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I have a love-hate relationship with my credit cards. I can understand how they can be very tempting for shopaholics to use – especially those on a tight budget – because they’re a convenient way to pay without making the psychological commitment required of paying with cash. Swiping a piece of plastic is easier than counting out the change, and gives buyers less time to change their mind about making a purchase. Remember, if you can’t pay off your balance at the end of the month, you can’t afford to use credit cards, regardless of the convenience.
Although I usually spend less when I pay with cash, I do love the perks associated with my card. While rewards credit card perks never make up for carrying a balance you can’t pay off, they can be very helpful if used responsibly. There are many rewards credit cards available, but in addition to the advertised benefits, there may actually be more perks available to you that you weren’t even aware of.
1. Presale Tickets
Many credit cards offer presale promotions in which they make tickets available for eligible cardmembers before they’re opened up to the general public. The presale period usually runs a week or less, so it’s helpful to sign up online for email reminders for presale ticket offers with your credit card provider – especially if you’d like tickets to a particularly popular concert or event.
Citi credit cards offer a Citi Private Pass benefit (with all Citi credit cards or Citibank Debit Mastercards). For example, with my Citi credit card, I can get presale tickets for 311 and Kanye West this month. Depending on the type of event, I can arrange for presale tickets online or by calling a customer service representative. Be aware, however, that most eligible events are only available in major cities.
2. Preferred Seating
Most cards that offer presale tickets also give cardmembers access to the best seats in the house. Card companies will purchase seats and hold them for their customers so you can grab a front row seat before the general public, or even get tickets to a sold-out show. If you are planning a vacation abroad, keep in mind there are even preferred seating options for international venues.
If you’re going on vacation abroad and want to see a show, check with your credit card to avoid the hassle – and a potential language barrier – of navigating foreign ticket kiosks. Just go to their membership benefits site for details and you can book online.
3. Discount Attractions
Whether you’re looking for some family fun in your area or you’re planning a trip out of town, free and discounted tickets to popular attractions can save you on admission for the whole family. If your card qualifies for free tickets, you can even tell your kids to invite their friends.
You can receive a 5% discount on Six Flags admission if you pay for tickets online using a Discover card, which can really add up if you go with the family or a group of friends. Also, Bank of America cardholders automatically qualify for the “Museums on Us” program, which can get you into museums, zoos, and aquariums all across the country for free – just present a valid photo ID and your Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card. In New York City, for example, eligible cardmembers get free access to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Bronx Zoo, and the New York Aquarium.
4. Retail Store Discounts
Visa and Mastercard negotiate with merchants to offer exclusive discounts for their cardholders, but many people aren’t aware of these deals. Some credit card companies will even give you bonus rewards points for shopping through their online marketplace with their card.
Mastercard MarketPlace offers discounts for entertainment, travel, and retail purchases like Lands’ End, Ann Taylor, Target, and Orbitz. You can also buy certain Kitchen-Aid appliances at a discounted rate by using Citi cards. Citi Visa cardholders, for example, can be rewarded up to 10 ThankYou points per dollar for certain online shopping transactions. Some cards even offer free shipping for online purchases at retail partners if purchased with a qualifying card.
5. Extended Warranties
Are you worried your expensive watch will break the day after the manufacturer’s warranty expires? Don’t worry about buying an extended warranty for your next purchase. Many qualifying credit cards will extend the original warranty free of charge. Just remember to keep both the store receipt and the warranty whenever you shop with your card in case something happens to the item.
Mastercard Platinum, Gold, and World cardmembers enjoy offer extended warranties of up to one additional year on existing manufacturers’ warranties of five years or less.
6. Price Protection
If you buy an item with an eligible card and see a print ad for it at less than what you paid, your credit card may reimburse you the difference up to several hundred dollars. You’ll have to file a claim and keep the store receipt and the print advertisement, but this could be a great perk if you’ve made a big purchase and are disappointed to see that you could have gotten a better deal elsewhere.
Visa offers price protection on eligible items in the United States, providing you see a printed advertisement for less than your purchase price within 60 days. Coverage is limited up to $1,000 per year total, and up to $250 for each individual item.
7. Return Protection
Not too long ago, I purchased a shirt at Forever 21 and later decided that it didn’t look as good at home as it did in the dressing room. I brought it back to the store the next day with the receipt and the tags still attached; however, because it had rhinestones, it was considered “special occasion wear” and the store would not allow me to return it. If I had known about the return protection perk, I could have been reimbursed through my credit card.
Certain credit cards offer a flexible return policy if a merchant won’t take your return within 90 days of the purchase. Coverage often extends $300 per eligible item (not including shipping and handling) and up to $1,000 each year. Just keep the store receipt and contact a customer service rep to fill out the necessary paperwork.
