What does credit card travel reimbursement cover?

Matt Bicknell

Many of the premium credit cards have started to add travel expense reimbursements as a perk to give you extra protection when you’re out exploring. And if you were savvy enough in your travel planning to sign up for a card with this perk, you’re probably wondering what it exactly covers. Here’s how it works:

Travel Reimbursement Basics

There are a handful of cards that offer reimbursements will cover for certain travel related expenses, up to a specified amount for each respective card. Simple as that! Some cards offer more than others, but it’s essentially free travel add-ons, ranging anywhere from $200-300 each year. Just make the purchase and you’ll see a reimbursement on your next statement in the form of a “statement credit”.

It’s important to know that you’ll only be reimbursed for expenses that fall into the ‘travel’ category, which can vary card to card. Different cards have different rules and limitation, so we’ve outlined what you need to know for each.

 Note: While issuers make every effort to label travel products/services as such when they show up in your account, it’s up to the merchants to properly categorize them. Some charges that should fit into the travel category might not get covered.

Expenses Generally Covered by Travel Reimbursement

  •  Airline fees, sometimes including tickets
  •  Hotels / timeshares
  •  Car rentals
  •  Cruise lines
  •  Travel agencies
  •  Discount travel sites
  •  Campgrounds
  • Passenger trains
  •  Buses, taxis and limos
  •  Toll bridges and highways
  •  Parking lots and garages

Note that airline tickets are only counted as “travel” expenses for specific programs. However, charges with your airline that can be reimbursed typically include: checked baggage fees, in-flight amenity fees like drinks or movies, and airport lounge day passes/annual memberships. Some cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve even offer reimbursement on trip delays ($500) and lost luggage ($3000).

Birch Pro-Tip: If your card does not reimburse airline tickets, it is possible to purchase a gift card from the airline, which can then be used for tickets. There are a few select cases where tickets can be purchased directly, and reimbursed.

Cards That Offer Travel Reimbursement and How They Work

American Express Platinum $200 Travel Credit

The American Express Platinum card has more stipulations than the other three cards that offer travel reimbursement. To take advantage of the perk, you can only enroll in one specific airline each year and qualified travel expenses on that airline are reimbursed. Within 2-4 weeks of making a qualified purchase, you’ll receive a statement credit.

Eligible purchases include: checked baggage, in-flight refreshments, flight-change fees, overweight / oversize baggage fees, and phone reservation fees. Purchases can be made on either the primary cardholder’s account or any other cardholder.

Chase Sapphire Reserve $300 Travel Credit

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is the most flexible of all the cards for applying travel credit. Every calendar year, you’ll receive $300 towards purchases that come back under the “travel category”. Not only is this one of the highest allotments for reimbursements, but everything is covered, from airline tickets and hotel stays.

There’s also no hoops to jump through - there’s no need to enroll, choose a specific airline or call for reimbursement. Simply make a purchase and Chase will apply a statement credit on your account.

Citi Prestige $250 Travel Credit

With the Citi Prestige card, there’s more flexibility but it’s limited to airline purchases. Each calendar year, you’ll receive $250 in statement credits towards air fares, baggage fees, lounge access and some in-flight purchases

What I like about the Citi Prestige card is the 4th night free when you purchase 4 consecutive hotel nights through the Citi Travel website. That means every year you can take a trip and potentially cut your expenses in half - by only paying for 3 of the 4 nights and applying $250 towards air travel.  

Ritz Carlton Rewards $300 Travel Credit

The Ritz Carlton Rewards Credit Card is another premium card that offers travel reimbursements - in this case up to $300 on airline expenses. These include baggage fees, seat upgrades and preferred lounge memberships or passes. Although using the $300 credit is restrictive, many people have had good experience with Chase in getting all types of airline expenses reimbursed.

Wrapping Up

Travel reimbursement from card issuers is a nice perk to make travel more convenient for you as a cardholder. If you’re at all concerned about $450 annual fees, this is a great way to offset some of that expense, especially if you have travel planned.

Had an experience with travel reimbursement? Send us a note to team@birchfinance.com

About the Author

Matt Bicknell

Matt Bicknell is a student at the University of Florida studying Finance. He is an active contributing author for Birch and is passionate about helping newbies become financally savvy.