Many of us view credit cards as much more than just a way to pay for things. They can help us accrue miles and status in rewards programs, get us into airport lounges, and even help us snag hard-to-get theater reservations.
But did you know that calling your credit card company can be like calling your dad when things go wrong? Glitzy perks like concierge service get most of the attention, but the perks that kick in when things go wrong may actually be the most valuable. Let’s look at services some credit cards offer when you’re in an accident, have a problem with a purchase, or are facing other dire straits. (See also: 14 Awesome Credit Card Perks You Didn’t Know About)
(As you might imagine, credit cards place restrictions on all of these benefits, such as per-claim and per-year reimbursement ceilings. If you need access to one of these benefits, consult your card agreement and/or call customer service.)
1. Return protection
You buy a beautiful rug. When you get it home, you realize it’s way too big for your room. Now the retailer won’t take it back. What do you do?
If you’re using a card with return protection, you can file a claim and get reimbursed for some or all of the purchase. One typical limitation: no holiday decorations (so don’t even think about returning your Christmas tree in January).
2. Extended warranty
You buy a grandfather clock with a one-year warranty. As your luck would have it, 53 weeks later, the thing stops working. If you purchased it with a card that offers extended warranty coverage, any repairs covered under the original warranty may now be paid for by your credit card’s extended protection. Make sure to call the card issuer before you pay for any repairs.
3. Purchase security
You buy a new bike, and the next day, it’s stolen! Your homeowners insurance won’t help, since the cost of a replacement is lower than your deductible. Are you out of luck? Maybe not.
If you bought the bike with a card that offers purchase security, and you submit all the required documentation, you could get reimbursed for the stolen bike. Besides theft, purchase security can cover damage due to fires, plumbing leaks, vandalism, and a number of other threats. Most cards require you to file the claim within a certain window — generally within 90 days of the incident.
4. Price protection
This has got to be one of the most underutilized protections that credit cards offer. Make a mental note to save all of your receipts and try it this year!
You splurge on new TV. A month later, you see the same TV advertised for hundreds of dollars less. Instead of throwing the remote at the screen, call up the credit card you used to buy it and ask if they offer price protection, which could get you a full or partial refund of the price difference, subject to per-item and annual limits. One typical restriction is that the lower price must appear in a printed ad, not just online.
5. Travel insurance
You are planning to fly your family to Paris, but your daughter breaks her leg and you have to cancel at the last minute. The tickets are nonrefundable. If you purchased them with a card offering travel insurance, the policy might reimburse you for the flights you can’t use.
The same policies might also provide a lump-sum payment if you are injured (or killed) on the trip, as well as also cover the expense of buying new clothes or belongings if your bag arrives a few days later than you do. Some policies will even replace baggage that’s permanently lost.
Restrictions abound. I recently tried to use this coverage when I had to cancel an Airbnb stay due to an Amtrak delay (which was in turn due to flooding). The agent at my credit card company told me their policy would only cover airline tickets or fees, not lodging. However, other cards state that they cover the cost of lost tours and lodging as well as airfare. (See also: The Best Premium Credit Cards)
6. Roadside assistance
Like with AAA, a card that offers this benefit may dispatch someone to your house to jump start your car, or they may tow you from the side of the highway to the nearest repair shop. Check the fine print; there may be limitations on how far they will tow you or how many times a year you can use the service for free. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Road Trips)
7. Rental car damage waiver
Many credit cards offer rental car insurance. If you’re paying for a rental in full using one of these credit cards, you can decline the damage waiver offered by the rental company.
With this perk, your credit card’s rental coverage is secondary to your personal auto insurance. For example, let’s say you are in such a hurry to get on the road in your rented PT Cruiser that you accidentally drive right through the exit gate, causing thousands of dollars in damage to the car. If you used a card that offers a collision damage waiver, you’ll first need to file a claim with your auto insurer. From there, your card may cover the deductible as well as any fees the rental car company charged. Your auto insurance will pay the rest.
If you don’t have personal auto insurance, any credit card that offers secondary coverage will become primary, and should cover the whole cost of an accident. It’s extra important to note restrictions in this case, since the out-of-pocket costs for anything the service doesn’t cover could be really high. There may be limits on how long of a rental period this covers, as well as on the kind of vehicle it covers or even the countries you are covered in. Most importantly, these policies don’t cover personal injury or liability, so you’ll need to purchase some kind of liability coverage as well.
8. Primary rental car insurance
A few cards offer this benefit, which is better than the standard collision damage waiver because it acts as a primary auto insurance policy for your rental car. This means that if you swerve to avoid a wombat on your Australian vacation and accidentally total the Holden Caprice you rented, you don’t have to file a claim with your auto insurance. This could save you on rates in the future.
9. Airline fee credits
I’ve made some very expensive mistakes booking air travel. One time, when calling an airline to ask if I could change a flight because I’d booked the wrong day, I found out that the change fee was more than the cost of the ticket. If I had booked the flight using a card that reimburses me for airline fees, the ticket might have been salvageable. Instead, I had to abandon it and buy a new, more expensive ticket.
This benefit typically comes with cards that have higher annual fees, and has an annual limit, such as $200 in fee reimbursements each year. Besides change fees, they’re typically good for other costs, such as baggage fees, airline lounge passes, and upgrades to seats with extra legroom. (See also: 12 Travel Perks You Didn’t Know Your Credit Card Had)
10. Identity theft hotline
If your credit card offers this service, you can call for help if you’re ever a victim of this obnoxious crime. Typical services include sending you the form you need to file with the credit bureaus, having the credit bureaus place an alert on your account, and providing you with form letters you can use to cancel checks or other accounts. (See also: Best Credit Cards that Offer Free Credit Scores)
11. Assistance in a travel emergency
You’re in another country. You don’t speak the language. You wake up in the middle of the night with unbearable stomach pains. What do you do?
If you hold a card that offers travel assistance, you can call their international hotline, where they may direct you to the nearest appropriate hospital, and get a translator or U.S. doctor on the phone if necessary. They may even arrange for money to be wired to you, or send messages home to your family. If the emergency is of a legal nature, they can connect you to a lawyer — or a bail bond provider, if necessary. They’re not going to pay for your doctor or lawyer or post your bail, but they can make the connection.
12. Trip delay reimbursement
The first leg of your international trip goes fine, but when you arrive at the gate in Taipei, you find out that your flight to Beijing is canceled until tomorrow. The airline offers no hotel vouchers. Where are you supposed to stay, on the terminal floor?
Good news: If you booked the trip with a card that offers trip delay coverage, your hotel and meals may be a reimbursable expense.