CNN Underscored reviews financial products based on their overall value. We may receive a commission through our affiliate partners if you apply and are approved for a product, but our reporting is always independent and objective. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.
This article is a part of CNN Underscored’s Guide to Summer Travel, a weeklong focus on how you can travel better, smarter and more stress-free on your summer trip.
Everyone is in need of that next big vacation, but before you go ahead and 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. Think things like flight delays and lost checked bags.
Many people are unaware that some credit cards include various travel insurance benefits, which could come in handy during your next trip. For example, if you need to cancel your trip because you get sick before you depart, insurance provided by certain credit cards would reimburse you for eligible nonrefundable bookings.
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 never have to use these benefits, but if you do, your wallet will be pleasantly surprised.
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.
This means if you fall ill with any illness — including the flu, coronavirus or RSV — 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, 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, toiletries and a cell phone charger.
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.
Related: These credit cards will make your summer travel easier and less expensive.
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 2023.
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.
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.
The travel insurance benefits on the Amex Platinum card were improved a few years ago, 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 are limited up to $10,000 per trip and a maximum limit of $20,000 per eligible card per 12 consecutive 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. 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 — like your personal auto insurance company — before this insurance kicks in.
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.
Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Amex Platinum Card.
Learn more about the American Express Platinum Card.
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.
Learn more and apply for the United Club Infinite Card.
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.
Read CNN Underscored’s review of the Delta Reserve Amex.
Learn more about the Delta Reserve American Express card.
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 $2,500 per person.
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 $2,500 maximum more than sufficient.
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. The card also has secondary auto rental collision damage insurance and provides emergency evacuation coverage.
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.
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 now for the Ink Business Preferred.
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 charge the award taxes to the card.
With travel already being stressful, it’s great to know that your credit card can help you if you have any unanticipated issues before or during your trip. So before you book your 2023 — or even 2024 — 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 currently available.
Get all the latest personal finance deals, news and advice at CNN Underscored Money.