21 Credit Card Benefits Every Traveler Should Know About

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Credit card benefits can save you a lot of money and make your travel experiences much more enjoyable. Did you know there are at least ten different kinds of credit card insurance that can protect your purchases? There are also dozens of credit card benefits that can get you free or discounted travel and access to luxury perks.

In this post, we’ll take a brief look at each type of benefit and how you activate it. Once you have a basic understanding of these credit card benefits, you’ll get more value from the cards you already have and make better choices about which ones to consider next.

Why Credit Card Benefits Matter

Lots of people don’t even realize they have these benefits on one of their credit cards. Our first objective is to make sure you don't pay money for something you don't need. What a shame to pay $50 for help when you lock your keys in the car when you could have gotten free roadside assistance just by calling the number on the back of your United℠ Explorer Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

Have you ever been talked into buying rental car insurance? What about that little popup that makes you second guess whether you need travel insurance? Credit card insurance you already have might make these add-on purchases unnecessary—and that savings can add up quickly.

Knowing these credit card benefits is also key to evaluating whether a card is worth its annual fee. Cards that are long-term keepers are fundamental to building healthy credit and making your application strategy sustainable. If you choose wisely, each card you add to your wallet can save you more than it costs.

How You Get Credit Card Benefits

The rules for how you earn or activate credit card benefits will vary from one card to the next. Some benefits are granted just for being a cardmember; others take effect when you swipe your card for a purchase. In some cases, a benefit will be a reward for meeting a spending goal on your card.

The key takeaway here is that the same type of benefit might fall into a different group depending on which card you have. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Benefits for being a cardmember — American co-brand cards offer free checked bags on domestic itineraries for the cardmember and up to eight companions. You don't need to purchase the flight with your American Airlines credit card.
  • Activated when you make a purchase — United co-brand cards also offer free checked bags, but the benefit is activated when you use the card to pay for your flight.
  • Benefits earned by reaching a spending goalThe Hilton Honors American Express Business Card (full review) gives a free weekend night reward if you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year. If you spend $60,000 in a year, you can earn a second free weekend night.

But you can't assume that the Hilton free weekend night is always awarded after reaching a spending target. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card free weekend night is awarded on your account anniversary just for being a cardmember.

Conrad Maldives is eligible for the Hilton Free Night credit card benefit
Use the Free Weekend Night credit card benefit at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

What Credit Card Benefits Are Out There?

We’ve divided up this post among 5 different types of benefits.

  • Protection for the things you buy
  • Travel Insurance
  • Award Travel Benefits
  • Discounts & Free Travel
  • Benefits that Make Travel Better

Credit Card Insurance for the Things You Buy

Many cards offer a great lineup of protections for the physical products you buy. Each of the credit card benefits in this group is triggered when you use your card to pay for your purchase. It’s a good idea to have at least one card that offers robust coverage in this category, and remember to use it when you make a major purchase.

Purchase Protection

You can think of purchase protection as a very short term insurance policy that will reimburse you for the full purchase price if something you buy is lost, stolen, or damaged. A typical card will offer this benefit for 90 to 120 days from the date of purchase. If you buy a new iPhone and drop it in the toilet two weeks later, you may be able to use this credit card insurance benefit to get a full refund.

You’ll find this coverage on many cards. Usually, the purchases that are eligible — or excluded — don’t vary much from one card to the next. The main thing to look at with this benefit is the coverage amount; $500 is a typical maximum per incident, but some cards will cover up to $10,000.

Related: Best Cards for Purchase Protection

Extended Warranty

You may already be familiar with the concept of an extended warranty. At the time of purchase, you can choose to pay a small amount upfront and then be covered if your purchase breaks or is lost. What you might not know is that many credit cards offer extended warranties on purchases made with the card. The length of the extended warranty as well as the maximum amount covered varies by card, so make sure to check your card's fine print for details.

Related: Best Cards for Extended Warranty

Return Protection

This coverage allows you to return an item purchased with your eligible card for a full refund if the retailer refuses to accept the item under its return policy. While you can often work it out with the merchant directly, this credit card benefit can provide an extra layer of protection. Return protection is often limited to smaller purchases—a typical policy would provide $300 to $500 per item and usually has an annual benefit cap of around $1,000. There are also a fair number of items that won't qualify, so you'll want to make sure you fully understand your card’s policy before you rely on this benefit.

Related: Best Cards for Product Return Protection

Price Protection

Price Protection can save you from the frustration of buying something right before it goes on sale. If an item you purchased is offered at a lower price up to 60 or 90 days later, you can claim a reimbursement for the price difference. So if you bought a new tablet for $199.99, only to find that a week later it's on sale for $149.99, you can get refunded the $50 difference.

