11 Overlooked Credit-Card Perks

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By Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner


Rewards points and cash back are only some of the benefits of paying with plastic. Here are 11 little-known benefits that cardholders can take advantage of -- from extended warranties on items you purchase with your cards to free admission to museums. See what your card can do for you.

Extended Warranties

Before you pay extra to extend the warranty of a product you buy, check to see whether your credit card offers additional coverage free. The four major credit card networks -- Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express -- provide up to a year of extended warranty protection for some cardholders. To be covered, an item must be purchased with your credit card and must have an existing manufacturer's warranty. Coverage typically is limited to $10,000 per item.

Price Matching

If you use a credit card to buy an item that later goes on sale, your credit card might pay you back the difference. For example, Citi cardholders who register purchases they make with their cards will receive the difference in price if Citi finds the same item for less within 60 days of purchase. Discover will refund the difference up to $500 if you find a lower price within 90 days; MasterCard will reimburse cardholders who find a lower price on an item within 60 days of purchase.

Coverage for Damaged or Stolen Products

Several card issuers will repair or replace items you charge to your card that are damaged or stolen within 90 days of purchase, says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of credit card comparison site LowCards.com. And if a retailer will not accept a return within 90 days of purchase, some cards, such as Chase Sapphire and all Discover cards, will reimburse you for the cost of the item purchased with your card.

Rental-Car Insurance

Most major credit cards offer secondary rental car insurance, picking up costs that aren't covered by your personal auto insurance policy if your rental is wrecked or stolen. Declining the damage waivers offered at the rental car counter could save you $15 to $25 a day.

Because coverage varies, even among cards within the same network, call your credit card issuer before you rent the car. In general, you must use the credit card to book the rental, and you must decline the collision damage waiver when you rent the car. Ask the issuer whether it will cover "loss of use" -- the cost the rental car company incurs while the vehicle you rented is being repaired (or, in the case of theft, relocated). Be aware, too, that your credit card may not provide coverage in some overseas countries. For example, American Express excludes cars rented in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and New Zealand.

Cell Phone Replacement

Replacing a damaged or stolen cell phone could cost you hundreds of dollars. Some credit card issuers will cover the cost of purchasing a new phone, as long as you use the card to pay your cell phone bills. First Citizens Visa will cover up to $500, minus a $50 deductible. If you pay your bills with a Wells Fargo credit card, you're eligible for up to $600 in coverage, minus a $25 deductible. Lost phones usually aren't covered.

Travel Insurance

Several card issuers, including Citi, MasterCard and American Express, will reimburse cardholders for luggage that is lost, stolen or damaged during flights purchased with eligible cards. If your personal property is stolen from your hotel room, MasterCard will reimburse you if you used an eligible card to pay for the room.

Some card issuers, such as MasterCard (for World cards) and American Express, also assist with emergency medical care while you're traveling. They provide referrals to local health care providers and arrange transportation to a medical facility if one is not available near you.

No Baggage Fees

Airline-branded credit cards typically offer a free checked bag for flights purchased with the card. For example, if you use a Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard (a branded card for American Airlines) to purchase tickets, the baggage fee is waived on the first checked bag for you and up to four traveling companions.

Free Admission

Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission to more than 150 museums, science centers, botanical gardens and other venues in 98 cities on the first weekend of the month. Participating institutions include New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Houston Zoo and the Portland Children's Museum. And American Express Membership Rewards points can be redeemed for concert, theater and sporting event tickets, as well as Universal Studios Hollywood tickets.

Free Currency Conversion

When traveling overseas, buying local currency from exchange bureaus can be particularly costly because of high fees and unfavorable exchange rates. Get a better deal by paying for goods and services on your trip with your credit card instead of cash. You'll get a better exchange rate, and you can avoid fees entirely by using a card that doesn't ding you with foreign transaction fees. Capital One, Discover, HSBC and Pentagon Federal Credit Union charge no foreign transaction fees on their credit cards. American Express waives foreign transaction fees for American Express Consumer and Business Delta SkyMiles cards.

Identity Theft Services

As data breaches become more common, some card issuers are adding identity theft assistance to their benefits. For ID theft victims, MasterCard helps obtain free credit reports, replace stolen credit and debit cards, and alert the credit bureaus and other entities that sensitive information has been compromised. Plus, cardholders can sign up for monitoring of their personal information, including credit and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers, for sale to crooks on the Internet.

If you lose your Discover card, you can immediately freeze your account online or through a mobile app—then unfreeze the account if you find it.

Free Credit Scores

Several issuers, including American Express, Barclaycard, Citibank, Discover and Pentagon Federal Credit Union, provide free FICO credit scores (the most commonly used measure of creditworthiness among lenders) to some cardholders. Depending on the lender, you may be able to see your score on your monthly statement, by logging in to your account online, or by viewing it on a mobile app.

Some issuers provide alternative credit scores to the FICO score. USAA offers free VantageScore credit score updates to its members, and Capital One provides a free score from TransUnion to most credit card customers.
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