By Jason Steele


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Issue #9 of the Credit Card Industry Roundup covers the ever so important, but often overlooked subject of credit card benefits included with card membership. Jason Steele asks this weeks panel of credit card experts the following question as to which benefit is most important to them:

Which credit card benefit do you find to be the most valuable?

This week the group of contributors are Andrew Schrage, Chris Motola, Summer Hull, Ben Luthi, Angelina Aucello, and Shawn Coomer:

Andrew Schrage - CEO and co-owner of Money Crashers

One of the best credit card benefits is that of the cash back rewards program. Essentially, it's free money, but only when you go about things utilizing the correct strategy. To begin with, you need to find the credit card with the best cash back program but also one that maximizes your purchasing habits. For example, the American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card gets you 6% cash back on the first $6000 of grocery purchases each year, an unlimited 3% cash back on gas, and 1% on everything else. If it's hard to categorize your spending, go with a more generic program, such as that offered by the Citi Double Cash Card, which gets you an unlimited 2% cash back on purchases in all categories, but you'll need to have good credit to qualify. Cash back rewards programs come in all shapes and sizes. Next, you should never make purchases just to earn cash back - that just doesn't make sense. You'll end up killing your credit and racking up a lot of interest charges if you carry a balance from month to month. And finally, while rewards and points generally do not expire, double-check to make sure there's no expiration date associated with your rewards. If there is, be sure to redeem them before that point in time.

Chris Motola - Journalist who writes about business credit cards for Merchant Maverick

That's a tricky question to answer. There's a line of thinking where cashing in your rewards points for statement credit, which most cards give you the option to do, usually gives you the most bang for your buck. It goes something like this: there's an item you can purchase with reward points or with credit. If you buy it with rewards points, you lose whatever the cash value of the points were. If you to buy that same item with credit, and then cash in your points for statement credit, you'd still effectively get the item for "free," but you'd also earn reward points for buying that item.

Of course, that assumes your points have the same effective cash value no matter what they're spent on, which isn't always the case.

That can be a lot of math to worry for the average user. For everyone else, the answer is, more or less, whichever matches your spending and consumption habits. In other words, get a card that suits your behavior, don't change your behavior to fit a rewards program. If you do a lot of traveling, get a card gives you a great return on flights. If you spend a lot on telecommunications, get a card that will cut you some breaks on your internet service.

If your spending isn't concentrated in any one area, you may want to try a cash back card. You'll lose the high reward tiers you might see with other cards, but you'll earn a little more back on generic purchases.

Summer Hull - One of America’s foremost experts when it comes to planning affordable family vacations with frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points

The best credit card benefits for my family are usually the ones that save us money or make our travels more comfortable. On the travel side of things, we make great use of co-branded credit card perks of early boarding, free checked bags, a discount on in-flight snacks, lounge access, and even having access to additional saver awards with our United card. Being able to run into an Amex Centurion Lounge's family room between flights thanks to our Amex Platinum Card makes for happy kids and happy adults. We also love the annual free hotel nights that come with the Hyatt and IHG credit cards, as those nights are worth way more than the yearly annual fees for those cards.

While we travel a good amount, our whole life isn't just traveling, so we very much enjoy non-travel related credit card perks, too. We use the Citi Price Rewind benefit and website a couple of dozen times per year when items we buy go on sale after we make the purchase. This website is beyond simple to use and results in hundreds of dollars each year coming back to our pockets. Having solid protections for our electronics, gadgets, and gizmos in the case we break or lose them is also a key credit card purchase protection feature that we rely on more than I care to admit!

Ben Luthi - Staff writer at Student Loan Hero and a freelance writer.

My favorite credit card benefits are the ones I get through my Business Platinum Card. Specifically, airport lounge access, in-flight internet, elite status at hotels and car rental companies, and a credit for incidental airline fees.

Those benefits are worth the big annual fee for me because I travel frequently and take advantage of them often.

My favorite benefit that you can typically get on any credit card is price protection. Last July, I bought an iPhone knowing that its price would go down when Apple introduced a new model in September. So, I held onto my receipt and processed a claim once the price dropped by $50. A month or two later, I had a check for $50 in the mail.

You can do this for many other items, too. The main drawback, though, is that you have to do a lot of legwork to get the benefit. You have to keep an eye on price changes and provide a lot of information to prove your claim.

The good news is that Citi credit cardholders can use Citi Price Rewind, which does some of that work for you. Either way, I think it's worth the work if you can get a decent refund like I did with my last claim.

Angelina Aucello - EWR-based travel aficionado and expert and owner of Angelina Travels

While most people immediately are enticed by a credit card with a high sign-up bonus, some of my favorite and my most valuable benefits are beyond the initial offer and earnings potential from everyday spend. Of course, accumulating points through credit cards is a fast and easy gateway to aspirational free travel, but there are so many other perks to consider.

Let’s start off simple and talk about hotel credit cards. Most hotel credit cards have a nominal annual fee ranging from $49-$99 per year, but also come with a yearly free night certificate. The free night benefit itself is often worth beyond the cost of the annual fee. As a specific example, the IHG credit card carries a $49 fee each year, but the annual free night certificate is unrestricted and valid at any IHG property worldwide - regardless of the selling price of a standard room. On several occasions, I redeemed my free night certificate at properties with nightly rates exceeding $500.

I’m also a huge fan of some of the benefits that my “super-premium” credit cards carry, such as the American Express Business Platinum Card and Citi Prestige. Perks like trip interruption/cancellation insurance, roadside assistance, purchase protection, lounge access, free Gogo/Boingo wifi, yearly travel credits, etc all make it worth it for me to keep paying the $450 annual fee each year. I happily keep these cards in my wallet year after the year because I am essentially investing in my happiness and I know I am guaranteed a more comfortable and worry-free travel experience each and every time.

Shawn Coomer - Founder and Managing Editor of Miles to Memories

I think overlooking credit card benefits is perhaps the biggest mistake that many consumers make when deciding which card(s) to carry in their wallet. As someone who travels a lot, I highly value benefits which make my travel experience easier. In that vein, I think perhaps the most valuable credit card benefit for me is airport lounge access. While this benefit was once strictly held back for premium cards, it has now made its way to some normal travel rewards cards as well. For me, there is simply nothing like relaxing at an airport with access to comfortable seating, light food and drinks and of course fast WiFi for work.

While lounge access is nice, there are a ton of other card benefits that make travel easier. When renting a car I use a credit card which gives me car rental elite status for upgrades along with primary insurance coverage in case of damage. I also have Global Entry for free thanks to one of my credit cards. This means I skip long immigration lines when coming back into the country and I get TSA Precheck when flying domestically as well. Finally, I enjoy priority boarding and the occasional free checked bag that I get from certain airline credit cards.

From purchase protections to various discounts and benefits while traveling, rewards cards offer a wide range of benefits that many consumers are simply overlooking. By finding the right combination of rewards earning and benefits, you can really turn what is simply a form of payment into something that adds value and benefit to your life.


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