Price protection used to be a fairly common type of credit card insurance, but many cards have eliminated this offering in recent years. The key factors to watch are the window of time you have to file a claim, the documentation needed to show the lower-priced offer, and the types of purchases excluded from the policy.

Related: Best Cards for Price Protection

Cell Phone Insurance

Many credit cards offer insurance if you lose or damage your cell phone. Generally you need to be paying for your monthly bill with the card in question for its cell phone insurance to be active. Just having the Chase Ink Preferred does not activate its cell phone insurance if you are paying your phone bill with another card.

It's worth noting that this coverage could partially overlap with other types of protection. The key difference is what sort of incidents are covered. If your iPhone stops working because of a defect, you could claim extended warranty coverage on the card you used to purchase the phone. If a thief snatches out of your hand, you'd want to file a claim on the card that you use to pay your wireless bill.

Related: Best Cards for Cell Phone Insurance

Credit Card Insurance for Travel

Like purchase protection benefits, many travel insurance protections are activated by using your card to pay for all or part of your trip. The exception in this group is roadside assistance, which is normally a benefit you get just for having a card.

Flight Delay Insurance

Many cards offer flight delay insurance, which can cover expenses like meals or lodging in the case that your flight is delayed and/or you miss your connecting flight. Most cards offer $500 of coverage, but there are a few with a $300 maximum per incident.

With this benefit, the factor that separates the top-tier cards from the rest is how long you need to be delayed before your coverage kicks in. A good policy will cover you after six hours rather than twelve. You'll be asked to provide receipts for the expenses, so this benefit won't give you more compensation than your actual costs. If you know your cap, you can splurge on a five-star hotel next time you're stranded overnight.

Related: Best Cards for Flight Delay Insurance

Trip Interruption / Cancellation Insurance

Trip cancellation insurance can reimburse you for non-refundable travel costs if you need to cancel a trip before departure. For example, you booked an expensive hotel on the Gulf of Mexico, but a hurricane makes travel impossible. Trip interruption is generally similar in terms of coverage, but it kicks in when you have to cut a trip short after you have begun your travels. You'll want to take a look at who is covered (e.g. the primary cardholder and immediate family) as well as how much is covered. Generally, in order to get a full refund of your travel expenses, your entire trip must be paid for on the card or with points earned with that card.

Related: Best Cards for Trip Interruption / Cancellation Insurance

Roadside Assistance

Cards that offer roadside assistance allow you to get help for things like a flat tire, dead battery, or keys locked in your car. This benefit comes with simply having the card. Usually, there's a specific telephone number that you can call to get your assistance when you need it. You'll want to read the fine print on your roadside assistance benefit to find out what's covered and how often. If you take a few minutes to figure out which cards offer this perk, you can save yourself time and stress when you need to use this benefit.

Related: Cards that provide Roadside Assistance

Roadside assistance is a type of credit card insurance that you don't want to overlook
We recommend not sitting in the middle of the road while you wait for your free help to arrive.

Rental Car Insurance (CDW)

The rental car insurance that is offered by most car rental companies is usually fairly expensive compared to other kinds of insurance. If your primary car insurance does not cover you while renting a car, your credit card may.

You'll want to check and make sure whether the car insurance that comes with your credit card is primary or secondary. Primary coverage means you won't have to file a claim with the company that insures your own vehicle before coverage on a rental car will cover a loss or damage. Some credit card insurance excludes certain countries, so be sure that you'll be renting in a country where the insurance is valid.

CDW stands for Collision Damage Waiver. Generally, credit card insurance covers damage to your rental vehicle, but it doesn't cover liability if you are at fault for an accident that damages other vehicles/property or results in injuries. You should check that your personal insurance policy covers these situations with a rental car or consider purchasing supplemental liability insurance.

Related: Credit Cards that provide Primary Rental Car Insurance

Baggage Delay Coverage

Baggage Delay coverage reimburses you for out-of-pocket expenses incurred if your checked bag is delayed or misdirected by a common carrier on route to your destination. While you're waiting to be reunited with your bag, you may need to purchase clothes, toiletries, or other items. Coverage under this benefit is usually around $100 per day with a maximum of $300-$500 per traveler. Like the flight-delay benefit, you'll only be reimbursed for purchases you actually make.

The key factors to watch for with this coverage are who is covered, how long your bag needs to be delayed before the coverage starts, and the maximum reimbursement. A top-notch policy starts after six hours, covers the cardholder and immediate family members, and will reimburse you $100 per day for up to five days. Some cards won't cover specific items that seem logical to replace (e.g. contact lenses), so be sure to review the rules and exclusions to avoid any surprises.

