There are plenty of good reasons to pick one credit card over another. You might get an awesome cash back rewards rate, allowing you to net hundreds of dollars a year on the things you’re already buying. Or maybe you want to utilize a 0% balance transfer offer to pay down debt or make a big purchase without accruing interest charges.
However, credit cards today include quite a few additional perks, which could save you money and offer added protections. While they’re not exactly secret, many of these perks go unknown and underutilized by cardholders. This means unnecessarily leaving money on the table!
Let’s talk about a few of the best “hidden” perks offered by credit cards today, as well as some of the pitfalls you’ll need to watch out for when you go to use them.
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One of my favorite credit card perks is price protection. It’s offered on both my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and my Citi® Double Cash Card – $150 Cash Back Offer (among many others), so I enjoy this benefit all around.
If I buy an item and then find out a few weeks later that the price has dropped, I’m usually pretty irked. Luckily, these cards have my back. While some stores will offer price adjustments on their products, this usually doesn’t apply for more than 14 days. Both my Citi and Chase cards, however, offer this protection for much longer. Chase currently has price protection for 90 days, while Citi’s Price Rewind feature will check for lower prices for 60 days from the purchase date.
The features are a bit different (and other cards may have their own policies in place). With Price Rewind, for example, I register my purchases online. Then, if a lower published price is found anywhere, I get the difference credited back to my account. With my Chase card, the refund also applies to published prices found in print, on the web, or in store. However, it’s up to me to find those price drops and submit a claim.
What to watch out for: There are limits to price protection, as you’d imagine. You’re typically limited to a dollar amount on each individual claim/adjustment, usually ranging from $200-500 per item. You’re typically limited to an annual maximum, as well. This can vary from $1,000 a year up to $2,500+, but be sure to read your card’s fine print to be sure.
You’ll also need to pay attention to the card’s policy regarding the length of time covered, ensuring that you file your claim or register your purchase in time to take advantage of the price drop. You should also know whether this is an automated process (like with Price Rewind) or if you’ll need to initiate each claim.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card eliminated its Price Protection feature at the end of August 2018. Purchases made after this date will be ineligible for adjustments. There’s no word yet if that feature will be replaced by anything similar.
Cards that offer price matching: The Citi® Double Cash Card – $150 Cash Back Offer is probably my favorite in this category, for its Price Rewind feature. It’s automated, so you just have to enroll the purchase and let their program do the work at finding you a refund.
If you buy an item and it breaks shortly thereafter, the company (or the retailer) is usually pretty good about offering a replacement. This is especially true with purchases like electronics. So, if your two-month-old coffeemaker suddenly stops brewing (through no fault of your own), you can expect that the company will likely step in to make it right.
This factory warranty varies from product-to-product, usually capping out at a year of coverage. So, what if that new $2,500 television glitches and goes black on day 375? Well, if you didn’t buy the store’s extended warranty coverage (probably offered for a couple hundred dollars at the time of purchase), you’re out of luck. At least you are if you didn’t use a card that offers an extended warranty benefit.
Credit cards with extended warranty benefits can save you both money and headache on your purchases, covering everything from your new electric toothbrush to the entertainment center in the man cave. You don’t typically need to enroll each individual item, either. If you bought it with the card in question, your purchase is covered.
If the item breaks or has a defect within the manufacturer’s included warranty, they will cover it as usual. However, if you have an issue beyond the included warranty timeframe, your credit card may be able to help. The extended warranty protection most often doubles the manufacturer’s included warranty (typically with a one-year limit), giving you some extra wiggle room in case Murphy’s Law kicks in.
What to watch out for: Limits–there are always limits. If you buy an item that only includes a three-month warranty, that’s how long you can expect your credit card perk to last–another three months. If your item includes a year-long warranty, your card may cover anywhere from another three months to an entire year, depending on the item and the card product.
There’s almost always a maximum coverage amount per year, which can vary greatly between the credit card products out there. You also won’t see your credit card company cover the purchase if the item:
- Is damaged in a natural disaster
- Isn’t reasonably cared for
- Is damaged by a power surge
- Was rented or preowned
- Is a permanently-installed fixture (like windows or carpeting in your home)
Cards that offer extended warranties: One of my favorites is the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, which offers to either match the manufacturer’s warranty or add an additional year, depending on the original warranty length.
Have you ever waited a little too long to return an item to the store, showing up on day 32 only to be turned away at the register? Or maybe you lost the box that the item came in, and the store refuses to accept your return?
Well, depending on the credit cards you carry, you might still be covered, thanks to return protection.
