Updated: 9/20/2011 4:05 PM ET|
Your 6 secret credit card perks
You may not know you have them, but your card issuer provides free protections and services that could cost you hundreds of dollars elsewhere.
Even as card issuers continue to whittle away at credit limits and rewards programs, they've left intact a variety of perks that, when properly used, can save consumers hundreds of dollars.
Free benefits like extended warranty protection, lost-luggage reimbursement and purchase protection aren't nearly as widely advertised as 0% introductory interest rates or the ability to earn bonus rewards points, yet they are staples of any credit card that has the Visa or MasterCard logo or is issued by American Express.
These perks are typically provided by Visa, MasterCard and American Express and paid for through interchange fees (paid by merchants for each credit card transaction), says Adil Moussa, an analyst with market research firm Aite Group.
Yet fewer than 15% of cardholders use these benefits, according to Robert McKinley, the founder of CardWeb.com, which provides industry research and analysis.
That shouldn't come as a surprise, as these benefits are typically described in the tiny-print booklets that consumers receive with their credit cards and rarely bother to read, says Odysseas Papadimitriou, the chief executive officer of Evolution Finance and credit card portal Card Hub.
"It's really unfortunate, because they are really good benefits," he says.
That's not to say that taking advantage of those features is easy: There is typically a lot of paperwork involved, and, because these benefits are so rarely used, you may have to work with customer service representatives who aren't aware of how they work, Papadimitriou says. But jumping through such hoops may well save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Here are the details on six credit card benefits and how to qualify:
1. Auto rental collision damage waiver
What it does: Reimburses you for the deductible portion of your personal auto insurance policy (or all covered damages or theft, if you do not have auto insurance), as well as administrative and loss-of-use damages imposed by the car rental company and reasonable towing charges.
The catch: Does not apply if you rent a car for more than 15 consecutive days in the United States or 21 consecutive days abroad. The loss or theft of your personal belongings and personal liability charges are not covered. And don't forget to decline the collision damage waiver and loss damage waiver options offered by the rental company.
Value: $10 to $20 a day. That's how much you would pay if you purchased a collision damage waiver from the car-rental company, depending on your location, the type of vehicle you rent and which rental company you use, says Neil Abrams, an auto rental consultant in Purchase, N.Y.
2. Extended warranty
What it does: Doubles the free-repair period of the original manufacturer's repair warranty on an item, up to one additional year.
Typically includes purchases made outside the U.S., as long as the item has a valid original manufacturer's U.S. repair warranty, store-purchased dealer warranty or assembler warranty.
The catch: A wide range of items aren't covered. These may include boats, cars, aircraft and any other motorized vehicles and their accessories; items purchased for resale or professional use; real estate and items intended to become part of real estate (for example, garage doors and ceiling fans); computer software; medical equipment; and used, antique or collectible items.
Value: $15 to $270. A two-year Geek Squad Black Tie Protection Plan from Best Buy can cost anywhere from $29.99 to $539.99, depending on the type of item you purchase and its cost. (Keep in mind, your credit card company does not have its own team of service support "geeks." Its coverage will simply extend the terms of the warranty you have from the manufacturer.)
3. Purchase protection
What it does: If something you bought with your credit card is damaged or stolen within 90 days, you can receive a refund of the purchase price.
The catch: This protection has many exclusions, including items that are lost without any evidence of a wrongful act or are stolen because of a lack of due diligence. Used, antique and collectible items generally are not covered.
Value: Refunds limited to $1,000 (American Express), $500 (Visa) or $1,000 (MasterCard) per item. American Express has an additional program with refunds of up to $1,000 on certain types of items, including clothing and electronic equipment. Caps on the total refunds received by cardholders also apply (e.g., a total of $50,000 annually with American Express).
4. Lost-luggage reimbursement
What it does: Reimburses you for the cost of luggage (and contents) that has been lost or damaged by a common carrier (plane, train, helicopter, ship or bus).
The catch: Restrictions and limitations vary based on the card issuer and payment network. Visa and MasterCard generally will pay the difference between the amount claimed and any payment made by the common carrier, up to $3,000 per trip ($2,000 per bag for New York residents).
Both Visa and MasterCard encourage cardholders to contact their financial institution to confirm specific coverage levels. American Express pays up to $2,000 for lost baggage and up to $500 for checked baggage.
Value: Up to $180. You can purchase additional coverage for lost luggage from the airline, typically at $6 per $100 of value.
5. Roadside assistance
What it does: If your car breaks down on the road (and you are generally at least 50 miles away from home), your credit card company will send someone to the rescue.
The catch: You will still be charged for any services received (such as towing, jump-starts, gas delivery or tire changes). Visa and MasterCard say you can still end up saving money, because the fees for these services are negotiated ahead of time. (If you are driving a rental vehicle, be sure to check whether you can be reimbursed for these costs under the card's auto rental collision damage waiver.)
Value: Up to $80 a year, the cost of individual AAA membership, depending on the location. (Keep in mind that the cost of road services is included in AAA membership, so that may be more cost-effective if you expect to use such services often.)
6. Concierge service
What it does: Available with the Platinum Card from American Express, as well as the premium levels of Visa and MasterCard, concierge service can help you book travel, make restaurant reservations, get tickets to concerts or sporting events, pick out gifts (including hard-to-find items) or plan a party.
The catch: You will pay the cost of all services or items received, so if you are a power shopper or on a tight budget, you're better off doing your own research. In addition, many premium credit cards that offer this service have annual fees, so they're not entirely free. For example, the AmEx Platinum card will set you back $450 a year.
Value: $25 to $55 per hour. The hourly rate charged by concierge services varies depending on your location, says Katharine Giovanni, the chairwoman of the International Concierge and Lifestyle Management Association, an industry group. Prices also vary depending on the type of services performed; expect to pay more for planning an around-the-world trip than, say, picking up your dry cleaning.
This article was reported by Aleksandra Todorova for SmartMoney.
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