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Every winter, I escape the New England snow and ice for a week on a Caribbean island with my family and friends. Some years, we try something new; some years we return to old favorites. In 2017, my husband and I joined our friends from Seattle on St. Martin.

Here’s one thing I learned about traveling in the Caribbean: Rental cars are usually pretty beat up even before you get them. Island driving is rough on cars—the roads have plenty of potholes; streets tend to be narrow; steep mountainous terrain can be treacherous. One year, we rented a car with brakes so bad we needed to get them fixed in the middle of vacation....

Imagine my surprise, then, when our car this year came to us in mint condition. The rental car agent filled out my rental form, took digital pictures of the car, and sent me on my way. By the way, I declined the extra collision insurance because I knew my credit card covered it. You probably know where this story is going.

Car Rental Problems

On our last day, after a week of swimming, boating, rum drinking, and eating the best French food, we started our journey home by dropping off our car. As the rental agent inspected the passenger side door for an extra 20 seconds, I could tell I was in trouble. He called his co-worker over and they shared some comments. Then he waved me over to take a look. There was a large, deep scratch at the bottom of the frame—large enough and deep enough that they were going to charge me for it.

My vacation vibes were gone. The rental agent showed me the before pictures he took just a week ago. Obviously, I had caused this damage driving along rubbly island roads.

I knew I’d be covered with my credit card, but I was still annoyed to have to deal with it all. On the shuttle ride back to the airport, the thought of the phone calls and faxing paperwork and waiting eons for my refund were definitely killing my vacation buzz.

My mood did not improve at the airport. The waiting area was so crowded that there were no seats left, the air conditioning was nonexistent, and the Wi-Fi was too spotty to be of any use. Oh, and my flight was delayed.

Credit Card Heroics

Here’s where my credit card really saved the day: It got me access to the airport lounge. My credit card of choice gives me access to hundreds of airport lounges around the world without the need to reach triple diamond platinum saffron status (that’s a tier, right?). Walking through those lounge doors was a real mood changer. Serenity now! My husband and I checked in, found a comfy nook, and connected to the blazing fast Wi-Fi (where I decided to brag about my baller life on Facebook instead of complain). We had free coffee and empanadas. Vacation vibes rushed back.

We did make it home that evening despite our delay. At home, I was delighted to learn that I could file my car rental claim online without ever picking up a phone—my refund for the car damage came within a few weeks.

It might seem like an exaggeration to say that traveling with the right credit card saved my vacation—but between the car rental insurance, the access to the lounge, plus all of the money I saved because my card doesn’t charge me foreign transaction fees, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

I used the Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card for my trip. Chase offers a variety of credit cards with travel benefits depending on your needs.

Editor's Note: This content is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the aforementioned entities.

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