Rewards aren't the only way to win with credit cards. Thanks to lucrative offers, cardholders enjoy perks that include price matching on purchases, short-term insurance for lost or damaged items, and even rental car insurance every time you rent a car.
1. Price protection
Price protection is the best credit card feature that too few people use. With this feature, you have the confidence of knowing that if the item you buy is later advertised at a lower price, you can make a claim for the difference.
That means if you buy a new computer, and the price drops by $300 two months later, you can make a claim and get a check for the $300 price drop. It's really that easy, provided you have the receipt and an advertisement showing the lower price.
As a general rule, Discover credit cards have the best price-protection policies because they offer 90 days of protection and specifically allow claims for limited-quantity sales. That means even special deep discounts, like those you find on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, qualify for price protection. Other issuers exclude claims on special sales prices.
Read about the best cards for the holidays to learn more about how price protection works, and how it can be used to skip the lines for doorbuster sales.
2. Purchase protection
Purchase protection safeguards you if an item you buy is damaged, stolen, or lost shortly after purchase (usually for 90 days). If you're buying something expensive -- like a laptop, TV, or other consumer electronic item -- paying with a card that has purchase protection is a smart thing to do.
I like to use cellphones as an example, because they're expensive and easy to break. If you buy a new phone with a credit card that offers purchase protection, it'll generally cover you in the event the phone is damaged for the first 90 days after purchase. Replacing a phone screen can cost as much as $200, but with purchase protection, it won't cost you a dime out of pocket.
Chase credit cards are known for having some of the best purchase-protection policies because of their lengthier coverage period. Popular credit cards from this issuer offer 120 days of purchase protection, which is 30 days more coverage than the average credit card.
3. Rental-car insurance
Most credit cards now come with some form of rental-car insurance. Most commonly, cardholders receive a free collision damage waiver (CDW) for rental cars that are charged to the card.
Not all cards are created equal, however. Most credit cards offer secondary insurance, which pays out only after all other forms of insurance (like your personal auto policy) have been exhausted. A credit card with primary rental-car insurance is a better choice, since it acts as a first line of financial defense, stepping in before other insurance policies.
If you have a credit card with primary insurance, you can save a lot of headaches (and increased insurance premiums) if a car is returned with damage. In fact, you won't even have to report the damage to your personal car insurance company. Your credit card will take care of it, helping you avoid a claim, dodge a deductible, and skip higher insurance premiums thereafter.
Primary rental-car insurance can be found on a top travel rewards card. This card carries an annual fee of $95, which is waived in the first year. But compare the fee to the cost of a CDW from a rental-car company, and you'll see why it's a bargain. Most car rental companies charge up to $15 a day for primary coverage. Thus, if you rent a car for just one week a year, the annual fee more than pays for itself. The juiced rewards you receive on every other swipe of the card are just icing on the cake.
4. Sign-up bonus
It's an applicant-friendly credit card market. With card companies competing aggressively for every customer, sign-up bonuses have exploded in size and popularity. The biggest sign-up bonus in Fool.com's credit card database is worth $625 of travel value.
Even no-annual-fee credit cards are getting into the game. We've seen several offers with sign-up bonuses of $150 to $200 for cardholders who spend just $500 or $1,000 in the first three months after account opening, all on cards with no annual fee.
Sign-up bonuses are like getting paid to open a credit card and use it for purchases you'd make anyway. If you haven't opened a new credit card in a while, it's worth exploring how you can cash in by opening a card with a beefy sign-up bonus offer for new cardholders. You'd be surprised at just how much card issuers are dangling in front of potential applicants to encourage them to apply.
5. 0% intro APRs
If you carry a balance, it's silly to pay a rate higher than 0%. Card companies are offering long 0% intro APR periods on purchases and balance transfers, enabling indebted cardholders to enjoy up to 18 months of 0% APRs on their balances.
Don't discount the value of a 0% intro APR. On a $5,000 balance paid off over the course of 18 months, getting a 0% intro APR will save you roughly $743 in interest compared to a card with an 18% APR. That means you can pay off your balances faster, even if you make a smaller monthly payment. Compare the savings to even the best sign-up bonuses, and you'll see that a 0% intro APR often offers the most value if you carry a balance.
Check Fool.com's database of 0% intro balance-transfer APR offers to refinance your existing credit card balances. Alternatively, the roster of 0% intro purchase APR credit cards is a boon for people who expect major purchases that they would like to break into digestible monthly payments.
Of course, you should play it smart by paying off any balances within the intro period, to avoid any and all interest charges. After the introductory period, 0% APRs revert to double-digit interest rates, so it's imperative you use the free financing to put a big dent in what you owe.