Although credit card perks vary widely, the overwhelming majority of rewards credit cards give the user travel insurance coverage. Among rewards cards from major issuers, nearly all offer travel accident insurance and almost 80% offer luggage insurance, according to the website CardHub.com, and all of the major networks — Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover — provide coverage for rental cars, with Visa, AmEx and Discover offering at least some form of coverage on all their cards.
Insurance is a good perk, but coverage isn't equal from issuer to issuer or card to card. There also are other caveats, like high APRs or annual fees, that can detract from the benefits.
And watch the fine print, says Credit.com credit card expert Jason Steele. "For example, American Express cards offer good coverage as a standard benefit, but exclude many luxury vehicles and pickup trucks," he points out.
You should also consider how you're going to use the card and your travel habits. "If you never fly anywhere, you probably don’t need to worry about having baggage insurance," says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com.
Here are some cards CardHub.com, CreditCards.com and other credit card experts like for travelers this summer.
The Chase Sapphire and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards were the top two, respectively, on CardHub's list for travel accident and luggage insurance. The Sapphire clocked in a perfect score for the breadth of its coverage.
Other experts like the Sapphire, too. "Even the no-annual-fee version offers great insurance benefits," Schulz says. "You can get reimbursed up to $5,000 per trip for travel expenses such as airfares and hotels if you have to cancel your trip or cut it short due to sickness, severe weather and various other situations," he says.
Schulz and CardHub also like the Discover It card, which comes in third on CardHub's ranking and tops the list for lost and delayed baggage coverage. It also gets high rankings for its eligibility and extra coverage offerings. Discover also came in second (behind American Express) in last year's JD Powers card satisfaction survey, says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at CreditSesame.com.
"The PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express card has been listed over the years as being one of the best in the country," says Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com. It offers coverage to help get an unescorted child home or a close relative to visit the injured traveler at an overseas hospital in the event of an accident. It also has no annual fee.
Ulzheimer suggests two no-annual-fee cards, the USAA American Express and USAA World MasterCard, because the issuer is tops in customer service, he says. "USAA ranks first in customer satisfaction for insurance and has for at least three years in a row. They're always at or near the top." American Express has also topped the JD Powers satisfaction survey for seven years running, he notes.
Schulz calls the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard "noteworthy" because it includes coverage for accidents, trip cancellations, lost and delayed baggage — plus one huge perk for cardholders who travel to Europe. "[It] is one of the few chip-and-PIN cards widely available to U.S. consumers," Schulz says.
Some card issuers in the U.S. are moving towards chip cards in the wake of the Target data breach fiasco, but they're still not on board with chip-and-PIN cards that are the norm in many countries overseas. Since payment devices like unmanned ticket kiosks in Europe often require the use of a card secured with both a chip and a PIN, "Having a PIN card will likely save you some headaches," Schulz says.