Woman with mobile phone and credit card, smiling © Pando Hall, Photographer

Price matching is not a new credit card perk, but it’s one that consumers often overlook — potentially forgoing $1,000 or more in holiday savings.

Some call it price matching, some call it a price guarantee, but no matter the name, many credit card issuers and network, including Discover, Citi and MasterCard, are offering consumers refunds for the difference in price should they buy an item and then find it for a lower price later on. Discover says it’ll refund the difference up to $500 if you find your item at a lower price within 90 days of making a Discover card purchase, Citi says it will refund the difference in price up to $250 per item within 30 days of the purchase, and MasterCard says it will also refund up to $250 but within 60 days.

They say they’re offering this perk because it’s popular with customers. Citi, for example, says it launched a limited version of its price-match program in 2010 but last fall expanded it to cover all of its cards, because of positive consumer feedback. Discover says that their program, which they launched in June 2012, has been “very well received” by cardmembers.

Still, experts say that a lot of consumers have cards that offer this feature and don’t even realize it. Ben Woolsey, the director of marketing and consumer research for CreditCards.com , estimates that less than 1 percent of consumers who have the price-match perk know about it. “Cardmembers just aren’t aware of it and rarely if ever make claims.” For the card companies, that makes it a relatively low-risk perk, he says. “They’re hoping this benefit just increases people’s willingness to buy things without worrying about prices being lower in the near future or at another retailer.” (Citi, MasterCard and Discover did not share numbers with MarketWatch on the percentage of their consumers who used this perk.)

Even those who do know about the perk may be stymied by the red tape involved in actually taking advantage of it.

“They all have a lot of exclusions,” explains Jelena Ewart, a senior associate at card comparison site NerdWallet.com. Indeed, many popular gift items are typically excluded from the price match programs, she says: jewelry, art, antiques, motorized vehicles, many types of travel, items sold at a business closeout sale, items sold in very limited quantities (like some door-buster deals), items sold on online auction sites, food and animals. Plus, the programs have monetary limits. The Discover program has an annual limit of $2,500 and both the MasterCard and Citi programs, $1,000.

What’s more, consumers often have to jump through hoops to get these perks. With the Discover program, not only do you have to find a lower priced item, you have to submit your Discover card statement showing the entire original purchase price, the sales receipt, and either a copy of the dated, printed, lower-price ad, or a statement, signed by the store manager on store stationery, documenting the details of the lower price of the identical item. The MasterCard program works in a similar way. With the Citi program, you have to register the items you want to price check on Citi’s site, but then the company does that price checking for you.                                     

So is the price-match guarantee worth using?

“There’s not a big downside to the programs other than the time it takes to do them,” says Eric Adamowsky, the co-founder of Credit Card Insider. Citi’s program may be best for people who don’t have the desire to do legwork to find competitive prices, Ewart says. But for those willing to do the legwork, Discover’s program may be best, as it is potentially the most lucrative (since its annual limit is $2,500 vs. $1,000 for Citi and MasterCard) and has the longest period over which it will honor a price match (90 days).

Ewart particularly recommends the Discover It card, which offers up to 5 percent cash back in rotating categories and 1 percent on all other purchases; plus, Discover has its own shopping portal that includes most of the major department stores and gives 10 percent and sometimes more off to cardholders, and has 0 percent APR for 14 months. “It’s a really good card to use for holiday shopping,” Ewart says.

Those thinking about getting a new card that does price matching might want to “compare the value of the price match to that of a sign-up bonus for another card,” she says. “Some cards have a bonus that’s worth the price match, and you don’t have to jump through as many hoops to get the bonus,” she says. And some cards offer both a sign-up bonus and a price-match guarantee.

For example, the BarclayArrival MasterCard has a sign-up bonus worth about $400, which you can get if you spend $1,000 in the first three months of getting the card, and it has a generous rewards program that lets you earn more, she says. Finally, of course, it’s important to remember — price match or not — to get a credit card that makes sense for your lifestyle (if you carry a balance, for example, the first thing you should be looking for is a 0 percent card).                                                        

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