Credit cards sport an array of perks to entice applicants, from lounge access to price protection. And there’s a good reason for this, according to 2013 research from J.D. Power — customers who make use of their card’s benefits spend, on average, $400 more per month on the card, compared with those who don’t.
Yet the exciting-sounding perk that got you to apply for a card may be one you never use – or that you find cumbersome to use. The perks below may be a nice touch, but don’t make your credit card decision based on them.
1. Lounge access
Cards that have it: Platinum Card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner), the Citi Prestige, the Citi AAdvantage Executive card, the United MileagePlus Club card the Delta Reserve.
Why it seems like a good idea: Although lounge access is indispensable for many road-warrior business travelers, frequent recreational travelers might find themselves intrigued as well. After all, who wouldn’t want access to a quiet sanctuary, especially when you have to arrive at the airport so early these days?
Why you might not use it after all
- Lounge location: Consider the airport you usually fly out of. The lounge your card allows you to access might be in a different terminal from the one you’re flying out of. In some airports, that means a long ride on the airport shuttle train or even an extra security screening. Some lounges (such as American Express’s Centurion lounge at LaGuardia) may also be located pre-security, an inconvenience for anyone who wants to relax in the lounge until right before boarding.
- Short layovers: Many domestic travelers choose itineraries that minimize layovers – you don’t want a five-hour layover in DFW on your way to Chicago if you can avoid it. That means you might not have much lounge time, especially if your layover is shortened further by a flight delay (because of course it is) or if the lounge is in another terminal (see above).
- Traveling with family: Remember, lounge access was designed for solo business travelers. Issuers are getting less generous about allowing cardholders to extend their complimentary lounge access to guests, so expect to pay a cover charge for family members or travel buddies.
2. Price protection
This benefit promises to refund you the difference if an item you bought with the card goes on sale.
Why it seems like a good idea: Who hasn’t had the frustrating experience of buying something only to see it go on sale the next day?
Why you might not use it after all: This perk comes with a lot of fine print. You’ll need to save the receipt (and possibly other documentation), the price must fall within 60 days (Citi) or 90 days (Chase), there are limitations for going-out-of-business sales, and a variety of items are restricted (including jewelry, refurbished items, items purchased outside the U.S. and tickets). Plus, while Citi lets you register your item (and tracks online price fluctuations for you), Chase requires you to scan prices yourself. In both cases, you’ll be required to provide requested documentation and fill out a claim form.
As you can see, this benefit requires you to keep track of paperwork and do some research that’s probably worthwhile only for big-ticket items that drop drastically in price. If the shoes you bought decrease in price by $10, the process may not be worth it.
3. Concierge service
This benefit lets you call a number to offload research tasks onto a concierge.
Cards that have it: Many cards have this benefit, including no-annual-fee cards.
Why it seems like a good idea: You’re busy, and you like the idea of having someone else make restaurant reservations, find you a hotel, hunt down a store that sells a hard-to-find item, or make alternate travel plans if your flight is delayed.
Why you might not use it after all: Quality varies among cards’ concierge services, and there are also limits to how far a concierge will go to help you. Plus, the concierge will need time to take care of your task (sometimes several days). Most importantly, though, you likely already have a concierge in your pocket – a smartphone capable of comparing prices, scouting out travel options and conducting research. Ask yourself: Are you more likely to hunt down your card’s concierge number, wait on hold and explain your problem to a stranger? Or pull out your phone and start Googling?
So what should you look for?
The perks above may in fact be very important to you. Just make sure you’ll use them enough to justify any annual fees. If you then find yourself with a card full of perks you’re not using, your issuer may allow you to downgrade to a card with fewer frills — and a lower annual fee.
Looking for benefits and perks that nearly everyone will find useful? Use our credit card matchmaker chart as a place to start. In general, a card with an easy-to-use rewards system will put money back in your pocket and may even pay for an annual fee. If you’re a frequent traveler, also look into the travel protections and rental car insurance your card offers. These benefits generally don’t require you to sign up -– you just need to book the travel with the card for automatic coverage.
Tell us in the comments: Were you excited about a particular perk, only to never use it? Are the perks listed above ones you actually use all the time?