Here’s Why Credit Card Benefits Are Being Rolled Back

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Do you like price protection or lost luggage insurance? Well, your card issuer might not be offering those goodies anymore.

Do you like price protection or lost luggage insurance? Well, your card issuer might not be offering those goodies anymore.

With a still-growing economy and a bottomless American appetite for credit cards, it’s perhaps surprising to learn that some card features are being scaled back or eliminated entirely. Chase, for example, recently withdrew price and return protection for its cardholders, while Discover axed extras like car rental and flight accident insurance earlier this year.

Why in the world would issuers cut benefits at a time like this? There are several key factors at work here:

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Perks aren’t important to many customers

We here at The Ascent are credit card scientists, examining the minute details of cards to inform our readership. For us, and many in our audience, each extra offered by a card issuer matters. Differences in feature sets can often sway a decision to apply for one card over another.

But it seems that scores of other cardholders don’t have anywhere near that level of interest. A study by Market Strategies International released in February revealed that more than 80% of survey respondents were unclear about the feature sets on their cards. And just over 50% fell into the “just a credit card/know some features” category.

Instead, concluded MSI, cardholders are far more concerned with the costs of card ownership, and the ultimate value of the plastic. Headline attractions such as no annual fee, a 0% intro APR, and a robust cash-back program have far more impact than perks like insurance. This makes card extras somewhat expendable.

Some features are for niche customer groups

Personally, I love traveling and I can potentially get a lot of mileage out of common card benefits like auto insurance and concierge services. But for a person who stays home much of the time, takes only the occasional vacation, and never travels for work, such perks are close to useless.

Others require time and effort to maximize. Although technology is making it easier to nail price reductions in goods that qualify for price protection, for example, cardholders still have to set up and regularly monitor such services. With the busy life the average American leads today, that might not be feasible; this reduces the pull of these kinds of extras.

Features can be costly for the issuer

The one benefit that has particularly come under fire of late is purchase protection. This nice perk kicks back a little bit of money if you buy an item and subsequently discover it has dropped in price.

This, of course, has to be paid for. Like the travel perks listed above, these rebates need to be funded, adding to the costs of customer retention. Employee teams are also needed to help administer the system, and there’s infrastructure that must be maintained and upgraded.

Multiply this by thousands upon thousands of cardholders, or even millions in the case of the top issuers, and you have quite the cost item on the books. Scaling back a pricey perk, or slicing it entirely from the feature set, is a quick and effective way to save money.

Keep an eye on your perks

Credit card issuers are very eager to hype a new benefit, but they can get shy when gutting or eliminating one. Your issuer should let you know when such a chop comes; make sure you’re opted in to communications from the company, and check the messages section of your card management portal on at least a semi-regular basis.

Also, do take the occasional look at independent media on credit cards and finance for the latest news. A fine place to start is (shameless self-plug alert) The Ascent.

What action should you take if one of your features is scaled back or cut? This, of course, depends on the feature. Is it something you’ve used to your benefit in the past, or might in the future? If it’s mission-critical, consider shifting your spending to another card in your portfolio that’s maintaining the feature. Applying for a new card with that perk is another option.

Hopefully, this trend of feature scale-back will fizzle out. We shouldn’t count on that, though, so let’s keep paying attention to the latest news from our card issuers.

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