5 Credit Card Perks (And Freebies) You May Not Know You Have

You might already be earning travel rewards with your credit card or using points to buy flights, but those benefits are just the beginning of the value credit cards can bring to your next vacation. Lesser-known benefits built into many cards include complimentary museum access, hotel upgrades and even free food. 

Here are five hidden perks that might come with the cards already in your wallet: 

1. The ability to speed through airport security

While cards alone can’t let you skip long security lines, a handful, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Capital One Venture, give you a credit toward the application fee for either TSA Precheck or Global Entry. These programs offer expedited screening at the airport.

“Many people don’t use these benefits and end up spending far longer in security and immigration lines than necessary,” says Jason Steele, producer of CardCon, an annual credit card conference. 

2. Free hotel stays, upgrades and breakfast

If you have a hotel-branded credit card in your wallet, you might be in for some treats. The World of Hyatt credit card, for example, offers a free anniversary night, plus elite status that grants you access to late checkout and room upgrades when available. The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card offers a free night once a year and priority late checkout through the automatic Silver Elite status that comes with the card. 

Some general travel credit cards feature hotel-related perks, too. The Platinum Card from American Express offers Hilton Honors Gold status, which can grant you late checkout and complimentary breakfast among other benefits. The card also offers access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program, which can feature room upgrades, breakfast and guaranteed late checkout at over 1,000 luxury properties. Terms apply. 

Steele says based on his conversations with cardholders and card issuers, he suspects that many cardholders are probably not actively taking advantage of these benefits. 

3. A relaxing pre-flight experience (and free food!)

Justin McCurry, a father of three and frequent traveler who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, recently took advantage of the Priority Pass Select lounge access that came with his Citi Prestige card on a family trip to Southeast Asia. That meant his entire family of five could hang out in quiet lounges between flights. 

“Once we enter the lounge, almost everything is free,” including food and drinks, McCurry says. (Specifics vary by lounge.) His kids — ages 7, 13, and 14 — love being able to get soda or hot chocolate and snacks. “It’s all free so we don’t have to worry about spending $50 to $100 on burgers, fries and drinks for the family.” At the lounge they visited in Bangkok, the family enjoyed Thai curry, stir-fry and sushi. International lounges tend to be more luxurious than domestic ones, he says. 

And because it’s a contained space, he doesn’t have to be quite so vigilant about watching his children or his bags as he would be in the main airport terminal. “It’s a little oasis of peace and sanity where we can decompress,” he says. 

4. A more enjoyable flight

Trae Bodge, a shopping and saving expert, points out that some cards, such as the Chase United Explorer, come with priority boarding so you can get settled in your seat more quickly. That card also offers 25% off in-flight purchases. If you have an airline-branded card, review what it offers before you leave for your trip. In addition to priority boarding and in-flight discounts, you might be able to check bags for free, including for any travel companions.

5. Free things to do

Bank of America® credit cards (and debit cards) come with free general admission for the cardholder on the first full weekend of every month for an array of museums and cultural centers. “Just make sure you plan your trip that first weekend of the month to take advantage of it,” says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. For a family that plans to do a lot of sightseeing, those savings can add up, she says. 

And if your card earns rewards, don’t forget to leverage that more obvious benefit while you’re on the road or in the air. If it earns bonus points, miles or cash back on travel, gas or dining out, bring it with you.

That’s the case even for non-travel cards, Bodge says. While the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card isn’t a travel card per se, it offers 2% back on gas and restaurants and 5% back at Whole Foods, which are potentially useful on a road trip. And those rewards can go toward your next vacation.

Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website.

Kimberly Palmer is a credit card and personal finance expert for NerdWallet. She has been featured on the Today Show and in The New York Times. She is also the auth...