Your credit cards provide free benefits that could save you hundreds of dollars a year, but you may not know—or may have forgotten—that you have these perks. And given all the limitations and loopholes in the fine print, you may not know which cards offer the best versions of the perks that range from extended warranties and price-match protection to rental-car and travel insurance.
Here’s what you need to know about money-saving perks that are available when you pay for a product or service with a particular card*…
You could receive additional warranty protection for free.
Availability: Most credit cards now offer this, including American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa Signature cards.
Details: These programs generally double the length of the manufacturer warranty up to one extra year of coverage (up to two extra years with MasterCard World Card). Especially long manufacturer warranties might not be extended, however. Warranties longer than five years are not extended with American Express, and the limit is three years with Visa Signature and Discover…two years with MasterCard World Card…and one year with other MasterCards. Products that lack a manufacturer warranty receive no warranty coverage from the cards. Certain product categories, including motor vehicles, collectibles, perishables, software and rented/leased items are excluded. MasterCard and Discover programs exclude refurbished items and damage caused by “wear and tear.” This warranty protection typically is limited to $10,000 per item and $50,000 per cardholder per year, though there is no annual limit with MasterCard.
Best program: American Express has the fewest exclusions.
If you spot a printed advertisement (with a date) showing a lower price than you recently paid for an item, you might be able to get a refund for the difference. (With some programs, even a lower price found on a non-auction Internet site qualifies.)
Availability: Nearly half of consumer credit cards offer this, including all Barclaycard, Chase, Citi and Discover cards. It is not available with any American Express or U.S. Bank cards.
Details: Most programs offer either 60 or 90 days of price protection, though Barclaycard and World MasterCard/World MasterCard Elite offer 120 days. Refunds are capped, typically at $250 per item and $1,000 per year. Some programs require cardholders to reenroll each year and/or register each purchase, which few cardholders bother to do. Jewelry, tickets, collectibles, close-outs, fuel and motor vehicles are among the purchase categories that typically are excluded from coverage.
Best programs: Discover and Chase refund up to $500 per item and $2,500 per year per account. Barclaycard and World MasterCard provide the longest price-match refund window.
Change your mind about a purchase and you might be able to get your money back, even if the retailer won’t allow a return—if you bought the item with a card that provides this perk.
Availability: About half of consumer credit cards offer this, including all American Express, Discover and Citi cards but not any Bank of America, Capital One or U.S. Bank cards.
Details: Returned items typically must be in unused condition. A copy of the receipt will be required, and the cardholder might have to supply a written refusal from the retailer to take back the item. Cardholders usually must pay to ship the item to the credit card issuer to get the refund, so this might not be a viable option with bulky products. Discover and American Express typically allow returns within 90 days. Coverage generally is capped at $250 or $300 per item and up to $1,000 per year. Most programs exclude certain products—jewelry, cosmetics and items purchased abroad are especially likely to not qualify. Some programs require annual reenrollment and/or registration of each purchase. MasterCard’s program applies only to products bought from stores that allow returns for at least 10 days.
Best program: Discover’s “Return Guarantee” program features high caps—$500 per item and $2,500 per year—and a long 90-day return window.
The insurance offered by rental-car companies can cost $15 to $30 per day, but you might be able to avoid this expense by charging the rental to a credit card that automatically provides free rental insurance for theft, collision and other damage (but not liability).
Exception: MasterCards that are not World MasterCards do not offer this coverage.
Details: Credit card rental insurance typically is secondary coverage, which means that you must file a claim with your own auto insurance provider—if your policy covers rental vehicles—before this credit card program will pay out. That could drive up your insurance rates. A very small number of cards, including Chase Sapphire Preferred and Diners Club, provide primary coverage as a no-fee perk, which could prevent your auto insurance rates from climbing if you do have an accident.
MasterCard World/World Elite and Discover (aside from Escape by Discover, which is no longer available to new customers) provide coverage for rentals in all countries, but most other cards exclude Ireland, Israel and Jamaica. American Express and Escape by Discover exclude Italy, Australia and New Zealand, too. Rentals lasting more than 30 or 31 days generally are not covered. The cap is just 15 days with Visa rentals in the US and with World MasterCard rentals anywhere.
Discover does not cover “loss of use”—the amount the rental company might charge you because it cannot rent out a damaged vehicle while it is being repaired. (The other programs do cover loss of use, but only if the rental company provides documentation.)
Visa does not cover damage to wheels or tires…or any damage occurring on dirt or gravel roads. MasterCard also excludes dirt and gravel roads that are not well-maintained.
Best program: American Express cards have relatively few exclusions for filing a claim.
FREE TRAVEL INSURANCE
You might be eligible for a range of perks if you pay for airline tickets or other travel costs with a credit card. For baggage insurance, you could be compensated for lost, damaged or delayed luggage. For trip-cancellation (and/or trip-interruption or trip-delay) protection, you might get reimbursed for some or all of your nonrefundable travel expenses if you are forced to alter your travel plans. Travel accident insurance might include a hefty payout if you die or are disabled on the trip.
Availability: Most rewards cards—and some nonrewards cards—offer travel accident and baggage insurance. Cards offering trip-cancellation protection include Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard, Chase Sapphire/Sapphire Preferred, Wells Fargo Visa Signature and a number of Citi cards including Double Cash, Hilton HHonors and ThankYou.
Details: Baggage insurance typically is capped at a few hundred dollars and generally pays out only when losses are not fully covered by the responsible airline. Lost luggage on trains, buses and other forms of public transport might be covered as well. Some programs even cover carry-on bags…and a few include baggage-delay protection, which covers the cost of replacing essentials when your bags arrive later than you do.
Examples: Discover pays up to $500 for replacement essentials if your bags are delayed at least three hours. Chase Sapphire Preferred covers up to $100 per day for up to five days if bags are delayed more than six hours.
Trip-cancellation coverage tends to be capped at around $1,500 and generally pays out only if the cardholder can prove that the trip was canceled or interrupted for one of a very limited number of reasons, such as serious illness, injury or natural disaster.
Travel accident insurance typically pays out only if the traveler suffers accidental death (or a major disability, such as the loss of a limb) during transit to or from a destination, not while at that destination.
Best programs: Chase Sapphire and Chase Sapphire Preferred offer trip-cancellation coverage up to $5,000 per person per trip ($10,000 total per trip/$20,000 per year max).
*Card issuers may make changes at any time.