Credit cards are much more than pieces of plastic that loan you money. These days, credit issuers offer some great benefits, many of which will enable you to forgo extra services you might need while you travel or shop. However, most people aren't even aware of the perks that come with owning a credit card.
The goal here is to help you understand these perks and utilize them properly. It can turn your credit card from a simple purchasing tool to a rewards-earning machine that pays you back for what you buy and protects you anywhere you go. In some cases, it provides you with a level of exclusivity that will make you feel like a VIP.
The key is to check with your credit card issuer to see which of the perks they offer. The 20 perks that I outline below are grouped in 4 different categories:
2. Travel Perks
Warranty Boost (After the Manufacturer’s Warranty)
You might want to think twice if your favorite store is offering you a warranty beyond the manufacturer’s warranty. Many credit cards offer an extra year of warranty automatically, while others double the warranty. This perk is especially beneficial if you’re purchasing higher-priced electronics. Make sure you ask your credit card company about what types of items it covers, how to sign up, and how you can take advantage in the event you need it.
If you see that your new television set went down to $800 after you paid $1,200 for it, don’t get too upset. Your credit card might reimburse the difference if the retailer refuses to. Depending on the card, you might have up to 120 days to show evidence of the price drop along with your official receipt to get the difference back on your card. Most credit cards that offer price protection also set limits on how often you can use this perk each year. You’ll just want to confirm the number of days you have to get reimbursed and if you’re eligible to use the perk by calling your credit card company.
Your credit card may be able to come to your rescue if an item you recently bought is lost, stolen, or broken. You have to return damaged items to the credit card issuer even if it’s only half there. There will definitely be a limit to how much they cover, and you’re only able to attempt redemption for a certain period of time after the date of purchase. However, getting any amount back in the unfortunate event you’re left with nothing is truly a great service you should always take advantage of.
While some credit cards offer Purchase Protection, others provide insurance specifically for cell phones. If yours is stolen or damaged (but not lost), you might be able to get up to $250 back, but there’s usually a co-pay involved. There’s quite a bit of paperwork that will need to happen as well, like filing a police report. However, if you paid a lot for your phone, or just bought it, the coverage may be very well worth it. (Editor's note: Click here to check out Clark's preferred alternative to cellphone insurance.)
Most retailers allow you 30 days to return or exchange an item. Sometimes you need more time or you’ve simply procrastinated. Some credit cards will reimburse you for up to 90 days. Keep in mind, the credit card will offer this service on designated items. It would likely only include purchases made in the U.S. The issuers tend to have limits on the amount of the item as well. American Express, for instance, will cover up to $300 per item up to $1,000 per year.
Low-Price Car Deals
Even though this shopping perk may only apply to a single type of card, it's still worth mentioning so you're aware of it. The American Express Network Auto Purchasing Program helps you take a bit of hassle out of one of the most strenuous purchasing experiences: buying a car. All you need to do is go on the program’s website, select the car make and model, plus all the features you want to tack on. The website generates a list of dealers in addition to a target price based on what other buyers have recently paid.
They also provide you with a printable Guaranteed Savings Certificate that displays the price provided by the dealer along with your guaranteed savings, which you can take with you to the test drive. While the dealer technically can increase their price when you get there, this does help give you some ammunition during negotiation if it comes down to it.
Discounted Rental Cars
Some credit cards partner with certain rental car companies to offer lower rates to their customers. These discounts are often even lower than the promotions offered by the rental car companies themselves, so it’s worth looking into. Here's a full list of rental car discounts for Visa card ownership.
Rental Car & Collision Insurance
After reading this, you may never have to buy rental car insurance again. I've never purchased insurance on any rental car in my life because I know I'm covered with my credit cards. Rental car companies can charge up to $30 per day for insurance. Forgoing it can save you tons of cash, especially if you’re renting for a prolonged period of time. If your card does offer rental car insurance (most decent credit cards do), all you need to do is sign the waiver with the company and you’re set.
There’s no need to rely solely on your hotel or local information booth anytime you need recommendations or assistance during travel. Your credit card’s concierge line will be happy to help. For example, if you’re looking for a cool place to grab some food downtown, a popular tour, a nearby medical center, or any needs while traveling internationally, you can get this information right away with many cards. Make sure you keep your credit card’s number handy in case you need this service when you're traveling.
