OpinionPrograms and Credit Cards I Use That Make Traveling Easier

Programs and Credit Cards I Use That Make Traveling Easier

To say I travel a lot is an understatement.  Last year I flew 120,000 miles, visited 25 countries, spent over 50 nights in hotels, and took 9 cruises.

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The late Anthony Bourdain once said, “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable…”.  I am often asked how I’m able to travel so much and keep my sanity.

For one, I love to travel.  Two, there are several programs and credit cards I use that make traveling a lot more enjoyable.  After all, who wouldn’t want to cut lines at airports and get free upgrades to suites when staying in hotels?

Here is a look at the various programs and credit cards I use and the costs that are involved with each one.  I will warn you though, once you travel with these programs, it’s near impossible to go without them.


TSA PreCheck – If there is one program that is worth paying for, it’s TSA PreCheck. The main benefit isn’t that you usually have shorter lines at airport security, it’s the fact that you don’t have to get undressed to go through security.

Departure gates at CVG Airport showing the security wait times.

When you go through a normal security line at the airport, you have to take your shoes off, laptops and tablets out of bags, jacket off, belt off, make sure everything (including wallet) is out of your pockets, and all liquids have to be in a clear ziplock bag.  After you go through the body scanner, you have several bins of your belongings that you have pack back up.

With TSA PreCheck, you don’t have to do any of that.  I walk up to the X-Ray machine, drop my bag, walk through the metal detector (no body scanner), grab my bag and go.  It’s a total breeze.

There have been a few times where hundreds were in the regular security line (HNL and EWR) and the TSA PreCheck line was virtually non-existent.

Cost is $85 and it’s good for five years.

Global Entry – If you are looking into signing up for TSA PreCheck, you should check out Global Entry because it’s only $15 more. The best part is that Global Entry includes TSA PreCheck.

Global Entry can save you an insane amount of time when going through customs when flying back into the country. A few cruise ports in Florida are even adding Global Entry lanes that are currently almost always empty.

Global Entry has saved me from waiting in lines at customs that were at least an hour and a half long several times. Flying into JFK from Europe or Asia, you’re going to want Global Entry. You’ll be through customs in less than five minutes.

Last year I was on a flight from London heading back to Cincinnati with a layover at Dulles. Another couple had the same itinerary as myself.  With Global Entry, I was through customs in less than three minutes.  I headed to the lounge to relax for a bit and get something to eat and drink. I calmly headed over to my gate and boarded my last flight of the day.

Right before the plane door was about to be closed, the couple on my first flight boarded covered in sweat.  It took them close to 90 minutes to get through customs and then had to sprint across the airport to make the flight by a minute or two. That’s no way to travel, get Global Entry and give yourself time to relax between connections.

Cost is $100 and it’s good for five years.

Clear – With Clear, you cut straight to the front of the security lines at airports (general or TSA PreCheck).  You walk up, scan your fingerprints or have an eye scan, and you cut the line. It’s that simple.

By combining Clear with TSA PreCheck, the longest it has ever taken me to get completely through airport security is under two minutes.

Cost is $179 per year, additional family members are $50 each.  If you have a Delta SkyMiles account, the price drops to $119 per year. You’ll save another $10 if you have Medallion status (Platinum, Gold, and Silver).  Delta Diamond Medallion members receive Clear for free.

United’s MileagePlus members receive the same price of $119 per year. Those with status pay $109 while Premier 1K and Global Services members receive it for free.

IHG Ambassador –  Travel isn’t all about flights and cruises, hotels are a big part of it.  IHG’s Ambassador program gives some good perks when staying in hotels, especially InterContinentals.

I receive a guaranteed free room upgrade on every stay.  In Beverly Hills, we were upgraded to one of the large suites for free.  In Kong Hong, I was upgraded to this killer view.

One of the best perks is that I can get a 4 pm checkout anytime when staying in an InterContinental. This perk has come in extremely handy when I have flights that depart later in the evening.

