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What is a common carrier?

You may see the term common carrier in your credit card’s Guide to Benefit. 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.

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

Common carrier defined

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.”

In the context of credit card benefits and travel insurance, this usually means an airline, a scheduled bus service, or a railroad. If it’s a business offering scheduled transportation to the public, its a common carrier.

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.