Published in: Credit Cards | Oct. 11, 2019

5 Credit Card Perks That Are Completely Overrated

By:  Lyle Daly

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Don't let yourself be drawn in by these overhyped "perks."

Rewards are the worm on the hook that credit card companies use to bait consumers into signing up for their cards. Many of these perks are actually useful, like cash back, purchase protections, and free flights or hotel stays. Then there are benefits that sound like a good idea in theory but end up not being what you expected in practice. Here are five credit card perks that aren't actually worth all the hype.

A crowd of people in front of a sunny airport window.

Image source: Getty Images

1. Online shopping with points

Some credit card issuers let you buy items directly from popular retailers with your points rather than waiting until you've saved up enough points to redeem for a gift card, or claiming your rewards as cash back or a statement credit. While this route is certainly a more convenient way to pay, it's not your best option if you hope to maximize your points' value.

When you use points to shop directly, the points are often worth less, so you must spend more points in order to purchase an item. You're better off waiting until you've saved up enough rewards to redeem them for a gift card with the store you'd like to shop at. 

2. Free credit scores that aren't FICO® Scores

Free credit scores are becoming a popular new credit card perk, but they're not all the same. FICO® Scores are the scores typically used by lenders so these are the ones you want to look at to gauge how you're doing. Some lenders also use VantageScores, but these are less common. Many credit card companies do offer FICO® Scores, but some offer "educational" scores instead. These scores may carry different names and they're based on proprietary scoring models that could give you a number that's vastly different from your FICO® Score. This could give you a false sense of your creditworthiness, which could be problematic the next time you apply for a loan.

If you choose a credit card that offers a free credit score, make sure it's a FICO® Score. Note that most card issuers only offer one free credit score and you have three FICO® Scores -- one for each credit bureau. So if you want to see all three, you might have to purchase them from MyFICO or a credit monitoring company.

3. Airport lounge access

What was once an exclusive perk reserved for the wealthy and premium travel credit card holders has deteriorated into an overhyped and often overcrowded experience. Many travel credit cards now offer free airport lounge access and as a result, many of these lounges have become so overcrowded that the experience isn't all that different from that of the typical traveler waiting in the main terminal. 

This isn't the case for every airport lounge, but few are the private oases they used to be. If you're interested in a travel credit card that offers airline lounge access, make sure the card also offers plenty of other worthwhile perks, like travel insurance, free checked bags, priority boarding, or a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credit. You can check out the lounge when you get to the airport, but it might not be as impressive as you'd hoped.

4. Roadside assistance

Credit card roadside assistance is not useless, but it's not what many people think it is. Unlike the roadside assistance you get through your auto insurance or an auto club, credit card roadside assistance doesn't typically pay for the assistance you need. You call your credit card issuer and they'll send someone out to help you, but you're still responsible for paying for the service yourself. Some credit card issuers may be able to negotiate a discounted rate for you to help save you a few dollars, but you'll still have a large out-of-pocket expense.

There are other places to get roadside assistance that will actually cover the cost of the service you need, though they typically involve a monthly fee. You can sign up for roadside assistance through your auto insurer, an auto club, and even some cell phone carriers. If your vehicle still has a warranty, this might include roadside assistance as well. Adding roadside assistance typically costs $5 or less per month. If you're concerned about breaking down far from home, one of these options will be of greater benefit to you than credit card roadside assistance.

5. Travel credits

Some travel credit cards lure customers in with the promise of travel credits worth several hundred dollars. The idea is that you pay for travel-related expenses with your credit card and then your card issuer automatically credits your account for these purchases up to the set dollar amount. But what many people don't realize is that there are a number of restrictions on how they can use their credits. 

Some cards advertise the annual credit you could receive, but may only pay a certain amount per month. Or a credit may exclude certain purchases like airfares, so you can't use the credit as you intended. Plus, many of these cards have high annual fees that probably aren't worth paying if you're not redeeming your travel credits.

Credit card companies are always going to make their perks sound great, but sometimes the fine print hides details that diminish their usefulness. Always read through the cardholder agreement before you sign up for a card to understand any restrictions surrounding the rewards and weigh its benefits against its costs to decide if the card is right for you.

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