Unless you are intimately familiar with the fine print in your credit card agreement, you might not realize that your favorite credit card can save you more money than you might have thought when you shop online, rent cars, travel abroad, or attend popular sporting events.
Credit card companies often compete with claims of low interest rates, reduced fees, or cash back rewards. Those aren't the only ways that responsible credit card use can save you money. Depending on your bank, you could be missing out on these seven hidden credit card bonuses:
- Purchase protection and extended warranty coverage
Retailers hate chargebacks. If your manufacturer's limited warranty on a broken item expired less than a year ago, contact the store where you made your purchase. If you act polite and don't yell, a manager will probably allow you to exchange your purchase for a like item, just to avoid the potential hassle.
If that doesn't work, call your card's customer service hotline. Most Visa Signature and some MasterCard credit cards use a third-party claims program that will reimburse you for repair or replacement. American Express handles claims themselves. The American Express Return Protection Policy if you change your mind about something but the store won’t take it back, can refund you for eligible purchases made with the card and bought in the U.S. and is limited to 90 days from purchase, up to $300 per item and up to a maximum of $1,000 per Cardmember account per calendar year.
- Roadside assistance
Some credit card issuers now include limited roadside assistance privileges for any vehicle you're a passenger in, other than a work vehicle. While benefits aren't as comprehensive as a AAA membership, city dwellers and occasional drivers will enjoy access to jump starts, tire changes and short-distance towing. Cards that don't include this feature with their standard benefits may offer it as an upgrade for a few dollars per month, much cheaper than the cost of an emergency wrecker call.
- Car rental insurance
If you've ever tried renting a car without a credit card, this next perk will help explain the grimace on your clerk's face if you hand over your prepaid debit card. Many Visa and MasterCard accounts provide primary coverage that complements your existing auto insurance, absolving you from paying any deductibles. Some credit cards even provide comprehensive coverage that replaces your insurance entirely. Using your credit card's rental insurance saves you money, since you can decline your agency's optional coverage.
- Airport lounge access
The best credit cards can make flying glamorous again. Most airline credit cards offer free or discounted access to their partners' VIP airport lounges, where you can enjoy complimentary beverages, comfortable seats and free wireless Internet access. A handful of airline credit cards provide a few free day passes each year for casual travelers, while many premium or signature accounts now include annual club memberships in exchange for higher annual fees.
- Instant currency conversion
Americans abroad can easily spend hundreds of dollars converting currency during a typical vacation. Tourist kiosks charge hefty commissions and set unfavorable exchange rates when cashing travelers checks or trading bank notes. Credit cards eliminate the hassle and the expense of spending money overseas by converting funds at the day's best market rate. Even with a transaction fee of up to 5 percent, your credit card will still save you money compared to the typical bureau de change. However, American Express, Capital One, Chase, and PenFed all offer credit cards for frequent travelers that waive currency conversion fees altogether.
- Event and concert ticket pre-sales
Skip the scalpers the next time you're looking for the hottest tickets to concerts or sporting events. Credit card sponsorships of major venues and leagues enable lenders to save some of the best seats for their customers. American Express can help you log into Ticketmaster days in advance for some hot shows, while Visa and Discover have called dibs on many big stadium events. If your credit card gives you access to concierge services, you can often purchase VIP tickets unavailable to the general public, even to sold out gigs.
- Online shopping bonuses
While banks battle over who offers the best cash back credit cards, even basic accounts can access a little-known perk: deep discounts at online retailers. Banks use online click-tracking technology to share affiliate referral fees with their customers. At online discount malls run by Capital One and Bank of America, you'll see many cash back rebates between 1 and 5 percent. Some direct merchants even up the bounty as high as 20 percent. American Express and Citi even let you redeem reward points for discounted merchandise. Start your next online shopping session at your bank's website, and you'll shave a few extra dollars from the bill.
Every credit card issuer's terms and conditions vary slightly. Your list of special bonuses probably arrived as a pamphlet printed on very light paper that arrived with your credit card. Check that list, or your lender's website, to learn how you can squeeze the most value from the best credit cards.
About the Author
Curtis Arnold, a nationally recognized consumer educator and advocate, has been educating consumers about credit cards since 1998. New! Curtis is the author of 'How You Can Profit from Credit Cards: Using Credit to Improve Your Financial Life and Bottom Line' (FT Press, 2008). He is also the co-author of the upcoming Complete Idiot's Guide to Person-to-Person Lending (Alpha Books/Pengiun Group USA, April 2009), a contribitor to The Ultimate Allowance (InnerWealth Publishing, 2008) and is extensively featured in 42 RulesTM for Driving Success With Books (Super Star Press, January 2009).