Credit Card Rewards That Don't Require Points or Miles

By Cathleen

Dear Cashing In,

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Are there other "rewards" besides points and miles I should be aware of when selecting a card? I know points can accumulate and be redeemed for cash or miles, but what other "freebies" are offered that would be significant enough to sway my interest? 

- Ella

Dear Ella,

Credit cards often come with perks that are not always emphasized in promotions, but worth looking into when considering a new card. Like the membership benefits you get by joining a club, they don't require you to hit spending minimums or jump through redemption hoops, but it's up to you to ferret them out and take advantage.

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Quite a few cards offer ongoing benefits that cardholders can enjoy by simply presenting their cards -- no spending necessary -- or insurance that kicks in when they use their cards to pay for something. Here are a few to consider.

Free checked bags, airport lounge passes, priority boarding. If you fly frequently but not enough to achieve elite status at an airline, the free checked bags, lounge passes and expedited check-in offered by airline credit cards can save you time and money at the airport. Your Gold Delta American Express, Citi AAdvantage Platinum and most other airline cards will get your first bag checked free and priority boarding. American Express Platinum gets you into more than 600 airport lounges with Priority Pass and lets you skip airport arrival lines with Global Entry.

Free room upgrades and late checkout. Many credit cards connected with hotel loyalty programs will get you automatic silver or gold status benefits at that chain, which can mean room upgrades, late check-in and (as with Ritz-Carlton) access to airport lounges. American Express Platinum offers upgrades and amenities at more than 700 hotels worldwide.

Traveler's and car rental insurance, luggage reimbursement. American Express offers traveler's insurance and, for cards with higher annual fees, additional layers of travel benefits, such as airline fee reimbursement for Platinum cardholders. If the word "signature" appears on your Visa card, you're entitled to emergency assistance, rental car insurance and 24-hour concierge service to assist you with things like restaurant reservations.

If you pay for a trip with your card, you'll also get travel accident insurance and lost luggage reimbursement. MasterCard World credit cards offer the perks enjoyed by MasterCard Gold and Platinum cardholders, plus luggage reimbursement (up to $300 per bag) and accident and trip cancellation insurance.

Hilton American Express and Hilton Visa Signature cards both come with no annual fees and earn the same points per dollar spent. Introduced last month, the Hilton Reserve Visa offers significantly better rewards in exchange for its $95 annual fee. Along with points and bonuses, Hilton fans should weigh those AmEx travel perks against the ones offered by Visa Signature.

Shopping discounts. Many loyalty and rewards programs offer significant discounts -- up to 20% -- on online shopping if you connect to retailers via their online portals. Most major airline websites offer this, as do Discover and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Perks for online booking. American Express offers the opportunity to earn extra points if you register with and book travel through Membership Rewards. Chase Sapphire offers a 20% discount on airfare, hotels, car rentals or cruises booked through Ultimate Rewards. Book a room at one of the 800 upscale hotels in the "Luxury Collection" on Visa's website and Visa will guarantee best rates available, free room upgrades, continental breakfast, late checkout, a $25 voucher on food or beverage within the hotel, and either in-room Wi-Fi or valet parking. MasterCard does not book travel so no perks there.

Free museum entrance. Given the cost of museum admission ($25 a head in some cases), a get-in-free card can save you big -- and that's just what Bank of America offers with their Museums on Us program. Present a credit or debit card issued by Bank of America or Merrill Lynch, along with a photo ID, on the first full weekend of the month, and admission fees will be waived at more than 150 museums, zoos and aquariums across the U.S. To see the complete list, visit the Bank of America website.