Stuck at the airport? How your credit card can help

Erica Sandberg
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Erica Sandberg
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Your flight was supposed to take off at 8 a.m. but by late afternoon you’re still wandering around the terminal. Welcome to the club. Such hold-ups are becoming increasingly long and common. According to the global airline tracker FlightAware, there were 1,968 delays and 549 cancellations in and out of the U.S. by mid-afternoon on June 28, 2022 (the date and time of this article’s original publishing). Since no one knows when troubles at the airport will arise or end, it pays to be prepared.

Thankfully, with the right credit card you can offset some of the more painful problems associated with flight delays and cancellations. Here’s how credit cards can help.

Get comfortable in an airport lounge

If you have access to an airport lounge for free, this is a no-brainer. Many travel credit cards that are associated with a specific airline offer entry into their clubs and lounges. Some, like the CardName, give cardholders two one-time passes each year for your anniversary. The CardName discontinued offers complimentary access to the Delta Sky Club when traveling on a same-day Delta marketed or operated flight. You will receive four Delta Sky Club one-time guest passes each year. After that, you may bring up to two guests at a per-visit rate of $50 per person, per location. Effective 2/1/25, Reserve Card members will receive 15 visits per year to the Delta Sky Club; to earn an unlimited number of visits each year starting on 2/1/25, the total eligible purchases on the card must equal $75,000 or more between 1/1/24 and 12/31/24, and each calendar year thereafter. Still other credit cards are equipped with Priority Pass, a membership program that provides access into a network of over 1,000 lounges throughout the world’s airports. Once you’re in, you can enjoy everything from free food and drinks to serene spaces in which to relax until your flight does take off.

FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT: Airport lounges can be a great benefit of some travel rewards credit cards, but unfortunately, there are times you might find yourself in a terminal without a lounge. If this happens, check to see if your lounge membership allows you other privileges. Priority Pass, for example, sometimes offers perks like dining credits or even spa experiences which can be used in lieu of a lounge visit. I was recently stuck in New York’s LaGuardia airport with three hours to kill. There was no lounge for me to relax in, however, there was a “Be Relax Spa” where I was able to use my Priority Pass membership for 30 minutes in a massage chair, free of charge. After three busy weeks traveling around Europe, 30 minutes here instead of at my crowded gate was pure bliss.

Jennifer Doss,
Senior Managing Editor

Chow down for free

When you’ve been at the airport for hours, eventually you’ll get hungry. That means you’ll start looking around for where to eat, then likely discover that most of your options are very expensive. Because you’d rather splurge at your destination, look at your credit card’s benefits. In some cases, cards that come with a Priority Pass membership not only give you access to airport lounges where you can nosh for free, but also offer partnerships with some airport restaurants, giving members dining credits. All you need to do is present your Priority Pass membership card and the bill will be covered at eligible spots (up to a certain limit, of course).

Check your card benefits carefully, however, as not all cards that include a Priority Pass membership also include the restaurant benefit. For instance, CardNamediscontinued cardholders do have access to this restaurant benefit, but CardNamediscontinued members do not.

Pay less at international airports

If you’re not in the U.S., be sure to use a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees while you wait your time out at the airport. These fees are usually 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars. “This perk is helpful for those traveling abroad who get stuck in an airport overseas,” says budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. “You can still use your credit card to pay for various foods at the airport without worry about paying a foreign transaction fee especially since you may not want to take out cash from an ATM if it’s a different currency than your final destination.”

Tap into your card’s benefits

Many credit cards, particularly those designed with the traveler in mind, are embedded with credit card travel insurance. While you’re waiting, see what your card covers.

“While each policy is different, the benefit can help those who get stuck on a long layover by offering travel related expense reimbursement which could cover reimbursement for additional charges such as booking a new flight, additional hotel nights and airport taxi fare,” says Woroch. The easiest way to find out what your card offers is to pull up the card issuer’s app and review the policy online. For example, if your card comes with trip delay reimbursement, as do Visa Infinite cards, you can be reimbursed for up to $500 when you’re stranded for more than six hours due to a covered hazard (and you use the card for the transactions).

Don’t forget about baggage coverage

You didn’t want to cart your bags throughout the airport – or perhaps you couldn’t bring them on because they were too large to fit in the overhead – but now you are left without the important things in them. Definitely check your credit card to see if you have delayed baggage insurance. If you card offers this perk, coverage kicks in after your checked bags have been delayed for a specified period of time. You can buy what you need at the airport (or outside of the airport if it comes to that) and then will later receive financial reimbursement for those essential personal or business costs.

Pay for things with your accumulated rewards

If you have accumulated cash or points on your credit card, consider using your rewards to buy things at the airport rather than spend your own money. Depending on your card’s rewards program, you can use the points to purchase gift cards that you can spend at airport shops and restaurants. You may also be able to trade them in for cash, which will show up as a statement credit. If you have a cash-back card, check out the amount you’ve earned and use your rewards to buy what you need to make your time at the airport as pleasant as possible.

Rebook your flight

If you absolutely have to get some place by a certain date or time, start looking around for flights with different airlines. You may be able to book a flight that really is departing soon with your credit card and not be out the original cost. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, consumers are entitled to a refund of the ticket price and/or associated fees when a flight is canceled no matter what the reason, as well as for schedule changes/significant delays.

Get a hotel room

There may come a point when you simply have to leave the airport because the flight is not going to take off for many hours. In that case, you may want to consider leaving and parking yourself at a nearby hotel. If your credit card is affiliated with a hotel brand, such as Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors, and you have racked up enough rewards or have reached your anniversary date, you may have a free night’s stay available to you. This way you won’t have to spend the evening with your head resting against your suitcase on a cold airport floor.

Finally, you’re in the air

Although there is nothing you can do to make your plane depart on time, there is clearly a lot you can do to make your time at the airport less aggravating. While your credit card can certainly come to the rescue, just try not to charge too much while you are waiting to depart. All those retail shops, restaurants, and bars can be enticing, but they are rarely a bargain.

Eventually you will make it out of the airport and will board the plane. At that stage you can still come out ahead by using the right credit card. Some offer free Wi-Fi as part of their rewards package so you can get some work done instead of falling behind — or update your social media platforms with tales of your travel tribulations…

Erica Sandberg
Cardratings Contributor

Erica is a personal finance reporter and writer. Her passion is helping individuals, families and small business owners understand money and credit so they can achieve their goals. Erica has contributed to countless media outlets, hosted the television program “Making it in San Francisco” and...Read more

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