Each stay comes with $20 credit to any of the restaurants and bars (including minibar).

I also get one free weekend night each year on the second night of a paid weekend stay.

The Ambassador Program also makes you Platinum Elite with IHG.  This gives you complimentary upgrades when you stay at a Kimpton, Holiday Inn Express, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Regent, Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, Hotel Indigio, and all IHG hotels.

Cost is $200 per year and well worth it.

Credit Cards

Delta Reserve –  While my Delta American Express Reserve card is the most expensive program/credit card that I pay for, it also comes with the most perks and rewards. So, what perks do I get?

Every year, I get a free roundtrip plane ticket (including first class) that is good when flying with a companion to anywhere in the lower 48.  I recently used it when my wife and I flew to Los Angeles for the inaugural cruise on Carnival Panorama. Her first class ticket for the four hour flight each way cost a total of $37 in taxes/fees all because I have this credit card.

I also get unlimited Sky Club access when flying Delta. Having access to airport lounges is a game changer when flying. I also receive two guest passes each year.

I get complimentary access to Centurion Lounges from American Express when flying Delta.

Everyone (up to 9) on my reservation gets to check one bag for free when flying on Delta.

Priority boarding on all Delta flights.

Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees are reimbursed, whichever program you decide to join.

The card also comes with bonuses that help you achieve Medallion status on Delta and help with free upgrades to first class.

You also get a bunch of other stuff like no foreign transaction fees, extended warranties, concierge service, 20% off inflight purchases, car rental insurance, and a few other things.

Cost: Annual fee is $550 per year.  Yes, it’s pricey but I estimate I receive at least four times that in value from all of the perks. It makes it a no-brainer for me to have. If all of these perks are worth it to you, can you sign up here.  You’ll earn 80,000 SkyMiles for signing up and I’ll receive 20,000 miles for referring you.  Thank you in advance!

IHG Chase –  The IHG Rewards Club Credit Card is an essential part of every journey.  The best perk is that the card gives you a free night each year at any IHG Hotel that is 40,000 points or less. The card used to give you a free night at any IHG hotel, but they recently changed it.  I guess they caught on to people like me who were using it to stay in $500 a night hotels in Singapore for free.

Even with the recent changes, I keep the card because of the value it gives me.

The card moves you up to Platinum Elite with IHG, this gives your free upgrades when staying in any of their hotels.

You also earn 25x points at IHG Hotels when you combine your IHG card benefits with existing IHG Rewards Club member benefits. You can’t beat that!

Cost is $89 per year.

Travel Insurance

Allianz Yearly Plan – If you travel several times a year, having a yearly travel insurance policy is a must. It really helps take the stress out of situations where you are delayed.

The first trip after I purchased it, my flight home was delayed until the next morning due to weather. A lot of people at JFK started stressing because the airlines are not responsible for hotel costs in these situations.

I calmly opened up the IHG app, booked a nearby hotel, and went and got a good nights rest knowing I would get reimbursed for any expenses.  When I got home, I filed a claim with Allianz and a check was in my mailbox for the full cost of the hotel in less than two weeks.  It would have come sooner but I didn’t send in the proper documents at first.

I couldn’t be happier with Allianz.  Having a yearly travel insurance plan really helps take the stress out of delays and other travel mishaps.

Cost:  $240 a year for their middle plan.

The next time you see me posting something on social media about flying first class or staying in a ridiculously nice suite, it was most likely a free upgrade I received from one of the above programs.

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Ben Souza
Ben Souza
Ben is a world traveler who has visited 40+ countries, taken over 70 cruises. He is one of USA TODAY's experts for their 10Best Readers' Choice Awards. His writings have appeared and been cited in various media outlets such as Yahoo News, MSN, NPR, CNN, Fox, and ABC News. Ben currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio. Follow Ben on Instagram. Visit Ben Souza on Linkedin. You may email Ben at [email protected].
OpinionPrograms and Credit Cards I Use That Make Traveling Easier

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