Friday, October 08, 2010

Looking beyond "points," "miles," or "cash" when comparing credit cards

Shopping for a credit card can be really simple: you prefer frequent flyer miles over cash back, don't want to pay an annual fee, or have an enormous APR (if you carry a balance).  Easy.  But, complicating your comparison and decision-making process is the difference in additional, behind the scenes, benefits that come pretty standard as well, but vary.

Although they do not seem to be widely published beyond their website, read the inside guide to your credit card and see if it offers such benefits as roadside assistance, trip cancellation protection, identity theft protection, rental car benefits, concierge service, and others.  If it does not, consider switching to one that does.  The rental car coverage alone, typically in the form of CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) can save $10-20/day when renting a car, if you don't carry car insurance normally of course.  Suddenly, that annual fee is not so terrible after all.

It's surprising that credit card companies, at least in my brief research, don't publish these features up front.  Typically, a big bold ad in the newspaper, web, or bus stand advertisement touts earning (well, you don't earn necessarily, more like are refunded) cash back, points, or miles.  Not much is mentioned about being stuck in a jam and how the card can liberate you from some frustration associated with that situation.

Yesterday in my inbox, there was an offer for saving 50% off of Mastercard's shopping mall for a limited time of course.  If I hadn't opted in to see their promotional emails, or visited the website on a lark, I would be missing a great opportunity to save.  Why not promote these benefits more? 

To save you some research, I found a couple of links that will help narrow your field and make the decision easier, hopefully.  VISA's site conveniently lists each card's "other" benefits.  While you are it, check out their discount page if your card qualifies.  Here is Disover's, Mastercard's benefits page, and American Express' sites discussing their additional features and benefits, too.

Of course, one way to ensure that you have ultimate protection, convenience, and benefits is to obtain a card from each company and use them accordingly.  Not a bad strategy if you can maintain discipline and don't mind juggling bills a bit.