9 travel essentials for frequent flyers in 2024 | CNN Underscored (2024)

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Over the past two years, I’ve logged half a million miles and curated a collection of must-have travel credit cards, carry-on essentials and travel gear that have accompanied me on journeys worldwide.

While each traveler has their own set of indispensable items, these are nine of my favorite travel essentials that don’t leave my side when I take to the skies.

The right travel credit card

While each traveler has their own credit card needs, I look for three primary benefits from an airline credit card: a high rewards earning rate, lounge access and travel insurance.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

9 travel essentials for frequent flyers in 2024 | CNN Underscored (1)

The American Express Centurion Lounge in Atlanta.

The Platinum Card® from American Express (see rates and fees) offers 5 points per dollar on flights directly booked with airlines or through American Express Travel (up to $500,000 annually).

Despite its $695 annual fee, the card provides valuable travel perks:

  • Up to $200 annual airline fee statement credit (enrollment required)
  • Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees (up to $100 for Global Entry every four years or up to $85 for TSA PreCheck every four and a half years).
  • Up to $189 reimbursem*nt annually for Clear Plus membership (enrollment required).
  • Access to airport lounges, including Centurion Lounges and Studio locations worldwide (enrollment required).
  • Access to discounted flights through the International Airline Program.
  • Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status.

The Platinum card also offers impressive travel protections:

  • Receive reimbursem*nt of up to $500 per covered trip for reasonable additional expenses if your trip is delayed by more than six hours due to a covered reason, with up to two claims per consecutive 12-month period.
  • Eligible for reimbursem*nt of up to $10,000 per covered trip and $20,000 per card per consecutive 12-month period if you need to cancel or interrupt your trip due to a covered reason.

*Eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company.

Right now, new Amex Platinum card members can earn 80,000 bonus American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $8,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership.

Learn more and apply for the Amex Platinum card.

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

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The Capital One Lounge in Denver

I’m also a big fan of the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, which has a lower annual fee of $395 yet rivals cards with higher fees in benefits. While earning 5 miles per dollar on flights requires booking through Capital One Travel (compared to 2 miles per dollar elsewhere), my experiences with Capital One Travel have been largely positive, particularly with automatic travel credit if ticket prices drop under certain circ*mstances.

Key air-travel perks of the Capital One Venture X include the following:

  • Receive $300 in credits annually for bookings through Capital One Travel.
  • Enjoy 10,000 bonus miles every account anniversary, starting from your first anniversary (equivalent to at least $100 toward travel).
  • Card holders and up to two guests per visit gain complimentary access to Capital One Lounges and partner network lounges.
  • Up to four authorized users can be added at no cost, with the same lounge access benefits as the primary card holder (including access for up to two guests).
  • Up to $100 in statement credits for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.

Moreover, the card provides travel insurance, including up to $500 per person for reasonable expenses in the event of a trip delay exceeding six hours.

Don’t have a Venture X yet? Earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months of account opening. This can be used for $750 toward travel purchases or even more if you leverage Capital One’s transfer partners.

Learn more and apply for the Capital One Venture X.

How I used travel rewards to save nearly $8,000 on a 7-night family vacation to Aruba

Airline elite status

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Airline status can provide complimentary upgrades to first class on some routes.

Remaining loyal to your preferred airline can help you qualify for status, which offers a range of benefits that can significantly enhance your travel experience.

Delta Air Lines Related article No flying required: How to earn Delta Medallion elite status with a credit card

These benefits typically include priority check-in, boarding and baggage handling, access to airport lounges, priority seating selection, complimentary upgrades, bonus miles or points-earning rates, waived fees and dedicated customer service lines for quicker assistance.

While I’ve maintained top-tier Premier 1K status with United Airlines for almost a decade, my focus has recently shifted to American Airlines status. This change is due to the opportunity to earn status-qualifying Loyalty Points without flying, as well as the added benefit of American Airlines elite members receiving reciprocal elite status perks on Alaska Airlines.

Regardless of the carrier, airline status can make travel more comfortable, efficient and rewarding for frequent flyers.

Good news: United will make it easier to earn elite status next year

A lightweight backpack

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A lightweight travel backpack is essential for carrying a laptop and other travel accessories.

A reliable travel backpack is indispensable for any journey. Balancing spaciousness with adherence to airline size restrictions is always a consideration.

I also look for features like multiple pockets, laptop compartments and charging ports, while ensuring the backpack remains lightweight and comfortable, with essential elements like suitcase handle sleeves and durable materials.

On the budget side, the Shrradoo Anti-Theft Laptop Backpack is one of our top picks. This highly rated Amazon laptop backpack, with over 20,000 reviews and a 4.7-star rating, is ideal for travel.

