Credit cards often get a bad rap, and deservedly so. They aren't for everyone, and even the most responsible people can get into trouble if they find themselves amid a layoff or an expensive illness. But when everything is going well, and you know what you're doing, credit cards can save you a lot of money.
However, you have to know your credit card, and know it well. Because if you don't, you may be unaware of the plentiful perks some credit cards offer, and if you aren't taking advantage of those perks, well, in a way, you're back to losing money.
SEE ALSO: 7 best rewards credit cards for holiday shopping
So check the fine print. These are some of the many hidden perks you may be entitled to when using your credit card.
Rental insurance. Thomas Nitzsche, a spokesman for ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions, headquartered in Atlanta, found himself with a problem last year after renting a car to drive from Missouri to Georgia.
"I was street-parked for three days where I was staying in Atlanta, and when I returned to the car, I noticed I had been hit on the rear bumper," Nitzsche says. "The bill to fix the car was nearly $800."
Of course, he hadn't bought the expensive rental insurance the rental company offered. But Nitzsche's credit card, VISA Signature, included rental insurance and paid the entire bill after Nitzsche submitted the paperwork proving that he had rented a car and was being asked to pay a claim.
Nitzsche adds that Visa was able to reduce the $800 by about $50. "They apparently have some negotiating power," he says.
Airline incidentals. Hate those fees for carry-on baggage? Matthew Coan, who runs the financial comparison website Casavvy.com, says he's impressed with a fairly recent perk offered by the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card: a $100 annual credit to cover airline incidental fees.
"These fees can include checked bags, flight refreshments, airport lounge passes and more," Coan says.
There are a few things you'll want to remember if you're going to use the perk. Any of these fees you can get reimbursed for have to be paid separately from your airline ticket, and you can only get the fees reversed for one airline per calendar year.
Dispute resolution. Feel like you were overcharged for something? If you're getting nowhere with the retailer or service provider, you could call your credit card and ask it to step in. If your card has a dispute resolution service, it may be able to get the charge reduced.
Trip cancellation insurance. Your credit card may offer this. The Chase Ink card does, says Jared Blank, chief marketing officer of the retail website DealNews.com.
"My parents had booked a cruise and a nonrefundable flight for a vacation and paid with the Chase Ink Plus card. My mother became ill, and they had to cancel the trip. Chase reimbursed them for the airfare and for the cruise cancellation fees," he says. "Most impressively, they did it without any hassle."
This particular card, Blank adds, reimburses up to $5,000 per trip.
Upgrade to TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry. If you travel a lot, you probably know what these are. TSA Pre-Check is a fast-pass that gets you through airport security quickly; no taking off your shoes or removing the laptop. Global Entry is a program from U.S. Customs and Border Protection; it allows preapproved, low-risk travelers faster entry into the U.S.
Matthew Goldman, CEO of Wallaby Financial, a credit card rewards website that partners with U.S. News for the Best Credit Card rankings, says some credit cards pay the fee for each of these programs, not only saving you money, but time.
Early access to buying tickets. If your kids want to see the new, hot band, here's some helpful intel: Some credit cards offer a short window of time, often several days, where you can buy tickets before just about anywhere else.
Free access to tickets. Sean McQuay, a credit card associate at NerdWallet.com, says some credit cards offer free movie screenings, free concert tickets and even backstage passes. But don't get too excited.
"These perks are hard to get, as they're often given out on a lottery," McQuay says. "But they can be pretty neat if you land one. I was lucky enough to win two tickets to a prescreening of the most recent Avengers movie, thanks to one of my cards."
Extended warranties. When you buy a computer, TV or anything expensive, you'll often be asked by a store clerk if you'd like to purchase an extended warranty. That's when you'll likely have an internal dialogue about whether it's worth it to throw more money at this merchandise. But for many credit card users, you can skip that debate. All four of the major credit card networks – MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover – offer extended warranties on many, but not all, of their credit cards.
But as you would expect, it isn't a matter of your refrigerator breaking and you calling your credit card company and immediately being given a free replacement. As a general rule of thumb, regular wear and tear will be discounted, and hopefully you've kept your receipt and registered your product. Otherwise, expect to hear a lot of laughter on the other end of the phone line. You also must have purchased your merchandise with that credit card.
That might sound like obvious advice – that you need to use a particular credit card on a purchase to get its benefits – but you could start to get mixed up about what you're entitled to if you have several credit cards, all with their own quirks and perks.
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