Travel Cancellation/Postponement Insurance
Although more and more people are increasingly becoming aware of this perk, not enough travelers take advantage of it. Just like regular travel insurance, your credit card might reimburse you for a canceled trip if the cause is sickness or death of an immediate family member. You’ll have to provide proof, such as a doctor’s note or death certificate. Considering how expensive flights and hotels are these days, in addition to the daily fees you would have incurred with a separate travel insurance policy, this can save you big time.
Stolen or Lost Luggage & Hotel Room Burglary Insurance
If your things go missing from your hotel room, you get robbed, or your airline misplaced your luggage, your credit card may also cover the price of your belongings or what it takes to replace them. Reimbursement procedures vary from company to company, so it’s important to get the details sorted out before you head off to your next destination.
Travel Accident Coverage
Your credit card might cover medical expenses if you get into an accident abroad, but you absolutely need to check in first to see what is covered. This can include hospital bills and/or medication. Again, this isn't something you can count on all credit cards to cover.
Free Checked Bags
One of the many perks of owning an airline credit card is that your checked bags will likely be free on every flight. Other credit cards that are more general travel cards may offer reimbursements for checked bags. Click here for a list of the 7 Best Travel Reward Cards.
Airport Lounge Access
Some credit cards partner with airlines to give their customers access to premium lounges at the airport. Many of the airline credit cards will include access to their premium lounges as well. The lounges offer private meeting rooms, free Wi-Fi access, free drinks and snacks, and personalized customer service from airport representatives. This is a great added bonus, particularly if you have a long layover or need to conduct business in between flights.
If you’re eager to nab highly coveted tickets or prime seats to a concert or sports event, your credit card might offer presale or premium seat tickets so you’re one of the first fans to get in. This sometimes even includes seats for shows that are sold out! There are also some cards that offer discounted rates for shows and access to international events for when you travel. Just expect to pay a service fee, which you normally have to pay regardless.
Access to Exclusive Events
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of the best rewards credit cards for more reasons than just the rewards. With the Sapphire and the Sapphire Preferred, you'll get access to special events that only cardmembers have the ability to attend. Some of these events include food experiences from famous chefs in various cities and other special getaway experiences.
Many credit cards will give you free or discounted tickets to popular attractions, such as water parks, zoos, and recreation centers. For example, Bank of America cardholders gain free museum access on the first weekend of every month through its Museums on Us program. As of this writing, there are 150 museums in 91 cities in the U.S. you can visit just by flashing your Bank of America card.
This can be a major perk if you’re someone who struggles to keep track of your payments. If you ever pay past your due date and get charged a late fee, call your credit card and simply ask them to waive it. They might credit you back, especially if it’s your first late-payment offense. Some credit cards, like the Discover it, have late-fee forgiveness built in as a feature. Your APR won’t rise and you won’t be charged a fee like other cards.
This one is for Chase cardholders. If you have more than one Chase card, you can take all or a portion of one card’s credit line and move it to another. This can come in handy if you’re looking to make a large purchase on one card but want to avoid exceeding the credit limit. It’s essentially the same as doing a balance transfer, except you don’t have to open a new card! You’ll just have to call Chase first prior to taking any action, as they may not approve credit-line shifting in every case.
If you’re in need of some cash but don’t have access to an ATM, or want to avoid the ATM fees, your credit card might let you get cash back with a purchase like you would with a debit card. For example, Discover’s Cash-Over program allows you to pay for a purchase and tack on an additional amount to receive in cash—all without any extra fees.
Final Notes on Credit Card Perks
- All credit cards will not offer every perk I listed above, so make sure you look through your paperwork when you receive your card or read more on the issuer’s website.
- Read any new correspondence from your credit card issuer because offer terms change from time to time.
- If there's a perk you're particularly interested in, I advise learning the exact details of how it works to avoid any surprises down the road.
- This is obvious—but you must use the credit card to take advantage of the perks. For example, you need to purchase your rental car using the credit card that offers you rental car insurance.
Mike Jelinek is a financial contributor for The Simple Dollar and head of content at Reviews.com. He writes about personal finance topics, like credit cards, and finds the truth about a variety of products and services across different industries.