This protection extends the length of time that you are able to return your purchases, allowing you some form of recourse if the store has a very limited return policy (or nonexistent one), if you lose your receipt/box, or if you wait too long to make your return. Some cards will allow you to return your item up to 90 days after purchase–something that you’ll rarely find offered by retailers directly.
The specifics regarding return protection coverage vary from card product to card product, and are subject to limits both in time elapsed and purchase price. For example, American Express offers return protection for 90 days after your purchase is made, with a limit of $300 per item and $1,000 a year. The Citi Prestige Card also gives you 90 days, but with higher limits of $500 per item or $2,500 a year.
What to watch out for: Of course, you’ll need to pay attention to the timeframe offered for coverage. Go past that limit and you’ll be out of luck with your return.
Some cards require you to enroll in return protection, which you can usually do through the card’s portal. If you’re not enrolled in coverage before making the purchase in question, you probably won’t be able to take advantage of the protection.
There are almost always limits regarding the types of purchases covered, too. For instance, you won’t be protected on the following purchases:
- Consumables (such as food, perfume, makeup, etc.)
- Tickets (concerts, sporting events, and the like)
- Firearms or ammunition
- Formal wear
- Plants or animals
Purchases on auction sites like eBay usually aren’t covered, either, nor are secondhand buys (like antiques).
Every time I buy a plane ticket or book a hotel online, I’m given the option to purchase trip protection for an added cost. This usually ranges from $30 to upwards of $150, depending on what I’m booking and for how many people. The coverage offers a full or partial refund if I have to cancel my trip for one of the covered reasons, including a natural disaster or death in the immediate family.
Good thing I carry the credit cards I do, though, because I get this kind of trip coverage gratis.
My Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, for instance, will cover non-refundable and non-reimbursed payments made toward flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises, etc. if me or my family need to change our plans. Covered reasons include severe weather and natural disasters; injury, illness, or death (you, your family, and even your pet!); jury duty; or terrorist attacks, among others.
When Hurricane Irma hit last September–the same week that we were scheduled to fly out to Walt Disney World–Chase was there to cover our bookings if we needed to move our trip. (We decided to brave it and go anyway, and had an incredible time.) I wish I’d carried that card a couple years ago when both of my children woke up with 103 degree fevers, the morning we were slated to fly out to Colorado for our annual ski trip. Our flights were booked on American Airlines–who was very unsympathetic to our plight–and I lost $1,600 in nonrefundable fares that morning. It was painful.
What to watch out for: Covered reasons are obviously limited. You can’t just decide to change plans and expect your credit card to cover your travel changes. Be sure to read the fine print to see what is covered and what you need to provide in order to prove that you’re protected (a doctor’s note, etc.).
Some cards require that the entire purchase have been paid for with the card in question. This means that if you split your airfare between two different credit cards, it might not be covered (or it might be limited to the amount paid on the card offering coverage). Keep in mind that if you book an award flight using points, but pay the taxes and fees with your trip coverage card, you’ll usually still be covered for the full amount.
You’ll also have a coverage limit, set both per person and per trip. So, if you paid for a $30,000 trip-of-a-lifetime and need to cancel, you might still be out quite a bit of money.
Cards that offer trip delay/cancellation insurance: The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of my favorites, offering up to $10,000 in coverage for trips that need to be cancelled, and up to $500 for each ticket/traveler whose itinerary is delayed.
Yet another reason why I love my travel credit card: baggage protection. It has come in handy for me many times, even as recently as last month. Some cards offer lost or damaged baggage protection, others offer delayed baggage coverage, and a few offer both. (I’m lucky enough to carry a card that offers all of the above: the CSP.)
When your bag doesn’t show up on the belt at your destination, you’re not usually offered much recourse by the airline. You’ll get a promise that they will try to locate it in a timely fashion and deliver it to you, but then sent on your way in the interim, empty-handed. If you had a meeting and need to now buy clothes, don’t have toiletries, or are lacking pajamas for your bag-less overnight stay, it’s an added expense out of your pocket. Well, unless your card offers bag delay protection.
Some cards will offer you a daily stipend to cover things like clothes, shoes, personal products, etc. if your bag is delayed by 6-12 hours or more. This is usually capped out at a certain number of days (I usually see it at 5 days) or dollar amount.
If your bag is lost, some cards will step in to reimburse you for the loss, up to a certain amount. This will help replace not only the luggage itself, but also the clothes, shoes, and personal items that you’ll now need to replace. This coverage typically kicks in after the airline’s reimbursement is made.
