Credit cards are well-known for their reward programs and these programs have surged in popularity over the past several years. In fact, according to an article published earlier this year by Synchrony Bank, almost half (47%) of adults in the U.S. have used a credit card solely to get rewards.
I’m a big fan of leveraging reward cards and have personally earned literally thousands of dollars in cash rebates over the years using a no-annual-fee card. I especially love double-dipping to maximize my rebates!
As you might expect, the amount of cash back, miles or points you can earn using a card (sometimes called the earn rate tends to be important to many cardholders. You typically earn these “standard rewards” on each purchase you make.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that there are many other free perks and benefits many credit cards offer (including those without a rewards program) that often get overlooked. In fact, a survey by CardRatings.com underscores just how much consumers don’t know about the benefits of their card(s).
Lack of cardholder awareness regarding perks is unfortunate as these perks can improve your bottom line and generally don’t cost a dime. I’d argue the value of some of these benefits is even greater than “standard rewards.” This added value is particularly attractive in our current inflationary environment.
My goal for this article is simple: To teach you about at least one new perk your card offers (or a potential future card if you’re not satisfied with your current one and help you battle inflation with a tool already in your wallet.
Auto rental protection can save you $60 per day
One credit card benefit that seems more well-known than others is complimentary auto rental protection. This benefit usually kicks in when you charge the car rental on your card that offers the coverage and, importantly, DECLINE the extra insurance offered by the rental agency. Exclusions and terms, of course, apply, and it’s important to understand what the protection covers and what it doesn’t as well as the difference between primary and secondary coverage.
I love this benefit and have used it many times over the years, saving hundreds of dollars by declining the typically steep insurance offered by rental car companies. According to MarketWatch, prices range from $31-$60 per day for rental insurance, so the savings can add up.
INFLATION BUSTING TIP!
In December 2021, the average daily rental car price was $81, up from a December 2019 average daily price of $46, according to Zippia.com. You can’t do much about that cost, but you can save by taking advantage of the included rental car protection on your credit card.
Cellphone insurance via your credit card
I first heard about cellphone insurance offered to Wells Fargo cardholders several years ago. I was skeptical at first, but my skepticism proved unwarranted as this perk’s popularity has only grown.
This growth isn’t surprising considering that cellphones cost a fortune these days. The average cellphone costs $553, according to Statista.com. Moreover, cellphone insurance “ain’t free” as they say down South, whether you’re purchasing the coverage through your service provider or an outside insurer.
So, how does credit card cellphone protection work?
Usually, the protection covers theft or damage to your phone. For example, if you drop your phone, you might be eligible for some coverage to repair it, explains Beverly Harzog, a consumer finance analyst with U.S. News and World Report and author of “The Debt Escape Plan: How to Free Yourself from Credit Card Balances, Boost Your Credit Score, and Live Debt-Free.”
There are limits on how much you can claim (often in the $600 per incident, with two incidents per year range), and you’ll likely need to pay a deductible before the credit card’s coverage kicks in. But you WON’T be paying a premium to carry the insurance to begin with. These policies vary greatly, so call your issuer for all the details.
INFLATION BUSTING TIP!
The coverage applies to all the phones (up to a limit) on an account. A family of four, for instance, could enjoy protection for all their phones through a single credit card benefit. The more phones covered, the higher the savings over insuring them individually.
Credit card extended warranty protection
Extended warranties have a reputation of gouging consumers. According to a recent article on Angi, extended warranties for appliances typically start at about $200, depending on the type of appliance you purchase. Furthermore, consumer nightmare stories about actually using the coverage aren’t hard to find.
The good news? Many credit cards offer extended warranty protection for free.
If your purchase comes with a manufacturer’s warranty and you buy it with a card that offers this benefit, you should automatically qualify for an extended warranty without filling out any additional paperwork – or paying an extra dime. The coverage is usually for a set amount of time beyond the manufacturer’s warranty. The amount of time varies, but it’s common to have the life of your warranty extended for up to one additional year.
There are, of course, exclusions, which often include purchases such as boats, automobiles, aircraft or other motorized vehicles. Additionally, items purchased for resale, professional or commercial use are generally excluded.
Despite the exclusions, this benefit could save many cardholders (dare I say most!) the expense of an additional warranty as well as the hassle of going through the extended warranty company should you need to file a claim.
“If something goes wrong with the item you bought, it’s a nice thing to have,” Harzog adds. “Read the fine print to understand the terms of the extended warranty and also to find out what type of items are excluded, such as normal wear and tear.”
Protect your purchase with your credit card
Another included benefit that is a “best kept secret” and that I personally can attest to is purchase protection or damage protection. It’s a common benefit offered by several major card networks, including Visa, MasterCard and American Express.
