Credit Karma Guide to Credit Card Perks
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Credit cards come with a slew of perks, but it’s likely that you’re not taking advantage of all of them. This guide will help you know which benefits are available and how to use them to get extra value when you use your card.
Credit cards get a lot of attention for their rewards, but many of them offer other features and perks that don’t get quite as much of the limelight. Keep in mind, not every credit card offers every benefit. And for those that do offer one or more of these features, the terms of the benefit can differ depending on the card and the credit card issuer.
If you know the credit card perks that are out there, you can check what features your credit card has beyond its rewards program and start making the most out of them. You’ll also know what perks to keep an eye out for next time you think about opening a new credit card.
To that end, we’ve put together a list of common perks and how to make the most out of them in your everyday use.
Shopping and entertainment perks
Some of these benefits come automatically as you make your regular everyday purchases. With others, however, you may need to do a little extra legwork.
With this benefit, your credit card issuer may monitor your account and flag potentially fraudulent transactions. It may also eliminate your financial liability if someone uses your credit card without your authorization.
How to prevent identity theft
Fraud protection is a great service, but it’s not failure-proof. While there is no guaranteed protection against identity theft, to help better safeguard your information, use these tips.
Keep an eye on your accounts. Check your online accounts and bank statements to catch unauthorized transactions as they happen. With most credit cards, you can even set a transaction alert and get an email or text message every time a transaction over a pre-set limit hits the account. If fraud does happen, doing this can help you spot it early and stop it from getting worse.
Add a fraud alert to your credit reports. If you think you might be a victim of identity theft, you can place a fraud alert on your credit reports. A fraud alert lets creditors know that they should contact you before opening a new account in your name. An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days, and an extended alert lasts seven years.
Enroll in a credit monitoring service. If you’re a Credit Karma member, you can get notifications when we notice significant changes on your TransUnion and Equifax credit reports. For example, we’ll let you know when a hard inquiry or new account is added to your reports.
If you buy something with your card and notice later that the price dropped, you may get a refund for the difference. Submitting a request requires a little work, though. You typically need to provide the original receipt, a copy of the credit card statement showing the purchase and a copy of the advertisement with the lower price.
Also, each credit card issuer may have different terms, including how long you have to make a claim and the dollar amount you can receive.
With purchase protection, you may be covered if an item you purchase with your card gets stolen or damaged within a set time frame. You can receive enough to repair or replace the item.
To get the benefit, you’ll typically need to provide the original receipt and credit card statement showing the purchase, along with details about the item and the damage or theft. If the item was stolen, you’ll also need to file a police report.
Coverage amounts depend on the credit card issuer and the value of the damaged or stolen item.
When you buy an item with your card that comes with a manufacturer’s warranty, this benefit will extend that warranty by one or more years. But different terms apply based on the credit card issuer. Also, the benefit likely won’t kick in if the manufacturer’s warranty is longer than the maximum allowed by that issuer.
You typically don’t have to register your product to take advantage of this benefit, but we recommend it to make the claim process go smoothly. Also, if you end up filing a claim, you’ll need the original sales receipt, your credit card statement showing the purchase and the original manufacturer’s warranty.
Mobile phone insurance
A few credit cards offer mobile phone insurance. If you use your credit card to pay your monthly mobile phone bill, this benefit offers protection up to a certain amount in case your phone is damaged or stolen.
Some credit card issuers offer deals to their cardholders that help them get discounts or cash back when they shop online or in-store.
Exclusive event experiences
With this perk, you can get special access to ticket presales and VIP packages to different events. For example, events include concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and movie screenings.
With some credit cards, you’ll have access to a 24/7 concierge service. You can get help booking travel, making dinner reservations, finding event tickets or even get help finding the right gift for a loved one.
If you don’t have the time or energy to do any of these things, you can simply leave it to the professionals.
While travel credit cards are more likely to offer these perks, you may be able to get some of them with a cash back credit card. Also, not all travel cards offer all of these perks, so know what’s most important to you as you’re searching for your next card.
Whether you’re far away from home or not, this service can help you if you’re stranded in an emergency. For a flat fee, you typically can get the following benefits:
- Tire changing
- Lockout service
- Fuel delivery
Rental car insurance
This benefit covers you for collision and damage when you rent a car, including damage and theft, loss-of-use charges and towing expenses. Simply pay for the rental with your credit card and decline the company’s collision damage waiver.
Credit card rental car insurance is typically secondary coverage, meaning that if you have a personal car insurance policy, you have to file a claim with the insurer first. The credit card coverage will kick in if there’s anything leftover that isn’t covered.
Note that this benefit does not cover personal injury or liability. Also, it might not cover certain vehicles or rentals in certain countries.
How can I tell if I should pay for rental car insurance?
If you have the benefit on your card, you might think it’s a no-brainer to decline the coverage. But remember that most credit cards offer secondary insurance, and a claim to your personal auto insurance policy could raise your rates. If you want to avoid that risk, consider paying for the collision damage waiver.
Travel and emergency assistance
If you need help before or during your trip, this service helps you make arrangements for emergency travel, get referrals for medical and legal issues and more. This is especially helpful if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language.
Travel accident insurance
If an accident occurs while you’re traveling, this benefit may help cover the costs of injuries like accidental death and dismemberment or loss of speech, sight or hearing. With some cards, this perk can be broken up into two types of coverage: common carrier insurance and 24-hour insurance.
The first applies only when you’re entering, riding or exiting as a passenger on a common carrier, such as an airplane, train or cruise ship. The second covers you for the entirety of the trip and may offer lower coverage.
Keep in mind that some or all of the trip must be paid for with your card to get this benefit. Check with your card issuer to see how to make sure you’re covered.