Related: Best Cards for Baggage Delay Insurance

Lost/Damaged/Stolen Bags

While baggage delay insurance covers bags that arrive late, some credit cards also insure your bags and their contents. This protection is activated by using your card to pay for travel with a common carrier (a company that transports passengers for money). If your bags are lost, damaged, or stolen, you can file a claim and get money to replace your lost property. These policies usually require you to file a claim with the travel provider first and will make up for any amount you don't recover from the company that mistreated your bags.

Airlines in particular aren't known for having a very generous window for filing a claim. A stolen or lost bag is obvious, but if you discover that items inside your bag are missing or damaged when you get home, take action to report the loss to the airline as soon as possible. Even if the airline denies your claim, you'll now have the paperwork required to take advantage of the protections offered by your credit card.

An excellent policy might cover your bag and contents up to around $3,000, but many offer substantially less. There is often a list of (common sense) excluded items that won't be covered. For example, jewelry, cash, and expensive electronics that shouldn't be left in a checked bag are common exclusions.

Related: Best Cards for Lost or Damaged Luggage Protection

Credit Card Benefits for Award Redemption

A few credit cards give benefits that help with either cheaper or more available award redemptions.

Discounted Award Travel

This benefit helps you spend fewer points when you redeem for travel. One example of this is American Reduced Mileage Awards. Cardholders of certain American Airlines co-branded credit cards can save up to 7,500 miles on domestic, round-trip award tickets. Some hotel credit cards can give your fourth or fifth night free when redeeming points for a hotel stay.

More Award Booking Options

Sometimes a card will give you the ability to book flights that aren’t available everyone else using miles. For example, Delta cardholders can redeem SkyMiles at 1 cent each towards paid travel. United cardholders (and elite members) get access to additional award space that is not available to the general public. These credit card benefits can make the difference between being able to use miles for your next trip and missing out.

Credit Card Benefits That Save You Money

Travel Statement Credits

This benefit gives you an automatic refund (in the form of a credit on your statement) when you use your card to make a qualifying purchase. Normally, you get a predetermined value that resets each month or each year.

Each card has its own rules about what type of purchases qualify. The Sapphire Reserve $300 travel credit and the Citi Prestige® Card $250 travel credit can be applied to a broad group of travel purchases.

In contrast, the American Express Airline Fee Credit is limited to ancillary fees with an airline you select each year. Checked bag, seat selection, and award change fees would trigger the credit, but airfare or award taxes typically would not be eligible.

Some credits apply to specific fees. Here are a few examples:

Hotel Free Nights

Free night certificates are normally awarded each cardholder year, but there are a few that are earned after meeting a spending threshold. Most free night certificates have some restrictions on using them. Some are only good on certain days of the week (e.g. Hilton weekend night certificates), while others are only good at properties under a particular award price (e.g. Marriott properties up to 35,000 Marriott points).

An annual free night is one of the credit card benefits that can make it especially easy to see how a card pays for its annual fee. If you choose the right hotel, you'll often save $200 or more compared to a paid stay, and many of the cards that feature this benefit have fees under $100. When you're considering a new hotel card, check to see if you'll get a free night certificate right away. This shouldn't be a dealbreaker, but sometimes you won't have to wait until your first account anniversary to take advantage of the free night benefit.

Related: Hotel Credit Cards that give Free Annual Night Bonuses

Companion Certificates

Some cards give a benefit where a companion can travel with you for a free or reduced cost. Alaska, Delta and British Airways each have one or more co-branded cards that offer a companion certificate. Most cards offer one companion ticket each year, so you need to use stay on top of when the benefit expires. Fortunately, AwardWallet has you covered with expiration reminders for many companion certificates.

Southwest Airlines also has a Companion Pass that allows a companion to fly for free on as many flights as you like while the benefit is active. The Southwest Companion Pass is not a credit card benefit per se, but the bonus points that come with the credit card can help you get the Southwest Companion Pass.

Related: Guide to Companion Fares and Companion Passes

Credit Card Benefits that Make Travel Better

This group of benefits can make your travel days much more enjoyable.

Lounge Access

Lounge access can be a game-changer. Generally, this benefit comes with having the card, but there may be other requirements.  Many premium credit cards offer Priority Pass membership—which gives you access to more than 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. You'll need to request this benefit from the bank that issues your rewards card. Then, you'll receive a Priority Pass card in the mail. Just present it at the lounge and you'll be admitted at no additional cost.

Cards that offer airline-specific lounge access typically require you to be flying with that airline. For example, if you have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, you can access Admirals Club lounges, but only if you have a same-day ticket with American Airlines or one of their partners.