If an item you purchased with your card is stolen or damaged within a certain period of time after the purchase date, usually for 90-120 days, your credit card covers the replacement cost. Note that if the item is stolen, you should file a police report. Unfortunately, but understandably, lost items aren’t covered. As you might expect, there is fine print associated with this benefit, but the terms are straightforward.
About 15 years ago I bought a new lawn mower and was excited to try it out (though not particularly excited to mow). I had only used the mower a few times when it was stolen.
I was distraught, but once I calmed down and could think straight, I remembered my card had purchase protection, so I filed a claim.
It was a quick, easy process and, to my delight, I received a check in the mail for around $200 within a few weeks. The check didn’t heal my emotional scars, but it did take the sting out of my financial distress!
INFLATION BUTSTING TIP!
Everything from groceries to gas to electronics cost more these days. No one wants to pay TWICE for something when the first item winds up stolen or damaged. Don’t overlook this valuable benefit.
Don’t overlook cards with an annual fee
I have long promoted no-annual-fee cards as I’ve found little justification for paying an annual fee. But Mary Ann Campbell, CFP, a favorite colleague of mine, has challenged my thinking.
She’s carried CardNamediscontinued (AnnualFees annual fee, See Rates and Fees) for years. While the annual fee is even higher now than it originally was, Campbell has found ways to leverage her card. (Unsurprising, as she is the only trained magician I know of using magic tricks to teach others money concepts). American Express is a CardRatings advertiser.
“While the fees have gone up, my card has simultaneously added multiple refund options and rewards,” Campbell explains. “I have enjoyed using my $200 Delta [Airlines] flight credit, $200 hotel credit, complimentary airport lounge access (available in 1,400 airports), $240 digital entertainment credit for monthly streaming services that I use like Sirius XM radio and Peacock, $200 in Uber cash and free Walmart+ membership ($155 value)*.
“In the past when we used to travel to Europe, we would also receive flowers, candy and fresh fruit in our room, along with room upgrades and early check-ins and late check-outs,” she continues. “Even though I’m not traveling abroad at this time, I feel it’s [still] a great value because I’m also racking up points that I will use for dining certificates at restaurants and other benefits.
“We also really like the medical assistance to get us back home if we were to have a medical issue while out of the country. Fortunately, we never had to use this benefit, but it was comforting to know it was there. They have an 800 number for assistance when abroad**.”
Editor’s note: Benefits were up-to-date when CardRatings spoke with Campbell, but may have changed. Read the fine print to understand the card’s current offerings.
Is an annual fee card right for you?
You need to do the math to see if paying an annual fee is worth it. Harzog astutely calls this a cost-benefit analysis. While it may sound intimidating, it’s not. Simply assign a price to each benefit and make sure that you truly use the benefit(s) throughout the year.
If it’s hard to assign a monetary value to a benefit, then the price should be what you are personally willing to pay for that benefit or the value you personally place on that particular perk). If the rewards/benefits outweigh the annual fee than that card is probably a good fit for you.
“It can be worth the fee, but only if you choose the credit card carefully,” Harzog cautions. “Take a look at your expenses so you can see what type of rewards you’d benefit from the most. For example, if you have a large family, then grocery rewards might help you pay less at the grocery store.”
In addition, travel rewards credit cards, which often charge annual fees, are particularly known to offer generous perks.
INFLATION BUSTING TIP!
While they do change sometimes as issuers offer new benefits/perks, credit card annual fees generally don’t rise with inflation. That means the annual fee you paid many years ago is likely about the same as what you’re paying now, but the rewards you’re generating may be higher or even worth more to you given the current environment.
There are a lot of card benefits that don’t cost a dime, but many consumers know nothing or very little about.
Be proactive about cashing in on these benefits; this low-hanging fruit can quickly add to your personal bottom line and help take the sting out of high inflation.
“It’s really essential to read the fine print, preferably before you choose a card,” Harzog states. “Different credit card issuers – and networks – have their own policies. But if you’re ever unsure of the benefits, call your issuer and ask. Remember, you’re the customer and your issuer is providing you with a service. Taking advantage of the rewards and the perks is the way to really maximize your profit from your credit cards!”
Campbell adds that the key to maximizing benefits is to read your statement for updates and changes; some benefits go away, and new ones are added. It should only take a few minutes, but could prove fruitful.
I sincerely hope these insider tips are helpful to you and would love your feedback on how you’ve been able to leverage little known benefits to your advantage. Who knows, I may include a tip from you in a future article!
For rates and fees of the American Express cards mentioned in this article, see the following links: CardName; See Rates and Fees
For American Express purchase protection: Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.
For American Express premium global assistance hotline: Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply; Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details; If approved and coordinated by Premium Global Assist Hotline, emergency medical transportation assistance may be provided at no cost. In any other circumstance, Card Members may be responsible for the costs charged by third-party service providers.