8. Dispute Resolution and Fraud Protection
I had a nightmare of an experience with U-Haul when I moved this year. First, I was overcharged by $100 for a pickup truck I rented for only three hours. After going back and forth with their customer service for a week, I finally contacted my Visa credit card provider and asked them to dispute the charge with the merchant (i.e. credit card chargeback). After just one phone call, the issue was resolved within a week, and I was refunded the full amount of the overcharge.
A similar principle applies for fraud protection: Most cards offer 0% liability if your card is lost or stolen, which means you can dispute – and be reimbursed – for a charge that you did not make.
American Express, Visa, and Mastercard all offer dispute resolution and fraud protection. If you made a purchase and were overcharged, you’ll have to try to resolve the problem with the merchant first. However, if that doesn’t work, contact your credit card company with a solid claim. If you explain the situation to a customer service representative on the phone, be sure to follow up with a letter or email and cite all the details.
If a fraudulent charge appears on your statement, contact your credit card company directly and they will cancel the charge and most likely send you a new card.
9. Car Rental Insurance
When I rented a car from Avis, I declined the optional car rental insurance because I knew my Visa credit card would cover me if I ever got into an accident. My credit card saved me $22 per day in loss damage, which added up to a total of $220 in savings for the week and a half that I rented the car.
However, don’t assume that you will be covered on all car rentals from all companies. For example, after some research, I discovered my credit card wouldn’t cover me for the pickup truck I was going to rent from U-Haul.
All Visa cards offer rental car insurance coverage, and most Mastercard and Discover cardmembers are covered as well. Be advised, however, that to be eligible for this perk, you usually must be the primary renter of the car and pay for the car with that specific credit card.
There are few things more frustrating than when an airline loses your luggage on vacation. American Airlines, Delta, and US Airways will only reimburse you a measly $25 per day in incidentals if they lose your luggage until it is retrieved (up to a maximum amount, which varies by airline). But if you have a credit card that offers lost luggage protection, you can get enough money to at least partially replace your lost belongings.
As long as you paid for your flight and/or checked bags with one of these cards, you will be covered for $500 of your lost checked baggage, far above and beyond what the airline will reimburse you. Mastercard will reimburse you not only for lost luggage, but also for delayed luggage, so you can grab some basic necessities until your bags finally arrive.
11. Roadside Assistance
If your tire blows out in the middle of an intersection, your credit card company may offer free roadside assistance. The services aren’t as comprehensive as AAA, but you can at least get towed to a nearby garage.
However, be certain to check your card’s policy. Some cards only offer access to roadside assistance with the expectation that you will pay for the services. This might be helpful if you’re having trouble contacting a towing company, but it’s really just a potentially very costly emergency hotline service.
Don’t expect a free road trip, however. The service will only tow you 10 miles to the nearest “authorized facility,” which may still be in the middle of nowhere – but at least it’s not the highway.
12. Exchange Rates
When traveling in South America for a few months, I couldn’t believe how many places there were to exchange U.S. dollars for the local currency. These resources ranged from banks to small businesses, and their rates were substantially higher when compared to the foreign transaction fee on my credit card. Since the foreign transaction fee was 3% on my card, it often beat out other places by 5% to 10%.
If you travel abroad frequently, consider using a card without foreign transaction fees, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, Citi ThankYou Preferred and Prestige cards, or certain Capital One cards.
13. Trip Cancellation Insurance
There are many reasons why you’d need trip cancellation insurance, and credit card companies have heard almost all of them. Eligible circumstances and yearly limits vary by card, but this could be a great perk for people who travel often.
Citi cards will protect you against forfeited, nonrefundable tickets, or tickets you won’t be able to use if your trip is cancelled or interrupted by circumstances beyond your control. If you purchase plane, bus, or boat tickets with your eligible card, you may be refunded up to $1,500 in trip cancellation or trip interruption reimbursement protection.
14. Hotel Room Burglary Insurance
If you notice a few valuable items missing in your hotel room, don’t let this ruin your vacation. In the rare occurrence of a burglary in your hotel room, the hotel may not reimburse you for the stolen items. If this is the case, your credit card company may step in and help you out if you paid for the room using an eligible card.
Mastercard reimburses you for any personal property stolen from a hotel room if you purchased the room using your card. They will refund you up to a maximum amount, which varies by card. It’s up to the police to help get your things back, but at least you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you won’t be left with nothing.
It’s worthwhile to take the time to find out which perks your credit card companies offer. Otherwise, you’re giving up free protection and, ultimately, time and money. So next time you’re planning on making a big purchase – be it for international airfare or a big-screen television – you’ll be better off if you use a credit card with consumer protections like extended warranties, price protection, and return protection.
Have you ever had any good or bad experiences using these little-known credit card perks? Are there any other perks that aren’t on this list?
Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.