2016 credit card benefits survey

Benefits suvey bannerWhen you got your newest credit card, it arrived with a booklet of fine print detailing its benefits, travel insurance protections, purchase insurance protections and more.

You probably threw that booklet in the trash.

In fact, things like extended warranty, purchase protection and travel accident coverage may not have even played a role in your decision to apply for the card in the first place. But perhaps they should have; some cards’ protections can save you real time and money on the road (primary rental car coverage, for example), or help you navigate weather-related travel delays.

Because nobody loves fine print more than we do, we delved into 100 cards’ benefits terms to see which cards offer the most perks, which perks are rare, and which perks are run-of-the-mill. Jump ahead to see our survey methodology and interactive infographic.

Background on card benefits

Credit card purchase and travel protections are generally extended via the card networks (MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover). Those networks may have various “tiers” of benefits. For example, cards bearing the Visa Platinum label will usually have less-robust benefits than those bearing the Visa Signature level, which will, in turn, have fewer benefits than cards with the Visa Infinite label. However, card issuers can customize which network benefits they extend to their cardholders. For that reason, two cards from separate issuers both bearing the Visa Signature label may have different benefits.

How do you know which suite of benefits your card will have? Some card products are offered only at, say, the Visa Signature level. So if you’re approved, that’s the level of benefits you can expect (with some variation, based on which Visa Signature benefits your issuer chooses to extend). Other cards are offered at different tiers (Visa Platinum AND Visa Signature, for example). Which version of the card you get will be based on your creditworthiness.

Most common, rarest perks

Cards like to advertise their benefits, and, if you’re comparing offers, it’s useful to know which benefits are unique and which are offered by practically every card out there. If a $450-per-year card is bragging about its secondary rental car coverage, for example, you might want to give that some side-eye because 100 percent of the cards we surveyed offer that (even no-annual-fee ones). Far more exciting is primary rental car coverage, which just 8 percent of surveyed cards offer.

After surveying 15 popular benefits across 100 cards, we were able to determine the percentage of cards offering each:

BenefitDefinitionPercentage of cards offering
Rental car coverageCoverage for eligible rental cars paid for with the card.100%
- Secondary rental car coverageRental car coverage that kicks in AFTER your regular auto insurance pays out.92%
- Primary rental car coverageRental car coverage that kicks in immediately.8%
Extended WarrantyLengthens the original manufacturer’s warranty on certain purchases.96%
Travel accident coverageOffers payout to your survivors in the event of your death or dismemberment when taking common-carrier transportation.91%
Travel assistance hotlineHelps you arrange medical/legal/financial services if you run into an emergency while traveling.87%
Purchase protectionCovers purchases for various lengths of time after purchase, if they are stolen or damaged.87%
Roadside dispatch hotlineCovers purchases for various lengths of time after purchase, if they are stolen or damaged.87%
Roadside dispatch hotlineHelps you arrange roadside assistance when you’re a certain distance from home.62%
Lost/stolen baggage coverageCovers baggage and certain contents if your luggage is lost or stolen while you’re taking a common-carrier mode of transit.54%
Price protectionIf the price of something you buy drops, you may be reimbursed for the difference.48%
Return protectionGet reimbursed for like-new purchases if the store won’t take them back.46%
Trip cancellationReimburses you for prepaid expenses if you cancel a trip for a covered reason.35%
Trip interruptionReimburses you for prepaid expenses if your arrival is delayed.35%
Baggage delay coverageReimburses you for essentials if your baggage is delayed.31%
Trip delay coverageCovers incidentals/accommodations if you travel delays leave you stranded.10%
Cellphone protectionCovers the cost to replace/repair your mobile phone if damaged under covered circumstances.8%
Free roadside assistanceA certain number of service calls per year are complimentary.4%

Issuers with the most perks

Of the nine issuers whose benefit guides we surveyed, Chase averaged the most (9.24 benefits out of the 15 benefits we surveyed), followed by Barclaycard, which averaged 8.1 perks out of 15:

  1. Chase: Average of 9.24 perks out of 15
  2. Barclaycard: Average of 8.1 perks out of 15
  3. Citi: Average of 7.9 perks out of 15
  4. AmEx: Average of 7.7 perks out of 15
  5. Wells Fargo: Average of 6.77 perks out of 15
  6. Capital One: Average of 6.6 perks out of 15
  7. USAA: Average of 6.6 perks out of 15
  8. Discover: Average of 6 perks out of 15
  9. U.S. Bank: Average of 5.5 perks out of 15


Chase also happened to have the individual cards with the most perks: The Sapphire Reserve, Sapphire Preferred, the co-branded United MileagePlus cards and the Chase Ink Plus cards all had 13 out of the 15 benefits surveyed. Those 13 benefits included the rare perk of primary rental-car insurance. The next-highest (at 12 out of 15 perks) was the Citi Prestige card.

However, even Chase didn’t offer the rarest perk, free roadside assistance. That perk is an exclusive of the top-tier American Express cards, which offer a certain number of free service calls a year. It also doesn’t currently offer the second-rarest perk, cellphone coverage (although the Chase Business Preferred will offer this perk when it comes out later this year). For now, though, Wells Fargo is the only major issuer that consistently offers this benefit.


Most perk-heavy no-annual-fee cards

You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars per year for robust shopping and travel protections. In fact, several no-annual-fee cards stand out by offering more than half the perks we surveyed:

  • Chase Freedom Visa Signature: 10 out of the 15 benefits surveyed
  • Chase Freedom Unlimited: 10 out of the 15 benefits surveyed
  • Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature: 10 out of the 15 benefits surveyed
  • Barclaycard JetBlue card: 9 out of the 15 benefits surveyed
  • Barclaycard Arrival: 9 out of the 15 benefits surveyed
  • Barclaycard Wyndham card: 9 out of the 15 benefits surveyed

Survey methodology

We surveyed 100 cards from 9 of the largest U.S. issuers in October 2016. Data was gleaned from publicly available terms and conditions documents. (Note: Bank of America was not included in the survey, as it does not make its terms publicly available in advance of card approval).

Surveyed cards included personal, business and student credit cards. Private-label/retail cards were not included in this survey.

For this survey, we analyzed 15 travel- and purchase-protection card benefits: rental car coverage, extended warranty, travel accident coverage, travel assistance hotline, purchase protection, roadside dispatch hotline, lost/stolen baggage coverage, price protection, return protection, trip cancelation coverage, trip interruption coverage, baggage delay coverage, trip delay coverage, cellphone coverage and free roadside assistance.

Infographic

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