What to watch out for: In order to take advantage of delayed or lost baggage coverage, you’ll need to report your bag is missing right away. This means going to the airline counter and getting a claim slip before ever leaving the airport. Without that, your claim will likely be denied.
Be sure to save receipts for any replacement items you purchase, as you’ll probably need to provide them for your claim with your credit card company. If you have photos or receipts for any of the items that were in your bag, be sure to pull those up. They’ll help your case. Also, your credit card company probably won’t reimburse you further if the airline steps in to pay for your claim in full. This is usually secondary coverage for lost bags, meaning that if you claim $4,000 in losses and the airline pays you $2,500, your card will help cover the rest.
And, of course, this protection is usually only offered if you pay for the carrier’s fare and/or baggage fees with the card in question.
Card that offers delayed/lost baggage coverage: The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers coverage for lost bags.
How many times have you dropped your $700+ smartphone and cracked the screen, accidentally knocked it into the tub, or gotten it stolen off of the table at the bar? Between my friends and me, the count is pretty high. Thankfully, many credit cards today offer cell phone protection as an included perk.
Cell phone coverage varies. Some cards will only protect you if your phone is stolen, and there’s a police report filed. Others will step in and help pay for coverage (or your existing insurance plan’s deductible) if it’s damaged. There’s usually a cap to the amount of coverage, as well as the number of times that you can use the benefit each year.
Depending on the card, you will need to have purchased the phone with the credit card, pay your bill with it each month, or both in order to be protected.
What to watch out for: Credit card cell coverage comes with caveats (say that three times fast). You’ll definitely need to read the fine print to make sure that your smartphone is protected when you need it most.
Coverage can be limited to anywhere from $100-$800 per claim, and you’re not usually allowed more than 1-2 claims per year. You typically need to be paying your cell phone bill with that credit card each month in order to be protected, and many also require that you have purchased the phone with the card, too.
Cell phones usually aren’t covered if they are pay-as-you-go, were bought secondhand or off of an auction site like eBay, or if the circumstances surrounding the loss are questionable. As mentioned, you may need to provide a police report along with your claim, and of course, phones aren’t covered if you break/lose it while engaging in illegal acts, riots, or acts of terror. You also aren’t likely to be covered if your issue is with simple wear-and-tear, like a charging port going bad.
Cards that offer cell phone protection: The U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Credit Card offers up to $600 in protection per claim, for a maximum of $1,200 per year. Many Wells Fargo cards, including the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card, offer the same limits to their cell phone protection.
I have USAA auto insurance, which offers me roadside coverage with my policy. Even if I didn’t, though, I would still have the peace of mind that comes with included roadside assistance from a few of my credit card companies. While they’re not quite as comprehensive as my insurer’s coverage (or that of a company like AAA), it’s a nice safety net to have just for carrying the card.
Most credit card companies will offer some sort of roadside help if you’re stranded with a flat tire, dead battery, run out of gas, or need a tow. The actual roadside service isn’t free, but the credit card company will facilitate the service call for you and often has negotiated rates that can save you money over calling the tow company yourself.
If you have a newer vehicle, this might be cheaper than paying an annual fee for a membership to AAA. With AAA, you’ll pay each year even if you don’t use the service at all. With your credit card’s benefit, you will only pay if and when you need assistance. This could potentially save you a fair amount of money over the years, for the same peace of mind in a pinch.
Knowing that you have roadside assistance is valuable in and of itself. You don’t have to worry about getting stranded in an unknown town or having to Google tow trucks in the area the next time you get a flat tire. Lock your keys in your car at the mall? You don’t have to make twenty calls to find the right company; just call your credit card company and you’re set.
What to watch out for: While the roadside assistance is free, the actual service for your vehicle is not. The cost of the service call, and whatever you may need (like a few tanks of gas or a tow), will be billed to your credit card automatically. While your credit card company likely has special rates for cardholders, you won’t know how much that service is going to cost you until you need it.
If you have a vehicle that’s prone to break-downs, you may end up spending more in a year than you would utilizing a membership like AAA. However, your credit card’s roadside assistance is free, so there’s nothing wrong with keeping it as a backup plan.
Cards that offer roadside assistance: The American Express Gold Card not only offers roadside assistance, but they will even pay for covered services–like a tow up to 10 miles, jump start, and changing a flat tire–four times a year, if needed.
Be sure to read your cardholder benefits booklet when you get a new credit card, and look into the services that your current cards may offer. You might find that you can save yourself a lot of headache and money by utilizing the free perks available to you.