Roadside assistance: Could your card come to the rescue?

Among the most helpless feelings of modern life is the one you get when your car won’t start. The feeling you get when you’ve locked your keys inside finishes a close second. AAA is the best-known rescuer in this situation, but another potential hero could be your credit card. roadside assistance

Use the chart below to determine if your card might offer roadside-assistance benefits (and how those compare to AAA’s various tiers of membership). First, though, consider these guidelines:

  • Coverage varies: With AAA, you pay a flat annual membership fee for access to roadside assistance. With some premium credit cards from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner), you pay the card’s annual fee and get a certain number of service calls per year. Other cards will charge you a flat rate per service call, and others simply allow you access to their help-me-I’m-stranded hotline and the convenience of having the cost of service charged automatically to your card.
  • AAA is still the most robust, but may not be the most cost-effective: Even if your card covers roadside assistance, AAA is still offers the most coverage.

    However, depending on your needs, your card’s coverage may be more cost effective.

    For example, AAA’s upper membership tiers place fewer limits on fuel deliveries and allow some coverage for locksmith services (beyond rescuing your key locked inside your car). However, if you’re already paying few hundred dollars for one of the American Express cards that includes roadside assistance, it’s probably not economical to pay for AAA on top of that, as the benefits overlap for the most part.

    Visa Signature, meanwhile, allows you to pay a flat fee for several basic roadside services. If you think back to how many times you’ve been stranded, slid off the road or been locked out in the past several years, paying about $60 per incident may be more cost effective than paying that much or more per year for AAA. It all boils down to your appetite for risk.

  • You and your vehicle must be present: Check your program’s terms, but, in most cases, this isn’t a benefit you can call in for a friend or family member. Service can be performed only on your car.
  • Assuming you actually use it, credit card roadside assistance is a valuable perk: For the sake of comparison, here are the fees associated with common roadside assistance issues (according to a survey of various towing and roadside assistance companies that post their fees online):

    Towing: $50+, depending on vehicle size and time of day. In addition to the service charge, you may be charged per mile.
    Jump start: $75+
    Flat-tire change: $75+
    Lockout service: $60+

    Some companies add an extra charge for late-night calls.

    If you have a premium card that covers a certain number of service calls, just one use of the roadside assistance benefit can justify a good chunk of the card’s annual fee. Even if you just have a Visa Signature card, the pre-negotiated $59.99 fee is a nice discount, depending on the service. Plus, you’ll have access to all the other benefits your card offers, which could include travel insurance coverage, rental car coverage and lounge access (in the case of the American Express Platinum cards).

Roadside assistance is a benefit you will probably (hopefully) use rarely, so it alone probably shouldn’t make or break your decision to get a card. Instead, consider it a bright star in a card’s constellation of benefits and rewards.

Compare credit card roadside assistance

AAA vs. credit card roadside assistance coverage
Cards it’s available onCostBenefits included
AAA ClassicN/A$50/year approx. (may vary by region)The following services up to 4 times a year:

-Towing up to 7 mi. 4X per year
-Flat tire service (must have spare)
-Jump starts
-Lockout service plus locksmith up to $60
-Battery service
-Winching (1 driver and 1 service vehicle)
AAA PlusN/A$80/year approx. (may vary by region)The following services up to 4 times a year:

-Towing up to 100 mi. 4X per year
-Flat tire service (must have spare)

-Jump starts

-Battery service

-No-cost fuel delivery

-Lockout service, plus locksmith up to $100

-Winching (2 drivers and 2 service vehicles)
AAA PremierN/A$105/year approx. (may vary by region)The following services up to 4 times a year:

-Towing up to 100 mi. 4X per year (up to 200 for one tow per household per year)

-Flat tire service (must have spare)

-Jump start

-Battery service

-No-cost fuel delivery

-Lockout service plus locksmith up to $150

-Winching (2 drivers and 2 service vehicles)
American Express Premium Roadside AssistancePremier Rewards Gold ($195 AF); Platinum ($450 AF); Business Platinum ($450 AF); Delta Reserve ($450 AF)No additional cost after paying card’s annual feeThe following services up to 4 times a year:

-Towing up to 10 miles

-Winching

-Jump starts

-Flat-tire service (must have spare)

-Lockout service when key is in vehicle

-Fuel delivery (up to 2 gal.)
American Express Roadside Assistance hotlineMost AmEx cards besides the ‘premium’ cards aboveHotline: No additional cost after card’s annual fee


Services: You pay for cost of service
-Towing

-Winching

-Jump starts

-Flat tire service (must have spare)

-Lockout service when key is in vehicle

-Fuel delivery (up to 2 gal.)
Citi Prestige Roadside Assistance Dispatch serviceCiti PrestigeNo additional cost after paying card’s annual fee-Towing and winching (you'll have to pay for towing beyond 10 mi.)

-Jump starts

-Flat tire changes (when spare is available)

-Lock-out service (when key is inside vehicle)

-Delivery of up to 2 gal. of fuel
Visa Signature Roadside DispatchMost Visa Signature products (check your card’s terms)Hotline: No additional cost after card’s annual fee

Services: $59.95 flat fee for service call
-Towing (up to 5 mi.)

-Flat-tire service (must have spare)

-Jump-starts

-Lockout service (no key replacement

-Fuel delivery (up to 5 gal.; cost of fuel NOT included

-Winching (with 100 ft. of paved road)
MasterCard Roadside AssistanceSome MasterCard products (check your card’s terms)Pre-negotiated service fees are automatically billed to your MasterCard-Jump-starts

-Towing

-Tire change

-Gas delivery
Diner’s Club RoadAssist Roadside ServiceDiners Club Premier ($95 AF); Diners Club Elite ($300 AF)Pre-negotiated service fees billed automatically to your Diners Club card-Jump-starts

-Towing

-Gas delivery

-Tire changes
 
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