The Internet is a double-edged sword for travel planning. There’s so much information readily available on just about every corner of the globe, you can easily slip down multiple rabbit holes when researching your next vacation. And sometimes the flood of information can be an overwhelming time suck. That’s why some travelers are going old school by hiring a travel agent to help them wade through the information and plan their next trip. But before you do that, consider that you may already have access to one -- right in your wallet.
Many credit cards offer all sorts of travel benefits that most cardholders don’t even know about -- including concierge services that include everything from researching destinations to booking hotels to scoring difficult reservations. And some cards provide travel protection and insurance that can come in very handy in a pinch.
“When you're planning a trip, take a moment to look into what kind of perks your card offers,” said Matt Schulz, senior research analyst at CreditCards.com. “You'll probably be surprised at how much is there, and you might save yourself some headaches along the way.”
A number of travel reward cards that you may already own offer concierge services that can help you when planning your next vacation. If you own one, check whether it’s designated as a World Elite MasterCard or a Visa Signature card. Both Visa and MasterCard make concierge services available to their members for free -- and their hotlines are available anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some Discover cards offer the service, and American Express has long been known to be a leader in the space.
“There is a lot of competition amongst card issuers to capture affluent users,” said Schulz. “These services are a way to add extra benefits.”
Visa’s travel concierge program will do everything from researching potential hotels for your trip to recommending package tours to arranging for airport transportation. Members need only call a toll-free number, speak to a concierge and specify what they’re looking for.
For an upcoming trip to London, I contacted the concierge through my Capital One Venture card and explained what I wanted: two hotel rooms in a central area (I suggested possible neighborhoods but asked him to research others, as well) suitable for a group of adults with two small children -- and more upscale than a basic hotel but still within my somewhat modest budget. The concierge took my information, said he’d research the scene and got back to me in two days with a PDF full of options. The concierge would take care of booking, as well, if I preferred.
MasterCard’s Travel Services program offers similar services, including the ability to get free upgrades and other amenities at hotels and resorts in its “World Elite Hotels & Resorts Portfolio.” It’s “pre-trip planning services” set you up with information you need right before your trip, like weather forecasts, city-specific news and conditions, suggested packing lists, lists of must-see attractions and activities, and more.
But perhaps the best thing about such concierge offerings is that they can help when you’re in a jam abroad. “Imagine your own personal assistant 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” is how MasterCard sells its service. If your flight gets canceled or there’s an emergency on the ground, someone to help you get rebooked is an invaluable resource. American Express, which often sets the bar when it comes to travel perks, is taking its concierge services one step further: Earlier this year, it rolled out a new invitation-only service that allows card members to text their concierge for help.
Rewards card expert Brian Kelly, who blogs at ThePointsGuy.com, says that cardholders don’t utilize these concierge services enough; American Express’ new program makes it easier for text-loving millennials to take advantage of it, he says.