewise, AAdvantage Platinum Select includes priority boarding on American Airlines flights. The airline has nine boarding groups, and those with the AAdvantage Platinum Select can board with Group 5. This is after elite status members, but still early enough where you can likely score overhead bin space for your suitcase.

You can also earn a $125 flight credit when you spend $20,000-plus on the AAdvantage Platinum Select in a card membership year. That’s a lot of spending, but given the card earns 1 Loyalty Point per dollar toward elite status, it’s a nice bonus if you’re already spending your way toward American elite status.

Welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.

Annual fee: $99, waived the first year

Learn more and apply for the AAdvantage Platinum Select card.

Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card: Delta Air Lines perks

A photo of a Delta Airlines Boeing 737 landing at Portland International Airport in Oregon.

The Delta Gold card has two perks that can make it a good choice for semi-frequent Delta travelers who want a card with a relatively low annual fee. The main benefits are a free checked bag on all Delta flights and a 15% discount on all Delta-operated award tickets. While the latter doesn’t necessarily make your summer travel easier, it will let you stretch your Delta SkyMiles further for more summer trips.

Delta brands this discount as “TakeOff 15” and it’s applied automatically to all award tickets. When the Delta Gold card (or select other Delta credit cards) are linked to your Delta SkyMiles account, you’ll see the discount automatically applied in award travel search results.

A screenshot of a Delta award flight from New York to Montreal with the TakeOff 15 discount applied.

Depending on how often you fly Delta and redeem SkyMiles, this discount alone could make the Delta Gold worthwhile. And if you’re interested in more premium Delta perks, check out our article on the best Delta credit cards for a look at higher-end credit cards that the airline offers.

Finally, the Delta Gold also includes a $100 flight credit when you spend $10,000-plus on the card in a single calendar year. This totally offsets the card’s $99 annual fee (see rates and fees), but since the annual fee is waived the first year, the credit is pure profit once you meet the spending requirement.

Welcome offer: Earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in the first six months of account opening.

Annual fee: $99, waived the first year

Read CNN Underscored’s full review of the Delta Gold Amex.
Learn more and apply for the Delta Gold Amex card.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: Southwest Airlines perks

A photo of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 against a blue sky over Baltimore.

The Southwest Priority card is Southwest’s high-end consumer credit card, with a $149 annual fee. The card includes four upgraded boardings per year, which let you board the plane sooner. This perk is especially important because Southwest has an open seating policy where passengers pick their own seats as they board the plane. Boarding earlier means you have a better shot at your preferred seat.

Further, the Southwest Priority card earns 1,500 tier qualifying points toward A-List and A-List Preferred elite status for every $10,000 you spend on the card. Likewise, all points earned with the card count toward earning Southwest’s famous Companion Pass, and the card includes 10,000 bonus Companion Pass qualifying points every year. Both of these perks can make the card worthwhile for high spenders who want to earn extra Southwest perks more quickly.

Finally, the Southwest Priority card’s $149 annual fee is offset by two annual perks: 7,500 bonus points on your cardmember anniversary and an annual $75 Southwest travel credit. Southwest Rapid Rewards points are worth around 1.4 cents apiece, making the annual bonus worth $105. This and the travel credit more than offset the card’s annual fee so long as you use the benefits.

Welcome offer: Earn 60,000 bonus points plus a 30% off promo code after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Annual fee: $149

Read CNN Underscored’s full review of the Southwest Priority card.
Learn more and apply for the Southwest Priority card.

United Quest℠ Card: United Airlines perks

A photo of a United Airlines 737 MAX 9 on the runway at LAX

The United Quest card is United’s mid-tier credit card that includes a handful of interesting benefits for United frequent flyers. For one, the card includes two free checked bags on all United flights for you and a travel companion. This can be very useful on long trips and save up to $320 on round-trip tickets if both you and a travel companion need to check two bags.

The United Quest card also includes up to a $100 credit toward TSA Precheck, Global Entry or NEXUS. These programs can expedite your security screening process at major US airports, and Global Entry gives eligible applicants access to expedited US customs screening. On top of this, card holders get priority boarding on United flights.

Additionally, the United Quest card has two benefits that help offset the $250 annual fee. One is an annual $125 United Airlines statement credit. This is awarded each cardmember anniversary and cuts the annual fee in half if you can use the full credit.

Second, those with the United Quest are eligible for two 5,000-mile award flight credits per year, starting with their first account anniversary. These rebates are valid on any United or United Express-operated award flight and effectively reduce the miles spent on an award by 5,000 miles.

The United Quest card is most useful for those chasing United elite status. The card’s current welcome offer includes 500 Premier qualifying points (PQP) when you meet the spending requirement. Plus, you can earn another 500 PQP for every $12,000 you spend on the card, up to 6,000 PQP per calendar year. Depending on how much you spend, this could seriously expedite your path to United status.

Welcome offer: Earn 70,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points (PQP) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Annual fee: $250

Learn more and apply for the United Quest card.

Click here for rates and fees of the American Express Platinum card.
Click here for rates and fees of the Delta Amex Gold card.

Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards currently available.

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