Editors' pick: Originally published Dec. 8.
Americans face an expensive December this month, with the expected costs of holiday expenses to reach $929, up from $882 in 2015, according to American Research Group. "It's the first time planned gift spending exceeds $900 since 2006," ARG states.
What holiday shoppers may not know is there are hidden budget-savers in their credit cards, which they can use to cut Christmas expenses. It's also worth noting these perks aren't available in debit cards or with cash.
"These perks are another reason why credit cards are a better option than debit cards and cash - as long as you can pay the balance in full each month," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst. "Hold onto your holiday shopping receipts and check back in a month or two to see if any of these offerings will save you some money."
Schulz and CreditCards.com cites some specific perks that might have escaped the attention of credit card holders, but are worthy of any holiday consumer's attention. Here's what they list (you'll have to check with your credit card provider to see if you qualify:)
-- 81% of the 100 popular credit cards CreditCards.com surveyed extend the manufacturer's warranty for free (usually by two years).
-- 57% reimburse for items that are lost, stolen or damaged in the first few months after they were bought.
-- 47% refund the difference if the price drops within 2-4 months after purchase.
-- 26% guarantee returns even when the merchant does not.
What cards are the best at providing such benefits? The CreditCards.com survey states 17% of the surveyed cards, including Chase Freedom, Citi Prestige and Discover It, include all four benefits. Additionally, 15% of the cards surveyed "don't offer any" of the above perks.
Plus, some perks offer more financial potential than others, says Julie Pukas, Head of US Bankcard and Merchant Solutions at TD Bank.
"A warranty manager helps," says Pukas. "Among other things, a warranty manager gives peace of mind knowing that your purchases' warranty information is filed. Extended warranty protections also extend the time period that the manufacturer has guaranteed."
Pukas is also a fan of purchase security, which, within 90 days of your purchase, "provides for repairs, replacements or reimbursements to cardholders for up to $500 for eligible claims," she states.
Other credit card specialists favor price protection, which ensures the cardholder is getting the lowest price for a product or service.
"Price protection is the best credit card perk that no one knows about," offers Schulz. "It means that you can go shopping without any fear of missing out on an even better deal. There are often exclusions, limitations, and hoops to jump through, but under the right circumstances, it can save you real money.
Schulz says Citi's Price Rewind tool is the most consumer-friendly example of price protection. "Just register your purchase and Citi will keep an eye out for price reductions, refunding you the difference if it finds a lower price."
Steven Abrams, the resident credit cards expert at CreditCards.Offers.com, offer his own list of "must have credit card perks: "
- Issuer shopping portals (offer increased rewards and savings)
- 0% intro APR offers on purchases (can be as long as 21 months)
- Merchant bonus categories. "For example, Amex Blue Cash Everyday has a
limited time offer of 10% cash back on Amazon.com purchases for six months," Abrams says.
Of course, there are card benefits that are either hard to get, or don't exist at all - but should, other financial experts say. "We'd like to see waived resort fees, free in-flight Wi-Fi access, and free transport to and from the cardholder's hotel and airport," says Roman Shteyn, chief executive officer at RewardExpert, a free service that helps people maximize their credit cards to get good flight deals.
Check with your card provider and see what plastic-based perks you have coming this holiday season. It could save you money, and make your Christmas season shopping experience more bearable.
- Written by Brian O'Connell for TheStreet.com