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What is a common carrier? Definition of common carrier.

You may see the term common carrier in your credit card’s Guide to Benefits. Or you might read that you must book your common carrier travel using your card to be eligible for a travel insurance benefit. If you haven’t seen the term used before, you might be confused, What is a common carrier? Is an airline a common carrier? (Yes.)

Here’s a quick overview of what a common carrier is and how it is defined by several major card issuers.

What is a common carrier?

According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell, a common carrier is “a person or a commercial enterprise that transports passengers or goods for a fee and establishes that their service is open to the general public.”

Examples of common carriers include airlines (Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines, Lufthansa, etc.) bus lines (Greyhound, Megabus, Jefferson Lines) and train lines (AmTrak, Caltrain, Deutsche Bahn). These businesses all provide passenger transportation of some sort to the public.

Airlines are common carriers.

Travel insurance and common carriers

Excerpt from a credit card guide to benefits mentioning the term Common Carrier. The term, Common Carrier, is highlighted.

Readers of this site will most likely find the term common carrier in the context of credit card benefits and travel insurance. In most cases, when you see common carrier the benefit refers to an airline, a scheduled bus service, or a railroad. If it’s a business offering scheduled transportation to the public, its a common carrier.

Travel insurance benefits often require you to book your common carrier travel with your credit card in order to be covered by the benefit. Examples of common benefits that require you to book your common carrier on a card include:

  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Trip delay protection
  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Trip cancellation and interruption insurance
  • Travel accident insurance

Some card issuers specifically exclude cruise lines from their definitions of a common carrier. Your credit card’s Guide to Benefits will have a specific definition of “common carrier” that applies to your benefits.

Card issuer definitions of common carrier

Your card’s Guide to Benefits will have a definition of common carrier that applies to your card’s benefits. Here are some examples of definitions from the benefits guides of several issuers:

Capital One: “Common Carrier means any licensed land, water or air conveyance operated by those whose occupation or business is the transportation of persons or things without discrimination and for hire.”

Chase: “Common Carrier –any commercially licensed motorized land, water or air Conveyance, operated by an organization organized and licensed for the transportation of passengers for hire and operated by an employee or an individual under contract; Common Carrier does not include Cruise Lines”

American Express: “Common Carrier means any land, water, or air conveyance operating under a valid license for the transportation of passengers for hire and for which a ticket must be purchased prior to commencing travel. Common Carrier does not include taxis, limousine services, commuter rail or commuter bus lines, personal automobiles, or rental vehicles.”

Frequently asked questions

Is an airline a common carrier?

Airlines that provide scheduled transportation to the public are considered common carriers. Charter airlines are generally not considered common carriers.

What is common carrier travel accident insurance?

Many credit cards provide common carrier travel accident insurance that will pay a cash benefit in the event of certain losses of life and limb. Sometimes this travel insurance requires you to book your common carrier travel using your credit card.

What is a Common Carrier Covered Trip

In the content of credit card travel insurance, a common carrier covered trip is usually a trip on a common carrier, such as an airline or train line, that you book with your credit card.

About the author

  • Aaron Hurd

    Aaron Hurd is a credit card, travel rewards, and loyalty program expert. Over the past 15 years, he has authored over a thousand expert contributions published by leading outlets including WSJ, TIME, Newsweek, Forbes, NerdWallet, The Points Guy, Bankrate, CNET, and many others. He has also served in consulting roles for many of these same outlets, designing content strategy, hiring teams of teams of editors and contributors, developing thought-leadership pieces, and ghost-editing for senior editors. Aaron is well-known in the miles and points community and regularly presents about travel rewards at conferences like the Chicago Seminars and Minnebar. Aaron has enjoyed the game of optimizing credit card rewards since getting his first credit card shortly after he turned 18. He started learning about credit cards and travel rewards from the (now defunct) FatWallet Finance forums and FlyerTalk. He holds more than 40 open credit cards and has first-hand experience with almost every major credit card product.

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