It features a luggage strap, top handle, external USB port that can connect to a portable battery bank, ample pockets and a lockable zipper system. The bag is suitable for up to a 15-inch laptop and is available in four colors with breathable mesh linings for added comfort.

With nearly 30,000 positive reviews and a 4.7-star rating, this Amazon laptop backpack is perfect for travel. Boasting a luggage strap, a top handle, an external USB port and loads of pockets, the backpack can host up to a 15-inch laptop and comes with a lock that can be attached to the zippers, fully securing all your stuff.

The Adventurist Classic is a lightweight backpack geared toward travelers. It has a large main compartment that can fit most 15-inch laptops, chargers and accessories. Plus, for every backpack sold, Adventurist Backpack Co. provides 25 meals to those in need.

I recently traveled with the Adventurist Classic Backpack, and I’m convinced this one of the best backpacks for travelers. It’s stylish, durable and has practical features like a padded laptop sleeve. Plus, Adventurist Backpack Co. donates 25 meals for every backpack purchased.

Best of all, the Adventurist Classic boasts an impressively lightweight design, tipping the scales at just 1 pound when empty. This featherweight construction sets it apart as one of the lightest choices available, a feature cherished by frequent travelers navigating bustling airports and train stations.

The Adventurist Classic is a lightweight backpack geared toward travelers. It has a large main compartment that can fit most 15-inch laptops, chargers and accessories. Plus, for every backpack sold, Adventurist Backpack Co. provides 25 meals to those in need.

Read our review

For those seeking a higher-end option, consider the Away The Front Pocket Backpack. Crafted with water-resistant nylon and boasting a clamshell opening, this compact yet robust backpack offers multiple zippered pockets, including a padded laptop compartment, along with padded straps, a top handle and a trolley sleeve for enhanced travel comfort.

Small but mighty is how we like to describe this petite backpack from luggage brand Away. Made with water-resistant nylon, the bag has a clamshell opening that we’re obsessed with, a design feature that makes it super easy to find your glasses,AirPodsor any other accessory while crouched over mid-flight.

The 42 bestselling travel accessories our readers can’t stop buying

A universal power adapter

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A good travel power adapter will keep your devices charged abroad.

Even during domestic travel, I always carry a travel power adapter in my bag, as many power outlets on planes are often worn out and require being held in place to charge devices. By having a foreign-pronged power adapter on hand, you can often get a better charging grip.

This power strip has four USB-A ports, a USB-C port and three US plug outlets. Use this to charge your devices anywhere in Europe with its built-in European plug. Plus, it includes UK and US adapters for added compatibility.

My colleague loves The Foval European Plug Adapter, which is equipped with three US outlets, a USB-C port and four USB-A ports, providing seamless charging for multiple devices across Europe. It’s an ideal companion for international travelers seeking convenience and versatility at an affordable price.

Under $25 scores: Why this power strip is a must-have for your next trip to Europe

Briggs and Riley carry-on luggage

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The Briggs & Riley Essential 22-Inch Carry-On is my go-to carry-on bag.

Although it’s the newest addition to my travel essentials, the Briggs & Riley Essential 22-Inch Carry-On Expandable Spinner has been a game changer for my travels. This premium suitcase boasts exceptional design, functionality and durability, featuring innovative elements such as an expandable compression system and a trifold garment keeper, providing ample packing space while maintaining a sleek profile.

Plus, with its patented CX one-touch system, it effortlessly expands to accommodate all essentials and then compresses neatly for easy storage in most US overhead bins. Moreover, the exterior-mounted Outsider handle provides a flat packing surface. It remains a top choice for frequent travelers seeking sophistication and reliability in their luggage, even at its high price.

This carry-on from Briggs & Riley has a suite of premium features, including a trifold garment keeper and an expandable compression system. Plus, it has enough space for week-long trips if you pack relatively light.

The bag also comes with a best-in-class warranty that covers practically everything imaginable, including zippers, wheels and the handle. The bag comes in two-wheel and four-wheel models.

The best hard-shell carry-on luggage of 2024, tested by editors

Electronics charging case

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Keep your cables organized with a case for your chargers.

Today’s travelers face the challenge of organizing many tech accessories like phones, chargers and cables. To avoid the hassle of tangled or lost items, a travel cord organizer is essential. We recommend choosing one based on your needs, whether it’s a simple zip enclosure for basic gear or a multi-compartment organizer for families or tech-heavy travelers.

For the past month, I’ve been using the Halfday Sidekick Tech Kit, which features a convenient back flap that effortlessly transforms into a kickstand for your phone or tablet, ensuring you always have a hands-free setup for watching games or attending meetings.