Related: Best Cards for Airport Lounge Access

Expedited Security: TSA Pre✓, Global Entry, and CLEAR

Another credit card benefit that can make travel better is access to expedited airport security. Some cards offer a statement credit for access to either TSA Pre✓ or Global Entry. Cards that offer this benefit generally have exactly the same benefit—a reimbursement of up to $100 for either TSA Pre✓ or Global Entry, every five years.

Since membership in Global Entry also provides TSA Pre✓, it's usually a better idea to apply for Global Entry. One important note is that your $100 reimbursement can be used to reimburse the fees for any traveler. So, if you have multiple cards that offer this benefit, you can use one of your reimbursements for a friend or family member.

Related: Credit Cards that provide a TSA Pre✓ or Global Entry Enrollment Credit

Some United or Delta co-branded credit cards give a discount on membership to CLEAR (normally $179 / year). CLEAR is another program that can work instead of or in conjunction with TSA Pre✓ to reduce the amount of time it takes you to get through airport security. The American Express® Green Card (full review) is the best card for CLEAR, offering a $100 statement credit towards membership each year.

Related: Should you Register for CLEAR?

Luxury Hotel Collections

Several premium credit cards offer access to reduced prices and elite benefits even if you're not an elite member. Two examples of these types of programs are Fine Hotels & Resorts (from American Express) and the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection (from Chase). If you have a credit card that offers one of these programs, you get access to a special website where you can make these hotel bookings. Hotels booked through these programs often provide things like complimentary breakfast, late checkout, room upgrades, and a credit to use for food or drinks at the hotel.

Related: Receive Elite Hotel Benefits without Elite Status

Credit card benefits - Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts

Hotel Elite Status

Many hotel cards offer either outright elite status or elite credit that will help you reach the next level when combined with your normal travel. The actual enhancements that come with elite status depend on the hotel program and what level of status you receive. Common benefits of hotel elite status include complimentary room upgrades when available, late checkout, and earning more points on every dollar you spend. Some of the best programs offer a benefit like a fourth or fifth night free on award stays.

Related: How to get Hotel Elite Status for Free

Airline Elite Status

With airline cards, it’s more common to earn benefits that will make your travel experience more like being an elite member—without actually awarding status. For example, you may get priority check-in and boarding or free checked bags.

In addition to a la carte benefits, there are also a few airline cards that offer elite qualifying miles to help you reach the next level of status. Others may grant a waiver that allows you to earn status without meeting a requirement to spend a certain amount of money on airfare. These benefits are typically activated by reaching a spending threshold on your card.

Related: How to get Airline Elite Status for Free

The Bottom Line

As you can see, there are a wide variety of different benefits that come with various credit cards. Knowing what benefits are out there can help you decide which credit cards make sense for you. And maybe you even learned about a benefit that changes the value you'll get with a card you already have.

Did you learn anything new from this post? Please let us know in the comments!

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Comments

  • Avatar
    Mariano Zysman says:

    Hi. Unfortunately these credit card benefits apply much more in developed countries such as US or European countries.
    In less developed countries such as several in South America it is difficult to make these claims to the credit card when your phone is damaged. Another case is the access to VIP lounges at airports. This kind of benefits in general are restricted to very limited hours. If you do not travel during those hours you do not have the possibility to enter. At least this has happened to me in Argentina.

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    Does anyone know if the extended warranty on a purchase (let’s say, a laptop) is still valid if i have closed that credit card account? Because if it’s not…. then it doesn’t help to purchase an important product to meet the bonus requirement for a new card, only to close it within a year. But if it’s still valid, it’s ok. Has anyone tried claiming extended warranty on a product purchased with a previously closed account?

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      Generally the card’s Guide to Benefits clarifies that the account still needs to be open at the time of the claim. So, you’ll want to use a long-term card when buying a product that you want extended warranty.

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    This is a great summary to take into account when traveling! Thanks a lot 🙂

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    Patty Hales says:

    I never think about the extended warranty. Now I’m wondering about something. If you have insurance and you buy and insulin pump and pay the copay would the extended warranty apply? What if you bought it and then got a reimbursement for the insurance portion?

    • Avatar

      Tried to search for an answer for you, but it’s a tough one to find definitively apparently. I hope that’s because it’s simply a simple yes.

      First off, your insulin pump would need to come with it’s own manufacturer’s warranty of some sort. Because the nature of this is extending an already existing warranty.

      Then, you get to your question of whether such a purchase would be covered. It really might be, since the document requirements for a claim should just include the receipt, your credit card statement and the warranty. So, none of that should show the involvement of insurance.

