Free credit card benefits can save you thousands

When a cruise line representative suggested that I spend $500 on travel insurance to protect my expensive vacation, I declined and used my Costco Visa to pay for the trip instead. This credit card offers comprehensive travel insurance as a free perk, saving me both worry and the stiff $500 fee for the cruise line’s coverage. And I knew the credit card coverage was good because my dad had just used it to recover thousands of dollars in trip cancellation fees.

“I am amazed that these perks are not better advertised,” says Robert Harrow, research analyst at ValuePenguin, a personal finance research site. “Practically no one knows about them, and the benefits are awesome.”

Randy Singer, a retiree in Vero Beach, Florida, says he has pocketed hundreds of dollars worth of refunds from “price rewind,” another little-known credit card perk that came with his Citi Double-Cash card. If he pays with this plastic and registers purchases, Citi monitors the price of the same items and refunds the difference if the same product is advertised for less with within 60 days.

“I have only been using it for about four months, but it’s amazing,” says Singer. “I was in Boulder and spent $120 on hiking shoes for the whole family and Citi found them for $65. I also bought a drone for $1,299, but got $189 back because Citi found it for less on the web.”

Between travel insurance, rental car protection, price guarantees and extended warranties, free perks offered on your credit cards can provide surprisingly lucrative benefits for those who know how to use them. The trick is that knowing about them – and how to claim them – requires reading through long, detailed card agreements. Even then, seeing is believing.

My dad, for instance, was skeptical when he applied for a trip refund for a Cuban vacation. An illness forced my parents to cancel at the last minute and the Cuban government kept a whopping $4,270 in what it dubbed as “non-refundable cancellation fees.” Fortunately, my Dad had charged everything but a $500 deposit on his new Costco credit card and had read about its free trip insurance in the card literature. He filed a claim, providing a doctor’s note, and was quickly reimbursed him for a stunning $3,770.

“It was surprisingly easy,” he says.

Notably, this kind of trip protection is commonplace with travel rewards cards, says Harrow. A variety of other travel benefits, from luggage insurance to rental car protection, typically come with these cards, too. Other free benefits that you might have:

Price protection: Citi, Chase, USAA, Discover and Barclaycards, as well as some MasterCard offerings, give you the ability to get a refund if the price drops on the clothes, shoes or electronics within 60 to 90 days of your purchase. With Citi, “price rewind” only works if you register the purchase. The bank tracks the prices after that.  The others expect you to track prices yourself, but some give you an extra month to make a claim, according to a survey by WalletHub.

Car rental coverage: If you decline the “collision damage waiver” at the car rental counter and use your credit card, many cards will jump in with “secondary” auto insurance that supplements your own car insurance coverage, says Harrow. A few cards offer “primary” coverage that doesn’t even require you to make a claim with your normal car insurer, he adds.

Extended warranties: Most cards also provide extended warranty coverage for most of your major purchases, according to WalletHub. The best plans will extend manufacturer warranties for up to five years, according to a WalletHub survey. The average card will extend the manufacturer warranty for an extra year.

In addition, some cards offer free museum tickets once monthly; special access to concerts and plays; concierge services that can provide everything from help finding a hospital to a good restaurant.

“The laundry list of benefits can really take your breath away,” says Bill Hardekopf, president of LowCards.com.

Still the only way to know what your card provides is to read your cardholder agreement, which you can request from the card company or find on your card-issuer’s website.

“It may not sound like fun summer reading,” Harrow says. “But absolutely everybody should sit down and go through their card agreements. Knowing the benefits can save you a whole lot of money.”