With power mesh and elastic organizers to secure your cables and gear and a front pocket designed to hold a portable charger, everything stays neatly in place. Its splash-resistant exterior and flat-zip opening further enhance accessibility and protection for your tech essentials.

The Halfday Sidekick Tech Kit is a versatile accessory with a built-in kickstand for hands-free viewing. It offers organized storage for cables and gear, featuring power mesh and elastic organizers.

Having a dedicated organizer ensures a stress-free travel experience for everyone involved.

21 travel tech organizers that will keep your cords, cables and gadgets protected

Comfortable slip-on travel shoes

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A good pair of travel shoes can make all the difference in your experience on the road.

A good pair of travel shoes is a must. For one, they provide essential comfort for extensive walking during travel activities like city exploration, airport navigation and outdoor adventures, reducing fatigue and the risk of foot pain or injuries.

Second, their versatility minimizes the need for multiple pairs, saving space and weight in luggage. Plus, quality shoes offer protection from various elements such as rough terrain, inclement weather and uneven surfaces, ensuring safety and comfort.

We love the unisex New Balance 327 sneakers for their stylish design and comfortable support, perfect for enduring long travel days. Available in various colors, they effortlessly complement most casual travel outfits, ensuring you look fantastic wherever your travels take you.

New Balance’s 327 sneakers look great and provide the support you need to make it through long travel days. They’re available in a slew of colors and pair well with most casualtravel outfits, so you'll look good no matter where you go.

Meanwhile, other travelers swear by the On Running Cloud 5 shoes, suitable for both men and women. These stylish slip-ons offer the perfect solution for swiftly donning your footwear post-security check.

Designed in Switzerland, they boast simplicity, elegance and convenience, incorporating 44% recycled materials and breathable antimicrobial mesh with taped reinforcements. The CloudTec in the shoe’s Zero-Gravity foam ensures a cushioned landing and the updated Speedboard converts energy into forward motion.

The On Running Cloud 5 shoes, which are beloved by travelers, offer style and convenience post-security. Made in Switzerland with 44% recycled materials, they feature breathable mesh for comfort and a cushioned landing with CloudTec.

Another top pick are Allbirds’ Wool Runners, which are crafted from sustainable and ethical ZQ merino wool that’s incredibly soft, moisture-wicking and naturally odor-resistant, allowing you to wear them comfortably without socks. Additionally, they are machine-washable and highly durable, ensuring they last for years to come. They’re available for both men and women.

Allbirds’ Wool Runners are the kind of shoe that gets more comfortable with every single wear. And that’s impressive because they’re incredibly comfortable walking shoes from the very first try-on. Made from sustainable and ethical ZQ merino wool, the Wool Runners are super soft, moisture-wicking and naturally odor-stabilizing.

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Apple AirTags make it easier than ever to track your luggage.

The Apple AirTag is a must-have for travelers due to its simplicity, functionality and compact size, which make it an effective tool for keeping track of belongings while on the go.

By attaching an AirTag to luggage or other important items, travelers can easily locate them using their smartphone if they become lost or misplaced during their journey. This added security and peace of mind make the AirTag invaluable for travelers, ensuring that their belongings are safe and accounted for throughout their trip, making it well worth the affordable price.

The Apple AirTag is the perfect tool to bring on any trip. Its simplicity, functionality and size will ensure you never lose track of your bags while on the go. The peace of mind that your bags have made it on your trip is worth the reasonable price tag.

Read our review

Keep your AirTag safe and sound: Why Pelican’s luggage tag is a must for your suitcase

Apple AirPods Pro 2

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The Apple AirPods Pro 2 are my go-to noise-canceling earbuds.

The second-generation Apple AirPods Pro are an essential companion for travelers with their compact and wireless design, and they offer convenience and portability while navigating airports or exploring new destinations.

With advanced features like active noise cancellation, travelers can immerse themselves in their music or movies without distractions, while the Transparency mode allows them to stay aware of their surroundings when needed.

Plus, the AirPods Pro 2’s long battery life and quick charging ensure uninterrupted use throughout the journey, making them a perfect travel companion for those seeking high-quality audio, comfort and versatility in a compact package.

The AirPods Pro 2 are as good as it gets for Apple users, offering some of the best sound, controls and active noise cancellation you can find in a pair of buds.

Read our review

If you want to connect your AirPods to a wired audio system like an in-flight entertainment system, The Twelve South AirFly Duo allows you to connect Bluetooth headphones to any audio jack.

Clickherefor rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card.

Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cardsCNN Underscored Moneychose as thebest travel credit cardscurrently available.

9 travel essentials for frequent flyers in 2024 | CNN Underscored (2024)


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