      And, many folks sadly, incredibly still don’t have any health insurance, so it’s certainly believable that you could have paid the entire amount yourself.

      In the end, to truly confirm you’d have to look at the fine print exclusions. But, if you don’t see any, and I don’t think you will… I wouldn’t call to confirm. I would just submit away and see what shakes out.

      • Avatar
        Patty K Hales says:

        Thank you EC. I will have to look and see what card I paid it with and then look closer into this.. There was definitely a warranty. I just past the 3 years it was good for. And glad I had that warranty as it had to get replaced twice!

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    Kim Richfield says:

    Thanks, will definitely pass this article on to friends who are new to earning points

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    This post is chock full of things I just didn’t know! I generally just assumed that my travel-related cards provided travel-related benefits, and since I tend to carry No Annual Fee cards I assumed the benefits were negligible. But this post has me accessing my apps and digging deeper to discover that my benefits weren’t as whimsy as I had originally assumed! Additionally, the purchase protections are a benefit of which I was never before aware. Also, had no idea about requesting lounge passes, and will be looking into it. Now on to search for lounges: what are they, what are the benefits,where are the located in the airport, and why I should want to use them.

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    La tarjeta American Express emitida en Argentina no tiene los mismos beneficios que en otros paises, hay que tener cuidado con eso.

  • Avatar
    Juan Ignacio says:

    In my opinion the most important is to have a travel insurance. I’ve an AMEX Platinum issued abroad and one of its benefits is purchases made in others countries doesn’t charge additionals fees.

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    Thanks for the reminder(s). A couple of those you mention, I needed to link out to for a refresher as to what my individual cards cover. Very valuable in the current pandemic situation!

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    The baggage delay insurance is a good time. We’ve been rather unlucky the last few times we’ve travelled. Each time, our luggage was delayed and we didn’t have any clothes to change into and had to buy underwear. My current cards don’t have this benefit. Sometimes, the airline compensates, sometimes they don’t.

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    A reminder of the benefits is great. Sometimes when I am talking to people about credit card annual fees I ask them if they ever buy insurance for travel. If that is the case, I point out that the annual fee could replace buying insurance and that often makes it more palatable to those who are annual fee averse.

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    Mastercard already has 1 year extended warranty on products bought with their card so product warranty isn’t that big of a deal. The one that many cards that have removed is the out of country health insurance. This is a big one these days which cards no longer have as a benefit.

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    This is great post, thanks for all the info you give us.

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    This is a great summary of benefits that come with credit cards. Thank you for compiling this.

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    Trip insurance through my credit card was a lifesaver with travel that needed to be cancelled because of COVID!

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    A great comprehensive article – Thanks 🙂

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    Of all of these benefits, lounge access is my favorite. That makes the stressful time in the airport so much better.

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    That’s a very nice overview post. Many thanks.

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    So many great cards out there, for sure, but one of my favorite perks is the Annual Free Night Cert which comes with the AmEx HH Aspire cars. sure there’s a hefty AF, but also getting Diamond status, and the resort and airline credits definitely makes it worthwhile.

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    Trip interruption of the CSR has been super helpful. Got $500 worth of hotel stays/food/transport when a flight was cancelled!

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    Thanks for including the link for the baggage delay article. I had forgotten about the coverage my WOH card provides. Bookmarking this page for later reference.

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    This is great post, thanks for all the info you give us.

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    I always believed that it was necessary to use the X card to get Roadside Assistance with that card; but I’m glad to know that it doesn’t. Thank you.

  • Avatar

    One of the bigger problems for many of us, is remembering the benefits that come with each card. A comparison spreadsheet helps but it’s a little unwieldy.
    This post is a useful reminder.
    Thanks Dan.

  • Avatar

    Where is this comfortable and modern lounge located?

    https://awardwallet.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/AdobeStock_249493478-scaled.jpeg

    It looks like BKK, but I am not sure.

  • Avatar

    I have that rewards cards that provide primary rental coverage are key, especially since their ranks have dwindled. The only card I still hold that has it is the Sapphire Preferred, so I always have it with me when I travel. I’ve had to use the coverage in the past and reimbursement was fairly easy.

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    This post is very usefull, I think I never use any of these benefits. More than once when I Rent a car I wanted to take advantage of credit card’s insurence but never understood how it works and ended up buying another insure, a waste of money. what do we need to know about rental car’s insurence?
    I Will definetly take.more attention to my credit Card’s benefits, thanks for this adivice.

  • Avatar

    Great reminder. I always wonder about the being locked out of your car benefit with road side assistance. 50 bucks is not much if the bill is inflated and usually 150 or more…