The Best Credit Card Perks Beyond Points and Miles
In the battle to win over new credit card applicants, banks have consistently escalated their offers of points and miles. In 2011, we saw multiple issuers that gave away 50,000, 75,000, and even 100,000 miles, just for a receiving a new card and meeting the minimum spending requirements. Ultimately, spoiled credit card users have become jaded with these ever-increasing offers and have started looking for perks instead of points. At the same time, loyalty programs are requiring customers to spend more miles to redeem many awards. Here are some the top non-mileage travel reward benefits that you should be looking for, and examples of cards that will grant them.
Discounts on Awards
Ok, so you’ve come to grips with the fact that your mileage doesn’t go as far as it used to. Nevertheless, there are some airline-affiliated credit cards that offer their card members award tickets at reduced mileage levels. For example, the US Airways card from Barclays Bank offers 5,000 miles off of any round trip award flight operated by US Airways, but not their partners. In addition, American Airlines allows holders of their Citi AAdvantage cards to book award travel to select cities in the United States and Canada for 7,500 miles less than a standard award.
Business Lounge Access
When delays occur, or you just have long layover, the only thing nicer than relaxing in a business lounge is doing so without having to pay extra. When there is a problem with my trip, I enjoy utilizing the shorter lines and more highly trained staff at the business lounges rather waiting in long lines to speak with the standard customer service representatives in the rest of the airport. One of the key features of these lounges is their workstations with Wi-Fi access, which allow me to pass the time during a delay while getting some work done.
Delta, United, and American each offer premium credit cards that come with free admission into their business lounges. However, the best card for lounge access has always been the Platinum Card from American Express. Their cardholders automatically have access to all of the lounges of American Airlines, Delta, and US Airways. Unfortunately, the annual fees on these cards are about as expensive as just buying a business lounge membership by itself. Less frequent travelers might take advantage of the United Explorer card or the some of the Citi AAdvantage cards that come with two free lounge visits as a sign up bonus.
Some of the most popular credit card perks now include the special access privileges once reserved just for elite frequent fliers. Holders of the Delta SkyMiles Gold, Platinum, and Reserve cards enjoy early boarding and one free checked bag. American Airlines fliers with a Citi Executive AAdvantage card receive priority service at check-in and security screening as well. Continental Airlines Presidential Plus card members will receive all of these perks, plus two free checked bags and priority baggage handling.
With right card in my wallet, I no longer have to arrive at the airport as early to avoid potential backups at security. This is invaluable when you’re traveling with young children who might get cranky in long airport lines.
Delta has such a close relationship with American Express that elite SkyMiles members who also hold the SkyMiles Reserve card will be upgraded to First Class before others at the same Medallion level without the card. No other credit card that I am aware of offers this kind of perk.
Companion Travel Certificates
If you have an American Express Platinum card and you or your company is paying for an international ticket in First or Business class, you might find yourself asking someone, “Would you like to join me on my trip to Paris?” That is because one free, international premium class companion ticket is granted each year to cardholders when they book a full-fare ticket on any airline through American Express’s travel agent. People on a tighter budget and those with less generous employers may find more use for the domestic companion certificates offered by the US Airways Dividend Miles card and some of the Delta SkyMiles cards. Each year, my parents allow me to use the free domestic companion certificate from their SkyMiles Platinum card to cut our airfare in half when my daughter and I visit them in Atlanta for the weekend.
On the other hand, beware of other offers for companion tickets that are not affiliated with a particular airline. Many of these companion passes are worthless, as they only allow the certificate to be redeemed at a particular travel agent that imposes restrictions and charges twice the current fare.
The only reward better than cash is a statement credit that allows you to save some. The Citi AAdvantage Business card from American Airlines offers a $150 statement credit after your first purchase from the carrier, no matter how small. American Express offers their Platinum Card holders a $200 statement credit each year towards any airline fees you incur such as food, Internet, entertainment, or baggage. Platinum cardholders also receive a $100 statement credit towards an membership in the Global Entry program, which speeds you through customs at airports in the United States.
Although hotel-affiliated credit cards still lavish their applicants with points, some try to tempt you with perks as well. Customers of the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express can reach the Gold level when they spend $30,000 in a calendar year. With this status, they will enjoy room upgrades and late checkouts. Using my Starwood hotels status gained solely though use of this credit card, my family of three was upgrade from a nice, but small room at the Sheraton in Milan to a spacious two bedroom suite. Similar Elite Status is granted to holders of the Hilton HHonors Surpass card from American Express. In addition to those perks, the Hyatt Credit Card from Chase also offers free Internet and a sign up bonus of two free nights at any of their hotels worldwide. If you happen to be staying at a Park Hyatt in Paris or Milan, this benefit alone can be worth over $2,000.
Banks are constantly fishing for new credit card customers. To catch them, they pay airlines and hotels millions for miles and points to use as bait. While I am a sucker for a great sign up bonus, I’ve also learned to look beyond this kind of candy for other perks that my cards can provide. If you are the kind of person who will grab these points and perks, but use the cards to incur debt, do not be tempted to bite these worms. However, if you are the kind of cool customer who can use your cards responsibly, it may be time to look past the points, and see what else your cards can do for you.
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