By Lisa Gerstner
As you pack for a trip or set foot in a mall over the holidays, take a close look at the benefits that come with your credit cards. Many issuers are shuffling the lineup of perks they offer to customers.
Discover has dropped several travel-related benefits from its suite of perks for cardholders, including travel assistance, emergency roadside assistance, travel and baggage-delay insurance and lost-luggage insurance. Sears MasterCard removed the collision damage waiver for rental vehicles, insurance that many cards supply to cover bills for damage to a rental car. Travel assistance, roadside assistance and purchase assurance (insurance for damaged or stolen items bought with the card) also disappeared — and Bank of America (BAC) is discontinuing the same three benefits on its MasterCard Better Balance Rewards cards.
Many changes are in response to 2014 alterations to the core benefits that come with all standard, gold and platinum cards carrying the MasterCard logo, says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, a consumer-resource site. That means more cuts could be coming as banks evaluate their offerings. Watch for letters from your card issuer notifying you of revisions.
At the same time, card issuers are adding or refreshing other benefits that you may find more appealing. At a time when data breaches dominate headlines, MasterCard (MA) includes assistance for identity-theft victims among its core benefits, and Discover (DFS) provides the ability to freeze and unfreeze your account online or through an app, in case you lose your card. Several issuers, including Barclaycard, Citibank (C), Discover and Pentagon Federal Credit Union, provide free FICO credit scores to at least some cardholders. Wells Fargo offers up to $600 in coverage for cell-phone damage or theft if you pay your wireless bills with one of its cards.
The tantalizing cash-back and miles offers that issuers dangle to attract customers in a competitive rewards-card market are replacing less-popular benefits, says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. New customers who open a Discover It card by the end of 2015 get double cash back after a year.
Regularly review the perks that come with your cards, even if it’s just once a year. “You may find that you’re using the wrong card for certain benefits or missing out on a valuable benefit you didn’t realize you had,” says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com. In a series of studies on card benefits among major issuers, credit card research site CardHub.com found that cards from Discover and Chase (JPM) had the strongest price-protection benefits (reimbursement for the difference if you find a lower price on a purchased item). American Express had the best extended-warranty policy, and American Express (AXP) and Visa (V) had superior car-rental insurance coverage. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card had the best general coverage for travel insurance.
Make sure you understand the ins and outs of each benefit your card offers. Price protection is typically available up to 60 or 90 days after a purchase, for example. Rental-car insurance usually covers only fees that your personal auto insurance policy doesn’t, and only if you decline the collision damage waiver that the rental-car agency offers you.