Free credit card benefits and cardholder protection © Comstock/SuperStock

The Basics

Your 6 secret credit card perks

You may not know you have them, but your card issuer provides free protections and services that could cost you hundreds of dollars elsewhere.

By SmartMoney

As consumers try to keep up with the fast-shifting world of credit cards, looking for ways to sidestep new fees or avoid rate hikes, they may be missing out on savings from benefits they already have.

Even as card issuers continue to clamp down on credit limits and rewards programs, they've left intact a variety of perks that, when properly used, can save consumers hundreds of dollars.

Free benefits like extended warranty protection, lost-luggage reimbursement and purchase protection aren't nearly as widely advertised as 0% introductory interest rates or the ability to earn bonus rewards points, yet they are staples of any credit card that has the Visa or MasterCard logo or is issued by American Express.

These perks are typically provided by Visa, MasterCard and American Express and paid for through interchange fees (paid by merchants for each credit card transaction), says Adil Moussa, an analyst with market research firm Aite Group.

Yet fewer than 15% of cardholders use these benefits, according to Robert McKinley, the founder of CardWeb.com, which provides industry research and analysis.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, as these benefits are typically described in the tiny-print booklets that consumers receive with their credit cards and rarely bother to read, says Odysseas Papadimitriou, the chief executive officer of Evolution Finance and credit card portal Card Hub.

"It's really unfortunate, because they are really good benefits," he says.

That's not to say that taking advantage of those features is easy: There is typically a lot of paperwork involved, and, because these benefits are so rarely used, you may have to work with customer service representatives who aren't aware of how they work, Papadimitriou says. But jumping through such hoops may well save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Following are the details on six credit card benefits and how to qualify.

1. Auto rental collision damage waiver

What it does: Reimburses you for the deductible portion of your personal auto insurance policy (or all covered damages or theft, if you do not have auto insurance), as well as administrative and loss-of-use damages imposed by the car rental company and reasonable towing charges.

The catch: Does not apply if you rent a car for more than 15 consecutive days in the United States or 21 consecutive days abroad. The loss or theft of your personal belongings and personal liability charges are not covered. And don't forget to decline the collision damage waiver and loss damage waiver options offered by the rental company.

Value: $10 to $20 a day. That's how much you would pay if you purchased a collision damage waiver from the car-rental company, depending on your location, the type of vehicle you rent and which rental company you use, says Neil Abrams, an auto rental consultant in Purchase, N.Y.

2. Extended warranty

What it does: Doubles the free-repair period of the original manufacturer's repair warranty on an item, up to one additional year.

Typically includes purchases made outside the U.S., as long as the item has a valid original manufacturer's U.S. repair warranty, store-purchased dealer warranty or assembler warranty.

The catch: A wide range of items aren't covered. These may include boats, cars, aircraft and any other motorized vehicles and their accessories; items purchased for resale or professional use; real estate and items intended to become part of real estate (for example, garage doors and ceiling fans); computer software; medical equipment; and used, antique or collectible items.

Value: $15 to $270. A two-year Geek Squad Black Tie Protection Plan from Best Buy costs anywhere from $29.99 to $539.99, depending on the type of item you purchase and its cost. (Keep in mind, your credit card company does not have its own team of service support "geeks." Its coverage will simply extend the terms of the warranty you have from the manufacturer.)

Continued: Purchase protection

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