Lost or delayed baggage insurance
These are typically two separate benefits that kick in depending on what happens with your luggage. For example, if your bags are just delayed for a minimum period, you can get a reimbursement for essentials that you need while you’re waiting for it to arrive.
But if your baggage never shows up or gets damaged, you may get reimbursed up to a certain amount to replace the missing items or repair or replace the damaged items.
Trip cancellation or interruption insurance
You can’t control everything, but if your trip gets cancelled or cut short because of illness, severe weather or other eligible reasons, you may get a reimbursement for certain prepaid, nonrefundable travel expenses. Note that this perk may also apply if any of these happen to an immediate family member back home.
Trip delay insurance
Sometimes a flight gets canceled or a cruise gets delayed. If this happens to you and the delay is long enough — say, 12 hours or it requires an overnight stay — you may get reimbursed for certain unreimbursed expenses, including lodging and meals.
If you need emergency care and there isn’t any available locally, this benefit may help you get to the right medical facility or home, if necessary, and cover some or all of the costs of doing so. The benefit also covers some or all of the cost of returning your remains home if you die while traveling.
If you have an airline or hotel credit card, you might qualify for elite status with that airline or hotel, or at least get credits toward elite status. Note that some credit cards may require that you spend a certain amount on the card to achieve the offered status.
Elite status often comes with special perks, including complimentary upgrades to first class, hotel room upgrades and more.
Free checked bags
Several airline credit cards offer this perk to help lower the costs of flying. These credit cards typically charge an annual fee, but depending on the normal cost of checking a bag and how often you fly, you could make up for that fee through waived baggage fees alone.
How do I know if an annual fee is worth it?
If a card charges an annual fee, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not losing money every year. That’s not always easy to do, though, so here are three steps you can take to help with the math.
Take stock of the card’s quantifiable benefits. For example, if the card offers free checked bags and you typically fly four times a year, you’re looking at savings of at least $100 on major airlines if you normally check your bags. Some cards also offer a credit for certain travel purchases, making it easy to know how much you’re getting back.
Consider how much you’re earning in rewards. If you’ve already had the card for more than a year, this will be easy. Simply go back and see how many points, miles or cash back you’ve earned in the last year in your online account. But if you’re new to the card, you’ll need to make some estimates. For example, let’s say you spend $3,000 per month on a card that offers 2% back. That nets you $720 in rewards per year. Things can get more complicated if you have a card that offers different rewards rates depending on where you spend your money. In that case, break down your monthly spending and calculate how much you expect to earn in rewards for each category. Then add it all up and multiply it by 12 to get the annual rewards haul.
Note the qualitative benefits. It’s not easy to assign a monetary value to every credit card perk. For those that you can’t, consider how much they’re worth to you. For example, you may simply like the comfort of an airline lounge but you’d never pay for it if you didn’t have a card that offered free access. Or maybe you have a hotel card that offers elite status. For some people, these perks may be worth paying for, even if it’s not clear how much money you’re getting back.
Getting on the airplane sooner means getting more time to settle in and more access to overhead bins. With this benefit, you and people traveling with you can board the plane before you otherwise would.
Airport lounge access
Air travel can be hectic, so being able to escape the crowd and relax a little in an airport lounge is a special experience. Some lounges even offer free food and drinks, which can help you avoid costly airport restaurants.
Some credit cards offer access to more lounges than others. So if this is a must-have perk for you, do your research before applying for a card.
Travel expense credit
Some premium credit cards charge high annual fees but help make up for it with credits for various travel expenses. For example, the Platinum Card® from American Express offers reimbursement for incidental airline fees like checked bags and in-flight meals. And the Chase Sapphire Reserve® features a flexible travel credit that can be used each card anniversary year for some travel expenses.
TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
One of the worst things about traveling is getting through security and customs. With TSA PreCheck, you’ll get expedited screening at 200 airports nationwide. With Global Entry, you’ll be eligible for TSA PreCheck plus expedited clearance when returning to the United States from abroad.
Some credit cards offer a reimbursement for your application for either TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.
How to take advantage of your credit card’s perks
It can be overwhelming to keep track of all of your credit card’s perks, especially if you don’t know which ones it offers.
When you first received the card, you may have also received a benefits guide. If you still have it, check that guide to get a deep dive into your card’s perks. You may also be able to access the benefits guide online — just check your card issuer’s website.
“Be sure to read the fine print,” says David Bakke, credit card expert at Money Crashers. “The car rental insurance perk is a great example. It’s not comprehensive, and some things are excluded or limited.”
Once you know what’s available to you, start thinking about ways to keep those perks at the top of your mind. Here are just a few tips.
- Use an app like Sift, which can help track some of your card’s benefits and notify you when you may qualify for one.
- Keep your receipts. If you threw them away, you won’t qualify for many of the shopping-related perks.
- If you have travel-related perks, take stock of what you have before each trip you take. Doing this can help you remember what coverage you have in case something unexpected happens.
“Understand that these perks aren’t [necessarily] automatic,” says Bakke. “There’s typically a process you must complete. But generally speaking, this is worth your time.”
There’s no best set of credit card perks for everyone. It’s important that you take stock of how you use your credit card to know what you need the most.
For example, if you don’t travel often, you likely don’t need a card with a lot of travel perks. But if you travel overseas frequently, you may want a card that offers perks like medical evacuation and travel accident insurance.
Also, keep in mind that some of the travel credit cards that offer these perks charge annual fees. So make sure that the value you’re getting from a card’s perks isn’t outweighed by its fees.
Take some time to shop around for credit cards and research what each card offers beyond its rewards program. It often pays to use those fringe perks — “you can save yourself a lot of money by taking advantage of these benefits,” says Bakke.
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