The Best Credit Card Perks Beyond Points and Miles

By Jason Steele. Last updated 1 April 2016. 0 comments

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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 of 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 cardmembers award tickets at reduced mileage levels. Being a loyal customer to one brand can save you big.

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 lounges. Besides branded airline cards, there are premium credit cards that also offer discounted or free access to airplort lounges.

Priority Services

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 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. 

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.

Upgrade Priority

The better your card, the more priority you have in free upgrades. This nice perk can save a load of money if you frequently fly on non-peak flights with plenty of First Class seats available. 

Companion Travel Certificates

People on a tighter budget should consider cards that offer free or discounted companion passes. For example, earn enough Southwest Rapid Rewards points and you'll get a free companion pass for an entire year.

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.

Statement Credits

The only reward better than cash is a statement credit that allows you to save some. The Expedia+ Voyager Card from our partner Citi offers a $100 annual statement credit for airline incidentals, such as checked bags, in-flight entertainment or refreshments, and in-flight Wi-Fi carriers. 

Hotel Perks

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 upgraded 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, some cards offer free or discounted wifi as well as a sign up bonus worth free nights

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.

To the Credit Card Guide

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any bank, card issuer, airline or hotel chain.

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